• Roni Ben Hur Talks "Our Thing" With Nicole Sweeney

    July 15, 2016. Posted by Josh Landes.

    Israeli guitarist Roni Ben Hur talks with Afternoon Jazz host Nicole Sweeney about his new record, "Our Thing", and the unique cultural crossroads of his homeland on WBGO.


  • FIJM 2016...Fun

    July 14, 2016. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Add new comment | Filed under: Jazz Alive

    Fest-goers attending the 2016 Montreal Jazz Festival drank 60,000 liters of beer.

    And here are some other numbers at the jazzfest wrap-up...
    More than 2 million folks attended 11 days of the festival around Place des Arts in the heart of Montreal. More than 2 thousand musicians, including artists from 30 countries, played almost 500 musical events on 21 free outdoor and ticketed indoor stages. Thirty-seven of the ticketed shows sold-out.

    Photo by Frédérique Ménard-Aubin
    Photo by Frédérique Ménard-Aubin

    470 journalists and other media types reported on FIJM 2016all wanting tickets to every show.
    Lydia Vallee handles the ticket requests. Lydia and her crew keep track of who wants, who needs, who expects, who demands all of les billets. They work with info on computers, but, really, they work endless hours counting the actual ticketsthousands of little pieces of paper! Lydia Vallee is vraiment Herculean.

    "Lydia Vallee at work at FIJM 2016. Photo by Michael Bourne
    Lydia Vallee at work at FIJM 2016. Photo by Michael Bourne
    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich
    Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

    My own accounting: 11 days, 35 gigs...and one of the best of my 24 years at Festival International de JAZZ de Montreal.

    One drag: the annual blather from grumpy journalists about "jazz" at the jazz festival. "There's a lot of music that's not jazz this year," said one as I first walked into the press room. "How do you like the 'no jazz' jazz festival?" asked another.
    And much more vulgar expletives to all of them.
    Including several I know in French.

    I want to declare a moratorium on this perennial nonsense.
    Andre Menard, co-founder of FIJM, brought up (as I often have) that, early on at Newport, George Wein, the very godfather of the jazz festival, presented the definitive rock-and-roller, Chuck Berry.
    And there've been countless artists all across the musical spectrum playing every jazz festival around the world ever since.

    Lorraine Desmarais at FIJM 2016. Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich
    Lorraine Desmarais at FIJM 2016. Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich

    Jazz is truly a universal language.
    I've heard the world, culture after culture, with their own sensibilities, with their own melodies and harmonies and rhythms, embrace jazz.
    I've heard jazz, just as deeply, just as swingingly, embrace the world.
    And, if you actually listen back through the 100-year history of this music, in every generation there've been critics and great musicians who've condemned the music of the next generation. New Orleans trad players, even Louis Armstrong himself, laughed at be-bop. As if what Dizzy and the Bird were creating was not jazz. Same against John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. Same against the "fusion" of Weather Report. Miles Davis alone innovated more changes in jazz than anyoneas when Bitches Brew confounded self-righteous defenders of the faith. And now comes hip-hop.

    Jacques Kuba Séguin at FIJM 2016. Photo by Denis Alix
    Jacques Kuba Séguin at FIJM 2016. Photo by Denis Alix

    Laurent Saulnier, VP of programmingI call him VP of the Edgeactually changed how I think about jazz and, really, how I appreciate all of the arts. When he challenged me (6-7 years ago) to listen when hip-hop/beat-box/electro/whatever-the-hell-it-is played at the festival's Club Soda, I heard a trio called Plaster playing keyboards, bass and drums all hooked into computers and other electronics. They were generating riffs and grooves back and forth, even with samples of a politician's speech manipulated rhythmically. I remember realizing in a flash "Count Basie!" I remembered that Basie's very definition of jazz was that jazz "makes you pat your foot." Mine was very happily patting!
    I could hear the continuum of jazz at that gig, and I've believed ever since that nowhere is "jazz" redefined better than in Montreal.

    Rufus_Wainwright at at FIJM 2016. Photo by Denis Alix
    Rufus_Wainwright at at FIJM 2016. Photo by Denis Alix

    "Fun" was the world I most often scribbled in my notebook.
    Especially when enjoying some of my favorite festival moments:

    • Charlie Hunter laughing a blues with dancing drummer Bobby Previte...
    • James Carter "unchaining" (by busting grooves) Django classics with his organ trio...
    • Lorraine Desmarais dancing with her Montreal all-star big band...
    • Karen Young, honored with the festival's Oscar Peterson Award, singing duets with her daughter, Coral Eganespecially one of the songs that they sang together when Coral was a child. Coral and Karen even played patty-cake...
    • The whimsical sexiness of Cyrille Aimee singing Monk...
    • The gracefulness of pianist Fred Hersch playing Jobim and Monk...
    • The finger-breaking pianistic acrobatics of Marianne Trudel and Francois Bourassa...
    • The rushing melodies of trumpeter Jacques Kuba Seguinn...
    • The powerfully beautiful voice of songwriter Rufus Wainwright, especially with his family singing Leonard Cohen's Canadian pop anthem "Hallelujah"...
    • The heartfully swinging farewell concert of Montreal's piano master, Oliver Jones...
    Oliver Jones at FIJM 2016. Photo by Denis Alix
    Oliver Jones at FIJM 2016. Photo by Denis Alix

    And then there was a "Great Event" with the performer I once called "The Charlie Parker of Pop!"
    "This is gonna be the best night of your life!" promised British singer and pianist and BBC jazz jock and pop star Jamie Cullum to the tens of thousands of fest-goers jam-packed (and jam-anticipating) in the festival's TD Scene.
    "Don't applaud it yet!" shouted Jamie when the tens of thousands screamed. "You haven't heard it yet!" laughed Jamie. "It might be shit!"
    Le Grande Evenement, as the festival's spectacular centerpiece is always called, was actually quite grand.
    "Don't Stop The Music" just for starters. "Comes Love" and some songs for the festival's patron saint, Ray Charles. Short, but he seemed titanic. His hair like black flames. His fingers dancing on the piano, drumming on the piano, close-up on the Jumbo-trons. And then he jumped and danced on top of the piano. "Michael Buble don't do this!" shouted Jamie, jumping to the stage, jumping all around the stage, jumping even into the audience. And all the while a big band of Montreal's best players jumped with him. Solos aplenty all around. Muhammad Al-Khabyyr on the trombone. Andre Leroux on the tenor sax. I didn't catch the name of the trumpeter spotlighted as "Love for Sale" became phantasmagorical, but Jamie knew them all, and Jamie was thrilled by them all: "The caliber of musicians in this city is amazing!"

    Jamie Cullum at FIJM 2016. Photo by test
    Jamie Cullum at FIJM 2016. Photo by Frédérique Ménard-Aubin
    An excited crowd watches Jamie Cullum perform. Photo by Frédérique Ménard-Aubin
    An excited crowd watches Jamie Cullum perform. Photo by Frédérique Ménard-Aubin

    He sang a love song "that encapsulates how I feel about being here in Montreal." He sang his own "When I Get Famous" for all the girls who didn't want him when he wasn't. He conducted a sing-along chant from a bass line of Mingus. And after a full-tilt two-hour jamboree, everyone was bouncing like tens of thousands of whack-a-moles. All showing him fires from their lighters and flashings from their cell-phones. Jamie staggered off the stage, but they kept on chanting to him. And back he came. Alone in the dark of the stage. Looking like a rag doll. His face on the Jumbo-trons streaked with sweat. And with tears. Alone at the piano, he sang "What a Difference a Day Made." Quietly. Lovingly, "This," said Jamie Cullum, "has been the best gig of my life!"

    FIJM 2016 was one of the best gigs of mine.

    Je reviendrai a Montreal...

  • FIJM 2016...Oliver Jones and the 49th Parallel

    July 12, 2016. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    "Tell everyone how good the musicians are in this city," said Oliver Jones about the big band playing on his farewell concert. Oliver even pointed out a favorite Quebcoise artist in the audience, pianist and composer Lorraine Desmarais. Some of the players with Oliver, long-time best of the jazz scene up yonder, also played at the jazzfest with Lorraine's big band and for the "Great Event" of Jamie Cullum. Some of them, including Canadian masters honored with the festival's Oscar Peterson Award, also played their own gigs. Ron DiLauro, trumpeter and (for the first time ever on stage) singer, celebrated Chet Baker at the Gesu. Francois Bourassa and Marianne Trudel played a flabbergasting (like shrapnel from an exploding hornet's nest) twin-piano tribute to Paul Bley at the Gesu, and Trudel's own group featured Ingrid Jensen, one of the best trumpet players anywhere. That she's now living in New Jersey means that Ingrid is one of the few players from above now able to play below the 49th Parallel. That so many of the superb Canadian players and singers I've enjoyed in Montreal rarely ever -- or never -- get gigs in the US is a bureaucratic shame of the governments on both sides of the Jazz Wall. That he so often praised his fellow musicians at his own tribute showed certainly why Oliver Jones is so loved in the Montreal (and all across Canada) jazz scene.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    Oliver was "vraiment chez nous," happy to be at home, he said, after a farewell tour of Canada, including gigs in the Yukon. Now at the Maison Symphonique, with his trio and a big band, Oliver was playing his last gig at the jazz festival. "I remember his farewell concert...in 1999," said artistic director Andre Menard, welcoming everyone. I remember that first farewell also, a solo concert at Monument National. Oliver played a delightful recital, thanked everyone for his musical life, and then said "What would you like to hear?" Song titles erupted from the audience, and Oliver played a half hour of requests. I've been to the jazzfest 24 years and that's my all-time favorite memory–along with one of the festival's truly legendary events, when Oscar Peterson played his last concert in 2004. Oscar's sister Daisy was Oscar's teacher and also taught piano to the kid a dozen doors down the block, Oliver. They'd known each other all their lives but never played piano together until that night. I was there that night and for several more Oliver Jones concerts thereafter in Montreal. Now, he was saying he was seriously done with playing...after this one more time at FIJM.

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    Oliver's long-time trio played first, with Eric Lagace on bass and Jim Doxas on drums. Oscar's presence was a light that beamed through Oliver's life and through his swan song, especially when the trio played tunes of or inspired by Oliver's friend and inspiration: "Cakewalk," and "You Look Good To Me." Lively. Lyrical. After they played a buoyant "Honeysuckle Rose," Eric Lagace laughed that "we've both played that song a thousand times, but never together." Jim Doxas was in the spotlight for a calypso. Oliver's Gershwin medley was climactic, but the finale of every Oliver Jones show has been an anthem, Oscar's heart-lifting "Hymn to Freedom."

    Photo by Denis Alix
    Photo by Denis Alix

    Christine Jensen, an always imaginative composer and arranger, fronted the big band for the show's other half (There's always a battle of the bands at the end of FIJM). This year's battle pitted the Glenn Miller band against the Cab Calloway band (I think there'd be a helluva "take no prisoners" jazz showdown if Christine's band battled the Maria Schneider band).  Oliver and the big band played hiply-arranged standards: "The Way You Look Tonight," and "Swinging on a Star," a piece dedicated to Oliver's friend (and Montreal's jazz guru) Len Dobbin, more tunes (and memories) of Oscar, and a finale of Oliver's "Blues for Helene." "This is a true message," said Oliver before an encore of "Love Is Here To Stay."

    I remember Oliver telling me that when he was a kid, he didn't play baseball; he listened at the window to Oscar practicing. I asked him at the farewell press conference if he'd ever regretted not playing baseball. "I'd have made more money," he said, but he's happy that he became a musician. "To play at home for you," he said to the audience that night, was his greatest joy.

  • Guitarist Bob DeVos Talks Jazz On The WBGO Salon Session

    July 11, 2016. Posted by Josh Landes.

    Jazz vet Bob DeVos talks Kenny Burrell, Ella Fitzgerald, and more on this intimate episode of Sheila Anderson's Salon Session series WBGO's Weekend Jazz After Hours.


  • FIJM 2016... a Friday Night

    July 10, 2016. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Add new comment | Filed under: FIJM, FIJM 2016

    6PM...a great concert at L'Astral: trumpeter Jacques Kuba Seguin plays with his trio, including Frederic Alarie playing the bass of Scott LaFaro, and a string quartet, a tapestry of beautiful melodies.

    Jacques Kuba Sequinn, photo by Denis Alix.
    Jacques Kuba Sequinn, photo by Denis Alix.

    8PM...a great concert at Monument National: trumpeter Erik Truffaz plays with his electro-rocking jazz quartet, playing magical moments, like a haunting prayer as if atop a mountain echoing through the clouds, or echo-plexing himself into a choir of himself, and then a boogaloo.

    Erik Truffaz at FIJM 2016. Photo by Denis Alix.
    Erik Truffaz at FIJM 2016. Photo by Denis Alix.

    10PM...I meander the jazzfest, stop by Club Soda and say hello to the long-time bouncer as a Swedish group called Peter, Bjorn, and John is singing (so says the program) "decadent rock and shimmering pop new wave." I amble on.

    10:30PM...Turkish Airlines is a new jazzfest sponsor, with a mini-expo promoting Turkish tours, and on the big Turkish stage Nigerian/Haitian rapper Wasiu is mostly babbling -- while at the corner of the Saints, Catherine and Urbain, one can also hear the French/American pop duo GinkGoa sounding rap-like from the Rio Tinto stage. "We don't like rap," says one of the young women at the TD "Comfort" kiosk. They have hand sanitizer and wipes for sticky passersby. They also lend games like UNO for folks to play on a nearby terrace. "We like rock," they tell me.

    Turkish Airlines on the grounds of FIJM 2016. Photo by Frederique Menard Aubin.
    Turkish Airlines on the grounds of FIJM 2016. Photo by Frederique Menard Aubin.

    Maybe a couple hundred fest-goers have become a square around two young women twirling batons of fire. They also eat and spit fire as the square cheers. "Any trouble?" I ask a security guard. "No trouble," he says.

    Up the stairs by the Maison Symphonique there's a new kids playground with a giant wooden sax and drum for kids to climb on. Late it is, but kids are everywhere, lots of toddlers in strollers oblivious to the noise. Also lots of older folks in wheelchairs, and lots of solo men looking as if lurking, and lots of women in groups laughing, whole families walk by, lots of all-ages couples walk holding hands, and one of the fest-workers empties a trash can, an Augean labour with maybe a hundred cans and cups in each bag. Two cops walk by, in shorts and looking like fest-goers but packing Glocks. "Any trouble?" again the question. "No trouble," again the answer.

    11PM...Blues lovers, or World Beat lovers, or whoever happens to be around the Bell stage await a French group called Delgres that mixes Delta blues with the grooves of Guadeloupe. I turn the corner and hear Carlos Placeres, a Cuban troubadour singing Quebecois clave on the Hyundai stage.

    I stop at the Terrace Sangria for a blanche and opt for empanadas again at L'Atelier Argentine: one is Carne with Black Angus beef and smoked paprika, very tasty, the other is Humita with sweet corn and red pepper, very yucky. I doubt that the hot sludge in buckets on the tables would've overcome the yuckiness.

    Sangria Terrace at FIJM 2016. Photo by Frederique Menard Aubin.
    Sangria Terrace at FIJM 2016. Photo by Frederique Menard Aubin.

    11:30PM...I walk alongside Place des Festivals, with two makeshift restaurants, one Portuguese, one French, alongside the big TD stage. Devil's Tale is playing, a group that features Quebecois guitarist Adrian Raso with a Romanian gypsy brass band called Fanfare Ciocarlia, all dressed in black suits with red ties, long hair cascading from Sinatra hats. And tubas playing the leads. Quite raucously danceable, what looks like a few thousand fest-goers are dancing in the street, climatically to Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King."

    Midnight...I'm almost cash-less. Canadian bills are slick and I suspect that money slips out of one's pocket. I have only a pocketful of loonies, Canadian one-dollar coins so named for an embossed floating loon. Canadian two-dollar coins are called doubloons. I don't have enough for the jazzfest hot dogs I like, but I'm curious and ask the kid at the grill how many hot dogs does he grills in a day. "300," he guesses. "400, maybe," he guesses. "I don't know, I'm only a humble...uh?" he wonders. "Grillmaster," I offer. "Grillmaster! I like that!" he shouts as he scrapes off another evening of grease.

    Jamie Cullum at FIJM 2016. Photo by Benoit Rousseau.
    Jamie Cullum at FIJM 2016. Photo by Benoit Rousseau.

    I've been 24 years at the jazzfest in Montreal. Doug has been manager for 19 years of another favorite night-ender, the Dairy Queen. "What sells best?" I ask. "Blizzards," says Doug. "How's business been this year with the jazzfest?" I ask. "This was the worst year ever," says Doug. "Weather was shitty, and they don't have big names on the stage any more," says Doug, meaning the TD Bank scene. "They used to have Stevie Wonder," he says, but then, "That kid, what's his name?  Jamie something?"  "Jamie Cullum," I tell him. "Yeah, he was okay," says Doug as he hurries to handle a cream crisis.

    Back at the Hyatt Regency from another meandering festival night, I almost stumble by a little girl dancing. There's no music playing, but she's just as happy dancing to the cool breezes of a night at Festival International de Jazz de Montreal.