2002 proved to be another fine year of great programming and performances at this, the 23rd Annual Montreal Jazz Festival. A mere six-hour drive from the New York Metro area finds you in an elegant city with a nice measure of European cosmopolitan charm, enjoying a top-shelf musical event, showcasing the crème de la crème of jazz and blues artists. Ambiance, great food, friendly people and outstanding music abound, making this one of my favorite treks for the last 20 of this festival’s 23-year existence.

July 4th. Upon arriving in Montreal, we made our way to the festival’s pressroom and a warm greeting from Sophie Desbiens, Antoine Ducharme, and Marie-Eve Boisvert, who can always be relied upon to offer a wealth of knowledge and great recommendations regarding the festival performances. WBGO’s Michael Bourne was quoted in the Montreal Gazette, saying, "This festival’s pressroom treatment of journalists is second to none!" I agree entirely my radio host peer and friend, Michael, and echo his fitting observation and comment.

We are off to our first stop, the beautiful Theatre Maisonneuve at the Place des Arts, to hear one of the world’s greatest harmonica players, Toots Thielemans (Just ask Rob Paparozzi!), and the very underrated pianist Kenny Werner. What a wonderful performance it was! Thielmans, who is 80 years young, gives off a warm and gracious feeling onstage, immediately establishing a close connection with the audience. Drawing primarily from the new Verve release, "Toots Thielmans & Kenny Werner", they covered an amazing amount of music. Starting with Herbie Hancock’s "Dolphin Dance", to a gorgeous Sinatra medley of "All The Way/My Way", an emotional bow to the late Ray Brown, Disney classics like, "When You Wish Upon A Star/Someday My Prince Will Come", to Charlie Chaplin’s "Smile", and on to Louis Armstrong’s "What a wonderful World", this will be a tough act to follow -- and a great way to start the festivities!

After the show, we’re met with a big crowd gathered just outside the front of Theatre Maisonneuve, enjoying a free concert by Little Freddie King, performing a fine set of Louisiana Blues. A bite to eat, and we wrap up the night with yet another free performance with Big Joe Turner and the Memphis Blues Caravan.

July 5th. You could hear a pin drop during pianist Chick Correa’s solo performance at the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier Theatre, also at the Place des Arts, as Chick’s dynamic performance warmly held the crowd’s hands and hearts. Chick dedicated the entire performance to his father, and to the late, great Miles Davis.

Next, right down the street at the Spectrum, we’re off to hear hotshot guitarist, Russell Malone. Highlighting tunes from "Heartstrings", his latest release on Verve, Malone’s playing was brilliant, blazing and deep-toned, although it presented a somewhat difficult task of keeping up for his backing trio of piano, standup bass, and drums.

A final stop before we turn in for the night to hear New York’s own Garland Jeffries playing (you guessed it!) - for free, a block away in a duo setting. With Garland sounding and looking great throughout, hopefully, this marks a new beginning for the artist. Held in great esteem by his peers and critics, Garland’s writing and touring has been sorely missed.

July 6th. Our last evening, and what an eclectic evening it will be! On our schedule: Johnny A., J.J. Cale, Dave Brubeck, and Jacky Terrasson! At the Spectrum we find everyone standing outside, as a fire in town has caused some power outages. We decide to head down the street to see if Johnny A. is hanging around. Sure enough, there he is, sitting in bleachers along with the crowd! And, there is power on his stage. Cool! I get a few brief words in with Johnny before he hits the stage, "I heard you’ll be in New York next month, and I’d like you could come by to do another radio interview. Confirmed! Thanks!" Johnny takes the stage and immediately mesmerizes the crowd with songs from his current disc, "Sometime Tuesday Morning". With each successive song, the audience’s enthusiasm intensified. Performing covers of Wichita Lineman, You Don’t Love Me, Night Train, Walk Don’t Run, and latest disc title track, "Sometime Tuesday Morning", Johnny appeared comfortable and quite moved by the crowd’s positive reaction. I’m definitely looking forward to having him back in the radio station to present his excellent music to the New York area blues fans!

Back at the Spectrum with the power restored, J.J. Cale is tuning up. Although billed as a solo performance, after three songs, a second guitarist, drummer, and a bass player are introduced to the stage. As J.J. marched through his strong repertoire of classics, watching the stage grow with each additional musician was a pleasant addition.

With no time to "take-five" ourselves, we run in to the Place des Arts to hear the great Dave Brubeck, who is celebrating his 80th anniversary. The quartet did a fine job of captivating the crowd with new and old classics, with Bobby Millitello’s sax particularly outstanding. For the encore of "Take 5", Brubeck brought out Toots Thielmans and world class guitarist Jim Hall. Sophie Desbiens had recommended this performance back in our media relations meeting at the beginning of the festival, as the union of Brubeck and Hall, a "first" in 50 years, was bound to be considered a significant piece of "musical history"!

Now, with only one more show to attend, another year at Montreal will be complete. Feeling a bit sad, it’s back to the Spectrum to hear Jackie Terrasson. WBGO and Newark’s own Walter Wade told me some time ago to watch this guy, as he felt the 35- year-old Terrasson was an artist with a bright future ahead. How could anything top all the great music I’d heard over the past couple of days? Let me tell you, this had to be one of the all-time best piano performances I’ve ever heard! I was totally blown away! (As I write, I’m listening to the 3 cds that Jackie’s performance inspired me to buy!). The guy is not human! Swaying, bending, changing gears, moving from acoustic to electric piano in a flash, and amazingly - strumming the inside of the piano like a guitar, Jackie managed to make all the varied textures and tones of the instrument flow together – magically! A perfect way to end this year’s assortment of fabulous performances!

Thanks, once again, to the outstanding staff at the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, and for the wonderful experiences and memories I take away with me from this beautiful place, year-after-year. The city of Montreal never disappoints. I will be back next year and strongly recommend to all fans of great blues and jazz music to make Montreal your destination next year for a perfect blend of culture and music!

Bob Putignano, President
New York Blues & Jazz Society
Radio Host @ WFDU’s, “The Sounds of Blue”