The Montreal Jazz Fest Gives the Singers Some!

High-caliber jazz instrumentalists, of course, are all over the 17 stages of the Montreal Jazz Festival. I even ran into one of those great players off site: Yesterday, at Twigg Musique music store, I chatted for a few minutes with Chicago trumpeter Marquis Hill. His band plays a free-admission show tonight at Le Studio TD.

But notable vocalists — jazz and beyond — seem to really be out in full force for the fest’s 42nd edition. Last night, I heard rising-star Samara Joy (above) sing her signature song, “Stardust” and other pieces, backed by a superb trio, on the big TD Stage. Just a year out of college, she’s the real thing — a singer firmly rooted in the jazz tradition — and was well received by the large crowd.

Just a little bit later, at the historic Monument-National theater, I finally got the chance to see acclaimed jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant do her arty, dramatic, sometimes swinging thing, supported by a great quartet including pianist Sullivan Fortner and guitarist Marvin Sewell.

And on Friday night, Gregory Porter, a gregarious and warm presence, deftly mixed jazz with blues, soul and gospel strains at the elegant Maison Symphonique hall at Place des Arts. He was joined by a fine band including four rhythm-section players and a two-man horn section.

After his show, I joined the massive crowd at the TD Stage to hear jazzy R&B singer Corinne Bailey Rae, backed by a tight trio. After 5 years away from the concert stage, she sounded great on a set including a slowed-down version of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” and her big hit, “Put Your Records On.”

Trumpeter Hill, who’s making his sophomore appearance at the fest after playing here with bassist Marcus Miller, marvels at the enormity of the fest, and its role in fostering creative music.

“You really have to prioritize the acts you want to see,” he said, while we were both in the Twigg brass section (I tried out some Alexander horns). “You look at people who are pushing music forward today and you look at the lineup of this festival, and you see most of those people (here), so it’s really cool.”
Hill, who lately can be found in either Chicago, New York or Boston, where he recently joined the Berklee College of Music faculty, made time to check out performances by Porter, bassist Miller (with trumpeter Russell Gunn) and Meshell Ndegeocello, and keyboardist Cory Henry at the fest.

Hill, of course, is on my list of artists I hope to catch tonight, on my last evening before I return to Florida tomorrow. So is saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen with the Orchestre National de jazz de Montreal, the Jireh Gospel Choir, and the Yes! Trio (Ali Jackson, Omer Avital and Aaron Goldberg).

Philip Booth, a writer and bass player based in Tampa, Florida, covers music, film and the arts for Jazziz, JazzTimes, Relix, JazzlandsPhilip’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.

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