Jimmy Failla: All Seeing Eyes in Montreal

Ed Hamilton on the director of security at the Hyatt Regency in Montreal

As the jazz concert season unfolds throughout Europe and North America, what’s on everybody’s mind is what artists are playing where: in Umbria, Montreux, Newport, Playboy, and in Canada, specifically Montreal.

The last phase of any jazz concert thought about, whether indoors or out, is the security of the facility and everyone in attendance. A concertgoer’s focus is on when is my artist going to play? And in what order the concert will flow.

Jimmy Failla is Directeur Securite at the Montreal Jazz Festival’s Hyatt Regency---the official hotel for performing artists and jam sessions in the hotel. Failla is what you call a “Life Insurance Policy guaranteed for everyone in the hotel attending the numerous jazz concerts. In Monsieur Failla’s case, his job, especially after 9-11, is the Fail Safe assurance of security for hotel patrons and those later attending the late evening Jam Sessions at the Hyatt held since the early ‘90’s. With his “All Seeing Eyes” and staff, his job is ensuring for hotel patrons—freedom from danger.

Monsieur’s tenure as security director began when the Hyatt was called Hotel De Jardins 25 years ago, and a who’s who of jazz artists resided there during their performance days at the festival:Ray Charles,Sonny Rollins, Miles, Horace Silver, Jackie McLean, George Benson, Ray Charles, Nancy Wilson, Oscar Peterson, Kenny Burrell, Freddie Hubbard, Vic Vogel, Pharoah Sanders, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Yusef Lateef, Mal Waldron, Ndugu Chancler, Patrice Rushen, Benny Maupin, Cassandra Wilson, Russell Malone, Willie Jones, Gary Bartz, Wynton and Brandon Marsalis, James Carter, Ron Carter, Bobby McFerrin, Tommy Flanagan, Vic Vogel, Arturo Sandoval, Tito Puente, Chucho Valdes, Charlie Haden, Roberta Flack.

How I met Failla was a unique and peculiar situation. On the suggestion of drummer Ndugu Chancler and trombonist Garnett Brown who both had previously performed there, my wife andI went to Montreal. We stayed at the Hotel de Jardins—now the Hyatt Regency. Montreal was touted as the safest city in the world. Well, after an afternoon of shopping and eating we returned to our room finding the door open; we immediately called security; we had left our passports on the table. They were still there. In comes Jimmy Failla and an assistant inquiring had anything been taken. Upon finding our passports as we left them, Failla deduced that the house cleaning lady had not closed the door securely. He apologized for the inconvenience and stated that “in the future, if I can be of any assistance, call me anytime. And also go to Biddle’s and hear the Father of Montreal Jazz Charlie Biddle.”

We’ve been friends for 16 years and Jimmy (as he likes to be called by his friends) has introduced us to many of his friends who have become our friends: Leonard Monaco, Ghislaine Jessie Duval, Sammy and June Lionel “The Sound Genius” Goodfield, and Earl and Debra Davis. Through Jimmy, we have become longtime friends enjoying some great jam sessions in the hotel that have featured George Benson, Vic Vogel as Master of Ceremonies, James Carter, Willie Jones, Larry Willis, Christian McBride, Irving Mayfield, Roy Hargrove, Bill Summers.

Originally, jams were in the dining area with stage stools and tables placed all around and later a room was built especially for the jam sessions cordoned off with elaborate cocktail tables set up facing the artists.

Jimmy’s stature in Montreal’s hotel security coterie has been as president of the GMHA, the Greater Montreal Hotel Association (Security Division). His duties have not only included the safety of patrons in the hotel, but also included attending to emergencies as was on the day of July 3, 2009 when my friend fell victim to a heart attack. The night before Byron Winston, his brother Larry, my wife Rikki and I—all from L.A. were enjoying drummer Ndugu Chancler jamming at the festival restaurant. Ndugu played with a local group and all was fun and happy jazz vibes. The next day Jimmy and I were talking and he said “I had a California guy have a heart attack in the main lobby---I think you know him.” Larry had collapsed and brother Byron attempted resuscitation---but to no avail. Jimmy arranged all the particulars necessary to have Larry taken to the hospital and subsequently, to have Larry taken from the hospital mortuary to Duval Airport and back home to L.A. for burial.

Jimmy is a tremendous all seeing eye who attends to every aspect of security with his team who guard, measure and secure all paramenters inside the hotel. It’s a large job that requires 1000% visual allegiance from floor to floor, room to room, and lobby to lobby from 1st floor to top floor and all around outside.

And since 2001 (9/11), high intensity vigilance has been acutely paramount for each and every person in the hotel, especially at the jam sessions in the main restaurant bar lobby.

“I’ve been hotel Director of Securite for 25 years since 1987,” Jimmy remembers. “Jazz artists are very special to me and I have made great acquaintances though the years. Tony Bennett as you know, will always be special to me; George Benson of course—a class act, James Carter, Roy Hargrove; Russell Malone; John Pizzarelli; Nicholas Payton, and what can you say about the Marsalis Brothers who are legends in their own right. I can go on and on.” Jimmy happily described the joy of the return of the jam sessions after a 2-year absence. “Our jam sessions are back and hopefully for a long time after a few years absence. Through the years as you very well know, they were terribly missed by our regular patrons who make this event (Montreal Jazz Fest) a yearly vacation.”

For a quarter of a century Jimmy Failla’s “All Seeing Eyes” have provided safety and a worry free ease of mind for hundreds of hotel patrons and jazz musicians. At the Hyatt Regency, you can assuredly feel that your Montreal stay will be securely Fail Safe and in good hands with Monsieur Jimmy Failla ---Directeur de la Securite.

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Ed Hamilton