By Lee Zimmerman
At age 39, most folks are still basking in middle age, unwilling to accept the fact that senior citizenry is beginning to rear its head just above the next horizon. Jack Benny famously insisted he was perpetually 39, unwilling to admit he had long since aged out of any possible pretense of supposed youth and vigor. Indeed, for most, 39 is a stopgap figure, the precipice between youth and wizened maturity.
For its part, 39 years on, Festival International De Jazz De Montreal is brandishing its venerable status with pride and prosperity. Indeed, there are few other musical gatherings that can boast as lengthy a history or as similar a stature. Newport and Monterrey may have it beat, but Montreal still wears its mantle proudly, able to boast about the fact that its both distinguished and diverse in equal measure. While it remains firmly committed to touting its jazz pedigree, it’s far from monolithic, given the fact that all different types of music are well represented beneath its banner.
This year, for example, one was able to see a dedicated blues master like Buddy Guy and a committed rocker such as George Thorogood both shining on festival stages, and then also watch with wonder as Bela Fleck and the Flecktones defied any attempt at adhering to parameters with a fusion of rock, pop and prog. So too, seeing the legendary Dr. Lonnie Smith or soul chanteuse Dee Dee Bridgewater entertain in ageless fashion served as a reminder that senior citizen status doesn’t have to hamper one’s energy or enthusiasm. It serves as a reminder that experience is an asset that ought to be both respected and revered.
Or, as, the 68 year old Ms, Bridgewater proudly proclaimed to her audience, “Don’t let a number define you.”
Indeed, the Montreal Jazz Festival consistently honors those who have carved out careers that reflect both age and accomplishment. Thorogood was awarded the prestigious B.B, King Award for the indelible impact he’s had upon a sound that emphasizes a certain bluesy bluster. Fleck and the Flecktones received the Miles Davis Award for a lifetime of achievement when it comes to perpetuating an individual idiom. Ben Harper, another of this year’s headliners, was recognized with the Ella Fitzgerald Award, a prestigious prize accorded a singular singer. Ry Cooder, a festival first timer, was presented with the Spirit Award, a distinction given those that have made significant contributions to the music world overall.
Even those that weren’t recognized in that way still made their presence known. Ian Anderson, served up a special celebration of the music of Jethro Tull. A group of young musicians dubbing themselves Number Nine offered an extraordinary tribute to the Beatles “White Album,” recreating every note and nuance in exacting detail. Noted chanteuse Beth Hart bent boundaries between blues, jazz and rock, while award winner Ry Cooder shared his iconic imprint with those who marvelled at how seamlessly he fused blues and gospel in the same setting.
Herbie Hancock, Carla Bley, Dave Holland, Terrence Blanchard and Marc Ribot created memorable music that reflects not only senior status, but their singular stature as well.
Indeed, the Montreal Jazz Festival defies categorization and opens itself up to all. That’s true in a literal sense given its wealth of free outdoor concerts that require no entry ticket when one simply wants to stroll along the spacious Rue St. Catherine while taking in the festival’s sights and sounds. A wealth of clubs and auditoriums, several of the latter lodged in the sprawling, environs of the Place des Arts, require tickets, but also provide that once in a lifetime opportunity to witness the giants of a genre as well. It’s all about the ageless art of making music after all, where skill and superiority merge and come to the fore.
At the Festival International De Jazz De Montreal, age provides opportunity for musician and music lover alike.