• Montreal Jazzfest 2015 -- June 25th, Day A

    June 27, 2015. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Add new comment | Filed under: FIJM, FIJM 2015

    Doesn't start officially until tomorrow, but Festival International de JAZZ de Montreal is underway today.

    First sound that I hear when I arrive at the Hyatt Regency, just across from Place des Arts, is a soundcheck (and some hammer banging) on the big TD Bank stage. That's where the world-pop group Beirut will play tomorrow evening for Le Grand Concert d'Ouverture and where the usual, more or less, 100K who come for the free events will be drinking festival beer and dancing in the street.

    Meanwhile, fountains start spurting up along the middle of what used to be a traffic artery but is now a year-round festival scene.  Children will soon be dancing in the water.  Mostly trad bands will be playing every afternoon.  And all around Place des Arts, free outdoor stages are being finished for all the school bands, swing bands, blues bands, and from-everywhere-in-the-world bands who will play the noon-to-midnight free outdoor concerts.

    Also, kiosks and tents are being readied to sell Heineken and port and rum, barbecue (oodles of pulled pork) and Mexican food, Argentinian food, Thai food, Belgian waffles, mangos-on-a-stick cut to look like flowers, and frites with cheese curds. I don't drool for the latter, called poutine, but I always enjoy the hot dogs from the kids-run grills around the festival.

    Musically, even before the festival begins, the festival presents a special event, or two, and on Day A, at Theatre du Nouveau Monde, Canadian rocker Colin James played the first of three acoustic concerts, while in Cinquieme Salle, Flamenco Vivo stomped the first of five concerts.

    Credit Denis Alix, FIJM
    Colin James/Photo credit: Denis Alix, FIJM

    "Lo Esencial" is full-tilt flamenco, presented by singer Luis de la Carrasca.  He opens the show meandering around the audience, singing with an unfathomable vibrato -- now crying, now gasping -- while tossing candy to the crowd.  Most of the show features a traditional Andalusian arc of seats for players and dancers, and the most spectacular moments look and sound spontaneous, as if they're suddenly possessed by the music.  What always amazes me about flamenco is the hand-clapping -- not in a tempo or time that one can count, but quickly back and forth -- so intensely rhythmic that the "drummer" is free to play finger-breaking solos on the cajon, essentially a wooden box that the player sits on.  And then come the dancers.

    Ana Perez appears in a blue gown with a train, and as she whirls her dress her feet ... stomp!  More than fast.  Machine-gun fast.  Like the drummers playing a Scottish military tattoo.  Only even faster!

    Photo credit: Denis Alix, FIJM
    Ana Perez/Photo credit: Denis Alix, FIJM

    Ana Perez is sexy.  Kuky Santiago is sexual.  As he dances, Kuky coils like a basilisk.  Except that he's a serpent with feet.  Really fast feet.

    After the standing ovation, they all came back for Kuky and Ana to have a dance-off.  I've always felt tap dancers are like jazz drummers.   Kuky Santiago is the Buddy Rich of feet.

  • The Very Best of Montreal 2015 With WBGO

    June 26, 2015. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Add new comment | Filed under: Jazz Alive

    Montreal lives, breathes, and loves jazz every summer, when millions of fans and hundreds of acts take over the city. So does WBGO, especially host Michael Bourne, who attends FIJM every year, as he has for two decades, and producer Simon Rentner, who covers the ins and outs of Montreal for The Checkout.

    Bourne and Rentner are back on the scene in Montreal this year. Check out the WBGO blog every day through July 5, and tune in to WBGO FM, to hear and read their day-by-day reports and behind-the-scenes coverage.

    Can't wait? WBGO's Tim Wilkins has profiled five top Canadian acts at this year's festival for NPRMusic, with streaming tracks. And WBGO's HD2 channel, The Jazz Bee, is streaming music by this year's artists throughout the festival.

    Miss something? Check out our wall-to-wall coverage of the 2014 Montreal jazz fest - or our coverage of 2013 - with hundreds of photos and interviews you can't see or hear anywhere else, or... you get the picture.

    We hope you enjoy the very best of Montreal year after year - with WBGO!

    Michael Bourne and Simon Rentner with saxophonist Charles Lloyd

  • New Documentary Finds Nina Simone 'In Between The Black And White Keys'

    June 24, 2015. Posted by WBGO.

    The documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? explores Nina Simone's rich and complicated life. (Image Credit: Courtesy of Peter Rodis/Netflix)

    Even those who didn't live through Nina Simone's heyday can recognize her songs, or at least her voice. Born Eunice Waymon, the passionate performer and activist died in 2003, and today her recordings still loom larger than the rest of her story.

    In the new documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?, filmmaker Liz Garbus goes looking for the details that have slipped through the cracks. She recently discussed the film with NPR special correspondent Michele Norris; hear their conversation at the audio link and read an edited version below.

    Michele Norris: Who was the Nina Simone that you knew when you started this project?

    Liz Garbus: I knew the music — I didn't know the woman. So, here's a young girl who grows up in the church; her mother is both a housekeeper and a minister. People quickly realize that this is a young girl with extraordinary musical talent. The town comes together, black and white — and this is the Jim Crow South, this is North Carolina — and raises a fund for her to study classical music. She studies with a Russian immigrant named Ms. Massinovitch, and young Nina, whose name is actually Eunice Waymon, falls in love with Bach. I didn't know that Nina was a classically trained pianist who had gone to Juilliard. When you start to understand that part of her upbringing and her training, you start to be able to deconstruct, as you listen, the way that she infuses a jazz standard with classical counterpoint and blues and soul. Her musical talent and training is evident in every bar.

    She talked about herself sort of as existing in between the white and the black keys of the piano, and that's how she grew up: this child-prodigy treasure, living on the other side of the tracks, and of course facing racism when she performed. When she was 12 years old, at a classical recital, her parents were asked to sit in the back of the room. Nina refused to play if they were in the back of the room. She was always living in opposition — sometimes dangerous opposition.

    Why did she change her name?

    So Nina's at Juilliard, and the money the townsfolk had collected for her has run out. She applies to Curtis [Institute of Music], where, if she was accepted, tuition would be paid for by the institute itself. She's rejected from Curtis, and she ends up starting to play in the bars of Atlantic City in order to support herself. Her whole family had moved north to be around her while she was studying, and she was ashamed that she was playing in bars. She had come up in a very religious family, playing church music and classical music, and here she was in the bars and nightclubs where people were drinking, and she was providing entertainment. She changed her name to avoid being on her mother's radar.

    In your film, some of the hardest scenes to watch are when Simone's adult daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, looks back on her childhood.

    I think Lisa had spent a long time trying to set the record straight about her mom, and that's a very hard task, because the record about her mom isn't straight. Her mom had a life with many rough edges. There are a lot of people out there who don't have nice things to say about Nina Simone. She occupies that space that people call "a difficult woman." That's a term laden with a lot of sexism, as many male performers could get away with some of the stuff that Nina would pull.

    Nina truly did have difficulty in her life. She did, I think, suffer from an undiagnosed mental illness for most of her 20s and 30s. So this was Lisa's mother: a woman who was in an abusive marriage, who could be abusive herself, who was in turmoil about her career, though totally dedicated to it. Setting that record straight for Lisa is no easy task, and Lisa feels now that her mother's story has been told and that she doesn't have to correct the record.

    Nina Simone was known as an activist. Do people understand fully the price she paid for that?

    I don't think it's understood how different Nina was from some of the entertainers of the time. Of course, there are many great contemporaries of Nina — Harry Belafonte, Aretha Franklin — who were able to participate in the movement and nurture the commercial side of their career, and Nina really wasn't able to do that.

    In 1963, after the Birmingham church bombing, that's when Nina first identifies herself becoming involved with the movement. That's when she sat down and in 20 minutes wrote one of the most important songs of the Civil Rights Movement, "Mississippi Goddam," where she let her anger and rage and sadness pour out of her. As her career progressed, she wrote some of the greatest anthems of the Civil Rights Movement: "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," "Backlash Blues." She surrounded herself with a community of intellectuals and radicals like Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and Miriam Makeba. She was radicalized.

    There's an interview with Nina in the early 1990s by Ebony magazine, and they say to her, "Do you regret having been involved with the Civil Rights Movement?" — because she was saying that the industry punished her for her involvement. And she says, well, she'd probably do the whole thing over again, but that she does regret it because her music has no relevance anymore. And I think we can see today that she was wrong there. Her music is so relevant.

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