• The Len Dobbin Jazz Collection at Montreal Jazz Festival

    June 28, 2012. Posted by David Tallacksen.

    Dear Readers!

    Beginning with Singers Unlimited from 10am-2pm this Sunday, July 1, Michael Bourne will broadcast live from the Montreal International Jazz Festival. The WBGO team will set up in the Mediatech (or Médiathèque if you're feeling French). Last year we were given a guided tour of one fascinating section of this fabulous jazz library. Take a look

    A vôtre festival, Becca Pulliam

    Picture 4

    Please click here for Serge Lafortune and a short tour of the Len Dobbin archive, to open officially this fall

    In Head Archivist Serge Lafortune’s words, or paraphrasing them, You have to come to Montreal to live the Festival. You have to come the Médiathèque to re-live the festival. (Think discothèque, but with media, not dance music.) Here is some of what he told me.

    SL: We wanted to preserve the memory of the jazz festival, and this memory was recorded through all the TV production we did over the years, all the pictures, over 200,000 pictures we took of artists, of the site, of the different venues, of everything. . . . We have 400 shows over thirty years plus people with cameras going onsite to shoot almost everything – speeches, cocktails, people working at the jazz festival, people in the streets, eating, drinking, having fun, kids playing in the musical park and everything. . . . all sorts of material. Interviews! Almost 1,000 interviews with jazz musicians. . . .

    Mediatheque welcome screen .. your portal to endless hours of viewing and listening
    Mediatheque welcome screen .. your portal to endless hours of viewing and listening

    . . . artists that come here, they ask for things, backstage they want this and that. All these documents, you may have access to those documents. So one day you’ll be able to have everything on the show – players list, their names, the contract, maybe how much money they had. Because the Festival is a non-profit organization, so this organization, you can have access to the documents. Over the years, those documents will be available to people.

    BP: It’s a beautiful thing. Even an economist can come and study what was the scale of payment and what were the expenses to bring the groups here, someday down the road.

    SL: You know, we watch TV [but] because of the internet, fifty years from now, the young people will [ask] “What is TV?” Our archives give us explanation of how it was done, because for each show we don’t have only the output, the last recording, we have all the tapes from each camera. We have multi-track audio. We have all these things so you can reconstruct television production from that. And in fact in our archives, you have history of clothing! If you go back to the 80s, people were dressed in a way and it’s changed through the years, so you can study that. . . .

    BP: How many videotapes and films?

    SL: We say “objects” because there are 400 complete shows, plus probably 2,500 hours of what we call B-roll — interviews, speeches, opening/closing of the Festival, people in the streets . . . . It’s over 11,000, exactly it’s 11,460 tapes or objects. Plus we have books, I don’t know the numbers, boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes.

    CDs and magazines, natural light
    CD's and magazines, natural light

    BP: It’s all clean. It’s not covered with dust. It’s not like we’re in the basement together. This is beautifully organized, in very pristine condition . . . .

    SL: . . . . And [let's imagine that] we have to find a recording, ok? Who’s playing? What was the date? We need to have all the information so this recording is valuable. It means something, has its own history. . . . So in here we have 13 computers closed-circuit, with the iTunes software. You can call the name “Miles Davis,” and you have all the Miles Davis, [including the] complete show of 1985.

    And there’s a difference between the TV production and the archives. Because for TV, if you take out the TV ads, you have 48 minutes. Normally a show lasts at least one hour and a half. So that big long solo saxophone, trumpet, rarely see it on TV. But with our complete recording, you see integrale, a complete show, you’ll have all these special things. Even sometimes you’ll see the musician cleaning his trumpet between songs and talking to the people. They don’t show that on TV, but here you can watch it. . . .

    BP: Besides the Miles Davis, the late-in-his-life concert, can you think of a few other concerts that are among the prize possessions?

    SL: In fact each month I discover that there’s a special thing about a special show. We have Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones in 2004. They played together “Hymn to Freedom.” Each time I hear them playing that, I’m shivering. And Jaco Pastorius in 1982, he was on fire that day. He was playing at the Spectrum of Montreal.

    BP: The Spectrum used to be across the street from this Médiathèque.

    SL: It was our main building, but it was a very very old building, crumbling, so they destroyed it a few years ago. That’s life. . . . Other things we have in the first year, 1980, there was a series called Living Legends of the Blues – BB King, John Lee Hooker, James Cotton. At the beginning of the Festival, first year, we were able to record all these shows of all these great jazz blues players. And the picture is good, the sound is good, and the music is still a la mode du jour.

    BP: What does that mean? "The way it was?"

    SL: It’s HIP, it’s still HIP. And when we digitize, we are allowing young students to record. There’s a series called Café Campus Blues, not great artists, sometimes local artists playing blues in the Café Campus, a small bar. But I don’t know why, but all the shows were fantastic. The artists were fantastic, and those kids that didn’t know anything about blues, they discovered blues too. Brian Setzer in 1995 with his big band. In French we say il cassait la baraque, he brought down the house, at the Spectrum again.


    How do you say that’s the tip of the iceberg in French? The collection belongs to Equipe Spectra, the nonprofit organization that mounts the Montreal Jazz Festival, and is open to the public year round in the Maison du Jazz, adjacent to the Place des Arts. Run, run, run to do your research here! If on a tight budget, take the Amtrak, stay in the Travelodge on Boulevard Rene Levesque, and eat at La Commensal on Rue St Catherine at University Place as the McGill students do. Thank you, Serge Lafortune! – Becca Pulliam

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