July 5, 2015. Posted by Michael Bourne.
Two million fest-goers again this year, even with the rain. Festival International de JAZZ de Montreal presented a wrap-up early this year. International journalists mostly split on or before Monday -- when the festival usually looks back for the media. More than 400 accredited journalists and more than 150 other media types attended this year's 36th annual Montreal Jazz Festival, and the execs wanted to look back even before they're done on Sunday. Jacques-Andre Dupont, the festival's new CEO, presented some of the singers from this year's 10th annual festival blues camp. Six teenagers, young women, a couple of them wanting to appear sultry, mostly sang sweetly "Trouble In Mind" and "Proud Mary."
Laurent Saulnier, VP of programming, and Andre Menard, artistic director, talked about favorite artists this year, especially surprises. Andre said that he'd never before heard (and was delighted by) one of the elders, Johnny O'Neal. Andre also encapsulated the central belief behind 36 years of the jazzfest: that, bigger, better, whatever the changes, whatever the growth, FIJM continues to be "a music festival programmed by music fans for music fans."
I opted tonight for one show.
For The Record is a troupe that creates extraordinary shows that celebrate movies in what seem like fevered dreams of songs and scenes. They presented last year a show that shuffled memorable moments and pop songs from the soundtracks of Quentin Tarantino movies. They've presented this year a similar and often as violent pastiche of Baz Luhrmann movies. With a rocking band, highlighted by a violinist in lingerie, four women and five men re-create the doomed lovers and others from Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet, The Great Gatsby, and Strictly Ballroom. While the latter is not as tragic, the other three are violently romantic, with scenes counterpointed by a variety of pop songs. "Nature Boy." "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." "Let's Misbehave." Madonna's "Material Girl" and "Like a Virgin." Tarantino's movies have many more iconic scenes -- I remember feeling all of us anticipating Marsellus going medieval -- but we know what comes from Shakespeare's play and from Fitzgerald's novel, and the singers/dancers/actors were quite visceral and sexy.
© 2015 WBGO
July 5, 2015. Posted by Michael Bourne.
One of my first impressions at the Montreal Jazz Festival was that they'd created a cool look. I'd been to plenty of festivals by 1992, and all of them sold t-shirts, but most t-shirts were generic: the year, a logo, maybe a local icon, a famous mountain or some such. Montreal's t-shirts featured a cat playing a guitar, or playing drums, or singing (and looking) like Ella, or a cat dancing, or just the hip-looking head of a cat -- with a halo. Ste. Catherine Street is one of the city's famous thoroughfares and one of the festival's perimeters. Ergo ... Saint Cat.
Not always with a halo'd cat, most of the festivals images through the years have been works of Montreal artist Yves Archambaut. Clever. Colorful. Very Montreal. I've bought dozens of t-shirts with saintly cats and other Archambault designs. My favorite was last year's Archambault, Saxophoenix, a rainbow-colored phoenix flying from a saxophonist's bell. Curiously, the t-shirt is black with the saxophonist bigger, the litho is white with the bird bigger. I bought both.
Archambault's design for this year's FIJM is "Electron libre," a dancer (Michael Jackson?) floating among musical instruments. I also bought a new Ste. Cat.
Among the lifetime-type awards every year is the Prix Bruce Lundvall, named for the great jazz record-maker and meant for someone who's contributed to jazz but is not a musician. Several jazz record-producers have been honored, also photographer Herman Leonard, and this year for the first time a journalist! Bill Milkowski, contributor to Down Beat and other jazz mags, author of an acclaimed bio of Jaco Pastorius, and frequenter of the Montreal jazzfest, was presented this year's award by the festival's artistic director Andre Menard. Bill talked about his friendship with Bruce Lundvall, about knowing and writing books about Pat Martino and Jaco. He introduced a documentary about Jaco at a jazzfest theatre.
Bill and other writers at the jazzfest press conference talked about the business of writing about jazz, about his best and his worst interviews, about the quality (or lack thereof) of jazz writing now that anyone can cyber-scribble opinions on the internet, and especially about how all the changes in technology have affected being a jazz journalist. Bill remembered that, once upon a time, he typed a piece on an manual typewriter, "with white-out," then he drove into Manhattan on icy streets, he mailed what he'd typed via FedEx to Chicago, and eventually his piece was delivered to Down Beat. "Now," said Bill Milkowski, "I just push a button."
Dee Dee Bridgewater sang with trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. "What's the (French) word for sexy?" Irvin Mayfield shouted at the audience. A babble shouted back. And he asked again. A babble shouted back. And he asked again. A babble shouted even louder as the answer walked on. She sang Harry Connick's "One Fine Thing." She sang the Gospel According to Duke, "Come Sunday." She romped some NOLA R&B, "Big Fat Woman." She scatted like a trombone. On one of the songs, the trumpet section engaged in a trumpet-go-around, all four of them endeavoring to play higher and faster. They got a standing (and cheering) O. Dee Dee endeavored to sing higher than a trumpet, but the higher up, the more she sounded like a strangled canary. So she laughed and came back down to earth, sang a Maisonneuve-quaking "St James Infirmary."
I got to Club Soda just in time for Betty Bonafassi. She's one of the most protean singers I've ever heard. She's multi-ethnic, speaks many languages (including Farsi and Japanese), sings in even more. She's created a show called Chants d'esclaves, Chants d'espoir ("Songs of Slaves, Songs of Hope") from listening through the Archive of American Folk Song that ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax recorded for The Library of Congress, especially the collection of African-American songs that came from the tragedy of slavery and through the generations that came after. She performed the show at Club Soda with a chorus of women, a heavyweight electronic trio, and videos from the period when Alan Lomax was gathering the songs. Betty's group was almost deafening, but Betty's volcanic voice is even more powerful..
© 2015 WBGO
July 4, 2015. Posted by Michael Bourne.
And on the Place des Spectacles, Streetnix was playing "Summertime." The Miles and Gil arrangement. Distilled for alto sax, trumpet, trombone, tuba, and drums. All of them in shorts. Everyone having fun.
Professors. Professionals. Year round they teach and play in a variety of bands. And every year since I first came to the jazzfest they've been a favorite ritual of mine.
I first heard Streetnix play in an abandoned amphitheatre leftover from the Olympics. They played, and the Vic Vogel big band played, to celebrate FIJM's 25th anniversary. I've heard them sometimes on empty lots turned into jazz venues. Really, lots of lots. And always hip. "From A to Z," as saxophonist Jennifer Bell says. "From Adderley to Zeppelin." I remember once quite literally. They played "Mercy Mercy." They played "Black Dog." In recent years, Streetnix have played on the festival street and they've marched together with a NOLA-style brass band.
This year they've been playing at one end of the Deambulatoire. Always fun. "My Feets Can't Fail Me Now." Always hip. "Stairway to Heaven." Yes, more Z!
"Bon soir," said John Pizzarelli, and my immediate thought was "Don't say sorry that's all the French I know." I hate that unfunny insult I've heard too often from performers, especially when performing in mostly Francophone Montreal. And he did say something to that effect, but to a much funnier (and actually respectful) affect. He talked about learning American schoolboy French, especially phrases in French that you learn and repeat in class but rarely (or never) speak again in real life. One exception was one I learned in the sixth grade. "Ou est le bureau de tabac?" "Where is the tobacco shop (but really meaning the newsstand)?" Decades after the sixth grade, I was in Paris and needed a token for the phone, and I knew I could get a token at a newsstand, so I asked someone (in American-accented French) "Ou est le bureau de tabac?" -- and I was stupefied, flashing back vividly to grade school. John's question asked about the zoo, and the audience roared, all of them also flashing back to grade school.
John thereafter was even funnier. About half of his concert was virtual stand-up. He talked about the songs. He wondered why the song "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" is sung so often upbeat. It's a sad song. "It's a song about a guy who missed the Saturday dance." John therefore sang sadly. And amusingly. He told stories especially about his upcoming album of Paul McCartney songs, about McCartney in a letter wanting John to record some of the post-Beatle songs, about McCartney being there as John recorded songs -- that John then sang at the theatre of Monument National in Montreal. "My Valentine" with a bossa feeling was a highlight. So was a Lennon-McCartney classic that John recorded when he first played the jazzfest in the early 90's, "I've Just Seen a Face." John's chops as a comedian, especially his razor-sharp timing, are as good as his masterful guitar playing. "John Pizzarelli Sings McCartney & More" was one of the most entertaining shows I've attended at the jazzfest, but he ended very differently, very touchingly, with a solo encore of a song as a memorial for the recent racist killings in SC, the Rodgers & Hammerstein song about bigotry, "You've Got to Be Taught."
Lorraine Desmarais played the late show, a beautiful (and biographical) solo piano recital in the Jesus Room. She's composed through the years pieces inspired by musicians and others she's loved in her life. Oscar Peterson inspired an Oscar-like flurry of notes. Chick Corea inspired a Chick-like quirky groove. Lorraine was a classical pianist when she started, and her variation on a Chopin classic was especially lovely and loving. Another highlight was a tango, inspired by a sexy tango teacher named Alberto. Lorraine sometimes gets so worked up when she plays that she'll often physically leap up. When remembering Alberto, as her fingers played the tango, her body danced the tango. Oliver Jones was an inspiration and was in the audience. Lorraine as an encore played Oliver's "One for Chuck."
© 2015 WBGO