Montreal Jazz: A Conversation with Andre Menard


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The Montreal International Jazz Festival is enormous, and it grows a little bit every year. The 31st edition, with more than 700 concerts over 12 days, ends on Tuesday with a festival first: a Mardi Gras parade through the city, complete with floats from New Orleans and music by Trombone Shorty and Allen Toussaint.

The organization behind it keeps growing too. The festival is a nonprofit enterprise run by a for-profit media company, L'quipe Spectra, and two years ago, with nearly $150 million in government support, it began an expansion around Place des Arts, the downtown performing arts complex here, adding a new performance ground and making extensive renovations to a nearby vacant building.

Sitting in the new Mdiathque, a squeaky-clean multimedia vault on that building's third floor -- above a new club and restaurant also run by the festival -- Andr Mnard, its artistic director, discussed the festival's big-tent programming philosophy, its history of success with rising artists and its long-term financial stability.

There's always been a lot of nonjazz music on the calendar, especially this year. Why so much rock and pop and everything else along with the jazz?

Besides the Keith Jarrett's of the world, or Sonny Rollins, or Wynton, there are not that many jazz headliners that can headline 3,000 seats. But in the smaller halls, like Theatre Maisonneuve, with 1,400 seats -- which is not exactly small -- this one fills with true, bona fide jazz.

But obviously music is connected. As far as I'm concerned the Roots are not that far from a jazz approach. They are very competent musicians that can touch just about anything with grace. Since 1983, the first time we booked a reggae band, this has been questioned. But we don't go as far as Montreaux. They get Deep Purple, Johnny Hallyday. We don't go that far.

But you have the Doobie Brothers, the Moody Blues ...

The fascination that jazz musicians have had for the Doobies in their heyday was on par with Steely Dan. So if Steely Dan belongs, then the Doobie Brothers, I don't have any problem with that. There was a lot of questioning of Lionel Richie here this year. Lionel Richie opened the New Orleans Jazzfest this year; nobody questioned that. Lionel Richie is an icon of American music, a great composer of standards. A standard for me is not a song that has been twisted around by beboppers in the first place. It's a song that everybody knows. After that, what the beboppers do with it is cool too.

Lots of pop artists gravitate to jazz. This year we had Boz Scaggs -- he's made three jazz albums in the last 10 years. Steve Miller made “Born 2 B Blue," with jazz songs. Cyndi Lauper played here six years ago, and there were about 1,100 people. But for the blues show here on Sunday it's packed to the rafters - double what she had before. So her pop career was losing interest, but now, it's, “Cyndi Lauper is going to do a blues concert? Wow!"

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