With over 750 concerts by 3,000 artists from more than 30 countries, Montreal’s show-stopping, multi-genre music festival dwarfs the one in Montreux, and whips millions of festival-goers into a frenzy each year
NEED TO KNOW
LOCATION Montreal is in the province of Quebec, in eastern Canada
WHEN The festival takes place at the end of June/ beginning of July in a four- block site at the heart of downtown Montreal
VISITORS PER YEAR
More than 2.5 million people descend on the city for the festival
Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival claims to be the biggest in the world – an assertion that doesn’t quite stand up to scrutiny when you compare it with the jazz festival in Montreal. Quebec’s full-on musical jamboree sends pulsating rhythms coursing through downtown Montreal’s thoroughfares. Rapturous melodies permeate every bar, café, basement joint, and city square – from syncopated staccato trumpet solos and soul serenades to big-band jazz, R&B classics, and percussive bossa nova beats. This is the jazz festival that Guinness World Records logs as the largest on the planet. And it’s an intoxicating musical cocktail, a kaleidoscope of intermingling energies and styles set against a vibrant urban backdrop.
The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal – to give the event its full name – lasts 11 days and 11 nights. Around 750 concerts take place in that time. Over half are outdoors and free. But there are also countless impromptu gigs, so you can soak up the carnival atmosphere of Latin jazz, take in some smoldering salsa, or follow the gentle strains of acoustic folk in an underground bar.
Arrive at the festival in time for the morning sound-checks to claim your place for the supporting acts at noon, then party on into the wee small hours to an eclectic musical repertoire.
The summer celebrations and the city’s funky mix of cafés, galleries, bistros, and green spaces draw crowds of every age, every musical taste, and from every corner of the globe, and unite them in a heady celebration of melody and rhythm.
Founder Alain Simard demonstrates an unshakable belief in Montreal’s musical pedigree.
He’s the man responsible for bringing such big-name acts as Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, John Lee Hooker, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, Muddy Waters, and Ray Charles to an event he felt sure would wow the international stage. And from the very first festival in 1980, his magical laid-back formula has worked. The easy-going atmosphere he creates encourages both musical discovery and revelry. It’s an environment in which global stars are content to rub shoulders with up-and-coming local talent hoping for a springboard break.
The festival brings Montreal’s traffic to a standstill as downtown becomes one huge musical extravaganza. Midway through the festivities comes the “Special Big Event” – now a Montreal tradition. It’s a show of epic proportions – perhaps a gig by Urban Sax, stellar guitarist Pat Metheny, or South African musician Johnny Clegg – and usually draws an audience of around 200,000.
Away from the music, a popular art exhibition presents exclusive works by some of the artists who have performed here – Miles Davis, Diana Krall, Norah Jones, and Tony Bennett, to name but a few.
Surpassing the wildest dreams of even its founder, the Montreal Jazz Festival is the world’s ultimate jazz rendezvous.
FORGET THE MONTREUX JAZZ FESTIVAL?
THE BUILD-UP Switzerland’s ground-breaking festival is an annual showcase of every imaginable style of music. It has placed the quaint village of Montreux on the map since 1967, and is a popular musical getaway for European festival-lovers.
THE LETDOWN It takes Swiss precision to organize one of the world’s largest music festivals and this super-slick operation is oiled so perfectly it lacks the spontaneity that’s synonymous with raw jazz. A decade ago, the festival expanded to become a three-week extravaganza including music from all continents, to the disapproval of some festival-goers who feel it has lost its focus.
GOING ANYWAY? For an up-close-and-personal Montreux experience, give the two main stages a miss in favor of the smaller Montreux Jazz Café and the cluster of tiny open-air venues. Even better, attend the intimate performances that take place on cruise-boats on the lake.
Getting There and Around Trudeau International Airport is about 30 minutes by cab from downtown Montreal. Many of the city’s streets become traffic-free for the festival. Getting from A to B is a breeze – simply hop aboard the Métro or make your journey by foot.
Where to Eat
In terms of the number of restaurants per capita, Canada’s gastronomic capital is second only to New York City in North America. Gallic flourishes abound – a culinary legacy of the country’s French colonial past.
Thousands of high-caliber cafés, bistros, and restaurants make good use of a huge variety of fresh, top-quality produce. Food
is inexpensive – even at high- end joints – compared to other global cities. Check out Le Piment Rouge for a flavor-packed gourmet thrill.
Where to Stay
For excellent links to buses, the Métro, bars, restaurants, and venues, check in to Hotel Jazz , in the heart of the downtown Latin Quarter (Quartier Latin).
Budget per Day for Two
A rather warm and sticky 86°F (30°C) at festival time.