Kind of Bleu
A primer on the region’s other world-class jazz festival
Courtesy of Festival International de Jazz de Montréal
The jazz stages that dotted Church Street have been packed away for another year. The melodious strains emanating from nooks and crannies around town have given way to community theater productions and African dance troupes. The presiding spirit of Big Joe Burrell has returned to the netherworld. It’s official: The 2009 Burlington Discover Jazz Festival is over.
For some folks, that might be welcome news. For many, though, the annual 10-day smorgasbord of jazz, funk and blues isn’t nearly long enough; it’s a mere appetizer, bursting with exotic and sensuous flavors. For hardcore fans, the Jazz Fest ends on a downbeat. So what’s a blue hepcat to do?
Look up, daddy-o. Up, that is, on the map — to Montréal.
Our northern neighbors have it over their Vermont counterparts when it comes to cultural and social amenities, as well they should, given the size and diversity of the bustling, Euro-esque metropolis. And arguably, no single event illustrates the city’s artistic wealth
like the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Or, for Anglophones, the International Jazz Festival of Montréal. See? French ain’t so hard.
Without taking anything away from the excellent BDJF, the Montréal jazz fest is on another level. Its size alone is astonishing — the 2004 incarnation set the Guinness world record for largest jazz festival in history.
By the numbers, the 30th annual event promises to be similarly monumental. An expected 2.5 million concertgoers will choose among 370 free outdoor shows and 180 ticketed indoor events, which collectively feature 3000 musicians from 30 countries around the globe.
Vermonters will notice some striking parallels between the Montréal and Burlington programs — yet another testament to how fortunate we are to have the BDJF. Headliners such as Esperanza Spalding, Pink Martini and Branford Marsalis appeared here this month as well. Ornette Coleman, Dave Brubeck, McCoy Tyner and Ryan Shaw, among others, passed this way in recent years. But a closer look at Montréal’s 2009 lineup reveals a jaw-dropping array of music in just about every genre. And here’s the best part: It’s all less than two hours away.
What follows is just the tip of the iceberg. But the artists spotlighted represent what you can expect to find north of the border this summer. And, as at our fest, half the fun in Montréal is simply wandering the city — you never know who you might find playing on some side street.
Stevie Wonder at Scène General Motors, Tuesday, June 30, 9:30 p.m. Free.
OK. So it’s not really “jazz.” But that’s the great thing about jazz festivals, right? The definition of the genre is nebulous. So, no, Stevie Wonder isn’t jazz. He is, however, Stevie freakin’ Wonder. And he’s playing for free. What more do you need to know?
Perhaps you caught Wynton Marsalis’ big bro Branford at the Flynn MainStage this month. Well, the younger Marsalis is arguably even better. The outspoken trumpeter is a living legend in jazz as well as a virtuosic classical performer. On this night, he’ll collaborate with renowned Spanish pianist Chano Dominguez to create an otherworldly fusion of jazz, swing, blues and flamenco.
Kool & the Gang at Metropolis, Wednesday, July 1, 8:30 p.m. $45.50 CAN.
No, really. Kool & the Gang. In Montréal. During Jazz Fest. Actually, inviting the seminal R&B outfit to perform makes more sense than you might think. Before they became known for hits such as “Jungle Boogie” and “Celebration” — before they were known as Kool & the Gang, even — the band began as a jazz ensemble. Reunited, they’re still boogying more than three decades later.
Dennis Chang at Pavillion SIMM GM, Friday, July 3, 7 p.m. Free.
Vermonters may already be familiar with Dennis Chang. The “Godfather of Montréal Gypsy-jazz” has made a couple of recent visits to the Green Mountain State, appearing at the Parima Acoustic Lounge with our own hothouse sensations, Swing Noire. But the chance to see this Django Reinhardt acolyte on his home turf, where he’s revered, should not be missed.
Madeline Peyroux at Théâtre Maisonneuve, Friday, July 3, and Sunday, July 5, 6 p.m. $29.50/34.50/39.50 CAN.
The July 3 show by the Georgia-born, Paris-raised Madeline Peyroux is already sold out. But she’s also performing the following Sunday, and, as of this printing, tickets are still available. Expect them to go quickly, though; the songbird is hailed by critics as the second coming of Billie Holiday.
Miles From India at Théâtre Maisonneuve, Saturday, July 4, 8 p.m. $32.50/38.50/44.50 CAN.
Few Miles Davis tributes can match that of Miles From India, which draws its inspiration from a 2008 Grammy-nominated double disc of the same name. The group is actually two bands in one: an assemblage of India’s most elite musicians; and a legendary cast of Davis collaborators, including Bill Evans, Lenny White and Darryl Jones. The result: continent-jumping reinterpretations of the master’s music unlike anything you’ve ever heard.
Bill Frisell Quartet at Théâtre Jean-Duceppe, Wednesday, July 8, 8 p.m. $39.50 CAN.
The rumors were true: Bill Frisell was recently in Vermont, where he gave at least one impromptu performance during his weeklong visit. If you missed him, July 8 is your chance to see the legendary guitarist relatively close to home, and with an all-star band including Tony Scher (Rufus Wainwright, Norah Jones); Rudy Royston (Les McCann, Javon Jackson); and Ron Miles (Don Byron, Madeline Peyroux).
Charlie Haden at Théâtre Maisonneuve, Wednesday, July 8, 8 p.m. $39.50/46.50/52.50 CAN.
Famed double-bass master Charlie Haden is noted for his work with the Ornette Coleman Quartet in the late 1950s, and then with pianist Keith Jarrett’s original trio. So it makes sense that the American jazz legend would make his return to the Montréal Jazz Fest by playing … bluegrass? Performing tunes from his acclaimed exploration of traditional Midwestern music, Rambling Boy, Haden makes it a family affair, appearing with his wife, children and a number of illustrious pals.
Irma Thomas at Metropolis, Friday, July 10, 8:30 p.m. $37.50 CAN.
Irma Thomas is the queen of New Orleans soul. Period. But that’s not just a critic’s description. She was actually crowned by city officials, and rightly so. The charismatic, Grammy-winning vocalist embodies the smoldering, sultry passion of Big Easy soul, and has ranked among the most instantly recognizable voices in American music for almost 50 years.
DeVotchKa at Club Soda, Saturday, July 11, 7 p.m. $30.50 CAN.
Again, not really jazz — though elements of that broad genre can be found within DeVotchKa’s swirling blend of Eastern European influences rooted in folk. Beloved by indie hipsters and world-music connoisseurs alike, this Denver-based outfit trades in gorgeously dramatic songs with a sophisticated aesthetic.
John Pizzarelli at Théâtre Maisonneuve, Saturday, July 11, 6 p.m. $36.50/42.50/48.50 CAN.
New Englanders may recognize John Pizzarelli from his grating Foxwoods Casino jingles. But don’t hold that against him. Before he was a shill for parlor games, the New Jersey-born guitarist was widely considered one of the most talented voices in jazz. Now, with more than 40 albums to his credit, the son of the legendary Bucky Pizzarelli is a giant in his own right. A festival regular, he’s appeared in Montréal every year since 1992. This time around, he revisits his swingin’ roots with a seven-member “big” band.
Bonobo at Metropolis, Saturday, July 11, 11:59 p.m. $22.50 CAN.
To call Bonobo “jazz” requires a leap beyond even the increasingly loose semantic strictures of most jazz festivals. But you could call the French DJ phenom just about anything else. Incorporating a head-spinning amalgam of influences ranging from breakbeat and downtemp to world-funk and dub, the Ninja Tune Records artist is in a class by himself. After the grownups go to bed, Metropolis will rock till the wee hours at this late-nite throwdown.
This event reportedly stole last year’s fest, so, naturally, they’re doing it again. The idea is simple: Two of the world’s premier big bands face off, literally sharing the stage and competing for the right to be called the best big band on the planet. For this closing-day show, 2008 champs the Glenn Miller Orchestra — descended from the legendary bandleader’s original outfit — will take on the equally storied Harry James Orchestra, which once hired some unknown Hoboken singer named Frank Sinatra.