Montreal Jazz Festival
The 40th edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal marked the end of an era
Images and text by James St Laurent
The 40th edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, the world’s largest jazz festival, ran from June 27 through to July 6. This was an emotional year that marked the end of an era, as co-founders Alain Simard and André Menard relinquished their involvement in the programming and operation of the Festival.
The progressive programming showcased top-notch jazz players alongside hundreds of artists playing all styles of music in a variety of settings, with a mix of free outdoor shows and paid indoor concerts. In its 40 years of existence, the festival has grown from its humble beginnings and has become an annual destination for music lovers visiting the largest jazz festival in the world. Even the weather pitched in; Despite a minor heatwave, practically no outdoor shows were cancelled due to rain.
This was an emotional year that marked the end of an era, as co-founders Alain Simard and André Menard relinquished their involvement in the programming and operation of the Festival.
I tended to stay close to the Hyundai Blues Stage located on Clarke and de Maisonneuve streets. but also ventured to the other venues including Place des Arts. Here are some of the performers I have photographed.
Begonia, Alexa Dirks musical persona, writes songs that are largely autobiographical, “There’s always some element of me in these songs whether I like it or not”. The Winnipeg-based Dirks is a Juno Award winner with her former group Chic Gamine.
Cécile Doo-Kingué, an electrifying and versatile guitarist, blends blues, afro-roots and soul to create a unique sound. She has shared a stage and has recorded with Montreal Jubilation Choir, Blind Boys of Alabama, James Blood Ulmer, Bernard Purdie, Jim Byrnes and Michael Jerome Brown. Born and raised in New York City, Cécile has lived in the USA, France, and is now residing in Montreal.
Guy Belanger, the “gentleman” Harmonica player, welcomed special guests Kim Richardson and France D’Amour to perform with him. A seasoned performer of over 18 seasons at the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, Guy has been awarded no less than 14 Lys Blues trophies and the prestigious Maple Blues Award “Harmonica Player of the Year” twice! He has also written many soundtracks for film and TV.
Miss Emily, ”An angelic voice with just a hint of sultry devilishness. This gal is a rocket ready to take-off!”, was the description from Rob Baker of The Tragically Hip)
Mississippi Heat is a world-class Chicago Blues Band, led by harmonica player and songwriter Pierre Lacocque, Their motto is “Traditional Blues with a unique sound” as they present fresh yet vintage-based music. They have received worldwide critical acclaim, including from Living Blues Magazine: “Mississippi Heat delivers its traditional urban blues with a freshness, energy and competence that makes them a treasure on today’s Chicago scene.”
Victor Wainwright & The Train. The core band is Victor on vocals, all keyboards (and, on one track, belly tambourine), long-standing drummer Billy Dean, Terrence Grayson on bass and Pat Harrington on guitar. In his song The Train, Victor sings: “If you wanna boogie get aboard this train /Get yourself a ticket or get out of the way.” which sums up the experience of a show from the Grammy-nominated Piana from Savannah.
Charles Papasoff is a musician, composer, arranger, actor, director and music producer. Known for his baritone saxophone, he is adept at many instruments and musical styles and is devoted to composition and recording.
Dawn Tyler Watson & The Ben Racine Band. The reigning Montreal “Queen of the Blues” the Singer/Actor/Songwriter Dawn Tyler Watson has earned her place among Canada’s Blues elite. Born in England and raised in Ontario, she adopted Montreal as her home. Watson’s fiery stage presence has earned her national and international recognition.
Barbara Diab & The Smoked Meat Band, with Tony TC Coleman. The Australian-born Montrealer has earned her place on the local blues scene with the recent release of her second CD Mojo Woman. Special guest drummer Tony TC Coleman, who played with B.B. King and Otis Clay, joined her and her husband, bassist Pierre Lamontagne with the rest of the Smoked Meat Band.
George Benson, 40 plus years in the music business and 10-time Grammy-winning vocalist/guitarist performed at the jazz festival and shows no signs of slowing down.
Welbad is an energetic German blues band that features frontman Daniel Welbat, who was recently lauded by Hamburg’s Reeperbahn Festival as having “a voice that’ll strip the paint off cars,”
JP Soars finds himself included alongside blues music heavyweights such as Billy Gibbons, Eric Gales, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Tinsley Ellis.
The Paul DesLauriers Band is made up of inventive virtuoso guitarist and singer Paul DesLauriers, anchored by a masterful rhythm section featuring Alec McElcheran on bass and award-winning Sam Harrisson on drums. Their second album Bounce was recently released.
Popa Chubby, born Ted Horowitz in the Bronx, New York, is the son of a candy store owner. “It didn’t start out [as my name]. It [was] the name of the band, The Popa Chubby Band, like “Come out and pop a chubby with the Popa Chubby Band,” you know? Then, of course, people started looking at me goin’, “Hey, Popa Chubby,” because I’m um… chubby, you know (laughs)? What can I tell ya’? I guess I reminded them of their father, I don’t know. I got nailed with the moniker and it stuck. I could put out a Ted Horowitz album tomorrow and no one would buy it.” (Vintage Guitar Magazine)
Liana, the R&B sound of the Quebec City native singer/songwriter, is inspired by artists such as Frank Ocean, H.E.R. and Beyoncé. She has crafted a unique style with her soulful and powerful voice.
Jordan Officer has recently been included amongst the greats in Scott Yanow’s publication The Great Jazz Guitarists, The Ultimate Guide, by Hal Leonard, the biggest editor of sheet music and music books in the world. Jordan is acclaimed not only for his virtuosity but also for his unequalled sensitivity and sober elegance. The Montreal musician, composer, singer and producer has carved out his signature sound which is unmistakable, whether he is backing up another singer or playing solo, and whether he is singing the blues, jazz, country, or rock’n’roll. The live shows are unforgettable and mesmerizing for his energy and originality, for his openness and for the tangible complicity between Jordan and his band members.
Matchedash Parish, Matt Weidinger and Lance Anderson formed the Matchedash Parish with 12 of the country’s top blues and roots music artists. It is a powerhouse soul and gospel/roots show guaranteed to bring the house down.
Sue Foley is a multi-award-winning musician and one of the finest blues and roots artists working today. The Ottawa born triple-threat lead guitarist, songwriter and vocalist lives in Texas and has a long history of defying convention.
As for next year’s 41st edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, it is already set for June 25 to July 4, 2020. For more info: montrealjazzfest.com
Images: James St Laurent
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James St Laurent – My work is all about the idea – to communicate through images that convey an emotive context and engage the viewer by presenting a visual paradox. Different types of subjects and genres require different approaches, but the end result is still a compelling image that captures your attention. Despite having had a camera early on, I found myself in a career as a stage set and lighting designer, then accidentally stumbled and fell back into photography. Since then I have shot a variety of genres, ranging from fashion to travel to portraits to concerts, and exhibited in galleries in both group and solo shows. There are photographs everywhere – the problem is to find the interesting images or those that no one else sees. The obvious is easy – the unique takes a little more time. jamesstlaurent.com