Start with Canada’s Cultural Capital. Add a celeb-packed entertainment roster. Throw in noon-to-midnight concerts (about 500 of them) over 10 days of fun. Voilà! — it’s Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, www.montrealjazzfest.com. In its 33rd season, June 28-July 7, it represents a period when life wasn’t defined by BlackBerrys and Bluetooths.
But why Montreal and why jazz? Co-founder André Ménard says the duo’s goal was to return the city to its 30s and 40s rep as a hotbed of jazz after a 1950s politico sought the genre’s near extinction. Jazz still dominates, but current Fests cover many musical tastes. “It’s fresh, joyful, inclusive,” describes Ménard. Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley graced the original playbill — 1980 attracted 12,000. Three decades and an annual 2.5 million festivalgoers later, it’s ranked jazz world’s largest by Guinness World Records.
Despite huge growth, the Festival remains white hot and real cool — venues range from big symphony halls to little jazz clubs. The Opening Gala has spotlighted such greats as Cassandra Wilson and Lionel Richie (any bets All Night Long ended the evening?). And phenom pianist and nonagenarian Dave Brubeck was a recent festival closer; while fans of pure jazz were entertained by some of the genre’s most notable including David Sanborn, Sonny Rollins, George Benson and many others.
Wait, it gets better. With 3,000 musicians and hundreds of performances in 12 concert halls and on 10 outdoor stages (all 370 outdoor concerts are free), you’ll need a spread sheet to track it all. To keep it simple, head to outdoor Place des Festivals and wander from stage to stage. Inaugurated three years ago with Stevie Wonder’s opening night, this permanent location in prime downtown is free-to-the-public and where old, young and everyone collect for the same reason — good music.
Insider tips: Get tickets early to really-want-to-see concerts; stay alert (during mid-tune sway, you may rub shoulders with musical biggies); become best friends with your program – don’t miss a favorite group that performed “yesterday.”
To learn more, go to www.montrealjazzfest.com.