The biggest (*) jazz festival in the world is back. The 42nd Montreal International Jazz Festival starts this Thursday 30 June. It has a very special atmosphere where crowds flock to the centre of the city. After two years of scaled-down programming it is back to full strength this year. Sebastian spoke to Programming Director Maurin Auxéméry.
Montrealers head into the centre of the city in large numbers for the summer vibe, and particularly during the summer festivals. The “Francofolies” festival – run by the same company that runs the jazz festival – has just finished and is reporting record attendances. The jazz festival, which includes the weekend of the Canada Day public holiday, is also geared up for a major return. “We pushed to get higher budget to have a great line-up for the comeback after the Covid times,” says programming director Maurin Auxéméry.
Roughly two-thirds of the 350 events in the Jazz Festival are free-admission, and the city authorities have a goal to make the “Quartier des Spectacles” a safe, unthreatening, socially destination. This year, all Metro travel into the area in the evenings from a whole range of stations into the festival is free of charge. Auxéméry, who originally comes from South-Western France said in an interview recently: “We wanted to give gifts to Montrealers. We thought of everyone. I’ve been with Équipe Spectra for nine years and this is the most exciting programming I’ve ever worked on.”
That idea that most of the festival is a gift to Montrealers and to tourists is ever-present when Auxéméry talks. He describes it as “a giant buffet of amazing music from Canada and from the whole world every evening. This festival is as big as it is.. and it’s free. In a way it doesn’t make sense…”
A major feature of the festival is how unthreatening the whole vibe is, considering the size of the crowds. “Yes,” it is a peaceful ennvironment here. Life is more easy-going. There is more respect here.” He says the team is focused on security, but makes the point that as someone living in Montreal, and in contrast to many other cities, he personally has never felt in danger.
One of the impressive things that the festival does is that it knows of its potential role in developing artists’ careers, particularly those of Canadian artists, and that progress is mirrored by having them appear in bigger halls each time they appear.
The most celebrated example is Diana Krall. Auxéméry singled out three artists from this year’s programme. First the singer Dominique Fils-Aime, who has appeared before on smaller stages. She has her festival major hall debut at the Theatre Maisoneuve. “She is definitely a local success story. We have been following her.” Pianist Jean Michel Blais who appears at the Salle Wilfried-Pelletier is on a similar trajectory. The same is true of one of the headliners on the huge Outdoor Scene TD. Clay and Friends‘ upbeat “powerful blend of hip-hop, soul and funk, now known as La Musica Popular De Verdun,” will definitely be fun.
The range of artists is vast. From the US jazz scene there are Ravi Coltrane, Wynton Marsalis and the JLCO, Marcus Miller, residencies for Terri Lyne Carrington and Makaya McCraven, David Binney, Al di Meola, Robert Glasper, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Dee Dee Bridgwater, Christian cBride… . Those are all in concert. Kamasi Washington will play the main outdoor free-stage.
Brazilians? How about Bebel Gilberto and Eliane Elias and Ceu. From Europe, Tord Gustavsen, Vincent Peirani… From the UK GoGo Penguin, Chelsea Carmichael and Blue Lab Beats in concert, and Corinne Bailey Rae on the big Freestage …
Canadians? A celebration of Michel Donato and an evening for Lorraine Desmarais. There are also fantastic programmes in the city’s regular clubs, like the Jensen sisters at Diese Onze, and Mike Rud and Ernesto Cervini with Joel Frahm at Upstairs…it is an overwhelming, humungous programme. And as for the rumour that jazz is absent… it simply, and quite demonstrably… isn’t true!
Sebastian will be attending the 2022 festival as the guest of FIJM/ Equipe Spectra