“One hundred and three this morning
Revving up my mind, exploding
With Charlie Parker’s howl in the gloom
I’ll blast and burn the ghosts in this room”
(“Homage to Bird” by Raul da Gama Rose)
I am accosted by a rather inebriated gentleman on the tube heading home from the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal on the 1st of July 2017: Canada Day. He looks at my lanyard, which says “Journaliste” and quizzes me about where I’m from, who I work for and so on. He asks questions in English and I answer in English. He is very sullen; almost angry and I cannot really understand why. As the train pulls up at Mont Royal, where I will get off with my publisher and photographer, Danilo Navas, the man asks: “So you think the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal is the best in the world?” Without batting an eyelid, I say, “Of course”, not only because by this time I am in love with Montreal but because I am proudly Canadian as well. The doors open and as we are alighting, the Montrealer says to me, “You make sure you tell everyone that”. I had resolved to do so long ago at any rate.
The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal is in its thirty-eighth year and I share Pat Metheny’s view that it is the greatest Jazz festival in the world. I know for a fact that Max Roach shares that view. He told me as much at the Jazz Yatra (1986) and he shouted that out to Larry Coryell, adding, “Move over George Wein… Newport’s got a lot to learn, man…”. I was also at the North Sea Jazz Festival twice, including once when Miles Davis starred, and once at the Montreux Jazz Festival when Davis (with Quincy Jones conducting a large ensemble) re-visited his legendary collaboration with Gil Evans playing music from Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain for the first time in thirty years (and last time as it turned out). The sheer scale, and the breadth and scope of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal dwarfs the much older Monterey Jazz Festival founded by Jimmy Lyons.
Moreover, although size does not always matter, nor does the fact that Monterey was immortalized by (among others) Charles Mingus’s legendary performance that was captured on Mingus at Monterey, or the fact that the great Abbey Lincoln found herself struggling not only to perform but to stay alive almost crashing out at the 2008 edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. But Montréal has always been and continues to be a place where giants walk the earth: like Ray Charles (1980), Michel Donato (1982), Henry Threadgill and Air (1983), Ahmed Jamal (1981), Charlie Haden (some might say, the most unforgettable edition in 1989), Don Thompson (1999) and the most famous Montrealer of all: Oscar Peterson, who appeared with Ulf Wakenhius and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen… and this year (2017) with Bob Dylan, Charles Lloyd, Tony Allen, Jack DeJohnette, Concha Buika and Michael Bourne among others.