Posted by: russdavis | June 17, 2015


Andre Menard & Alain Simard, the guys who started it all with the 1980 Montreal Jazz Fest, here with MOJA's Russ Davis

Andre Menard & Alain Simard, the guys who started it all with the 1980 Montreal Jazz Fest, here with MOJA’s Russ Davis

Snarky Puppy represents the new wave of Modern Jazz at this year's festival in Montreal!

Snarky Puppy represents the new wave of Modern Jazz at this year’s festival in Montreal!

The legendary Wayne Shorter, just one of the jazz greats playing this year's Montreal Jazz Festival!

The legendary Wayne Shorter, just one of the jazz greats playing this year’s Montreal Jazz Festival!


Back in the late 1970’s a couple of young friends, Andre Menard and Alain Simard, were sitting around in the beautiful city of Montreal, Quebec and dreaming of putting together a grand jazz festival that would do justice to their hometown that people around the world now call “The City of Festivals,” As I prepare for the 36th edition of The Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, and my 11th straight trip there, I’d like to give you a quick view of what 2015 festival goers can look forward to during the 10 days of this glorious event that runs from the 26th of June through July 5th. I certainly won’t take the time and space to list all the performances that will take place, you can go to the festival website at and get all the details, but I am always astounded at the variety and depth of styles exhibited in the massive lineup that truly presents something for everyone. The festival features plenty of jazz to qualify the name of the gathering but there’s a decidedly international flavor with artists from all over the globe exhibiting the sound of their respective regions. There’s also rock, pop, techno, hip-hop, soul and blues aplenty to keep anyone looking for variety happy and busy as they run from stage to stage soaking up the music in the dozens of free shows that accompany the paid performances in Montreal’s beautiful indoor venues.

As with many festivals, especially one with the scope and expense involved with an event like this one, major sponsors and big-ticket pop artists pay the bills for the lesser known acts. It’s the former that brings in the bucks and the crowds and the latter that gets my attention. I’m looking for the artists from around the world that I may have heard of but never seen and/or the ones I’ve never heard of that will be that one, big surprise that makes my festival experience complete. This year pop artists like Steve Miller, Huey Lewis & The News, Erykah Badu & Joss Stone will bring in the crowds and pay the bills and with the passing of legendary blues giant B.B. King, who played the festival in 2014, the last day of the event will feature a host of Quebec’s finest blues performers in a grand celebration of Mr. King in a free outdoor show in the center of the city.

Now, let’s talk Jazz. The biggest names in jazz will also pack the beautiful indoor venues around the Place des Arts, the city center where the festival events happen, all within walking distance of one another. During the 10 days of the festival one can see jazz legends like Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Addullah Ibrahim, Harold Maybern, Buster Williams with Gary Bartz and Canadian treasures Oliver Jones and Vic Vogel. From the current generation of established jazz stars playing Montreal this year take your pick of performances from the likes of Al Di Meola, playing electric this year and the recipient of the festival’s “Miles Davis Award” as well, John Scofield with Joe Lovano, The Bad Plus with Joshua Redman, Eliane Elias, Stanley Clarke, Dee Dee Bridgewater, John Medeski playing solo piano, Patricia Barber, John Pizzarelli, Russell Malone, Avishai Cohen, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Renee Rosnes, Stanley Jordan with Charnett Moffett & Jeff “Tain” Watts, Bill Frisell, Dave Douglas…well you get the idea.

And if there is anyone out there who still thinks that jazz is a stagnant art form with no emerging stars, then all you need to do is either start paying better attention, come to my home and listen to all the incredible new music that comes my way every week and/or come to Montreal this year to hear the likes of Theo Croker, Christian Scott, Robert Glasper in a trio setting, Vijay Iyer, Julian Lage with Nels Cline, Marc Carey, and the current darlings of jazz who’ve won Grammys and thrilled crowds from Newport to The Netherlands, Snarky Puppy. And just to prove that this is truly a local festival you’re invited to take in some of the fantastic Canadian talent on the festival lineup including the incredible vocalist Molly Johnson in her salute to Billie Holiday, Jane Bunnett & her band filled with Cubans called Maqueque, singer Ranee Lee, Jesse Cook, Alain Caron with John Roney and the Moutin twins and their Moutin Factory Quintet to name a few of many, many more!

Then there’s that international element that sets Montreal apart from most every festival out there. I’ve always said that visiting Montreal is like going to Europe without leaving North America, but during festival time it’s more like traveling the musical world while staying in one place. Festival co-founder and director Andre Menard told me last year that 37 countries were represented in the list of artists who made their way to Montreal to play. I dare say that there may be even more this year. There’s a healthy representation from Africa including Richard Bona, vocalist Somi performing music from her album The Lagos Music Salon. Israel is well represented with the likes of Gilad Hekselman and the aforementioned Avishai Cohen. From Norway comes my current favorite electro-acoustic large ensemble Jaga Jazzist and vocalist Sondre Lerche. England’s soulful singer and pianist Jamie Cullum is on the bill. The Mexican duo of Rodriguo Y Gabriela, who began life in a Mexico City thrash metal band then broke away to form their duo to busk on the streets of Europe, then record with a Havana big band will bring their big sound to Montreal. Speaking of Cuba, pianist Alfredo Rodriquez is well established and promises to put on a fabulous show in Montreal. From France there’s Richard Galliano & Sylvain Luc and many, many more that promise to reward festival attendees with surprising performances filled with international flavor.

So you see, there’s much to enjoy at the 36th Montreal Jazz Festival. To give you a taste of what to expect you can hear my preview in my 2-hour show Jazz America that I produce for the U.S. Government service Voice of America. I’ve posted it on my MOJA Radio website, as I do each week. It will be available for free listening on demand now through Sunday, June 21st at

As you can see I’m pretty excited about my eleventh trip in a row to Montreal for this great event, but the bad part is that I just can’t be there for all 10 days. I suppose I’ll just have to make the best of a bad situation and see a dozen shows or so in the time I do have. I guess I can enjoy a meal in a few of their world-class restaurants, take my daily walk through the city streets and up Mount Royal to take in the breath-taking view of the city below from the top. I guess I just have to try and enjoy the company of the charming inhabitants of this most livable and beautiful city for a while. Oh well, it’s a tough task but I think I can live through it one more time!

Russ Davis

Russ Davis produces and presents the only jazz program – “Jazz America” – for the U.S. Government Service, Voice of America. He also programs and presents the online modern jazz channel MOJA Radio, a subscription service. You can hear a number of free programs, including the latest Jazz America show by visiting MOJA Radio’s website.

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