WBGO Blog
  • FIJM 2016: Day 3 and 4

    July 3, 2016. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Yesterday, 7/1/16, was Canada Day. I didn't know. I rarely ever know at the Jazzfest.  I've seen a photo of kids at a parade yesterday in Montreal, kids and grown-ups with red maple leaves inked on their faces, but not around Place des Arts. Around midnight, after an encore at the Gesu, Charlie Hunter wished everyone a happy Canada Day, but I heard no one in the happy audience cheer.  Or even react. I've been to Montreal several years on Quebec Day. Everything was shut down, including much of the Jazzfest. Yes, the folks I know at the Jazzfest acknowledge that they're Canadian. Economically at least. Politically, more or less. But in their hearts, they're Quebecois.

    Festival goers celebrate Canada Day. Photo by Victor Diaz.
    Festival goers celebrate Canada Day. Photo by Victor Diaz.

    One trouble about being a Canadian musician is that it's difficult, sometimes impossible, and always absurd that there's so much red tape across the 49th parallel. American musicians can come play in Canada relatively easily, but the governments on both sides of the national border often confound Canadian musicians from playing in the United States. Work permits can be a bureaucratic nuisance. And traveling down can cost more money than a gig is worth. It's a shame, really.

    I've heard so many wonderful Canadian (and especially Quebecois) artists at the Jazzfest. One of my favorites played the festival this year with her big band. Lorraine Desmarais at the piano can be romantic, melancholic, purely melodic, or down to earth and swinging. I love the most when she's so swept up in the music that she leaps to her feet as if catapulted by the groove. When last at the festival, she played solo at the Gesu, a concert of musical portraits she's composed.  I especially remember her portrait of an Argentine who taught Lorraine how to tango. An apparently quite sexy Argentine. And this year's big band show at L'Astral was all about "Danses  Danzas Dances" (title of her newest album).

    Lorraine Demarais performs at FIJM 2016. Photo by Victor Diaz.
    Lorraine Desmarais performs at FIJM 2016. Photo by Victor Diaz.

    Each of her tunes was composed on and around the rhythm of a dance. And all of the rhythms jumped. Even a bossa nova became head-snappingly swinging. And a tune just called "Tango" was heart-pumpingly sexy. One other highlight featured the trombone section like a heavenly choir floating across Lorraine's piano. What's as great about her big band music is the big band playing her music, a Who's Who of the Montreal jazz scene. Lorraine herself was honored in 2002 with the festival's Oscar Peterson Award (for the best of Canadian jazz), and so were two cats in her big band: trumpeter/flugelhornist Ron DiLauro in 2014 and alto/soprano saxist Jean-Pierre Zanella in 2011. Also spotlighted was carnivorous tenor saxist Andre Leroux, and, really, Lorraine spotlights them all. Lorraine's concerts always have been highlights for me at the festival, especially this year enjoying so much Lorraine Desmarais dancing!

    If one counts every musical event in a day, 44 happened on Day 3. I attended five, including Joey Alexander at the Monument-National. I was, like everyone, flabbergasted by Joey's playing on the album and at the WBGO gala, but Joey's trio gig in Montreal was my first time seeing and hearing him play a concert. And jeez, he's really good as all the fuss about his being a child, even better in his trio with bassist Dan Chmielinski and drummer Kyle Poole. Yes, he's got chops, but beyond the phenomenal physical technique of his playing, is what and how much he's playing. Coltrane's "Resolution" just for starters. Monk's "I Mean You" as an encore. The dynamics. The give-and-take of the group's interplay. The little twists and turns of counterpoints. And he knows how to thrill a sold-out audience. I only wonder if Joey Alexander can be as good or even greater when he's as grown up as the audience cheering him in Montreal.

    Joey Alexander performs at FIJM 2016. Photo by Denis Alix.
    Joey Alexander performs at FIJM 2016. Photo by Denis Alix.

    I always want to end a day at FIJM with whoever is playing at the Gesu -- a performing arts center in the Jesuit church on Bleury, the block next to Place des Arts. Every evening at 10:30 groups play in the Salle de Gesu, literally the Room of Jesus, and almost always the groups are what I call "very Montreal" -- meaning unusual, surprising, shocking once in a while, always compelling, and different, like the very festival that the "Jazz Dans La Nuit" concerts conclude each evening.

    The Charlie Hunter Trio is indeed typical of the groups who play the Jesus Room, which is to say not typical musically at all. Charlie on guitar, with Bobby Previte on the drums and Allan Ferber on trombone. "We make it up," said Charlie of the music they'd play. Certainly tunes they play on the album Let The Bells Ring On, but mostly Charlie looked at Bobby, mostly laughing as he scatted a tune or a shard of groove, and they'd take off. Bobby Previte played the tunes at the drums sometimes more than Charlie's guitar. I've often thought tap-dancers were virtual drummers with their feet, but  Bobby drums like a dancer. Mostly fleet-ly. Even dervish-y. And all the while, Ferber's trombone was like a voice singing in and around the definitively "catchy" tunes. Charlie was singing at the climax, or laughing more than singing the Freddy King blues "I'm Tore Down." I've ended many a night at the Jazzfest in the Jesus Room, but rarely so happily as the Charlie Hunter Trio.

  • FIJM 2016

    July 2, 2016. Posted by Michael Bourne.

    Add new comment | Filed under: FIJM, FIJM 2016

    After an all-day odyssey with Air Canada, I did not get to Montreal until midnight Day One, but the feeling on Day Two was after 24 years at  Festival International de JAZZ de Montreal, about as usual. I awaken to a big band soundcheck on a stage below my window. I get a glad-hand from the hotel manager, happy to have me back and finishing a story from last year -- when someone stole my credit card number. "Did you catch him?" I asked. "Yes," he smiled, slightly dangerously, "a Roumanian..." I gallumph up the hill -- just one block from the Hyatt Regency to the Maison du Festival, but my legs and my lungs feel as if I'm climbing actual Mont Royal.

    Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings perform at FIJM 2016, photo by Brnoit Rousseau
    Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings perform at FIJM 2016, photo by Brnoit Rousseau

    An extraordinary commitment from the city to the festival, the street alongside Place des Arts, Rue Jeanne-Mance, was terra-formed into the festival's main street, complete with the giant TD Bank stage -- where  Sharon Jones sang an ecstatic "Grand Concert d'Ouverture" to countless thousands of fest-goers.

    Sharon Jones performs at FIJM 2016, photo by Denis Alix
    Sharon Jones performs at FIJM 2016, photo by Denis Alix

    One of the abandoned buildings around the Quartiers des Spectacles was resurrected as  the festival "house" -- with a jazz joint, a restaurant, a museum, an historic video archive, and the press room. They're now transforming several more of the long-useless buildings into another arts center, especially for dance, and the near-finished facade is hugely gleaming. Bigger, the festival has grown year after year, astonishingly. Better, the festival has become, artistically, economically, even spiritually.

    Farewells, this year. Oliver Jones, the most beloved musician of the Montreal jazz scene, will play a farewell concert with a trio and an orchestra, Thursday the 7th at the Maison Symphonique. Guy Nadon, known as "le roi du drums," played his 33rd (and said to be last) gig at L'Astral, the year-round festival jazz joint.

    One cannot resist saying that Guy Nadon is elfin. Maybe it's his little hat. Or little smile. Or the charm as he talked about being a child and first playing with a nail on tin cans, as he played at the gig's outset -- little tunes on (not kidding) tuned tin cans, complete with soup and veggie labels. Then his 11-piece band came out swinging. "Killer Joe" (in a hiply-elongated arrangement) was a highlight, with solos all around and "the king of drums" having a last blast.

    Lisa Simone, daughter of Nina Simone, played the opening for Melody Gardot -- two nights sold-out at the big hall, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. Lisa's voice is powerful, but it's her physical energy on stage that blows the roof off. Lisa's presence in moments reminded me of how intimately Nina's presence connected with an enormous audience. Lisa sang soulfully with a guitar-bass-and-drums power trio, and her encore of "Work Song" was seismic. One of my friends wondered how Melody Gardot could follow Lisa, but she did follow, and she did acknowledge that Lisa was "not an opening act," she was proud "to be sharing" a stage with Lisa.

    Lisa Simone performs at FIJM 2016, photo by Denis Alix
    Lisa Simone performs at FIJM 2016, photo by Denis Alix

    I'd never heard or heard of Melody Gardot when she first played the festival in 2008, and I'll never forget her entrance: walking with a cane, in dark glasses in a half-light, and alone. She snapped her fingers, she tapped a foot, she sang a spiritual, and she transfixed all of us. That was a star-making performance -- jazzy, bluesy, exotic, erotic, and often sweet. She sang, she played guitar and piano, she became the star Andre Menard, the festival's artistic director, predicted as he introduced Melody, now a star indeed.

    Melody Gardot performs at FIJM 2016, photo by Denis Alix
    Melody Gardot performs at FIJM 2016, photo by Denis Alix

    She came out strutting, with a rocking jazz band (or a jazzy rock band) with lots of frenzied solos from saxophonist Irwin Hill, even playing two horns at once, echoing Rahsaan. Melody was delightful, telling stories in French and in English, playing raucous guitar or lyrical piano, singing always with her South Philly roots sounding through. "You Don't Know What Love Is" was the highlight. And as an encore, Melody conducted a very musical sing-along -- with the balcony especially sounding like a choir of angels.

  • Randy Weston At 90

    July 1, 2016

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    Randy Weston. (Image Credit: NPR)

    The eminent pianist Randy Weston turned 90 this year, and he enjoyed an early celebration at the 2016 Panama Jazz Festival, where he was the guest of honor. Weston, whose father was born in Panama, has long celebrated his African roots in his life and music. His career spans the better part of 70 years.

    Jazz Night in America listens to the Randy Weston quintet at the 2016 Panama Jazz Festival. Host Christian McBride also traveled to Weston's home to talk about the set in Panama, meeting Thelonious Monk and growing up in Brooklyn.

    Copyright 2016 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • The Ray Charles Songbook

    July 1, 2016

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    Ray Charles and Marian McPartland. (Image Credit: Courtesy of Vanguard)

    At age 21, trumpeter Kenny Rampton (now of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra) launched his touring career with a nine-month stint in Ray Charles' band. Earlier this year, Rampton honored his former bandleader by presenting the most authentic Ray Charles experience possible. The band was full of Ray Charles alumni (including backing vocalists The Raelettes), the set lists were faithful recreations of actual Ray Charles sets, and the charts were transcribed from the original tour music.

    Jazz Night In America checks out Rampton and the band as they present The Ray Charles Songbook, live in concert from Jazz at Lincoln Center.

    Copyright 2016 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

  • Michael Shannon Picks His Favorite Tunes With Gary Walker

    June 30, 2016. Posted by Josh Landes.

    Actor Michael Shannon, fresh off a run of "Long Day's Journey Into Night" on Broadway, came by the WBGO studios to host an hour with Gary Walker - sharing his picks of the jazz, blues, and even Elvis tunes that inspire his celebrated turns on stage and screen.

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