WBGO Blog
  • Bourne's Montreal: Tony And Gaga

    July 25, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    I've lost count of all the times I've enjoyed concerts of Tony Bennett, but he's always best in Montreal: he's often said he appreciates how greatly the festival treats artists.

    And not only the artistry of Tony Bennett the singer - also the artistry of Anthony Benedetto, the painter.  Spectra, producers of the Montreal jazzfest, presented last year a gallery showing of Tony's paintings.  They also  offer in, the festival's artshop, lithographs of Tony's portrait of Louis Armstrong.

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    Best of all the Tony Bennett performances I've attended through the years happened at FIJM 2004.  He was so happy to be honored with that year's prix Ella Fitzgerald.  He's one of the very few artists with an open invitation to perform at every festival.  He especially loves the acoustics of the big Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier.

    I was sorry I was so involved in the finale of the festival's Canadian band contest that I couldn't come to this year's show — but then …

    "Come to the soundcheck," said Tony on the phone.  "We're gonna surprise everyone tonight.  Lady Gaga is gonna sing with me.  It's a secret!"

    Photo by Patrick Beaudry
    Photo by Patrick Beaudry

    Tony and Gaga have a whole album of standards forthcoming this fall, called Cheek to Cheek. Tony loved how much Gaga loved singing "The Lady Is a Tramp" on his album Duets II. "She loves jazz," said Tony.  "And she's really good!"

    Backstage I came, and they came.  Tony in a green track suit.  Gaga in what looked like a black cocktail dress — for a party on Mars.  Tight.  Black.  With a swirling drape of black from shoulder to shoulder.  "I want you to meet--" said Tony.  "I know who he is," said Gaga and kissed me.

    I've rarely encountered anyone in show biz so immediately and downright radiantly nice as Gaga.  It's no wonder she gets along with the nicest guy in show biz.  And where she gets it was also evident.  Gaga's very sweet mother was also hanging at the soundcheck.

    Photo by Patrick Beaudry
    Photo by Patrick Beaudry

    They sang with Tony's quartet, with Mike Renzi now at the piano, two duets.  "But Beautiful."  Which was indeed beautiful.   And a whirlwind of "It Don't Mean a Thing."  Which was indeed swinging.  I don't know Gaga's pop music at all, but her chops are fantastic.  She can project a swooping chorus to the balcony.  And she can sing in a hush, like the song she'd be singing solo, "Lush Life."  I marveled especially at a very touching moment of the Billy Strayhorn lyric.

    No press was allowed at the soundcheck or even during the performance that night, but someone in the balcony with a cell camera posted "Lush Life" the next day on You Tube.

    When she sang with Tony, Gaga wore a white almost wedding-like dress.

    When she sang the next night at the Montreal hockey rink, Gaga wore a blue octopus.

    "Who's been kissing you?" someone teased me in the press room after I'd come from the soundcheck.  She'd apparently left a scarlet lipstick kiss on my grizzled cheek.

    "It's a secret," I said.  And trembled, like a gawky teenager.

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  • Bourne's Montreal: Diana Krall And Me

    July 23, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    When Diana Krall first played the Montreal jazzfest 20 years ago, she was just getting started in her soon-to-be-skyrocketing career; she played a tribute to Nat Cole with Russell Malone on guitar, and Paul Keller on bass, in the bistro of the city's Comedy Museum, now long-closed.

    That gig was one of the swinging-est performances I've ever heard.  It's the concert I always remember first whenever I'm asked what have been my favorite musical moments through my  22 years at FIJM.

    Every few years since then, she's returned to Montreal — each gig at a bigger venue - and every time, I catch the show.

    This year, I got to reminisce with Diana during her Q&A with festival artistic director André Menard, which you can listen to here:

    Photo by Marie-Claire Denis
    Photo by Marie-Claire Denis

    When still a newcomer, Diana played a lovely concert at Theatre Maisonneuve. Tony Bennett was singing that evening at the biggest venue, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. Mid-way through his show, Tony called Diana onto the stage, sat her at the piano, held the microphone for her to sing, and in that moment virtually anointed Diana as a new keeper of the standards flame.

    I was there that evening, and I’ve been there whenever she's played FIJM, including a show at the city's uncomfortably enormous hockey rink, the Bell Centre - where, as a surprise, her then-new husband Elvis Costello joined her onstage at the show’s climax.

    Andre Menard, the festival's co-founder and always astute artistic director, suggested that Diana play a show solo for FIJM 2011, so she created a tribute to her beloved mom and dad.

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    Photo by Denis Alix

    Along with showing home movies and early cartoons, she decorated the stage with personal artifacts, including her dad's crank-up Victrola, and played songs of the 20s and 30s, from her dad's sheet music collection, that she practised as a child.

    "I can still smell my dad's cigarette smoke," she said at the concert.   Soon thereafter, she evolved the show into what became a tour of the album Glad Rag Doll.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    For this year's mid-fest “grand event” or grand evenement, Diana bookended her tour for an audience of more than 100,000, mostly standing in the streets all around Place des Arts, with a group that included guitarist Marc Ribot and Karriem Riggins, the former drummer of her musical mentor, bassist Ray Brown.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    Along with some of her favorite pop songs -- "Temptation" by Tom Waits, "Heart of Gold" by Neil Young, and several by Bob Dylan — she sang a deeply emotional "Let's Face The Music and Dance."

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    Husband Elvis Costello came on for the encores, which was inexorable, but not a surprise — he also played a solo concert, earlier that evening, at Montreal’s Symphony Hall. Having not seen each other, as both had been on tour, and with their twins away on a fishing trip, they actually flirted.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    Then they sang duets - climaxed by a faster-than-a-speeding-bullet breath-taker, Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues."

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix
  • Trumpeter Claudio Roditi: "Live At Jazzfestival Bern"

    July 23, 2014. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Trumpeter Claudio Roditi talks with WBGO's Awilda Rivera about his live recordings with the Swiss Jazz Orchestra with saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera and bandoneón player Michael Zisman.

    Roditi, an original member of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's United Nation Orchestra, performs in the Newark Museum's Jazz In The Garden Series on June 24 at 12:15 p.m. Enjoy!

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