Reviews and dispatches from Montreal #FIJM 2022 (9): Digging (into) the history

Sebastian writes:

One of the pieces I was commissioned to do here in Montreal this year was not a written piece, but a podcast for The Economist. Enjoy the glee in that title “Send out the clown”!

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As I explain in the piece, the Oscar Peterson tune “Night Train” (LISTEN) unlocks some of the amazing history of the jazz in this town. A link to listen the podcast is HERE. (My section starts at 15:20).

One thing I did last weekend was to visit Oscar Peterson Park, previously known as Campbell Centre Park, and re-named in 2009 shortly after he died. The inscription reads “A Montrealer by birth and a jazz musician, he contributed throughout his career to Montreal’s reputation as a cultural metropolis”

I am aware that I am just scratching the surface, and need to get deeper in. There are a couple of indispensable books by John Gilmore, one about the history of jazz in Montreal, and another a directory of Montreal jazz musicians. He really is the authority.

This morning I had the very good fortune to be invited to visit the special collections at the Loyola campus of Concordia, which includes his research archive, the John Gilmore Fonds (LINK). The first thing I noticed is that right next to the library is a concert hall named after someone familiar…

So a little voice is saying…not THAT door Seb, you spend enough of your life in concert halls… it’s THIS one :

Montreal jazz history is a subject which fascinates me, and just a few hours today looking at the papers with an archivist to guide my baby steps was incredibly informative. I will need to sort out permissions to reproduce specific documents. In just one morning, all I was able to get was a “saveur”, a flavour, some first superficial impressions of a century of jazz here.

  • The idea of Montreal as a night-life town and a music town and a town with all kinds of venues and a busy professional life for its professional musicians just leaps from every page. The Jardin de Danse, the Copa Cabana, Casa Loma, El Mocambo, El Morocco, Chez Maurice Danceland, the Cave St Michel, the Lion d’Or (still there), or Wednesday nights at the Musicians’ Club… So. Much. Going. On.
  • There was recording and music publishing industry here too. I never knew that Emile Berliner lived here. In fact there is even a museum in his honour (LINK)
  • The archivist kindly pointed me in the direction of a richly illustrated book that both I and my coffee table now want very badly indeed: “Stepping Out – The Golden Age of Montreal’s Night Clubs 1925-1955″ by Nancy Marrelli.
  • Some of the simplistic myths about jazz in Montreal almost certainly cannot be true. The idea that “Rockhead’s Paradise” can claim to be the sole cradle of black jazz in Montreal is too glib and convenient.
  • (The other myth, incidentally, that Norman Granz heard the “unknown” Oscar Peterson on live radio and told the taxi driver on the spot to take him to the Alberta Lounge is fairly comprehensively debunked in Gene Lees’ biography).


Categories: miscellaneous, Reports

1 reply »

  1. Montreal jazz history is indeed very interesting. Happy to hear you enjoyed seeing the archival materials.

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