The lineup of the Montreal Jazz Festival on the 5th of July, the 8th full day of this 10-day event, included lots of the tradition of swinging jazz alongside the more modern and world jazz offerings. The great Canadian pianist Oliver Jones, seemingly haven taken the place of Oscar Peterson in the hearts of his jazz-loving countrymen after Peterson’s passing, would play in a solo show. The legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band would be filling the Theatre Jean-Duceppe with the classic sound of New Orleans as they celebrate their 25th year in existence with their new album That’s It! The charming Canadian songbird Nikki Yanofsky, performing music from her new Quincy Jones-produced release The Little Secret, would be singing standards new and old in a totally modern way while proving she’s grown from the teenager who played the festival not long ago into a talented young lady and a true vocal star. American Bill Charlap, known for swinging on the piano, as well as being the lucky guy who’s married to Canadian-born pianist Renee Rosnes, would give fans of the traditional side of things all they’d need. I’d seen all of these greats, except for Mr. Jones, and decided to seek out the more adventurous artists on the lineup and to hear more new stars I’d never heard before this trip to Montreal.
I began the day, though, in conversation with an artist I’ve been looking to meet for some time, Benin-born guitarist Lionel Loueke, who was performing at the club L’Astral with his trio in celebration of his latest solo work titled Heritage. I caught up with him in the afternoon after soundcheck and in fifteen minutes uncovered the story of Africa’s current “Prince of Jazz” who feels a strong connection not only to his home continent but to Europe and The United States as well. Many of the listeners to my program Jazz America on Voice of America are in various African countries and I have received numerous email messages instructing me to have Lionel as a guest on the show. I passed this along to Mr. Loueke and he simply smiled. He appears to be a very deep, humble, intelligent and gentle soul who never overreacts to anything. I could tell he was pleased to be loved by his fellow Africans though his connection to Europe and The USA are just as strong, having gone through some profound changes during the times of his studies in Paris, Boston at the Berklee College of Music and New York where he attended the “Jazz University of the Streets.” His talents garnered the attention of the likes of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Terence Blanchard, Esperanza Spalding, Joe Lovano and others. His solo recordings on Blue Note have been well received and life is generally very good for Lionel Loueke.