Story by Sharman Yarnell
MONTREAL, QUEBEC — The first time I wandered the Montreal Jazz Festival was after seeing Pink Martini for the first time. Everyone I knew raved about this eclectic local group, which has since become one of the hottest tickets each year. I had done an interview with Thomas Lauder, one of the founders, earlier in the day and could only marvel at the the reach his band had attained. When I finally heard them that evening, I realized what the commotion was about. The audience was enthralled.
Then it was such a treat to meet him backstage after the show and be invited out on the town with him and a few other members of the band. I guess it was Lauder who introduced me to the concept of “wandering” the Jazz Fest.
At night, there’s nothing like leaving one of the indoor concerts, the mind full of music, to sit under the stars to listen to the soulful sounds of a sax wafting through the night air. There are plenty of musicians flaunting their talents on the street and most are exceptionally good. During the festival, some of the biggest names perform for free, too. Stages are spread around Sainte-Catherine Street and Place des Festival public square.
With any luck, you can catch one of the free outdoor concerts the organizers have set up for 2014. Diana Krall, who was born on Vancouver Island, is performing on June 29, at a massive concert at Place des Festival. France’s Woodkid, whose performance last year was a highlight, will open the 35th annual Montreal Jazz Fest on June 26 with a free outdoor show.
Where to Eat During the Montreal Jazz Fest
Visitors from the world over will be flocking in for the music, the talent, the food, and to savour that European flavour that is quintessentially Montreal. The event attracts more than 1 million fans each year, with more than one-third of them coming from outside of the city.
I may live in Montreal but I never tire of a visit to the old city, with its artists’ stalls and trendy boutiques. It’s a must if you have never been to the Quebec’s largest metropolis. Old Montreal, with its cobblestoned streets and historic buildings, is not far from the Quartier des Spectacle, the city’s entertainment district where most of the main Jazz Fest shows take place. Day and night, the area is alive with music, fireworks and culinary delights. There are plenty of eateries that call out to those who are here for jazz, jazz and more jazz. And, of course, most feature live entertainment.
Here are some choices for food with a jazzy flavour:
Modavie Jazz Bar (1 St-Paul Street West): A staple in the old town, Modavie serves up fresh fish, prime cuts of beef and pasta dishes for lunch and dinner. (Mussels with Pernod and Fries, $22, is my go to dish.) It also offers live jazz to sooth the soul nightly. For the past 10 years it has featured local talent on the second-floor stage.
Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill (1254 Mackay Street): Wander farther into the downtown core to more fine resto/bars, such as this spot with a menu as diverse as the jazz artists on stage nightly. (Jambalaya, Roast Duck, Tennessee Salmon and Zarzuela top the main courses.) One of my favourite spots, Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill is in a small, cozy setting. Depending on the evening, you’ll be treated to the great talents of Ranee Lee and other local talent.
House of Jazz (2060 Aylmer Street): Walk through the door into a kaleidoscope of colour and glitter, with eye-catching chandeliers, statuary and jazz paraphernalia from the past. The decor, a blend of rococo and kitsch, will take you back to the glory days of Montreal. While there’s a full menu served for lunch and dinner, it’s the music that is the stand out here. I drop in just to hear Taurey Butler, jazz talent extraordinaire. He is an absolute must to experience. He hits the keys nightly, leaving people in awe of his musicianship and creativity.
Resonance Cafe (5175A Parc Avenue, between Laurier West and Fairmount West): Fancy a little vegan/vegetarian fare? Resonance is not a bar, not a club but … a jazz cafe. It is one of those treasures little known to the tourist but well frequented by locals. Perhaps a late-night Almond Butter and Banana Sandwich ($2.95)? Believe me, it’s to die for.
The food is simple, fresh and down-to-earth delicious, with veggie spreads, chili, café au lait with almond milk, and beer that costs $4.25 per glass (or $5.75 for a pint). You’ll find nightly jazz/blues here, starting at 9 pm, creating a great laid-back ambience.
Diese Onze (4115-A St-Denis Street, between Duluth and Rachel): This spot is one of those places where you want to be seen. Not so laid back, it’s a chic, intimate club in the Plateau (not far from the Quartier) that requires a bit of dressing up. A burger will cost you about $15 so it’s upscale in price as well. Desserts are between $6 and $8 but all well worth the treat.
Restaurant Lafayette (1874 Sainte-Catherine Street East): A mainstay for hot dogs, pizza and Greek specialities — awesome for that quick nosh to enjoy at one of those performances under the stars.
As usual, tickets for many of the Jazz Fest concerts are selling fast. This year’s main attractions boast the presence of Diana Ross, Elvis Costello, Snoop Dogg, Tony Bennett, B.B. King, Diana Krall, and the Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller Bands. Montreal’s own jazz treasure, Oliver Jones, will celebrate his 80th birthday with his good friend, Ranee Lee. My pals Pink Martini (an amalgamation of jazz, latino, lounge with a touch of classical) have now become a staple at the festival, with a huge fan base.
Whatever your flavour, whatever your music preference, the spirit that lights up the streets is undeniably joie de vivre. And for the 35th anniversary, it promises to be more alive than ever.
MORE ABOUT THE 35TH ANNUAL MONTREAL JAZZ FESTIVAL
Dates: June 26-July 6, 2014
Headliners: Woodkid (June 26), Diana Krall (June 29), Elvis Costello (June 29), Tony Bennett (July 1), Aretha Franklin (July 2), Diana Ross (July 3-4), Gary Clark Jr. (July 5) and B.B. King (July 5).
Tickets: Tickets, as well as bookings for your hotel, can be purchased online on the Jazz Festival website. The outdoor shows are free, but performances indoors — including notable shows featuring some of the names mentioned above, as well as performances by Nikki Yanofsky, Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, and others — will cost money for a ticket.
Vacay.ca Recommends: Along with the big-name musicians, you’ll also enjoy: Cassandra Wilson, who has produced outstanding music for close to three decades (June 26, 8 pm, Theatre Maisonneuve, $40.50-$47.88); Daniel Lanois, the brilliant Canadian producer will be performing with Emmylou Harris and Trixie Whitley (June 26, 7:30 pm, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, $39.85-$68.95); Cody Chestnutt, acclaimed musician perhaps best known for his duet with the Roots on their hit “Seed 2.0” (June 28, 11 pm, Club Soda, $26.11); and Valerie June, an emerging folk-country musician with a lovely voice (July 1, 9 pm, L’Astral, $34.38).
MORE VACAY.CA COVERAGE OF THE MONTREAL JAZZ FEST