Calling all music lovers to the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal

By Kelly Merritt:

Every year for more than three decades, people from all over the world have come to soak up the energy of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. The massive main stage is surrounded by several other stages and historic theaters in the area that showcase celebrated artists throughout the week. And against the backdrop of Montreal with all its urban significance and historic grandeur, the music wafts through the streets like an airborne elixir, getting us all drunk on the atmosphere.

“Escort” performs at the 2012 Montreal Jazz Festival. CREDIT: Jean-Francois Leblanc

The Sound of Music
Everywhere at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, the sound of music is present. Music in the lobby. Music in the streets. Music drifting from open restaurant windows. Music on the stages. Music from sound checks. And with so many musicians in one place creating, sharing, and performing, you get a collective contact high of creativity.

This being the 33rd year of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, there was a bumper crop of accomplished artists including the legendary Liza Minnelli, Norah Jones, Melody Gardot, Adam Cohen, Esperanza Spalding, Chris Botti, Wayne Shorter Quartet, Stanley Clarke, Tord Gustavsen and Patrick Watson. And while they might not necessarily fall under the true ‘jazz’ category, James Taylor, Seal, Adam Cohen and Rufus Wainwright shared unforgettable performances.

Adam Cohen’s sultry lyrics mesmerized the crowd at the Metropolis Theater at the 2012 Montreal Jazz Festival. CREDIT: Victor Diaz Lamich

Adam Cohen performed at the historic Metropolis and was dizzying to behold. There is a certain spell to his music. His voice is painfully beautiful and with lyrics like “I want to start a religion based on your silhouette” all of his songs have a laid back intimacy that glues you in place. Another notable act that was new to me was the band “Escort” fronted by a lady named Adeline Michele. They were clearly the most energetic group with more than a dozen musicians and back-up singers, performing several disco hits in tribute to the late, great Donna Summer. I’d be very surprised if this band isn’t soon a household name.

The one and only Liza Minnelli brought the house down at the 2012 Montreal Jazz Festival CREDIT: Jean-Francois Leblanc

But it was Liza Minnelli who brought the house down with her ‘Confessions Concert’. Liza turned everyone’s jazz festival experience into a goose bump free-for-all. When she hit the chorus of “New York, New York” and many other numbers, standing ovations were commonplace.

Stay, Eat
Montréal is home to many beautiful hotels, but if you want to be in the middle of all the jazz festival action, there really is only one place to stay – the Hyatt Regency Montréal. It’s located directly above a little underground city with shops and restaurants that connects to metro transit and the Place des Arts. The downstairs bar Salon Inspiration in the Hyatt Regency Montréal played host to late night jam sessions with John Roney and other famous artists who dropped in for impromptu cameo performances.

Do lunch at Brasserie T! right on the Place-des-Arts in front of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal main stage. CREDIT: Kelly Merritt

Lunch at Brasserie T! is a must-eat while at the jazz festival. It’s adjacent to the Hyatt Regency Montréal right on the Place-des-Arts in front of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal main stage. Our meal included what I’ve deemed the world’s most perfect goat cheese and beet layered salad. Uber-modern décor matched the cuisine – streamlined and spectacular to behold.

The Jean-Talon Market is a market brimming with fruit, vegetable, and flower stalls flanked by spice shops, cheese mongers and charcuterie purveyors – most of it specific to Québec. And a stop at Fairmont Bagels revealed the secret to where everyone in Montréal goes for late-night munching on soft and slightly crispy, sesame seed encrusted bagels. I breakfasted at a tiny crepe restaurant called La Crepe 2 Go on Bleury Street not far from the Hyatt.

At Accords Wine Bar and Restaurant, some of Chef Marc-André Lavergne’s house favorites like duck tartare with fig preserve and foie gras, smoked ribs of bison, veal cheek and marrow with hazelnuts, oyster mushrooms, and Jerusalem artichokes. Each wine pairing is meant to either bring out the cuisine’s elemental flavor or challenge it.

I asked my friends at Certified Angus Beef to refer me to a great steak place. At L’Aurochs Restaurant in the Quartier Dix30 in Brossard along the South Shore of Montréal, Chef Frederic Cote delivered the goods in the most stunning filet mignon, but he also presented an otherworldly in-house smoked salmon. And what fun it was to make the short trip through Old Montreal and over the bridge for a grand view of Montréal.

On Westjet Airlines I learned what it’s like to fly with people who actually like their jobs. The flight attendants went out of their way to fawn over all of the passengers and acted as if they’d been waiting all their lives for us to board their plane as opposed to the prevailed upon feeling we’ve all experienced on other airline companies.

By the time I said a near tearful goodbye to Montreal and the jazz festival, I wished I’d arrived much sooner and was leaving much later.

If you go:

Montreal Jazz Festival

Tourisme Montréal

Westjet Airlines

Hyatt Regency Montréal

Accords Wine Bar and Restaurant

Brasserie T!

L’Aurochs Restaurant in the Quartier Dix30

Jean-Talon Market


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