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Founded in 1979 by André Ménard and Alain Simard, the Montreal International Jazz Festival has welcomed many jazz greats, but at its core has always been a commitment to showcasing tomorrow’s jazz talent. So, as usual, this year’s festival, which ran from June 26 to July 6, featured a host of young innovators like 24-year-old keyboardist Jacob Collier, whose brilliantly frantic, Instagram-friendly live shows drew flocks of fellow twentysomethings to the Club Soda stage, and 39-year-old accordionist Vincent Peirani, who played a medley of Led Zeppelin tunes in a style built from equal parts free jazz and French chanson.
Of course, the festival showcased its share of legends. George Benson, 76, sang with the stamina of a man half his age to a packed house at the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier at the Place Des Arts. And Ravi Coltrane, himself a keeper of a strong jazz flame, delivered an evening of music that started in jazz but ascended toward something far more spiritual.
If there was a defining instance at this year’s festival when the past bumped squarely against the future, it was during a set by Joshua Redman at Théatre Maisonneuve. Redman first appeared at the festival in 1992, which was, he recalled at this year’s event, “my first festival as a professional musician.” He’s returned many times since.
In a ceremony preceding his concert, the 50-year-old saxophonist was presented with the Miles Davis Award for outstanding contributions to jazz. The presenter was Ménard, who was participating in his final festival after having announced his retirement last year. Redman told the crowd that the award carried special significance because it was the last one that would come directly from Ménard’s hands. And while he acknowledged that the thought of a Montreal Jazz Festival without Ménard was unfathomable, his assessment of its future was bright. “There’s a spirit here,” Redman said. “You feel it in the street. It’s a festive festival. There’s nothing like this one.” —Brian Zimmerman
Photos by Benoit Rousseau.