Montreal International Jazz Festival
"2007 "
By Bob Putignano

The Montreal International Jazz Festival (MIJF, also called the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal) is the largest Jazz festival in the world. It is held annually in Montreal, Quebec, during the summer season (usually at the beginning of July) and gathers artists from around the world. Over two million people, attracted by the eclectic atmosphere, diversity of shows, and by the city itself, attend the festival each year. Many parts of the city's downtown core are closed to traffic for two weeks, as outdoor shows are free to the public on many stages. Attendance to some shows exceeds one hundred thousand music fans.

Shows are held in a wide variety of venues, from relatively small Jazz clubs to the large halls like the beautiful Place des Arts. Some of the free outdoor shows are held on closed-off streets, while others are in terraced parks.

A little history: The Montreal Jazz Festival was conceived by Alain Simard, who had spent much of the 1970s working with Productions Kosmos bringing artists such as Chick Corea, Dave Brubeck, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Gatemouth Brown, and others to Montreal to perform. In 1977 Simard teamed up with André Ménard and Denys McCann to form an agency named Spectra Scène (now known as L'Équipe Spectra), with the idea of creating a summer festival in Montreal that would bring a number of artists together at the same time.

They planned their first festival for the summer of 1979, but, unable to secure sufficient funding, their plans were scuttled, but they still were able to produce two nights of shows at Théâtre-St-Denis with Keith Jarrett and a then-unknown Pat Metheny. The first Montreal Jazz Festival was held in 1980, with funding from Alain de Grosbois of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and Tele-Quebec. With Ray Charles, Vic Vogel, Chick Corea, and Gary Burton on the bill - and an attendance of 12,000 - the event was hailed a success and has continued to grow.

Day One started with our first "free to the public" outdoor show that featured New Jersey-based Dave Gross' trio with WFDU's DJ and recording artist Dennis Gruenling. They treated the crowd to their traditional Chicago-style jump Blues set. After that show came another free outdoor show, this time featuring the forty-seven-year-old and very youthful Vasti Jackson. Jackson was the musical director for Z.Z. Hill, who was just on the cusp of his huge success with Down Home Blues on the Malaco record label. Jackson also played guitar on the Malaco records by Latimore, Denise LaSalle, Bobby Rush, and Johnnie Taylor. He also drew on his formal musical training in writing horn and string arrangements for the label and co-produced Bobby Rush's Grammy-nominated CD from 2002 Hoochie Man. Additionally, Jackson recently worked on records by Cassandra Wilson and Michael Burks, as well as New Orleans-based Henry Butler and John Cleary. Jackson has two solo recordings credited to his name, No Borders to the Blues and Live in Nashville, the later was released earlier this year. Jackson hit the stage like a man on fire and truly delighted those in attendance with his long extended guitar solos and showed his outstanding showmanship both on stage and when he wandered the crowd with his wireless guitar hookup. Jackson was definitely born for the stage and should be added to your wish list whenever he performs in your area.

Derek Trucks was my most anticipated show at the Montreal Jazz Festival and no only did he not disappoint me, but he blew me away with his outstanding display of musicianship, with his excellent and often hair-raising slide guitar playing, as well as the support he received from the members of his band, especially Mike Mattison's vocals. The Derek Trucks Band opened with the first two tracks from their latest Columbia release Songlines: Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Volunteered Slavery," which beautifully flowed into "I'll Find My Way." It is noteworthy to mention that there is also a companion disk to Songlines, that being the live DVD titled Songlines Live!, which is highly recommended. Other highlights included "44 Blues," a tune Trucks often performs with The Allman Brothers Band, and also from the Songlines CD "Crow Jane" and "I'd Rather Be Blind, Crippled and Crazy." There were other bone-chilling covers, including the tune John Coltrane made famous all over again during the Sixties, "My Favorite Things," which meandered perfectly into the King Curtis classic "Soul Serenade." Just when I thought that DTB could not exceed what they already delivered on stage, they ended their two-hour-plus set with a track that the Allman Brothers recorded on their very first LP, "Every Hungry Woman," which left me and the crowd screaming for more. Derek Trucks and his superb band returned to the Spectrum Theater's stage and unleashed an amazing, funky version of Curtis Mayfield's "Freddie's Dead." This performance was the Derek Trucks Band's first appearance at the Montreal Jazz Fest and one would hope that the good folks who book this very fine festival will bring Trucks and his band back to Montreal in the not too distant future.

It was hard to follow Derek Trucks, but I was pleasantly surprised by hard-rocking bluesman Chris Duarte, who played several tracks from his brand new, appropriately-titled CD, Blue Velocity, on Mike Varney's Blues Bureau International record label.

Matt Schofield delivered a high-spirited and very animated performance of Blues rocking guitar with his B3 organ trio. Schofield's best numbers included covers of a Albert Collins tune and a chestnut B.B. King made somewhat famous, "When it all Comes Down."

Every year the Montreal Jazz Festival turns me on to at least one unsuspecting musical surprise; and the winner this year was the young Funk unit Moses Mayes from Winnipeg, Manitoba. These youngsters really know how to charm a crowd with their delightful mix of urban Soul and Funk and had the entire outdoor crowd dancing to their delicious groove.

Several years ago Richard Bona was my Montreal Jazz Fest find and though Bona lives in Brooklyn, which is not too far from where I live, this was the second time I've caught his act in Montreal, this time with a guest appearance with Russell Malone, who dazzled the crowd with his guitar mastery, especially on their closing cover of Bobby Hebb's often covered "Sunny." Bona is a bona fide world-class bassist who is a talent well worth seeking out; his performances are always top-shelf. It should also be noted that Bona was selected by the Montreal Jazz Fest producers to be the second week's special guest artist, as Bona performed in four different bands on four consecutive evenings.

Alvin Queen, who still frequents the New York area, but now resides in Switzerland, is a crisp, powerful, and swinging drummer who worked with George Benson and Stanley Turrentine, then during the Seventies traveled to Europe with the excellent group Music Inc., which was co-led by Charles Tolliver and Stanley Cowell. His performance was stellar as he performed several tracks from his new CD I Ain't Looking at You.

Here is to the 2008 Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, I look forward to working with all of you next year and for many years to come. For updates please continue to check out:

Bob Putignano is a contributing editor at BluesWax. You may contact Bob at: web site:

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