Jazz Fest goes online
for its 41st incarnation
The Montreal International Jazz Festival offers up free virtual entertainment
By Byron Toben
Updated June 29, 2020
Like all festivals and crowd events, the annual Montreal International Jazz Festival (the world’s largest) has been forced by the current pandemic to postpone its usual ten days of merriment until 2021.
However, ever resilient, it has mounted a 4-day virtual (and free) Jazz is in the Air presentation. This begins tonight, June 27, and continues through Tuesday, June 30. Instead of the usual 500 concerts (350 of which were free outdoors), there are 24 concerts.
I will list my picks, sound unheard, but first a brief history of this mega event which has attracted as many as 200,000 to its usual giant mid-festival street concert.
Back in 1931, Rufus Rockhead began a little jazz club in the Little Burgundy district. It was the first restaurant/bar license granted to a black businessman in Quebec. He managed to attract top names from the USA as well as develop local talent.
Following a stroke, Rockhead’s Paradise was sold in 1975 to Roue-Doudou Boicel who merged it into his own Rising Sun club on rue Ste-Catherine and in 1978, staged a Rising Sun FestiJazz which continued for three years.
In 1979… Alain Simard and André Ménard formed an agency, now called L’Équipe Spectra, which held the first Montreal Jazz Festival at the Théâtre St-Denis for two days. In 1980, they secured enough outside financing to go big and the rest is history.
In 1979, jazz bassist Charlie Biddle organized a 3-day fest called Jazz de Chez Nous. In that same year, Alain Simard and André Ménard formed an agency, now called L’Équipe Spectra, which held the first Montreal Jazz Festival at the Théâtre St-Denis for two days. In 1980, they secured enough outside financing to go big and the rest is history.
In 1999, local jazz musicians, seeking more exposure than a week or two in the summer, formed L’Off Festival du Jazz (I suspect that these jazz purists were also uncomfortable with the understandable mix of other genres added to the programming to appeal to an ever-expanding audience of all tastes.)
Spectra also organizes the annual Francofolies which originated in 1989 (cancelled for 2020).
The detailed program can be found at montrealjazzfest.com
Jazz in the Air – My picks, sound unheard
I am obviously of classic Jazz taste as I pick all four of the Trésors filmed from past concerts. See all of the other live-streamed shows… the price is right. The starting times each day are 6 pm, 7 pm, 7:20 pm, 7:40 pm, 8 pm and 8:23 pm.
JUNE 27, 2020
7:40 pm – Clerel
A former chemistry student turned singer. Called “discovery of the year” by the festival’s vice president of programming.
8:23 pm – Trésors: Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones (2004)
Local and international great pianists – ’nuff said?
JUNE 28, 2020
6 pm – Jordan Officer
A guitarist who starred with popular vocalist Suzie Arioli at several previous festivals .
8:23 pm – Trésors: Jaco Pastorius (1982)
A wonderful jazz bassist who has worked with Pat Metheny and Joni Mitchell.
JUNE 29, 2020
8:23 pm – Trésors: Miles Davis (1985)
A trumpeter called “the Picasso of Jazz”, he was involved in many major innovations.
JUNE 30, 2020
8 pm – The Barr Brothers
Originally from Rhode Island, they have been residents of Montreal for many years. Chanced to meet the late legendary singer Lhasa de Sela and accompanied her often. (I was going to ask US Attorney General William Barr – no relation, I believe – for a summary of their accomplishments but then thought better of it.)
8:23 pm – Trésors: Sarah Vaughan (1983)
The “divine Sarah”, one of the greatest jazz singers of all time.
Plans for 2021
The organizers state that the 2021 edition will not be merely those postponed from the 2020 planned program but will include new voices that may evolve during the interim.
Byron Toben, a past president of The Montreal Press Club, has been WestmountMag.ca’s theatre reviewer since July 2015. Previously, he wrote for since terminated web sites Rover Arts and Charlebois Post, print weekly The Downtowner and print monthly The Senior Times. He also is an expert consultant on U.S. work permits for Canadians.