Montreal Jazz festival pays homage to B. B. King
By Stuart Nulman – mtltimes.ca
Last Sunday night (July 5), about 100,000 people filled the Place des festivals to catch a group of prominent Quebec blues musicians pay homage to the late B.B. King in a special two-hour free concert that honoured the music of the legendary blues guitarist who passed away recently.
That gala tribute concert officially capped off the 36th edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, while the day before, the festival’s brain trust – made up of Alain Simard, Andre Menard, Jacques-Andre Dupont and Laurent Saulnier – held a press conference to wrap up another successful jazz festival and happily proclaim it as “distinctively Montreal … and absolutely universal!”
During the press conference, Messrs. Menard and Saulnier rattled off a list of programming highlights that stood out for them, such as the Colin James acoustic shows, Jamie Cullum, Huey Lewis & the News, Mika, the Barr Brothers, Erykah Badu, Flamenco Vivo, the blues triple bill of James Cotton, John Mayall and Harry Manx, the Vic Vogel tribute concert, and Molly Johnson, whose show offered a much lighter side to the life and music of Billie Holliday.
And in a similar vein, here are some capsule reviews of shows that highlighted the latter half of the jazz festival for me:
Jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli and his quartet offered a highly entertaining tribute to Paul McCartney and the Beatles with his “McCartney and more” show at the Monument National Theatre. His excellent guitar playing gave a whole new, refreshing twist to McCartney’s solo and Beatles musical catalogues, from “And I love Her”, to “Let ‘Em In”, to “With A Little Luck”. And each musical numbered was punctuated with some interesting anecdotes that Pizzarelli shared with the sold out crowd, especially the ones that dealt with the time he worked with Sir Paul on his “Kisses on the Bottom” album. And by the way, Pizzarelli plans to release an album of jazzed-up cover version of McCartney’s solo efforts this September (in which he certainly raised a lot of interest for it with the audience that night).
The spirit – and sounds – of New Orleans invaded Montreal in a big way with singer Dee Dee Bridgewater’s show at Theatre Maisonneuve of Place des Arts. Ms. Bridgewater sang with a degree of vim, vigour and plenty of sass, which made every song she performed a wild listening experience. And her back-up band Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra burned up the stage, and made you feel you were right in the middle of the excitement of the Big Easy, which was best exemplified with the show’s finale – the theme from the HBO series “Treme” – in which the entire brass section went into the audience and parade around the area as they blared out their sounds. Overall, it was a cool evening of hot jazz.
The Maison Symphonique de Montreal was the arena for the seventh edition of the jazz festival’s annual “Battle of the Bands”, in which two orchestras from the big band era of the 30s and 40s face off in a lively musical duel. This year, it was the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (last year’s “battle” champions) against the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, in a match where both Dorsey orchestras performed on the same stage together in Montreal for the very first time. The two-hour spectacular had both bands perform their best known songs in an alternate manner, and were judged for their musical and artistic merit by three celebrity judges: Radio-Canada host Patrick Masbourian, pianist/composer Marianne Trudel, and legendary hockey broadcaster (and big band enthusiast) Dick Irvin (who also shared an anecdote with the audience about when he saw the Dorseys perform onstage at the old Seville Theatre during the early 50s). Both bands played with the same clarity and robustness as they did 70 years ago, and it was a fun way to flashback to the Big Band era. And by the way, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra won the battle for the second year in a row.
See you next year at the 37th edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, which takes place from June 30 to July 9, 2016.