Exploring the Jazz Scene in Montréal

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Montréal pianist, songwriter Marie-Fatima Rudolf

I recently had an opportunity to visit Quebec. St. Hyacinthe,  a small community about 40 minutes south east of Montréal. I was there for a seminar, not music related but art related. The martial arts in particular, but that story will be featured at another time in another medium. My partner indicated she would like to come along so that we could visit the old historic part of  Montréal. We had not been to Montréal for about twenty years and this seemed like the perfect chance to get reacquainted with old Montréal and check out some jazz in the city.

I hate to admit this but I have yet to attend the Montréal Jazz Festival. Or as it is properly named, The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. This jazz festival holds the 2004 Guinness World Record as the world’s largest jazz festival. Every year it features roughly 3,000 artists from 30 different countries, more than 650 concerts (including 450 free outdoor performances), welcoming over 2 million visitors. The festival takes place at 20 different stages, which include free outdoor stages and indoor concert halls.

A major part of the city’s downtown core is closed to traffic for ten days, as free outdoor shows are open to the public and held on many stages at the same time, from noon until midnight.

In 2006 I came close to attending. I made arrangements to be there with a co-writer friend who attended every year and filed a report on the festival to a jazz magazine in California. I managed to get accreditation through the e-zine I was contributing to at the time. Circumstances beyond my control saw me cancelling out and I never did get around to attending.

This time my visit to Québec would include Montréal and I was determined to check out the jazz scene and speak to some of the local musicians to find out if they recommended that I should attend the upcoming 2019 Festival International de Jazz de Montréal.

Marie-Fatima Rudolf Trio at Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill

My first stop on our first evening in Montreal,  Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill located at 1254 Rue Mackay. Featured this Tuesday night the piano jazz trio of Marie-Fatima Rudolf and a tribute to Herbie Hancock’s Fat Albert Rotunda (1969 Warner Bros. Records). The trio included Jonathan Chapman contrabass and Guillaume Pilote on drums. The band was well into their opening set upon our arrival and the small club only had room at the bar. From the bar we had a great vantage point to hear and to see the musicians performing. Pianist Marie-Fatima Rudolf has a wonderful approach, a delicate touch with strikingly beautiful tone and lyricism. Reminiscent of Bill Evans in style and grace. The bass player Chapman played in an exciting manner, grand intonation and strikingly fast runs. I was taken with the free form swing drumming of Pilote and he reminded me of another drummer, the great Toronto based drummer Terry Clarke.

Marie-Fatima Rudolf Trio at Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill

Pianist Rudolf spoke to the audience in French on a couple of occasions and mentioned Herbie Hancock, I am not sure if any Hancock songs were played but the songs that were performed were all sounding great. One Thelonious Monk song, ”Well You Needn’t”, was played to close a set and it lent itself nicely to the group’s simpatico, drawing attention to the intricate and lively playing of the trio.

Our second evening in Montréal found us at Dièse Onze Jazz Club & Restaurant digging the Django vibe. Dièse Onze, located at 4115A Rue St. Denis, a very cool basement jazz club and at this time, early evening, a pay what you can cover. We landed a table front and centre and proceeded to order some food and drinks. I thoroughly enjoyed being entertained by the Eclectic Django quartet of François Rousseau (guitar), Alex Leblanc (contrebass), Jody Gollick (saxophone) and Baptiste Lejeune (drums).

François Rousseau Electric Django Quartet at Dièse Onze Jazz Club & Restaurant

A swinging hot club of France style group that played with joy, spontaneity and skillful technique. Bass and drums lent a solid backing to the guitar and sax who played off each other and complimented one another throughout a few exciting sets of uplifting music. The consensus among the musicians I spoke with, definitely come back during jazz festival time and take in the many free jazz offerings and the jazz clubs. A club that was recommended to me and I managed to find on our last day in Montréal, Resonance Jazz Cafe at 5175a av. du Parc. A place that will be on my list for my next visit to la belle ville de Montréal, hopefully for this upcoming version of the festival  2019 Festival International de Jazz de Montréal running from Thursday June 27, 2019 – Saturday July 6, 2019, for more information check out the official site: https://www.montrealjazzfest.com/en-CA.

François Rousseau Electric Django Quartet at Dièse Onze Jazz Club & Restaurant

*Photos by Paul J. Youngman

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