The Canadian Jazz Fest Bonanzaby Marc Chénard
/ June 5, 2004
On June 30, the Festival International de
Jazz de Montréal (FIJM) will be pulling out all of its stops for its landmark
25th edition. Since its initial run on the first weekend of July in 1980, it
has elevated itself to the major leagues of music happenings on the planet,
since it is now one of two Canadian members of the International Association of
Jazz Festivals (the other being Vancouver). On the national level, it has
spawned a whole series of events of varying shapes and sizes, some of similar
magnitude (Vancouver and Toronto), others much more modest (Winnipeg, Saskatoon,
Because our harsher climate makes it more difficult
to stage these in either the early or latter parts of the year (unlike Europe,
where there is almost no downtime for such activities), the festivals are
confined to those few months of warmer weather we all yearn for. From the second
half of spring until the latter part of summer, there are close to 20 jazz
festivals happening, and more if one includes places like Victoriaville and its
experimental music festival (FIMAV) or Toronto's Distillery Festival, both of
which occur in the latter part of May.
The jazz festival as growth
In retrospect, there is no doubting the fact that
jazz festivals can be considered the leading cultural growth industry in Canada.
Press releases coming from the media offices of these events show that the
festivals' impacts on local economies are invariably emphasized, a reality
readily understood by public funding bodies and sponsors that keep these
cultural infrastructures afloat.
In many ways, Canada's reality lies somewhere
between Europe and our southern neighbour. Across the Atlantic, the state still
remains the single strongest backer of cultural activities (a legacy of a
centuries-old tradition instituted in feudal times). In the USA, the public
sector has largely abdicated its responsibility in this regard, thus passing on
the burden to an increasingly wealthy--but not necessarily more
Nowadays, all levels of government in Canada
usually support the festivals, either for tourism or, more pointedly, to enable
our own musicians to tour the country, a practice virtually unheard of across
the border. On the other side of the coin, one need not look any farther than
the titles of today's festivals to see many of them displaying a corporate name
in front of the event itself. Six of those listed in the national jazz calendar
in this section are headed by a major financial institution, while a seventh has
a provincial telephone company in its designation.
These sponsors certainly contribute to the
visibility of festivals as social phenoma, but do they necessarily contribute to
the visibility of the music, let alone its popularity? Curiously, as these
events attract more people from year to year, statistics show that the market
share for jazz in the record industry is shrinking to unprecendented levels.
Should it not be the contrary?
On the one hand, interest in the music is like the
events themselves: both are seasonal and have little carryover effect in the
rest of the year; only a minority of these events bother to present shows
year-round. Even Montreal's FIJM spent many years without presenting either
local artists or touring musicians from the USA. However, in 2000, there was a
sudden change of heart, which interestingly coincided with the appearance of the
renegade Off Festival de Jazz, an offshoot event organized by local musicians no
longer content to be given crumbs. But Montreal's case is not unique: Toronto is
also home to two other festivals apart from its main one; Vancouver now has its
Sweet Basil fest, staged by a separate organization from the Coastal Jazz and
Blues Society. In Quebec, Montreal now sports a third summer fest, ensconced at
the city's alternative music den par excellence, the Casa del Popolo. Even in
distant Rimouski, a parallel festival to the official one set up shop last year.
Clearly, the creation of alternative festivals can be viewed as a symptom of
discontent within some music circles, but it is also the sign of the music's
The two-tier festival system
With this creation of a two-tier festival system,
it becomes increasingly apparent that the long held perception of jazz as a kind
of elitist music is being upheld, but in differing ways. Considering that ticket
prices at the big events range from $25 to over $100, it is evident that
accessibility is not guaranteed to the population at large. The average
concert-goer is therefore likelier to choose the safe bet. In most cases,
though, people just fall back on the grab bag of free outdoor shows where jazz
gets lost in a wash of other styles.
Some out there may lament the days when jazz was
played in smoky dives and was something underground and almost illicit, yet such
spots have not entirely disappeared (though many venues have cleaned up their
acts by adopting non-smoking policies). Whichever way one chooses to look at it,
either retrospectively or prospectively, jazz was and still is a minority's
music. But no matter how many times it has been turned inside out, proclaimed
dead or even smelled funny, it has never lost any of its resilience and appeal
to those willing enough to listen and challenge themselves at the same
En primeur !
Entrevue publique avec Louis Sclavis et Michel
Suite à leur concert du 2 juillet dans le cadre du
Festival international de jazz de Montréal, ces deux grands musiciens accordent
une entrevue publique à notre journaliste Marc Chénard. Une période sera
réservée aux questions du public.
Samedi le 3 juillet à 12 h
Théâtre La Chapelle
3700, rue St-Dominique, Montréal
Nombre de places limité.
Renseignements et réservations :
Présenté par La Scena Musicale en collaboration
avec le Théâtre La Chapelle, Environnement électronique et