Sierra Maestra performs traditional Cuban jazz from the 1920s and ‘30s to a dancing crowd at Club Soda. The Montreal Jazz Festival hosted 3,000 artists over the course of the 11-day event. (Shelly Runyon photo)
|Novalima vocalist Milagros Guerrero performs on stage. Novalima performed twice on Sunday night to a packed crowd who sang and danced along with the Afro-Peruvian beats. (Shelly Runyon photos)|
MONTREAL — For 10 days, from June 25 to July 4, about 1,000 concerts were performed for 2.5 million patrons on one small island city in Québec.
This is the tour de force which the Montreal International Jazz Festival has become.
With more than 750 free outdoor performances and about 250 paid indoor shows, the 32nd edition of the Montreal Jazz Festival offered something for just about everyone. It also provided too much for some.
“Sade performed at the same time as Peter Frampton on Thursday night,” said Julien Grillo. “How do you choose?”
Grillo, a Montreal native, lifelong music fan and longtime attendee of the festival, ultimately chose Frampton. Although he enjoyed the performance of the British singer and multi-instrumentalist, Grillo hopes Sade will return to Montreal next year.
He wasn’t the only one facing such choices at this year’s musical lineup.
Lucinda Anderson Hughes and Kristin Fuller, who travelled from Washington, D.C., to attend the festival, opted for Sade. “She was mind-blowing,” said Hughes.
“[The performance] had a cabaret lounge feel to it,” said Fuller. “Even though it was a huge venue, I felt like [Sade] was singing just to me. It was very personal.”
Hughes and Fuller both preferred the classic songs best, verbally checking off the list — “Kiss of Life,” “King of Sorrow,” “Soldier of Love” — almost in unison.
With so many diverse performances, highlights abounded and choosing one proved a challenge.
For Grillo, it was one of Prince’s two, sold out, four-hour long shows, which kicked off the first day of the festival.
“It was a colossal, unique Prince show. It was so amazing we couldn’t leave. It was like ‘Hotel California,’ ‘you can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave,’ ” he said, quoting the classic 1977 Eagles song.
Many patrons opt solely for the free outdoor performances. Shanice Rose, who lives in Montreal but rarely makes appearances at the festival, ventured downtown this year to discover some new music, free of cost.
“I have no idea about a lot of this music. I’m unfamiliar with most of these bands,” said Rose. “If I don’t like what I hear outdoors, I’m not gambling to see an indoor one that I have to pay for.”
Rose and her friends were aware of more famous headliners at the festival in years past, but had not attended the shows.
“Aretha Franklin was here a few years ago, which would be a highlight for me. But how does a jazz festival go from Aretha Franklin, queen of soul, to someone on an accordion?” she asked, referring to the performance by acclaimed accordionist Richard Galliano.
More traditional jazz artists included Canadian pianist and singer Diana Krall, Montreal blues legend Jimmy James and Grammy and Tony Award-winning singer Dee Dee Bridgewater.
Bridgewater performed a tribute to Billie Holiday to a crowded theater at Théâtre Maisonneuve. Although she impressively mimicked Holiday’s distinctive voice, Bridgewater underscored their difference in style.
Before her performance of “My Mother’s Son-in-Law,” Bridgewater said in a sultry tone, “Billie Holiday was tight and sophisticated. I’m not like that. I’m down and dirty.”
The comment garnered laughter from the audience and Bridgewater displayed her own rendition of the song.
An array of musical genres and different artists rounded out the scene. Drawing on past and present global influences from Afro-Caribbean beats to Zydeco, and just about everything in between, the Montreal International Jazz Festival continues to expand its repertoire, with the numbers to prove it.
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