About This Festival
More than three decades in, the Montreal International Jazz Festival (or Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, its official French name) continues its a respectable longevity within the world of modern music festivals. And yet, we can't say we're surprised this event has become such a legacy brand. Montreal is a city where a heady mix of innovation, musical appreciation, joie de vivre and public celebration are all important ingredients of the civic cocktail. It's a city that loves the tradition and history that jazz represents, but also respects the flexibility and improvisation implicit within the genre.
Mainly, the people of Montreal and Quebec love to have a good time and this jazz festival is a good time taken to another level.
We give the organizers of this mainstay, enormous festival credit for being a bit iconoclastic; they were pushing for a jazz festival back in the 1970s, when jazz music had fallen out of favor with many audiences. Maybe that was why the inaugural event in 1980 was headlined by no smaller a main act than the great Ray Charles. Since then — aided by the resurgence of jazz in the '80s, and through the dips and peaks that genre has faced since —the Montreal International Jazz Festival has grown into the largest jazz festival in the world.
Lots of Bang, Not Much Buck
A peek into past lineups reveals artists sourced from the cream of the international jazz scene, with numerous forays into R&B, rock, and world music. If you think this sounds like stretching the parameters of what should be allowed in a jazz fest, you're not alone; a rather loose definition of what constitutes jazz is one of the controversial sticking points that continues to dog the festival.
It's difficult to run an event that attracts seven-figure crowds by appealing to the orthodoxy of jazz and only jazz. Ultimately, the Montreal International Jazz Festival puts tourists above purists. Still, genuine musicianship are requirements for entry; if this jazz fest isn't totally faithful to whatever constitutes "jazz," it's committed to talent. In the past, headliners have included Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Costello, Sting, Leonard Cohen and Prince. Habib Koite and Ben Harper, among many others, tipped their hats for the 2014 fest. The festival website maintains an excellent section on past stars, including oral histories dating back to 1989.
So what pushes the number of attendees into the multimillion range? Free shows, and lots of them—some two-thirds of the shows at the festival are gratis. Ste. Catherine Street, one of Montreal's busiest commercial thoroughfares, forms the crux of the festival experience, and it's packed with literally hundreds of free concerts. These performances form the backbone of the jazz festival, and are accompanied by the public art and street theater that Montreal loves to indulge in throughout the year. Expect crowds, but also a sunny sense of warmth, community and camaraderie; for many Montreal residents, the festival is one of the seminal dates of the summer calendar.
For bigger name acts and headliners, there are numerous ticket purchase options; you can either buy from different box offices or search through shows and venues online.
Easy Planning for a Complicated Schedule
With ten stages and hundreds of acts, this can be a tough festival to navigate. But Montreal is a wired city with a knack for tech and innovation, and the Montreal International Jazz Festival has leveraged those tools to both streamline and add depth to the itinerary- building process. Using the official website, users can craft individualized schedules that can be shared across social media. This is a useful tool if traveling to the festival with friends, because dozens of artists will be performing at any one time throughout the event. You can find a map of the festival grounds here.
Since the weather will likely be warm and sunny, a bicycle is an ideal way of accessing the festival and seeing the city of Montreal (although watch out for those hills!); see the Essentials section for more details and note bicycles aren't allowed inside the festival area. If you want to accessing all levels of the show but aren’t quite connected enough for backstage passes, we recommend looking into purchasing the Carte Fidélité, which carries a crop of discounts, coupons and increased accessibility options.
And finally, of course, there's an app to help you plan everything out. Parfait!