Catch some jazz at the Jazz Fest

Montreal’s eclectic summer music fest takes over the Quartier des Spectacles June 29–July 6. If you’re looking for actual jazz, here’s where to find it.

Ambrose Akinmusire

Ambrose Akinmusire

In 1980, Montreal’s Jazz Fest (officially the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal) opened for business with a small but solidly jazz-oriented program that featured a New Orleans brass band and fusion artists like Chick Corea and Gary Burton. The festival also included related genres via the likes of the soulful Ray Charles and blues artists Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Koko Taylor.

Over the years, the jazz programming has been heavily diluted with pop, world and even classical fare to open up what is supposedly a jazz festival to audiences who couldn’t care less about jazz but who come for the family fun and to catch the free outdoor entertainment. The 35th edition of the festival sticks to this tried and true formula with the usual heavy presence of pop side by side with jazz.

There are loads of singers at this year’s FIJM. Diana Krall (TD stage, June 29, 9:30 p.m., free), who started out as a jazz artist before venturing into pop with uneven results, will perform one of the mega outdoor shows. More serious jazz singers Renee Lee (l’Astral, June 26, 6 p.m., $37.55), Cassandra Wilson (Place des Arts, 8 p.m., June 26, $45-$54) and Dianne Reeves (Place des Arts, June 27, 8 p.m., $45-$54) are also on the bill, as is the bona fide albeit retro-leaning newcomer Cecile McLorin Salvant (l’Astral, June 26–27, 9 p.m., both sold out) and the lightweight Stacey Kent (Place des Arts, June 28, 8 p.m., $45–$54). Not quite a jazz artist but still worth a listen is Angélique Kidjo (Metropolis, June 26, 8:30 p.m., $34–$58.55), whose African roots keep the grooves close to what is recognizable as jazz.

While female singers abound, there will also be some crowd- pleasing pop lotharios, but only a couple of male jazz singers: Bobby McFerrin (Maison Symphonique, June 30, 7 p.m., $62–$88.50) and Freddy Cole (Place des Arts, July 4, 9:30 p.m., $47). Instrumentally speaking, however, there is enough hardy fare to satisfy the jazz aficionado, including Vic Vogel’s big band at l’Astral (June 29, 10 p.m., $45.55), organist Lonnie Smith (Gesù, June 30, 10:30 p.m., $47.35) and trumpeter Roy Hargrove at le Gesù (June 26, 10:30 p.m., $51.35), pianist Keith Jarrett at la Maison Symphonique (June 28, 8 p.m., $90.50–$106.50) and the piano-sax duo of Randy Weston and Billy Harper at Théâtre Jean-Duceppe (Place des Arts, July 2, 9:30 p.m., $52). There are also the Newport Jazz Festival all-stars, led by Randy Brecker (Place des Arts, June 26, 9:30 p.m., $52).

Regina Carter
Regina Carter

The best series by far is Jazz dans la nuit at le Gesù, which (apart from Hargrove) features bassist Gary Peacock (June 28, 10:30 p.m., $47.35), Christian McBride’s trio (July 1, 10:30 p.m., $51.35), violinist Regina Carter (July 5, 10:30 p.m., $55.35) and local jazz luminaries in the Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra (July 6, 10:30 p.m., $41.35). The Jazz Beat series is also worth catching at the Théâtre Jean-Duceppe, as are the Jazz d’Ici and the Club series at l’Astral.

A highlight of the festival is a new talent in Californian trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, hosting three nights of music at the Gesù (June 29, June 30, July 1), one of which features guitarist Bill Frisell. And of course, there’s Oliver Jones (Place des Arts, July 5, 8 p.m., $53–$67), and the promising pairing of New Orleans trumpeter/composer Terence Blanchard with the Orchestre National de Jazz de Montréal (July 3, 7 p.m., $50 to $64). There’s also a funky series of one-man band shows in tribute to Kurt Weill (the MAC, June 27–July1, 8 p.m., $34.50), composer of many a great tune that has become a jazz standard.

The last day of the festival holds a special treat: Ethiopian jazz vibraphonist and composer Mulatu Astatke (Club Soda, July 6, 7 p.m., $42), who comes to the festival for the first time. Astatke studied at Berklee in the 1960s and returned to his native country to write some very interesting music that blended the sophisticated rhythms and deep grooves of Ethiopian music with the melodic and instrumental textures of jazz to forge a new sound. ■


The Jazz Fest runs from June 26-July 5. To buy tickets, go to the festival’s website