Allo Mes Amis

My wife and I have returned from a 5-day trip to Montreal for the Jazz festival.  We had an incredible time.  The weather was fairly sunny with temperatures averaging in the low-70s.  This was our first trip to Montreal and with the sound of French in the air we got just a sense of being further from the United States than we actually were.  We stayed at the Ritz Carlton on Rue Sherbrooke, which was in walking distance to most of the downtown sites.  Our mornings were spent in small cafes for breakfast and in the afternoon we walked through different neighborhoods and took in some of the more touristy sites.  On most days we ended up back in a small cafe where we ate croissant, drank coffee, talked, and read.  On Saturday we walked through an art museum and on Sunday we caught a wonderful parade in recognition of Canada Day.  The food was simply outrageous; there were way too many restaurants to choose from.  We had an excellent Italian meal at La Capannina where I discovered a delicious Pinot Grigio w/ Verduzzo by the name of Masi Masianco from Venice.  If you are looking for Indian may I suggest The Taj and for Lebanese there is a wonderful restaurant on Rue Sherbrooke.  The city itself is very relaxed and McGill University gives it a scholarly feel.  The people were extremely friendly.  I say this because a number of people went out of their way to warn me regarding the snootiness of the French Canadians.  Actually, we did not come across any rudeness or hostility, though it probably doesn’t hurt that my wife speaks French.  We had a number of very pleasant conversations with the locals.

Everything revolved around the jazz festival.  You can spend an entire day taking in free concerts on the many stages which take up roughly five city blocks.  These musicians don’t get nearly enough recognition nor financial reward.  The festival attracts people from all around the world, it is family friendly, and the security is present without being overly intrusive.  We arrived in Montreal with tickets for Keith Jarrett who performed on Sunday evening.  We were surprised to find that tickets were still available for most shows.  Before sharing who we saw I should say that although I’ve been listening to jazz since high school it’s only been in the last ten years that my understanding and appreciation of the form has grown and this is due in large part to my wife who is a classical and jazz-trained saxophonist.  Michaela is a talented musician in her own right, but she also knows how to share that passion with others both in terms of the history of jazz and its structure.

On Friday night we saw the Wayne Shorter Quartet which included Brian Blade (drums), John Patituci (bass), Danilo Perez (piano), and the Imani Winds.  We’ve seen Perez and Patituci before, but it was a real treat to see them play with Wayne Shorter whose musical compositions are anything but traditional.  On Saturday evening we saw guitar virtuoso Mike Stern, along with Perez, Patituci, and Dave Weckl (drums).  Stern puts on an entertaining show and really seems to enjoy himself on stage.  He has an incredible sense of rhythm and he is somehow able to combine jazz, rock, and fusion in a way that never seems contrived.  Again it was interesting to watch Perez and Patituci adapt to a very different style of play.  Last night we caught Mike Stern once again, but this time he was with Roy Hargrove (trumpet) and Richard Bona (bass) along with Weckl.  It was another solid show.  At one point Bona did a solo which shaded into a solo vocal performance of a west African folk song.  Bona looped and layered at least 10 harmonies that left the crowd in awe.  These musicians don’t get nearly enough recognition nor financial reward.

As I mentioned before we also saw Keith Jarrett along with his regular team of Jack DeJohnette (drums) and Gary Peacock (bass).  Jarrett’s ballads are beautifully crafted, however, I suspect that many people will remember his comments towards the end of the concert.  Announcements are made before every show reminding the audience not to take pictures.  At least two camera flashes could be seen within a few minutes of the concert; at the end a number of people took the liberty of snapping pictures and this apparently upset Jarrett.  When he came back out he announced sharply that the concert would end if the people did not “put their fucking cameras away.”  I was a bit stunned by the comment but Jarrett proceeded to predict what the “French newspapers” would have to say about all of this the next day.  Perhaps in trying to make-up for his choice words Jarrett ended the show with two encores.

I can’t think of a better way than to spend five days with my best friend.  Some photos of the trip can be found at my flickr.

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2 comments… add one

  • matthew mckeon Jul 4, 2007

    Sounds absolutely awesome.

    We went to Quebec City last summer. The old town is beautiful, but somewhat Disneyfied. In the 80s when I was in P.Q. last, much talk about seperation, cultural identity, and a obsessive recreation of the golden age of French rule, although the “snootiness” that some people mention was never in evidence. The provincial motto is “remember” and its interesting to contrast with the South’s relationship with its own past.

  • Kevin Levin Jul 4, 2007

    Next time we will make our way to Quebec. We didn’t hear much of anything re: separation. During the parade a group came through that was calling for a referendum on separation, but they received very little support from the crowd. I guess a parade on Canada Day is not necessarily the best time to raise those issues.

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