On the lineup of the Montreal Jazz Festival on this most American of holidays were artists not only from various provinces of Canada but Brazil, Romania, Italy, Japan and Ivory Coast. But topping the bill had to be the two biggest names that just happen to be from the good ol’ USA…pianist Vijay Iyer with his trio and the duo of guitarist Charlie Hunter and drummer Scott Amendola. I found a way to take in some of the music from those international artists but saved most of my time to hear my fellow countrymen. I began the day with a daily ritual, visiting the massive press area in the festival headquarters, the Maison du Festival, and instead of simply checking in to visit with the wonderful staff of the festival and see what might be special about the day I came with the purpose of sitting down for conversation with two of those aforementioned Americans, Charlie Hunter and Scott Amendola.
Searching for a quiet place for an interview the always more than helpful festival staff placed me in what they call “The Vault,” the huge room where all of the audio and visual recordings of important performances from past festivals are stored. I felt honored and a little intimidated on some level to be sitting in a room with such history. We even had to physically move a film canister that held a Miles Davis performance from an earlier year to find a place to situate ourselves for the conversation. Charlie Hunter and Scott Amendola met years ago when both were establishing themselves in the vibrant San Francisco Bay area scene, and have maintained a friendship and musical association over these years. Their latest collaboration has the not-so-flippant title of Not Getting Behind Is The New Getting Ahead. Since Charlie’s preceding release was titled Gentlemen, I Neglected To Inform You You Will Not Be Getting Paid I had to ask about his current state of mind and the status of what it’s like being a working musician in his area of jazz at this point in history. Without going into too much detail I’ll tell you it’s tough out there even for players as established, busy and popular as Charlie Hunter and Scott Amendola. I asked about the jazz festival circuit and how playing Europe helps play the bills and was told that it isn’t as vibrant and lucrative a scene as one might think, that the economics of staging festivals has hurt the musicians as much as the promoters and travelling overseas is a tough one too. Charlie has chosen to instead return to the way things were done by jazz artists in days gone by, load up the vehicle and go from town to town in his own country, playing whenever and wherever.