Tag Archives: jazz

Montréal Redefines Jazz Music


(Astrid Lium photos)


The 33rd annual Montreal International Jazz Festival kicked off its festivities north of the border on June 28 and continued through July 7. For 10 days and nights, music, stages and crowds dominated several cordoned-off blocks in the city’s downtown area. Throngs of festival goers filled sections of Sainte-Catherine Street and De Maisonneuve Boulevard, nibbled snacks from street vendors and enjoyed an array of indoor and outdoor performances of musicians from around the world.

In 1980, the first Montreal International Jazz Festival featured Gary Burton, Chick Corea, Ray Charles and Vic Vogel, and attracted about 12,000 people. It now boasts some 3000 artists from about 30 different countries and more than 2 million attendees. Holding the 2004 Guinness World Record for largest jazz festival, the event has steadily grown in popularity and increasingly pushed the boundaries of jazz music.

Some of this year’s top names and sold-out performances included Ziggy Marley, James Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Norah Jones and Montreal’s own Rufus Wainwright. The free, outdoor venues boasted such performers as Italian crooner Patrizio, Japan’s funk group Osaka Monaurail, Boston-based Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica –– a 23-piece ensemble that offers an eclectic mix of experimental music –– and a slew of others.


Associated more with reggae, folk, pop and other genres besides jazz, such artists challenge traditional views of the musical concept. Since its humble beginning, the festival has introduced a growing number of musicians who crosscut various musical scenes. “Jazz” in Montreal has a multitude of names and faces.

André Ménard, the festival’s co-founder and artistic director, emphasizes the array of musical talent in an article featured in the festival program and schedule. He writes, “Once again, our musical menu unveils a kaleidoscopic diversity in a comprehensive program … Our programmers wore out their eyes, ears and shoe leather scouring the ends of the (musical) Earth.”

Patrons of the event have observed the expanding repertoire of performances over the years and how they fit into the “jazz” category. Julian Woods, a longtime resident of Montreal, has attended various shows at the festival for the past 15 years. He believes that the music featured, based on his definition of the genre, “goes way beyond ‘jazz’.”

Woods admits that his perspective may be stricter than that of others. He says, “When I think of jazz, I think of Dixieland jazz, blues, R&B, swing and traditionalists like Duke Ellington and Miles Davis.” He believes that the festival fits more of a “Wikipedia definition” of jazz, which, he says, includes Latin and African rhythms, among others.

Despite the name, says Woods, the week-and-a-half long festival transcends its tunes. “The Montreal Jazz Festival is about more than just the music,” he says. “It’s about the ambiance, the staging, the ancillary entertainment, the crowds.”


Michel Bonin, a Vancouver-based pianist, entrepreneur and writer for Canada Journal, agrees that the festival offers more than music. He believes that it is as important economically as it is artistically to the Canadian city, attracting tourists from around the world.

“The jazz fest is really promoting Quebec and Montreal. It strengthens the French presence in Canada,” he says. “Besides music, it’s also about architecture, sustainability, city planning and business.”

As such, Bonin views the widening parameters of jazz as a shift toward inclusivity. He believes that the music has moved “beyond jazz.” “It used to be about ‘real jazz’,” he says, “strictly jazz.”

Now, the writer and musician believes that the event is expanding the genre itself and “making it more approachable to those who don’t know it as well.”


(Media honor bestowed upon veteran journalist Michael Bourne, left.)

Media veteran Michael Bourne focuses more on the musical aspect of the festival. The New York City-based music reviewer has attended the event religiously for the past 20 years. He views jazz as a continuum that evades an immobile, concrete definition.

Bourne uses the city as an adjective –– describing the festival and its combination of musical performances as “very Montreal” –– to underscore the uniqueness of the experience.

“This festival redefines jazz, but jazz also redefines itself,” he says. “Every generation thinks the new one isn’t ‘real jazz’, but it’s all jazz.”


(This article originally appeared in The Bay State Banner in July 2012.)

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Harvard Celebrates 40 Years of Jazz

Cecil McBee on bass, Brian Lynch on trumpet and Benny Golson on tenor saxophone were among the Harvard All-Stars who performed at Sanders Hall as Harvard celebrated 40 years of jazz.                          (Eric Antoniou photo)

Jazz at Harvard has come a long way, baby.

Before 1971, the African American-dominated musical genre was unheard of at the Ivy League institution. Since then Tom Everett has founded and nurtured a successful program for Harvard students interested in jazz performance.

On Saturday night the weekend celebration of Jazz at Harvard’s fortieth year culminated with a sold out performance at Sanders Hall. Harvard’s two student jazz bands, along with a notable alumnus and the Harvard All-Stars, comprised of jazz masters and former guest musicians, played for more than two hours to an enthusiastic crowd.

The undergraduate Sunday Jazz Band, directed by Mark Olson, opened the show with an energetic performance of Neal Hefti’s “Flight of the Foo Birds.”  That musical introduction triggered wild applause and approving whistles from the audience, which set the scene for the following pieces.

With Olson still at the helm, the band followed with “Peedlum,” by Hank Jones, to whom the song was also dedicated.

Olson and Ingrid Monson then introduced Everett, who took the reins for the second set, directing the Monday Jazz Band in renditions of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” and Charles Mingus’ “The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife are Some Jive Ass Slippers.” Ever the gentleman, Everett truncated the latter title in his introduction to appease a civilized Harvard audience.

The third song, Benny Carter’s “Myra,” added a lyrical dimension with jazz vocalist Samara Oster. The waifish undergraduate’s delicate appearance contrasted the depth and strength of her voice, infused with scatting and smiles. Oster and tenor saxophonist Alex Rezzo wrapped up the piece with a playful back and forth, as though enjoying a musical tennis match.

Before introducing tenor saxophonist Don Braden, the soft-spoken Everett articulated the essence of the evening. “Harvard is not the jazz center of the world, but the significance of jazz is gaining recognition […] that is what we are celebrating tonight,” he said.

Braden, a 1985 Harvard graduate and former pupil of Everett’s, joined the band with his sax to perform one of his own compositions, “Landing Zone.” The song prompted wild applause and standing ovations, both on and off stage.

He then played Illinois Jacquet’s well-known solo performance in “Flying Home.”


Golson was included in a video montage that featured former Jazz at Harvard Artists in Residence. (Eric Antoniou photo)

A video montage kicked off the second hour of the celebration, featuring past Jazz at Harvard Artists in Residence, including Carla Bley, Jim Hall, Hank Jones, Benny Golson, Roy Hargrove, Jimmy Slyde and others. Footage of Jacquet invoked another standing ovation among performers and patrons.

Brian Lynch and Eddie Palmieri then joined the students on stage and they all performed Palmieri’s “Elena, Elena.” Lynch strutted to the microphone like a cool cat in a dark suit, porkpie hat and sunglasses. He silently commanded the stage with his trumpet playing and very presence.

Palmieri was more understated, yet equally talented, at the piano. He was the straight man to Lynch’s more comic and animated onstage persona.

The remaining Harvard All-Stars, tenor saxophonist Benny Golson, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Roy Haynes, joined Lynch and Palmieri for the finale.

Golson manned the mic and honored Everett with his smooth voice. “Forty years ago, Tom Everett had the audacity to suggest Harvard start a jazz program and someone had the audacity to hire him.”

The crowd chuckles.

“Was it easy?” Golson continues. “Of course it was!”

The crowd roars.

“What can I say about Tom Everett?  He is an icon in his own right.”

Everett bashfully nods his head and waves from the stage.

The ensemble then reminded the audience what was being celebrated as they performed Golson’s “Whisper Not,” Charlie Parker’s “Steeple Chase” and “Blues for Moody” in memory of the late jazz musician James Moody.

The spontaneity and experienced improvisation of the old timers complimented the organization and air tight preparation of the student bands. With the All-Star band leading the way, the Ivy League venue morphed into a smoky jazz bar for a set, without the smoke.

One of the highlights was Roy Haynes’ vibrant drum solo, which he played in a funky suit and orange Uggs. Golson gently joked afterward of the 86-year- old drummer’s youthful performance. “[Haynes] has been lying to me for years. He’s really 20 years old!” Golson said.

This article was originally published in the Bay State Banner on April 14, 2011.

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