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The Montreal Jazz Festival is back in full swing, if not back to normal

Cory Wong performing at Club Soda for the 42nd Montreal International Jazz Festival, on June 30, 2022.
Leo Sidran
Cory Wong performing at Club Soda for the 42nd Montreal International Jazz Festival, on June 30, 2022.

The Montreal International Jazz Festival started in 1980 and grew into one of the largest jazz gatherings in the world; in fact, they boast that they’re ranked as the world’s largest by Guinness World Records.

When it comes to live music, size is not all that matters. But the Montreal Jazz Festival is definitely impressive, featuring 10 days, 20 stages, hundreds of concerts, and thousands of fried potatoes — because Montreal is, of course, the home of that dish that you don’t want to tell your doctor about, poutine. The majority of the concerts are outdoors, free and open to the public. The lineup is diverse and there is something for everyone.

After a two-year slowdown due to COVID, the festival is back in full this year, and the streets of The Place des Festivals — the epicenter of the event — are buzzing. Every afternoon of the fest, The Urban Science Brass band parades through the grounds like pied pipers gathering a trail of people behind them, and sounding the call that the evening’s events are commencing.

A jazz festival of this size can be a challenge for anyone who suffers from the Fear of Missing Out. On opening night, for example, festivalgoers were tasked with deciding between concerts by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride, Joel Frahm, Gogo Penguin, Immanuel Wilkins, Cory Wong, and Julian Lage — all happening within the space of a couple of hours.

How one handles that many choices is a test of strength and conviction. Fortunately there are no wrong answers. There is some question, however, about whether or not this is a return to life as it was before COVID, or a new reality. For WBGO News and The Art of the Story, I caught up with drummer Dave King, who left his cymbals (and even his cymbal bag) behind this year. And I ran into bassist Christian McBride on his way to the mall, seeking a pair of pants before he wraps up in Montreal and heads to Europe.

The question of where jazz is headed continues to evolve, and you'll find many possible answers in Montreal. Stay tuned for more dispatches from ground level.

For more info about the Montreal International Jazz Festival, visit its website.

Leo Sidran is a Latin Grammy-winning multi-instrumentalist, producer, arranger and composer. Since 2014 he has hosted an influential podcast called The Third Story, featuring interviews with musicians, producers, songwriters and creators of all kinds.