• Winter JazzFest 2017

    January 11, 2017. Posted by Simon Rentner.

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    New York City Winter JazzFest isn’t an ordinary music gathering. Because it coincides with APAP – Association of Performing Arts Presenters – as one industry insider told me, what occurs this week in Manhattan is “the biggest music happening in the world that the world isn’t aware of.” NYCWJF is the place where deals get done, new bands showcased, but, perhaps, most importantly, inspiration spawns. Every year, there’s usually a few musicians that shines above rest. They get consideration for honorary designation bestowed by The Checkout --The Jason Lindner Award. This goes to the musician with the most activity during the two day madness. And, naturally, it isn’t a coincidence that his year’s honoree was also one of the hottest artists to emerge in 2016 – as reflected to our recent NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll. It’s the guitarist Mary Halvorson. Her festival appearances include Chicago’s cellist Tomeka Reid and her Quartet, the Brooklyn-based trombonist Jacob Garchik and his fascination for Fantasia with his three guitar ensemble Ye Olde, New York downtown mainstay Marc Ribot and the Young Philadelphians, and Halvorson’s own unruly Octet, as represented on her critically acclaimed recording. As with many of the “buzzed about” happenings at the fest, Halvorson’s humble 7pm hit in a New School classroom was a scene onto itself – the room was uncomfortably packed – with long, asymmetrical lines of anxious, agitated fans winding to the elevator, patiently waiting only to get a peep of some adventurous, cerebral, and unclassifiable music.

    Go to The Checkout from WBGO and WBGO 88.3FM Facebook pages to see all of our coverage from the festival by using the hashtag. #WBGOWinterJazz

  • Jazz on the Mountain

    September 30, 2016. Posted by Brandy Wood.

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  • FIJM 2016...Fun

    July 14, 2016. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Add new comment | Filed under: Jazz Alive

    Fest-goers attending the 2016 Montreal Jazz Festival drank 60,000 liters of beer.

    And here are some other numbers at the jazzfest wrap-up...
    More than 2 million folks attended 11 days of the festival around Place des Arts in the heart of Montreal. More than 2 thousand musicians, including artists from 30 countries, played almost 500 musical events on 21 free outdoor and ticketed indoor stages. Thirty-seven of the ticketed shows sold-out.

    Photo by Frédérique Ménard-Aubin
    Photo by Frédérique Ménard-Aubin

    470 journalists and other media types reported on FIJM 2016all wanting tickets to every show.
    Lydia Vallee handles the ticket requests. Lydia and her crew keep track of who wants, who needs, who expects, who demands all of les billets. They work with info on computers, but, really, they work endless hours counting the actual ticketsthousands of little pieces of paper! Lydia Vallee is vraiment Herculean.

    "Lydia Vallee at work at FIJM 2016. Photo by Michael Bourne
    Lydia Vallee at work at FIJM 2016. Photo by Michael Bourne
    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich
    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

    My own accounting: 11 days, 35 gigs...and one of the best of my 24 years at Festival International de JAZZ de Montreal.

    One drag: the annual blather from grumpy journalists about "jazz" at the jazz festival. "There's a lot of music that's not jazz this year," said one as I first walked into the press room. "How do you like the 'no jazz' jazz festival?" asked another.
    And much more vulgar expletives to all of them.
    Including several I know in French.

    I want to declare a moratorium on this perennial nonsense.
    Andre Menard, co-founder of FIJM, brought up (as I often have) that, early on at Newport, George Wein, the very godfather of the jazz festival, presented the definitive rock-and-roller, Chuck Berry.
    And there've been countless artists all across the musical spectrum playing every jazz festival around the world ever since.

    Lorraine Desmarais at FIJM 2016. Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich
    Lorraine Desmarais at FIJM 2016. Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

    Jazz is truly a universal language.
    I've heard the world, culture after culture, with their own sensibilities, with their own melodies and harmonies and rhythms, embrace jazz.
    I've heard jazz, just as deeply, just as swingingly, embrace the world.
    And, if you actually listen back through the 100-year history of this music, in every generation there've been critics and great musicians who've condemned the music of the next generation. New Orleans trad players, even Louis Armstrong himself, laughed at be-bop. As if what Dizzy and the Bird were creating was not jazz. Same against John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. Same against the "fusion" of Weather Report. Miles Davis alone innovated more changes in jazz than anyoneas when Bitches Brew confounded self-righteous defenders of the faith. And now comes hip-hop.

    Jacques Kuba Séguin at FIJM 2016. Photo by Denis Alix
    Jacques Kuba Séguin at FIJM 2016. Photo by Denis Alix

    Laurent Saulnier, VP of programmingI call him VP of the Edgeactually changed how I think about jazz and, really, how I appreciate all of the arts. When he challenged me (6-7 years ago) to listen when hip-hop/beat-box/electro/whatever-the-hell-it-is played at the festival's Club Soda, I heard a trio called Plaster playing keyboards, bass and drums all hooked into computers and other electronics. They were generating riffs and grooves back and forth, even with samples of a politician's speech manipulated rhythmically. I remember realizing in a flash "Count Basie!" I remembered that Basie's very definition of jazz was that jazz "makes you pat your foot." Mine was very happily patting!
    I could hear the continuum of jazz at that gig, and I've believed ever since that nowhere is "jazz" redefined better than in Montreal.

    Rufus_Wainwright at at FIJM 2016. Photo by Denis Alix
    Rufus_Wainwright at at FIJM 2016. Photo by Denis Alix

    "Fun" was the world I most often scribbled in my notebook.
    Especially when enjoying some of my favorite festival moments:

    • Charlie Hunter laughing a blues with dancing drummer Bobby Previte...
    • James Carter "unchaining" (by busting grooves) Django classics with his organ trio...
    • Lorraine Desmarais dancing with her Montreal all-star big band...
    • Karen Young, honored with the festival's Oscar Peterson Award, singing duets with her daughter, Coral Eganespecially one of the songs that they sang together when Coral was a child. Coral and Karen even played patty-cake...
    • The whimsical sexiness of Cyrille Aimee singing Monk...
    • The gracefulness of pianist Fred Hersch playing Jobim and Monk...
    • The finger-breaking pianistic acrobatics of Marianne Trudel and Francois Bourassa...
    • The rushing melodies of trumpeter Jacques Kuba Seguinn...
    • The powerfully beautiful voice of songwriter Rufus Wainwright, especially with his family singing Leonard Cohen's Canadian pop anthem "Hallelujah"...
    • The heartfully swinging farewell concert of Montreal's piano master, Oliver Jones...
    Oliver Jones at FIJM 2016. Photo by Denis Alix
    Oliver Jones at FIJM 2016. Photo by Denis Alix

    And then there was a "Great Event" with the performer I once called "The Charlie Parker of Pop!"
    "This is gonna be the best night of your life!" promised British singer and pianist and BBC jazz jock and pop star Jamie Cullum to the tens of thousands of fest-goers jam-packed (and jam-anticipating) in the festival's TD Scene.
    "Don't applaud it yet!" shouted Jamie when the tens of thousands screamed. "You haven't heard it yet!" laughed Jamie. "It might be shit!"
    Le Grande Evenement, as the festival's spectacular centerpiece is always called, was actually quite grand.
    "Don't Stop The Music" just for starters. "Comes Love" and some songs for the festival's patron saint, Ray Charles. Short, but he seemed titanic. His hair like black flames. His fingers dancing on the piano, drumming on the piano, close-up on the Jumbo-trons. And then he jumped and danced on top of the piano. "Michael Buble don't do this!" shouted Jamie, jumping to the stage, jumping all around the stage, jumping even into the audience. And all the while a big band of Montreal's best players jumped with him. Solos aplenty all around. Muhammad Al-Khabyyr on the trombone. Andre Leroux on the tenor sax. I didn't catch the name of the trumpeter spotlighted as "Love for Sale" became phantasmagorical, but Jamie knew them all, and Jamie was thrilled by them all: "The caliber of musicians in this city is amazing!"

    Jamie Cullum at FIJM 2016. Photo by test
    Jamie Cullum at FIJM 2016. Photo by Frédérique Ménard-Aubin
    An excited crowd watches Jamie Cullum perform. Photo by Frédérique Ménard-Aubin
    An excited crowd watches Jamie Cullum perform. Photo by Frédérique Ménard-Aubin

    He sang a love song "that encapsulates how I feel about being here in Montreal." He sang his own "When I Get Famous" for all the girls who didn't want him when he wasn't. He conducted a sing-along chant from a bass line of Mingus. And after a full-tilt two-hour jamboree, everyone was bouncing like tens of thousands of whack-a-moles. All showing him fires from their lighters and flashings from their cell-phones. Jamie staggered off the stage, but they kept on chanting to him. And back he came. Alone in the dark of the stage. Looking like a rag doll. His face on the Jumbo-trons streaked with sweat. And with tears. Alone at the piano, he sang "What a Difference a Day Made." Quietly. Lovingly, "This," said Jamie Cullum, "has been the best gig of my life!"

    FIJM 2016 was one of the best gigs of mine.

    Je reviendrai a Montreal...

  • FIJM 2016...Oliver Jones and the 49th Parallel

    July 12, 2016. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    "Tell everyone how good the musicians are in this city," said Oliver Jones about the big band playing on his farewell concert. Oliver even pointed out a favorite Quebcoise artist in the audience, pianist and composer Lorraine Desmarais. Some of the players with Oliver, long-time best of the jazz scene up yonder, also played at the jazzfest with Lorraine's big band and for the "Great Event" of Jamie Cullum. Some of them, including Canadian masters honored with the festival's Oscar Peterson Award, also played their own gigs. Ron DiLauro, trumpeter and (for the first time ever on stage) singer, celebrated Chet Baker at the Gesu. Francois Bourassa and Marianne Trudel played a flabbergasting (like shrapnel from an exploding hornet's nest) twin-piano tribute to Paul Bley at the Gesu, and Trudel's own group featured Ingrid Jensen, one of the best trumpet players anywhere. That she's now living in New Jersey means that Ingrid is one of the few players from above now able to play below the 49th Parallel. That so many of the superb Canadian players and singers I've enjoyed in Montreal rarely ever -- or never -- get gigs in the US is a bureaucratic shame of the governments on both sides of the Jazz Wall. That he so often praised his fellow musicians at his own tribute showed certainly why Oliver Jones is so loved in the Montreal (and all across Canada) jazz scene.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    Oliver was "vraiment chez nous," happy to be at home, he said, after a farewell tour of Canada, including gigs in the Yukon. Now at the Maison Symphonique, with his trio and a big band, Oliver was playing his last gig at the jazz festival. "I remember his farewell concert...in 1999," said artistic director Andre Menard, welcoming everyone. I remember that first farewell also, a solo concert at Monument National. Oliver played a delightful recital, thanked everyone for his musical life, and then said "What would you like to hear?" Song titles erupted from the audience, and Oliver played a half hour of requests. I've been to the jazzfest 24 years and that's my all-time favorite memory–along with one of the festival's truly legendary events, when Oscar Peterson played his last concert in 2004. Oscar's sister Daisy was Oscar's teacher and also taught piano to the kid a dozen doors down the block, Oliver. They'd known each other all their lives but never played piano together until that night. I was there that night and for several more Oliver Jones concerts thereafter in Montreal. Now, he was saying he was seriously done with playing...after this one more time at FIJM.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    Oliver's long-time trio played first, with Eric Lagace on bass and Jim Doxas on drums. Oscar's presence was a light that beamed through Oliver's life and through his swan song, especially when the trio played tunes of or inspired by Oliver's friend and inspiration: "Cakewalk," and "You Look Good To Me." Lively. Lyrical. After they played a buoyant "Honeysuckle Rose," Eric Lagace laughed that "we've both played that song a thousand times, but never together." Jim Doxas was in the spotlight for a calypso. Oliver's Gershwin medley was climactic, but the finale of every Oliver Jones show has been an anthem, Oscar's heart-lifting "Hymn to Freedom."

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    Christine Jensen, an always imaginative composer and arranger, fronted the big band for the show's other half (There's always a battle of the bands at the end of FIJM). This year's battle pitted the Glenn Miller band against the Cab Calloway band (I think there'd be a helluva "take no prisoners" jazz showdown if Christine's band battled the Maria Schneider band).  Oliver and the big band played hiply-arranged standards: "The Way You Look Tonight," and "Swinging on a Star," a piece dedicated to Oliver's friend (and Montreal's jazz guru) Len Dobbin, more tunes (and memories) of Oscar, and a finale of Oliver's "Blues for Helene." "This is a true message," said Oliver before an encore of "Love Is Here To Stay."

    I remember Oliver telling me that when he was a kid, he didn't play baseball; he listened at the window to Oscar practicing. I asked him at the farewell press conference if he'd ever regretted not playing baseball. "I'd have made more money," he said, but he's happy that he became a musician. "To play at home for you," he said to the audience that night, was his greatest joy.

  • FIJM 2016: Day 3 and 4

    July 3, 2016. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Yesterday, 7/1/16, was Canada Day. I didn't know. I rarely ever know at the Jazzfest.  I've seen a photo of kids at a parade yesterday in Montreal, kids and grown-ups with red maple leaves inked on their faces, but not around Place des Arts. Around midnight, after an encore at the Gesu, Charlie Hunter wished everyone a happy Canada Day, but I heard no one in the happy audience cheer.  Or even react. I've been to Montreal several years on Quebec Day. Everything was shut down, including much of the Jazzfest. Yes, the folks I know at the Jazzfest acknowledge that they're Canadian. Economically at least. Politically, more or less. But in their hearts, they're Quebecois.

    Festival goers celebrate Canada Day. Photo by Victor Diaz.
    Festival goers celebrate Canada Day. Photo by Victor Diaz.

    One trouble about being a Canadian musician is that it's difficult, sometimes impossible, and always absurd that there's so much red tape across the 49th parallel. American musicians can come play in Canada relatively easily, but the governments on both sides of the national border often confound Canadian musicians from playing in the United States. Work permits can be a bureaucratic nuisance. And traveling down can cost more money than a gig is worth. It's a shame, really.

    I've heard so many wonderful Canadian (and especially Quebecois) artists at the Jazzfest. One of my favorites played the festival this year with her big band. Lorraine Desmarais at the piano can be romantic, melancholic, purely melodic, or down to earth and swinging. I love the most when she's so swept up in the music that she leaps to her feet as if catapulted by the groove. When last at the festival, she played solo at the Gesu, a concert of musical portraits she's composed.  I especially remember her portrait of an Argentine who taught Lorraine how to tango. An apparently quite sexy Argentine. And this year's big band show at L'Astral was all about "Danses  Danzas Dances" (title of her newest album).

    Lorraine Demarais performs at FIJM 2016. Photo by Victor Diaz.
    Lorraine Desmarais performs at FIJM 2016. Photo by Victor Diaz.

    Each of her tunes was composed on and around the rhythm of a dance. And all of the rhythms jumped. Even a bossa nova became head-snappingly swinging. And a tune just called "Tango" was heart-pumpingly sexy. One other highlight featured the trombone section like a heavenly choir floating across Lorraine's piano. What's as great about her big band music is the big band playing her music, a Who's Who of the Montreal jazz scene. Lorraine herself was honored in 2002 with the festival's Oscar Peterson Award (for the best of Canadian jazz), and so were two cats in her big band: trumpeter/flugelhornist Ron DiLauro in 2014 and alto/soprano saxist Jean-Pierre Zanella in 2011. Also spotlighted was carnivorous tenor saxist Andre Leroux, and, really, Lorraine spotlights them all. Lorraine's concerts always have been highlights for me at the festival, especially this year enjoying so much Lorraine Desmarais dancing!

    If one counts every musical event in a day, 44 happened on Day 3. I attended five, including Joey Alexander at the Monument-National. I was, like everyone, flabbergasted by Joey's playing on the album and at the WBGO gala, but Joey's trio gig in Montreal was my first time seeing and hearing him play a concert. And jeez, he's really good as all the fuss about his being a child, even better in his trio with bassist Dan Chmielinski and drummer Kyle Poole. Yes, he's got chops, but beyond the phenomenal physical technique of his playing, is what and how much he's playing. Coltrane's "Resolution" just for starters. Monk's "I Mean You" as an encore. The dynamics. The give-and-take of the group's interplay. The little twists and turns of counterpoints. And he knows how to thrill a sold-out audience. I only wonder if Joey Alexander can be as good or even greater when he's as grown up as the audience cheering him in Montreal.

    Joey Alexander performs at FIJM 2016. Photo by Denis Alix.
    Joey Alexander performs at FIJM 2016. Photo by Denis Alix.

    I always want to end a day at FIJM with whoever is playing at the Gesu -- a performing arts center in the Jesuit church on Bleury, the block next to Place des Arts. Every evening at 10:30 groups play in the Salle de Gesu, literally the Room of Jesus, and almost always the groups are what I call "very Montreal" -- meaning unusual, surprising, shocking once in a while, always compelling, and different, like the very festival that the "Jazz Dans La Nuit" concerts conclude each evening.

    The Charlie Hunter Trio is indeed typical of the groups who play the Jesus Room, which is to say not typical musically at all. Charlie on guitar, with Bobby Previte on the drums and Allan Ferber on trombone. "We make it up," said Charlie of the music they'd play. Certainly tunes they play on the album Let The Bells Ring On, but mostly Charlie looked at Bobby, mostly laughing as he scatted a tune or a shard of groove, and they'd take off. Bobby Previte played the tunes at the drums sometimes more than Charlie's guitar. I've often thought tap-dancers were virtual drummers with their feet, but  Bobby drums like a dancer. Mostly fleet-ly. Even dervish-y. And all the while, Ferber's trombone was like a voice singing in and around the definitively "catchy" tunes. Charlie was singing at the climax, or laughing more than singing the Freddy King blues "I'm Tore Down." I've ended many a night at the Jazzfest in the Jesus Room, but rarely so happily as the Charlie Hunter Trio.