A Jazz rencontre

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Widely believed to be the world’s largest jazz festival, the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (Montreal International Jazz Festival) features over 3000 artists from 30-odd countries, in more than 650 concerts, 450 of which, are free outdoor performances.

The festival draws over two million tourists and happens at 10 free outdoor stages and 10 indoor concert halls. I understand that the Montreal Jazz Fest is bigger than the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival which is held sometime in April every year.

For the Montreal Jazz Fest, a major part of the city’s downtown core is closed to traffic for ten days, as free outdoor shows are held on multiple stages at the same time, from noon until midnight. Attendance at some shows is over 100,000 people. Paul Simon drew 200,000 a few years back.

The indoor shows are held in a wide variety of venues, from relatively small jazz clubs to the large concert halls of the Place Des Arts. Some of the outdoor shows are held on the cordoned-off streets, while others are in terraced parks. Here is a brief on the shows I watched Saturday, 4pm till midnight…..

Wagons is a jazz band that came up all the way from Australia. Jazz and country rock are their forté. Henry Wagons is a gifted guitarist and singer with a Kris Kristofferson-meets-Johnny Cash voice. He is also hysterically funny and could do equally well as a stand-up comedian, the way he regaled the crowds between numbers.

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Henry Wagon, of The Wagons, regales the crowds at the Heineken Lounge, Montreal Jazz Fest 2014 (Photo by Spunkybong)

This is the band’s debut visit and they have been playing every day to rapturous crowds. The band starts a North America tour right after the festival. Henry and his gang were kind enough to pose with me, backstage. They were having scotch and soda and made sure I got enough to last me the whole evening!

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Another show-stealer was the famous La Petite École du Jazz, a Montreal-based jazz school with extremely gifted aspiring young jazz singers and musicians. Dwarfed by the big main stage, they nevertheless had me completely freaked out by their talent.

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The La Petite École du Jazz. I never imagined youngsters could be this good, like they have been playing for years (Photo by Spunkybong)

Then you have the side shows, the acrobats, dancers and mime artists, some of whom are in these pics. Quebecer-German Erin Drumheller and Argentinian Teo Spencer, are violinists-cum-dancers-cum-trapeze artists. Their violins are like extensions of their bodies. Today, she performed Yes, I can see the river from here with Teo.

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Teo and Erin

Over a Smirnoff at the Jazz Bar (I had crashed their after party), I got introduced. Erin Drumheller started off as a violinist and then fell in love with dance. She ended up with a diploma from the École de Danse Contemporaine de Montréal in 2011. Since then, she has produced They, a violin and dance routine that she performed at the Montreal Circus Festival. Given her many talents, Erin has many multidisciplinary projects in the pipeline that fuse dance, acrobatics and violin into one beautiful blend. She currently teaches violin at the Conservatoire de Musique du Québec.

As for Teo, after finishing 3 years of training in circus arts at The University of San Martin in Buenos Aires, Teo has performed on diverse projects and creations in Argentine contemporary circus.

If you would like to see a short promo video they did recently, here is the link…..

A most charming couple, they wouldn’t let me leave without a group photo…….

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Another band I loved was Esprit de La Nouvelle-Orléans(Spirit of New Orleans), a dynamic, charming, spirited troupe whose ensemble of trumpet, clarinet, trombone, banjo, sousaphone and drums captures the passion of jazz music. If you closed your eyes it seemed as if Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington and joined us.

I have prepared a video ensemble that I shall post separately. However, I must warn you that, given all the scotch and vodka going around, the video is a bit jerky and you might end up with a headache. But its yore head. I already have a close cousin of a headache – a hangover.

What? If you go to the Montreal Jazz Fest and don’t totter back and not have a cement mixer inside yore head the next morning, you haven’t been to a jazz festival.

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