• Bourne's Montreal: Day One With Pink Martini

    June 29, 2013. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    "Is this your first time?"

    She's a greeter, at the entrance below reception at the Hyatt Regency. She's one of the countless kids who work every summer at FIJM, the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. Checking badges at the security posts. Checking bags for contraband beers. Grilling the hot dogs. Cleaning up the Herculean mess every night. Always cheerful. And so many of them not yet born when I first came here.

    "No," I said. "It's my TWENTY-first time."

    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich
    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

    FIJM is bigger than it was in 1992. Gargantuan. And that much more wonderful.

    Place des Arts now includes (somehow architecturally squeezed into where kids played and the jazzfest used to have little bistros) a grand and beautiful symphony hall.

    And the avenue alongside Place des Arts is now the year-round Quartier des Spectacles -- where the likes of Stevie Wonder and (this year) Feist can perform free for a hundred thousand folks dancing in the street. Even if it rains.

    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich
    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

    What was already evident, even when I first came, was how important the jazz festival is to the city's economy and (now world-wide) cultural identity as the City of Festivals.

    I can't think of any artists more ideal to open this (or any year's) festival than Pink Martini, artists as musically diverse as Montreal is ethnically diverse.

    I lost count of how many languages China Forbes was singing in, at least eight, and there's now a percussionist singing in Japanese. They played musical classics from everywhere. An orchestrally rhapsodic "Malaguena" for starters. "Quizas, Quizas, Quizas."

    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

    "Never on Sunday" in Greek. A romping dervish of a song in (I think) Arabic but reminding me of pop songs I once heard from the streets of Istanbul. A feature for the trombonist singing "She Was Too Good To Me" so tenderly, like Chet Baker. "Hey, Eugene" and other Pink Martini favorites.

    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

    Thomas Lauderdale, the virtuoso pianist and ringmaster of Pink Martini, welcomed the audience to come up and dance. And they came. A tall mannequin in killer shoes, showing off her curves. A suburban matron in sensible shoes, clutching her purse but otherwise bopping with abandon. Dozens of folks stumbling in the dark to get on the stage. Couples. Kids. All happy.

    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

    As one of the encores, China sang a lovely chanson song she's recorded with the chanteur, Georges Moustaki, and the audience sweetly sang along. And with the final encore, a full-tilt carnival of "Brazil," everyone all around and above in the W-P was standing, clapping, dancing.

    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

  • Oui Et Oui: Montreal Jazz's French Connection

    June 27, 2013. Posted by Simon Rentner.

    Caravan Palace. (Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist)

    Montreal is a city of two cultures: French and English, usually commingling, sometimes colliding. In their fight for cultural relevance, they are often at odds. In literature, they call this "two solitudes": part English, part French, but not quite either.

    Yet as Montreal modernizes and these divisions become less noticeable, one thing remains clear: Music, art and food still belong to the French. From chanson to Monet to foie gras, let's face it, France wins.

    So, naturally, the Montreal International Jazz Festival — Canada's grandest music event of the year — props up the city's elite Francophones. (See: the new Grévin museum.) Some are formed at home and others come from abroad, yet Americans have no clue about the majority of these artists. Most French musicians, and let's throw the Quebecois in that category, can't find gigs in the U.S.

    For American first-timers to the festival, this can be a revelation. Here are five French or Quebecois artists featured this year. Follow WBGO for more annual coverage from Montreal.

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