Montreal Jazz Festival 2008
" The 2008 Festival International de Jazz de Montreal "

The 2008 Festival International de Jazz de Montreal (Montreal Jazz Fest) marks the twenty-fifth or twenty-sixth time I have attended this wonderful festival, which has now reached its twenty-ninth anniversary. Since its humble beginnings this festival has become the world's largest Jazz festival that not only covers Jazz, but also a good dose of Blues, Rock, Pop, and various styles of World music from across the universe.

What makes the Montreal Jazz Fest so special? First off, once you arrive there you can see hundreds of outdoor shows that won't cost you a dime, and the paid ticket indoor concerts offer not only some the best-known music acts in the world, but the concert theaters are some of the finest in the world with outstanding acoustics and pleasant atmospheres.

I attended the second weekend of this nearly two-week-long festival and some of the big names performers included two nights of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, and ditto for Steely Dan. The most memorable indoor show that I attended this year was the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, who opened for the Blind Boys of Alabama. The Dozen continue to retool their lineup, consisting of longtime core members Efrem "ET" Towns on vocals, variously-sized trumpets, and flugelhorn; Roger Lewison baritone and soprano sax; Kevin Harris on tenor sax; Terrence Higgins on drums; plus new members Revert Andrews on trombone and vocals, guitarist Jake Eckert, and Julius McKee on sousaphone. Most welcome of these newcomers are guitarist Eckert and vocalist/bone player Andrews, who is now sharing the lead vocal chores with Towns, giving the band a fuller sound. He also chimes in with background vocals with Kevin Harris with some occasional background support from Eckert and Roger Lewis.

This was the Dirty Dozen's first visit to the Montreal Jazz Fest and the crowd really seemed to adore them and gave them long ovations after many of the songs they played during their nearly two-hour set. Baritone player Roger Lewis was especially charged throughout the evening with his full-textured, deep sounds were often brilliant! But through it all, this new edition of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band shows that they have been able to reinvent themselves without any musical compromises and one can only look forward to future performances and a follow up new recording to the current What's Going On on the Shout! Factory record label. Stay tuned!

Year after year I always like to report about an artist that this great festival turns me on to, that being someone that either I have previously never heard of or someone that I may have been aware of, but who catches me by surprise. This year this distinction goes to Shakura S'Aida, whom I was aware of, and did she ever catch me by surprise, as she was a ball of onstage energy and literally captured the crowd with her enthusiastic stage presence and her dynamic vocal abilities. This lady rocks! Shakura's band was very tight, but make no doubt that this Brooklyn, New York-born, transplant to Canada was by far and away the best outdoor/free show that I witnessed during my time in Montreal this year. There were many highlights, but when she broke into "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show" (invoking the great Joe Tex cover that the recently departed Irene Reidused to perform), well, she stole my heart and ears. If you ever get a chance to see Shakura perform live, just go, as you won't be the least bit disappointed!

I also attended performances by the legendary Richard Thompson (solo performance) and Daniel Lanois, best known for his work with U2,Peter Gabriel, Robbie Robertson, the Neville Brothers, and Bob Dylan. But unfortunately these performances did not work well for me.

I had never seen Nick Moss and the Fliptops and was really looking forward to their outdoor gig, but they seemed laid back and nothing like I recalled from their fine recordings. Later I found out that their instruments had been stolen, so I would have to suspect that had a lot to do with their somber mood, so I will be looking forward to the next time I see them. Next year marks the thirtieth anniversary for the Montreal Jazz Fest and big plans are underway for the festival to have its own brand new home: The Maison du Festival de Jazz will serve as a permanent showcase for Jazz, Blues, and World music artists. This new facility will also feature a hall of fame and exhibition center, a resource for audiovisual documentation that will be accessible to the public, and headquarters for the promotion of Jazz. The Maison will also accommodate the Festival's pressroom, which is second to none that I have ever attended. Here's to the good folks of the Montreal Jazz Festival who were determined to create its own permanent residence.

Note: The Montreal Jazz Festival has become one of Montreal's most important cultural symbols, generating over 100 million dollars in annual tourist revenue, which attracts 2.5 million visitors, making it the number one draw of its kind according to the Guinness Book of Records. Next year's dates are July 1 - July 12. Until next year at the Montreal Jazz Fest, keep checking: for updates.

Bob Putignano: