08/18/09 By Kris King
Highlights of the 30th Anniversary of Festival International De Jazz De Montreal
Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2009
The 30th anniversary of the FIJM started off with a bang! Stevie Wonder performed a free outdoor concert for over 200,000 people, while the Lincoln Centre Orchestra featuring Wynton Marsalis performed at the sold-out Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier Theatre in the Place des Arts. The evening was capped with a nearly half-hour fireworks display in the heart of Montreal that got the 30th Anniversary party off to a magnificent start.
It was also the premiere of their new festival headquarters and outdoor festival site that included a newly renovated building that houses the Maison du Festival de Jazz on the all-new Place des Festivals, a traffic-free site in the heart of the Quartier des spectacles.
The Maison du Festival de Jazz features a performance hall, a restaurant, a Hall of Fame, an exhibition space and a major audiovisual documentation centre open to the public. It also has a fantastic new press room that was our central headquarters for press conferences, catching up with the latest news or just hanging out with the other journalists and photographers from around the world between shows.
My priority when attending any jazz festival is photography. I am there to capture those special musical moments that are fleeting but for the click of the lens. Photographers are told before each concert how many songs we are allowed to shoot. Most often, we have three songs, sometimes two and very rarely, one song.
July 30- Opening Day: Caught an early flight to Montreal and arrived at the press room in time for the Stevie Wonder press conference where he was the recipient of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal Spirit Award. The bronze Spirit Award recognizes quality, musical innovation and the sing-songwriter/performer’s undeniable influence on the international pop music scene.
My husband and I were also celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary that day and took a quick detour to Old Montreal to have dinner at one of our favourite restaurants, the Bonaparte Restaurant located on rue Saint Francois-Xavier. Our delicious meal was complete with decadent chocolate mousse dessert compliments of our waiter.
We hurried back to the Place des Arts for the Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra featuring Wynton Marsalis and Spanish pianist Chano Dominguez in the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier theatre.
July 1- Day 2: After the Bruce Lundvall press conference and walking tour through the historical exhibition of Blue Note album covers, we were able to catch up with a few acts on the outdoor stages…before the rain began.
Melody Gardot was given a prestigious spot on the festival this year at the beautiful Theatre Maisonneuve de la Place des Arts. Gardot arrived on the near pitch-black stage to thunderous applause; she said a small prayer, and then stated, “I believe that jazz comes from the blues, and that the blues comes from pain. Every day of my life is jazz.,” claimed Gardot before she slipped into a solo finger snapping, foot-stomping spiritual offering.
It is well known that the Philadelphia singer suffered a life-threatening accident when she was struck by a car while riding her bike at the age of 19. The recommended music therapy opened her life as a singer/songwriter and guitarist who learned to play while lying on her back during her long recovery. Although lingering sensitively to lights because of the accident kept the lighting ‘atmospheric’, we could see the lovely Gardot and her Veronica Lake, movie star good-looks clearly as she sat with her guitar at the front of the stage and played a low-down version of Bill Withers's Ain't No Sunshine. Gardot’s star continues to rise; today she is one of the most sought-after festival headliners around the world.
Next up was wild piano man Jamie Cullum who strutted onto the stage dancing, prancing, bounding and pounding out his own take of the giant Rihanna hit ‘Don’t Stop the Music’. This is jazz/pop on steroids. Pulling at his tie, tousling his already tousled hair, he took off his jacket, pulled out his tucked shirt and moved back to the piano…which could almost seem like a prop if it weren’t for the fact that Cullum has a whole lot of talent, a Grammy, BRIT, and two Golden Globe nominations under his belt. He contributed music and penned the lyrics for the movie ‘Gran Torino’ as well as earned a Golden Globe nomination for ‘Best Original Song’.
Cullum is also a photographer’s delight as his crazy antics of running across the stage, jumping up and on to the piano, occasionally playing it, or under it, of using it as a very large beat box, then flying out into the crowd with wild abandon provides many great photographic moments for the lens jockeys. He is charming, funny, and admitted that they photographed the piano before his set in case his legendary piano jumping did any damage. Singing Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ while attempting to do the moonwalk was pure comedy. After which he apologized and said, “You won’t see that at the Dave Holland show.”
The sold out audience was charmed by his every move, gesture, note and expression. This soon to be thirty years old kid is one of a kind and wildly entertaining, he puts a smile on your face and a song in your heart. Ah yes, music therapy. It is good for the soul.
Cullum’s words proved to be true. I left the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier theatre and headed over to Theatre Maisonneuve also within the Place des Arts building to catch Dave Holland headlining the Monterey Quartet featuring Gonzalo Rubalcaba on piano, Eric Harland on drums, Chris Potter on sax and of course Holland on bass. Indeed there was no moonwalking but there was plenty of seductive bass walking, with smokin’ hot sax and drum solos’ that had the audience popping up like gophers on the prairie in individual standing ovations per solo. Holland, in his usual soft-spoken manner, lets loose his fiery edge on bass, while all members contributed compositions to the set.
Once again, we emerged to rain; however, it never stops the Montreal Jazz Festival audience from taking in the many outdoors stages featuring music from artists all over the world. Both indoor and outdoor events were at capacity for every show I attended. The audiences are knowledgeable and enthusiastic; on a scale of 1 to 10, I would say they are a 10+. Many are local, and many more travel from around the world to attend “the greatest jazz festival in the world.”
The audience plays a big part in the success and enjoyment of a festival on several levels. Montreal and Quebec City audiences support, attend and participate in a way that makes one realize the importance of maintaining and sustaining the art of jazz, the musicians, the genre and the festivals that bring us a vast array of music to communities where we can all share the joy of the musical experience together. So I’d like to say to the those people who made up the Montreal audiences throughout the thirteen day festival – give yourselves a big round of applause, YOU were fantastic!
July 2 - Day 3: Chris Botti and His Big Orchestra headlined the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier theatre in the Place des Arts to a sold out crowd. With twelve solo CD’s to his credit, Botti is one of the world’s top-selling instrumental artists known for his unique mix of pop, jazz, and classical. Backed by drummer Billy Kilson, guitarist Mark Whitfield, Billy Childs on piano and bassist Robert Hurst; Botti’s sensitive playing adds a certain longing to his arrangements on songs such as Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘When I Fall In Love’ that began the show. Continuing with songs from his CD ‘Chris Botti in Boston’ recorded last September with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops, Botti was at his best when paired up with ‘killer’ drummer Kilson when some of that fire threatened to ignite the stage. Although the ‘Big Orchestra’ shared the stage, Botti remained in charge of the evening’s proceedings.
Next up was a race over to the Metropolis nightclub to see Buddy Guy and Susan Tedeschi. We were informed that Buddy was not allowing photos to be taken (by professionals) okay by me, I was still happy to catch Susan Tedeschi. The Metropolis is a large concert hall with a balcony; it was packed to the rafters. Once I squeezed my way down to the floor in front of the stage, several very nice people allowed me to take their place for the one song I was there to shoot. Tedeschi was a perfect fit as opening act for Buddy Guy; her powerful, gritty, Janis Joplin style vocals have earned her numerous Grammy nominations.
We made a mad dash back out to see Chucho Valdes set in the Place des Arts building. On the way we followed our ears to the Scene Bell stage where Puerto Plata from the Dominican Republic were playing to an enormous outdoor crowd. These seasoned veterans were a wonderful surprise that had everyone dancing, including me. Unfortunately, we could not stay, as we still had to make our way through the huge crowds to get to the Place des Arts in time for Chucho Valdes.
Back in the Theatre Maisonneuve the audience were eagerly awaiting legendary pianist Chucho Valdez. I arrived early and happened to sit next to a young Cuban couple who were excited to see Valdes in concert. As a photographer, I find pianists are the most difficult to photograph as we (photographers) are set stage left or right leaving the choices of photographing the backs, or worse just a head above the piano. My late mentor Paul Hoeffler was a stickler for getting a musician’s hands in the photo and so am I. So rather than go to the front of stage left or right I stayed in the back where I could get a better shot of Chucho with hands in place. Have you ever seen Chucho’s hands? They could probably spread the width of most of the piano’s eighty-eight keys without a struggle. Chucho smiles a lot, a big wide grin that is both welcoming and engaging.
Son of Bebo Valdes and Pilar Rodriguez a singer and piano teacher, Chucho, considered one of the world’s greatest pianists has already earned six Grammy Awards. He has recorded over 86 albums and keeps up with a busy touring schedule while he continues as a Titular Professor of Music at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana. He also teaches at Universities all over the world. This night. At Theatre Maisonnevue, Valdes began with Ellington’s ‘Satin Doll’ morphing into ‘A Sentimental Mood’ and Caravan before we (the photographers) were ushered out and set off to catch Esperenza Spalding at Gesu – Centre de Creativite around the corner on De Bleury.
Gesu is a favourite festival venue among fans and journalists alike, known for it’s warm and intimate ambience, it allows one to get close to the artists creating music in an acoustic nirvana. A smiling, energetic Spauldings bounded on to the stage. She’s young, beautiful and ridiculously talented. She wraps herself around the bass as if it was an appendage. She caresses it, she plucks it, she takes out the bow and swoons back and forth, around and down, and moves out while holding it at arms length like a dance partner. She sings and smiles simultaneously while the music never wavers from her unique and exuberant creative force.
I was looking forward to seeing the legendary Tony Bennett in concert for the first time. His look-a-like daughter Antonia opened the show. While she has clearly inherited Dad’s good-looks, and a fabulous head of red hair, unfortunately, she did not inherit his vocal ability. She’s a very confident performer who has obviously spent many years getting comfortable on stage and turned in an opening set that did not keep the sold-out Salle Willfrid-Pelletier audience waiting too long for the main attraction.
At 83 years old Bennett walked onstage, embraced his daughter and said to the crowd “Thanks for inviting me to the greatest jazz festival in the world.” His voice was strong and clear, his delivery impeccable on favourites like ‘Who’s Got the Last Laugh Now’, ‘Maybe This Time’, ‘Just In Time’, ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’, ‘As Long As I Care For You’ and of course, ‘I Left Me Heart In San Francisco.’
Photographers were given three songs to photograph Bennett. Bennett’s expressive play to an audience provided remarkable images of one of the world’s greatest singers. He knows what gestures and expressions make good photos and he gave us all that and more. When an artist of Bennett’s stature, allows photographers 3 songs, it makes you wonder why some barely known artists give photographers 30 seconds.
The previous year Aretha did the same, she was as gracious as Bennett and not only gave us 3 songs but played to the photographers lined up 15 deep on either side of the massive stage. Bennett did the same, he walked to both sides of the stage to give us the good shots. When the three songs were up, rather than run off to the next concert, several of us lens jockeys hung around outside the doors to hear the rest of Bennett’s concert. There were songs that nearly brought tears to our eyes. It was just one of many highlights at the 30th incarnation of “The World’s Greatest Jazz Festival.”
I'd like to thank the great staff at the Montreal Jazz Festival who work tirelessly to keep things running smoothly in the press room throughout the festival. A special thank you to Nora at the Delta Hotel who went out of her way to make our 40th Anniversary stay at the Delta a very special one.
To see press conference(s) visit: www.youtube.com/ejazztv.
For more information on the festival visit: http://www.montrealjazzfest.com/
For more information on the Delta Hotel visit: http://www.deltahotels.com/en/hotels/quebec/delta-montreal/
For more information on the Bonaparte restaurant visit:
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