Review: Montréal Jazz Festival

Andy Hughes witnesses the 35th Montréal Jazz Festival, featuring Diana Krall, Tony Bennett, Ginger Baker, Jack DeJohnette and more

Thirty-five years on from its simple beginnings, the Montréal Jazz Festival once again presents the cream of jazz talent across its various city clubs and theatres, its mix as eclectic as ever.

The festival grew up out of a vision by its founders who realised that most of the city’s beautiful theatres and music venues remained unused in the summer months. Since rock and pop were monopolised by existing big-hitter promoters, the unexplored idea of starting a jazz festival was born. Having grown in popularity and size, Montréal now hosts one of the largest and most comprehensive jazz festivals in the world.

The big guns were invited – Tony Bennett delivered his usual suave evening; Diana Krall, joined by husband Elvis Costello, played the massive outdoor stage; and Montréal’s jazz son Michael Bublé played two triumphant nights at a local ice hockey stadium.

With three shows a night in a number of venues, some careful selection was required to ensure favourites were enjoyed, but the close proximity of all the major venues means good planning and brisk walking paid off every time.

Highlights included Dianne Reeves’ spirited workout and Jazz Confusion, the latest project from former Cream drummer Ginger Baker (pictured above right). Baker showed he has lost none of his musical power and élan.

The Jack DeJohnette Trio, the Doctor Lonnie Smith Octet, Oliver Jones, Ambrose Akinmusire, Mulatu Astake - the list of legendary jazz musicians went on and on, every one of them assured a rapturous welcome from the Montréal audience, who love their jazz and are keen to show their enjoyment with standing ovations for every show.

As well as myriad styles of jazz music, jazz’s cousin soul was represented by the twin titans of the form, Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin. Both gave spellbinding accounts of their catalogues and proved that age is no barrier to a matchless performance.

Montréal as a city enjoys a high level of culture generally, and its people are most welcoming, switching effortlessly from their native French to English for the benefit of visitors. Prices for food, drink and accommodation are on a par with any major western city, and the atmosphere of safety and friendliness means that walking through the milling crowds in the pedestrianised sections of the city centre is a relaxed experience.

For jazz fans, the festival is a veritable feast of styles and genres - everything from big bands to solo performers - and the festival is happy to step beyond its remit with an enviable list of mainstream performers who have included artists as diverse as rock legend Robert Plant, country giant Lyle Lovett, and pop soul hero Lionel Richie in the past. This year, rap star Snoop Dogg debuted as a festival performer for the first time. Planning is already underway for 2015, and jazz fans should make every effort to join in the summer fun in Montréal. More at www.montré

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