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