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Montreal Jazz Festival

The Most Elegant Montreal Jazz Music Festival Draws to a Close
As the 39th Montreal Jazz Festival , considered the largest festival in the world, draws to a close, it is hard not to marvel at the sheer virtuosity and talent that took place from June 27th through July 7th, but also at the elegance of the venues.

Over the course of two weeks, musicians from all corners of the globe --from Chris Botti to the Frank Bourassa Quartet-- took to the stage and presented works in diverse medium and styles. On one packed night at the Maison Symphonique, I saw the Preservation Hall Jazz Band tear it up and encourage the audience to sing along during their signature piece, "Mad," which was a brilliant New Orleans-style riff on a simple scale.

On another night, I saw the Toronto-based First Nations tenor, Jeremy Dutcher, present works from his debut album, "Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa," using traditional folk melodies. The solo performer, who used previously recorded chants to form a musical continuum (thereby preserving his heritage),charmed the audience with his stories as well as his playing.

There are many festivals in the world that aim to put on a good show, but few do it with the utmost elegance of the Montreal Jazz Festival. Laurent Saulnier, the VP of Programming, is a charming man who takes his job very seriously. When I caught up with him for a few minutes at the Quartier des Spectacles, he said ,"It is a conscious mix of concerts that are free and accessible to the public, and intimate and paid concerts in a private setting." For Saulnier, jazz is upscale, even when it comes to determining the quality of the sponsors.

"One of our sponsors is Heineken," he notes, "and here in Canada, it's still an imported beer, but it's not the usual stuff and a little bit upscale and just enough to say that we are serving something a bit different." Street food too, at the Jazz Festival is not your typical hot dogs and peanut vendors, but upscale wine bars and beautifully-designed lemonade stands. "This is great for tourists because you don't have to go anywhere else to taste local products."

Saulnier tries to provides acoustic pianos for the majority of the venues, even in the outdoors. "We're a jazz festival, and it's important," he says, referring to the acoustic grand pianos found almost everywhere. But these are the details that the Montreal Jazz Festival does not skimp on. "It's a question of priorities," says Saulnier, "and 90 percent of the jazz pianists say they only want to play on acoustic pianos."

Typically, outdoor programming is all about new artists, and the festival wants new talent to be discovered. The legendary banjo player, Bela Fleck, was presented with the Miles Davis award a few days ago, and he has been a fixture at the festival for years. "Preservation Hall Jazz Band has been playing for years here," says Saulnier, who has helped make them a household name.

While some concerts are jam-packed (he recalls a performance by Stevie Wonder in 2009 that was something of a tour-de-force), there is still nothing resembling the crude elbow-jostling that one would expect to find. The concert-going crowd here is very civilized, and the intent is purely an enjoyment of the finer things in life.

The economic impact of the festival is monumental. In 2017, the festival brought in $48.7 million, and is considered the single most beneficial event to the city. It is a fleeting and brilliant two weeks, filled with great talent, and I can only look forward to the one in 2019.


IF YOU GO:


Stay at Hotel Monville , the hip new lodging on Rue de Bleury which boasts spectacular views, a chic café and bar with a distinctly modern vibe. The hotel is just a few blocks away from the Quartier des Spectacles.

Dine at Le Blumenthal , which is a non-profit restaurant with a spacious terrace right across the action from most of the festivals in the Quartier des Spectacles. It serves delicious comfort food and has a great wine list and fine cocktails (including a light Lavender Mule that is balanced and perfect for the summer). Best of all, the restaurant's surplus serves to to finance all the activities of the Maison du Festival, so dining here is not only palatable, but conscionable.

Dine at Brasserie T , which is right in the middle of the Quartier des Spectacles, with comfort food like a hearty tomato gazpacho and chic burgers envisioned by co-owners Normand Laprise and Christine Lamarche (also owners of the legendary Toqué! ). The service is quick and you'll be well on your way to a show.



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