“It’s such a gift to be able to play music in front of, and with, real people,” Norwegian piano hero Tord Gustavsen said about midway through a typically intense, exploratory set Friday night at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. The ECM label favorite’s trio played Gesu, an acoustically pristine theater beneath an imposing stone church built in 1865.
Several artists, including, last night, singers Gregory Porter, backed by a superb jazz sextet at the beautiful Maison Symphonique theater, and jazzy R&B chanteuse Corinne Bailey Rae, in front of thousands at the big TD Stage, voiced similar sentiments.
The massive 10-day fest’s 42nd edition, which runs through July 9, is back to its full-on incarnation for the first time since 2019. Forget streaming — There’s nothing like live, in-the-flesh performing and communing with audiences.
Concertgoers feel the same: The city’s Quartier des Spectacles cultural district was absolutely thronged with listeners and partiers enjoying an eclectic variety of music being presented on six outdoor stages and 11 indoor venues. FOMO — fear of missing out — is definitely a factor here, with so many great shows often conflicting with each other.
My personal picks for today — concerts I’m slated to see, and some I’ll check out, time and logistics permitting — include jazz singers Samara Joy and Cecile McLorin Salvant (separately), a quintet with British Columbia-born sisters Christine and Ingrid Jensen (saxophone and trumpet, respectively), L.A. sax star Kamasi Washington, and a saxophonist David Binney + drummer Louis Cole.
For my forthcoming magazine review, I’ll offer more specifics and analysis of performances.
Meanwhile, some fun facts and figures on the fest:
3,000+ musicians from 30 countries
17 venues (as mentioned above)
Two-thirds of performances free-admission
20 new indoor shows free for the first time this year
Dozens of food kiosks selling pulled pork sandwiches, churros, pizza, ice cream, hot dogs, beer and wine, and, of course, poutine.
$800k funding for the fest just announced, through govt’s Canadian Arts Presentation Fund
Philip Booth, a writer and bass player based in Tampa, Florida, covers music, film and the arts for Jazziz, JazzTimes, Relix, Jazzlands, Philip’s Flicks and other publications. He was the pop music critic for the late, great Tampa Tribune, and also has contributed to The Washington Post, St. Petersburg Times, Billboard, Variety, and DownBeat, as well as several academic journals. The 42nd edition of the fest marks his seventh visit to Montreal to write about the event for various press outlets.