Bourne @ FIJM: The Return to Montreal

Jul 2, 2017

"Je reviendrai a Montreal"  is a popular song of Montreal-born artist/icon Robert Charlebois. 

"I will return to Montreal," he sang, and I have said (have sung) the same every year as I've headed back after Festival International de JAZZ de Montreal.   Except ...

I don't ever leave.  Not really.  Not in my head.  Not in my heart.  After 25 years, being in Montreal for me is like being with friends you have not seen in years, or like going home to be with your family.  They're a constant,  a presence in your life.  You're always home.

I am always in Montreal.  Toujour.  Ici.  In my head.  In my heart. 

Even when there's something spectacularly new -- and there always is -- like the beautiful new Espace Danse, dedicated to the Dance -- it's immediately familiar, as if it always has been there, as if the entire Quartier des Spectacles always has been there, alongside Place des Arts in the heart of Montreal.  I remember the street before the city installed fountains in the pavement that kids wetly dance in.

Credit David Tallacksen

On the corner of the Quartier is the house of the festival, Maison du Festival, where (on the second floor) the press corps keeps all the media and so much more happening happily -- and more efficiently than any other press corps I've worked with around the jazz world.  They have (on the third floor) a videoteque with an extraordinary collection of videos and other recordings from jazz history and especially festival history.  Also a museum, a jazz joint, and a restaurant. 

Maison du Festival used to be the century-old Blumenthal building, a factory and store of men's clothing long empty when I first came to the jazzfest in 1992.  They've now re-named the festival's restaurant Le Blumenthal. 

These folks in Montreal, they don't forget their history. 

And this year they're celebrating 375 years since Maisonneuve, the colonizing French founder of Montreal,  planted a cross atop Mont Royal.   Two of the main streets that border Place des Arts, in and around which most of the concerts happen, are named for Maisonneueve and the city's other honored founder, the nurse Jeanne Mance.   They could've re-named Theatre Maisonneuve, second-biggest of the theatres in the arts complex.  They could've sold the name to any of the festival's sponsors  -- Heineken beer, TD bank, Rio Tinto aluminum, Bell -- but they didn't.

A triptych of Maisonneuve claiming the "Royal Mountain" for God and France in the Basilica Notre Dame.

They could've surrounded the beautiful carved wood pews and pulpits of the basilica Notre Dame with stained glass Bible stories -- but they didn't.   All the windows beautifully (and just as reverently) tell the  history of Montreal.  Here's a triptych of Maisonneuve claiming the "Royal Mountain" for God and France:

These folks in Montreal, they don't forget their history.

Wednesday, the evening before the festival's opening day, some of the local pop groups becoming better known beyond Montreal played all in the festival street, celebrating 375 years of this city.

And what's very unusual at this year's jazzfest is that they've also celebrated the 150th anniversary of Canada as a nation.  July 1st is Canada Day -- which I rarely have observed acknowledged in all of the years I've been at the festival.   This year folks danced in the street -- in the rain!   

DJ Champion
Credit Valerie Gay-Bessette for FIJM

One of the most original musical artists I've experienced at the festival, the way-beyond-electronics DJ Champion, was one of the artistic directors of an enormous Discotheque, climaxed by a spectacle of relentlessly disco'd pop songs, singers with variegated styles, sexy dancers, sexy strings, bedazzling lights, and fireworks.

I was enjoying Canada Day in the meantime at a concert of Christian McBride with his new trio, Tip City, with Dan Wilson on guitar and Emmet Cohen on piano.  Milt Jackson's "SKJ" just for starters.  Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed" with a bossa breeze.  Wilson's variation of the Beatles song "Got to Get You Into My Life" became a sing-along.  Cohen's solos were often breathtaking, and Christian's playing was the best I've heard of anyone playing bass, I think ever.  He's way beyond chops.  Thoughtful.  Witty. Funky.  Deeply swinging. And always with a wonderful quickness.

Two years ago, Christian played the festival on Canada Day.  When he wished everyone "Happy Canada Day" he only got a couple of grumbles.  He impishly waved a little maple leaf flag anyway.

This year on Canada Day, I saw, not kidding, all day, one person wearing a maple leaf -- a curmudgeonly older fellow with a t-shirt that blazed in red "Canada Kicks Ass!"

I can say this year "I've been to Montreal 25 times. "  And can say again as I often have "I've never been to Canada."

Once, a politically correct American  listener objected, felt I was insulting Canadians.  Canadians I know have agreed.  Quebecois have smiled.  Proudly.

Soon after I came this 375th year of Montreal, I was interviewed by a class of 12 or 13-year-olds studying journalism fundamentals at McGill.  I  asked if they were proud that Montreal as a city is more than twice older than Canada as a nation.  "Yes!" they all cheered -- Anglophones and Francophones alike.  Proudly.