Is there any other festival that can withstand years of change in the music industry, and achieve massive success other than the Montreal International Jazz Festival? I don’t think so. Founders Alain Simard and Andre Menard took the stage before Buddy Guy at the closing night’s performance to thank the audiences and said “After 40 years, we’re still here and not going anywhere”.
I was able to catch a few shows over 10 days of the festival, and I witnessed some great stuff. The big, free 40th anniversary party took place on June 26th outside on the TD Stage with Montreal’s The Brooks. The band brought along some friends; singers Kim Richardson (who belted out an incredible version of “At Last”), Marie-Christine Depestre and Hanorah. The band and their guests played homage to all those classic soul, funk and R&B performers who have played the fest over 40 years. Songs from James Brown, Kool & the Gang, Al Green, Etta James, Aretha Franklin and Prince were performed over two hours. A stellar and funky opening party.
The following evening I was fortunate enough to catch Nebraska Project; an electric revisit of Bruce Springsteen’s iconic 1982 album. The show was phenomenal with incredible local musicians. Andre Papanicolaou on vocals and guitar, Mario Legare on bass, Jose Major on drums and Denis Faucher on vocals and keys. The quartet played Springsteen’s album the way it was originally meant to be released; electric. After the band played the album in its entirety, the audience was lucky enough to get some extra Springsteen classics in the encore. One of my favorite shows at the fest this year.
A few nights later, Bobby Bazini graced the MTELUS stage to a nearly sold-out crowd. The local singer/songwriter with the raspy and shaky voice played a career-spanning set with some new songs from an album due out this fall. “We’ve had some issues finishing the new album, but I’m so excited for you all to hear it. It’s due out this fall and we’re going to play some new ones for you tonight”, the singer said to a warm reception from the crowd. New Brunswick native Matt Andersen opened the show. A blues singer, he played a selection of original material, but his cover of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” was the real crowd pleaser and highlight.
Celebrating Canada Day at the fest is always a blast. Guitar legend George Benson played to a sold-out Salle-Wilfrid-Pelletier of Place des Arts and received a standing ovation the moment he walked on-stage. His hits like “Love X Love”, “Turn Your Love Around”, “This Masquerade”, “Give Me the Night” and “On Broadway” lit up the room and the crowd sang along. Hard to believe that at 76 years-old, the legend has never sounded and looked so good. Kandace Springs opened the show performing a string of covers, including Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You”. A spellbinding moment.
Bryan Adams played the Bell Centre as part of the festival’s 40th birthday, his second visit to la belle province this year. A second sold-out show within six months, with hit after hit and Adams in fine vocal form. Read my full review from last week.
Peter Frampton brought his farewell tour to Salle-Wilfrid-Pelletier and performed to packed room. The crowd was on their feet from the get-go while Frampton shredded his guitar with songs from his new blues album (which has been Number 1 for three weeks now), and playing his hits and songs from Humble Pie. Frampton seemed visibly emotional leaving the stage after a two-hour and twenty minute set, saying “I won’t say goodbye”, as he left wiping a tear from his eye. A moment I won’t soon forget from the festival.
The final night of the festival saw the return of blues legends Colin James and Buddy Guy sharing the stage; two full performances from the musicians. Colin James entered the room from the floor before making his way to the stage to perform with his superb band. James, a B.C. native, shredded his guitar performing “Five Long Years”, “Why’d You Lie”, and others for nearly 90-minutes. Buddy Guy received a standing ovation as we walked on-stage to perform “Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues”, a powerhouse track. The blues legend has never been better at age 82. Guy walked off-stage and into the crowd to perform his hit “Slippin’ Out, Slippin’ In”; a definite highlight for a 40th festival birthday.
Pink Martini performed a third and final night at Maison Symphonique after previously selling out two shows. I love seeing concerts in that venue; there is such a great sound and beautiful richness to it. The mini-orchestra from Oregon performed their hits for an energetic 90-minute set; even inviting the audience to dance on-stage. They are fantastic to see live.
Forty years down the line, the Montreal International Jazz Festival still stands strong, and maybe stronger than ever. Attracting tourists from all over the world and bringing in acts from all over as well. This festival is prestige and a Montreal staple that is untouchable. Bravo to the founders, their exceptional team and to the incredible artists who graced the festival stages. See you next year!
Gianni Fiasche lives and breathes all that is entertainment. Since a very young age he has been a film and music enthusiast. Gianni watches and reviews over 200 films a year, attends hundreds of concerts, and loves listening to old and new music. When he isn’t doing these activities, you’ll find him spending quality time with family and friends. You can follow him on Instagram as @snobreviews.