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The spirit of jazz is alive in Montreal

Shelly Runyon | 7/6/2010, 9:27 p.m.

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Montreal —The Montreal Jazz Festival is more than the sum of 800 bands over 12 days. For many, it is family tradition.

Adrian and Guerda Sanon made the six-hour drive from their home in Hyde Park to attend the festival with their daughter Nearah. “We’ve been coming here almost six years,” said Mr. Sanon, as his arms twisted and Nearah spun circles, dancing to the music behind them. Motioning down he added, “She’s been here for the last three years.”

The Sanons are not the only repeat attendees. Most people at the Festival brag about how many years they’ve attended, and while few have made it to all 31 years, many have watched it grow. Each year, the Montreal Jazz Festival attempts to top itself with bigger names and more bands, striving for the impressive and the flamboyant.

And this year, they succeeded.  From award-winning artists to first timers, parades and after-parties, large venues to intimate beer garden settings and improvisational jam sessions, the Festival thoroughly explored the spirit of jazz.

Navigating the festival is difficult without the guidance of a few seasoned attendees like the Sanon family. This year they visited for most of the 12 days, and they explained that in the mornings they go to the children’s stage — an indoor jazz festival where the kids are able to play with interactive musical instruments and gain an appreciation for jazz. During the evening they attend the free outdoor shows and sing and dance as a family. In the late evening, he after party is always at Club Soda. This year, Club Soda hosted a wide range of live performers from jazz to tango to house music.

With an anticipated 2.5 million people in attendance, the 800 bands offered very diverse entertainment. The Montreal Jazz Festival sets up more than 25 stages for the artists some in the clubs of Montreal’s Red Light District, others in the streets that line the Quartier des spectacles — one square kilometer of pedestrian walk-ways and cultural venues. Many of the artists performed either inside auditoriums or on stages with multi-colored light displays that give St. Catherine Street an effervescent glow. Pop up restaurants serving coffee, crepes and mangos carved like flowers provided sustenance — if the festivalgoers are too busy to step inside one of hundreds of sit-down restaurants and bars nearby.

The melding of international foods and music brought together culture and traditions of jazz — and as each brass instrument sang over the Quartier des spectacles, the audience danced and sang the nights away.

While many attendees satisfied their appetite for music and dance outdoors, the big names this year played in indoor theaters and were still a large draw.

“We came to see Lionel Richie,” said Carolyn Sparks, as her daughter Tela-Soleil, 7, danced for the crowd. The pair drove up with Sparks’ mother from Ottowa. Sparks said Lionel Richie was “amazing,” and said, they “came back to the festival for the first time in 10 years,” after previously being loyal festivalgoers.