August 6, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.
I enjoyed Montreal for 12 days. And of the festival's more than 800 concerts, I attended all or most of 40. That's not even 5 percent of the Festival International du JAZZ de Montreal. That's how big it is.
Here's (some of) what else I enjoyed at FIJM 2014. At Gesu:
Gamak, the intensely (and very differently swinging) Indo-jazz of alto saxist Rudresh Mahanthappa.
Now This, the lyrical almost-dreamscapes of pianist Marc Copland, bassist Gary Peacock, and kaleidoscopic drummer Joey Baron.
Dr. Lonnie Smith with his octet. Playing 4 (or was it 5? or more?) keyboards. He's one of the best (and one of the last) of the McDuff/McGriff/Smith generation on the Hammond B3. He played like a tidal wave. Or like a baby's whisper. He played tunes, but really much more as if a sculptor of grooves. He blew the roof off the Jesus.
Some of the best (often world-class) "locals" played the 6PM gig at L'Astral in the Maison du Festival, including pianist Vincent Rehel, trumpeter Jacques Kuba Seguin, and the lively kids-play-Pops group Misses Satchmo.
Guy Belanger is a helluva harmonicat. Comes from blues essentially, but he erases all the lines between blues, jazz, and whatever other genres get too often boxed. On even what looks like a dimestore harmonica from his pocket, he can sound orchestral.
Honored this year with the Oscar Peterson Award for a Canadian musician, trumpeter Ron DiLauro played Kind of Bluealmost note-for-note.
Usually when a great (and frequently Miles Davis) album is performed, I feel that I'd rather listen again to the actual album — but Ron's sound is so exquisite (especially through the mute on "Flamenco Sketches" and "Blue In Green") that the masterpiece of Miles et al came alive again.
So many good players on the Montreal scene never get heard much (if at all) below the 49th Parallel, and some of them (like Ron DiLauro) have played for decades with Vic Vogel. Sorry that I missed his big band. He's the only musician who's played all 35 years of FIM.
© 2014 WBGO
July 31, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.
I’m a judge for the festival's annual week-long competition of jazz groups from across Canada. They compete on outdoor stages for the TD Bank Grand Prix: money and three festival gigs.
I have a ritual with my long-time frere de jugement, Martin Roussel, director of the jazzfest at Rimouski (334.9 miles along the St. Lawrence seaway north-east from Montreal).
When we hear, sometimes more than half-way through the contest, a group good enough to win, we show an index finger: "That's One!"
Whoever plays thereafter will have to be better, and this year the TD "One" was a swingingly interplaying piano-bass-drums trio from Ontario, The Pram Trio.
There's also a special prize for the best composition, granted by the satellite television service Galaxie.
This year, we voted the Galaxie prix to Montreal bassist Rick Rosato, composer of a tune without a title - only called “New Untitled”…
© 2014 WBGO
July 30, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.
"Happy Canada Day!" said Christian McBride, beaming. He heard a definitive "smattering" of applause. Maybe 4 or 5 claps in a full house in Montreal's Salle de Gesu.
Christian reacted, dumbfounded by the evident indifference. Or he was playing with the Francophones. He laughed — and pulled out a tiny Canadian flag: a red maple leaf on a white banner.
I've often said that I've been 22 times to Montreal, but I've never been to Canada. And I'm not kidding.
Banks close, and (by law) some shops close on Canada Day, but most Quebecois — and certainly the folks at the festival — don't care about Canada Day. They celebrate Quebec Day a week earlier. French-speaking "habs" (short for "habitants") think of Quebec not as a province of otherwise English-speaking Canada. Quebec natives think of Quebec as a virtually independent nation.
"Okay then," said Christian as he dropped the little flag into the piano. And then he played "O Canada" …
Christian's trio, with Christian Sands at the piano and Ulysses Owens Jr at the drums, played jazz as it ought to be played. Played songs we've heard countlessly, but rarely have heard played so freshly. Played songs they've played countlessly, but never have played routinely. "Day By Day." "Caravan." A funky/sexy take on Billy Taylor's "Easy Walker."
Richard Rodgers might have quibbled that they played "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World"-- "my waltz!" he must've screamed from the grave — in 4/4!!!! Played so sweet a waltz as a swinging whirlwind — but they played so quickly Richard Rodgers didn't have time enough to roll over.
I scribbled in the dark that jazz is the re-creation of a song that's been composed one way, but is played by cats like Christian's trio a different way. Played differently every time they play. And when played with such joyousness as they played on that gig, re-creation becomes recreation. Fun …
"We'll take you home with Thelonious Monk," said Christian — with a last little wave of the Maple Leaf. And an encore of "East of the Sun."
I don't know if this qualifies as a conundrum, but no one (but me, I'm amused by curious coincidences) observed that two cats named Christian were playing in the Salle de Gesu — the "Room of Jesus" …
© 2014 WBGO
July 28, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.
No musician in Montreal is beloved like pianist Oliver Jones. He's like a musical godfather of the jazzfest.
On the same floor as the press room of the Maison du Festival is a museum of the jazzfest, which includes the aged upright piano of Daisy Peterson, teacher of her brother Oscar and also of Oliver. Oliver often remembers lurking by Daisy's house, listening to Oscar practise.
Through the years, Oliver has played some of the most purely enjoyable concerts of FIJM. Especially after he "retired" about a dozen years ago.
He's been back pretty much every festival since then. Playing solo concerts. Playing trio concerts. Playing duets with just-turned-90 Hank Jones. Playing duets to climax the last festival concert of his life-long friend Oscar.
And most memorable for me was the last of his "Invitation" "farewell" concerts all those years ago. I'll never forget when, after a lovely solo recital, he thanked the audience for his musical life, and then he asked in his always friendly Franglish, "Mesdames et messieurs, what would you like to hear?"
Song titles came flying from the house, and Oliver delightedly and delightfully played every request.
To celebrate his 80th birthday this year, Oliver gathered musical friends at Theatre Maisonneuve. With his trio, always generously spotlighting his long-time bassist Eric Lagace, he played charmingly.
"Teach Me Tonight." And his own "Looks Good To Me." "We're gonna play some ballads," he said, alternating English and French. "Let's see if any favorites of yours." "When I Fall In Love" segued into favorites aplenty.
Highlights were pretty much constant. A duet of riffs between Jones and Legace. A favorite classic of his friend Oscar, "Place St. Henri" from Peterson's Canadiana Suite.
Other friends joined in - singer Ranee Lee, violinist Josee Aidans, pianist Lorraine Desmarais - and then came a surprise for all the Quebecois in the house.
Ginette Reno is, or has been called, "the Streisand of Quebec." Oliver played piano 20 years ago when she sang a festival jazz concert I'll always remember.
Looking elegant, earthy, and ageless, Ginette sang "My Man," the very Fanny Brice classic Barbra sang in Funny Girl — and I was thinking: "Barbra who?"
Climactically, out came a teenager, Daniel Clarke Bouchard. A piano prodigy, as if the second coming of Oscar Peterson, the kid showed plenty of Oscar's flabbergasting dexterity with finger-flying boogie woogie and something classical-ish in a duet with Oliver.
As always for a finale, Oliver heartfully played Peterson's "Hymn To Freedom," and for an encore, the trio played "What a Wonderful World."
What a wonderful concert…
© 2014 WBGO
July 25, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.
I've lost count of all the times I've enjoyed concerts of Tony Bennett, but he's always best in Montreal: he's often said he appreciates how greatly the festival treats artists.
And not only the artistry of Tony Bennett the singer - also the artistry of Anthony Benedetto, the painter. Spectra, producers of the Montreal jazzfest, presented last year a gallery showing of Tony's paintings. They also offer in, the festival's artshop, lithographs of Tony's portrait of Louis Armstrong.
Best of all the Tony Bennett performances I've attended through the years happened at FIJM 2004. He was so happy to be honored with that year's prix Ella Fitzgerald. He's one of the very few artists with an open invitation to perform at every festival. He especially loves the acoustics of the big Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier.
I was sorry I was so involved in the finale of the festival's Canadian band contest that I couldn't come to this year's show — but then …
"Come to the soundcheck," said Tony on the phone. "We're gonna surprise everyone tonight. Lady Gaga is gonna sing with me. It's a secret!"
Tony and Gaga have a whole album of standards forthcoming this fall, called Cheek to Cheek. Tony loved how much Gaga loved singing "The Lady Is a Tramp" on his album Duets II. "She loves jazz," said Tony. "And she's really good!"
Backstage I came, and they came. Tony in a green track suit. Gaga in what looked like a black cocktail dress — for a party on Mars. Tight. Black. With a swirling drape of black from shoulder to shoulder. "I want you to meet--" said Tony. "I know who he is," said Gaga and kissed me.
I've rarely encountered anyone in show biz so immediately and downright radiantly nice as Gaga. It's no wonder she gets along with the nicest guy in show biz. And where she gets it was also evident. Gaga's very sweet mother was also hanging at the soundcheck.
They sang with Tony's quartet, with Mike Renzi now at the piano, two duets. "But Beautiful." Which was indeed beautiful. And a whirlwind of "It Don't Mean a Thing." Which was indeed swinging. I don't know Gaga's pop music at all, but her chops are fantastic. She can project a swooping chorus to the balcony. And she can sing in a hush, like the song she'd be singing solo, "Lush Life." I marveled especially at a very touching moment of the Billy Strayhorn lyric.
No press was allowed at the soundcheck or even during the performance that night, but someone in the balcony with a cell camera posted "Lush Life" the next day on You Tube.
When she sang with Tony, Gaga wore a white almost wedding-like dress.
When she sang the next night at the Montreal hockey rink, Gaga wore a blue octopus.
"Who's been kissing you?" someone teased me in the press room after I'd come from the soundcheck. She'd apparently left a scarlet lipstick kiss on my grizzled cheek.
"It's a secret," I said. And trembled, like a gawky teenager.
© 2014 WBGO