Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10


Ton Koopman among international names coming for Bach Festival

Inspired by the tradition of European Bach Festivals, the Montreal Bach Festival brings international classical musicians to Montreal.

“The timeless genius of Johann Sebastian Bach laid the foundation for every composer and musician to follow,” says festival founder and artistic director Alexandra Scheibler. The festival will partner with Kent Nagano and the OSM. J.S. Bach’s masterpiece St. Matthew Passion launches the festival Nov. 24 and 25 at Place des Arts.

Featuring the OSM chorus and international soloists, the performance is preceded by an interview with Scheibler by Espace musique’s Mario Paquet at 6:30 pm. A day-long symposium on the work will take place Saturday, Nov. 21 at Conservatoire de musique de Montréal. Tenor Christoph Prégardien, performing the role of the Evangelist in St. Matthew Passion, offers a master class at 2pm followed by a discussion moderated by Kelly Rice of CBC Radio. Registration is required.

Dutch conductor, organist and harpsichordist Ton Koopman, founder of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir, performs The Art of the Fugue, a duo harpsichord recital with his wife Tini Mathot, Nov. 29 at 7:30pm at Marianopolis College and an Organ Advent Nov. 30 at 7:30pm at Immaculée Conception Church.

Young Belgian organist Els Biesemans, winner of the Bach Prize at last year’s Canadian International Organ Competition in Montreal, is featured in recital Nov. 28 performing Bach’s Clavier-Übung, Volume III at Immaculée Conception Church. Russian pianist Evgeni Koroliov is featured Dec. 4, performing Bach’s Goldberg Variations at Marianopolis College. Another performance of the Goldberg Variations, this time in Dmitri Sitkovetsky’s arrangement for String Trio on Nov. 29 at Ex-Centris features cellist Matt Haimovitz, violinist Jonathan Crow and violist Douglas McNabney.

On Nov. 26, Boris Brott and the McGill Chamber Orchestra perform the complete Brandenburg Concerti at St. Irénée Church, featuring Matthias Maute and Sophie Larivière, recorders; Thomas Gould, violin; and Luc Beauséjour, harpsichord. The Juno Award-winning Ensemble Caprice performs a chamber version of Bach’s Mass in B-minor Dec. 3 at the Darling Foundry. Led by artistic director Matthias Maute, the work features sopranos Shannon Mercer and Marie Magistry, alto Pascal Bertin, tenor Michiel Schrey and bass Harry van der Kamp.

Closing the festival Dec. 5 is the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, performing at Telemann and Bach at Notre Dame Basilica.

Tickets are free for 16 and under for some recitals. For the complete schedule and information, visit or call 514-581-8637.

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Performing here this month, Arlo Guthrie hasn't abandoned ideals

Martin C. Barry

With the autumn chill descending on Montreal, Arlo Guthrie is hoping warm Indian Summer air ­­­­­will blow through in time for his performance at the end of October. Guthrie, who shot to fame in the mid-1960s with his talking blues folk ballad, Alice’s Restaurant, is the son of legendary American singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie, who left behind a legacy of musical works, many about his experiences during the Great Depression.

It’s been a while since Arlo Guthrie, 62, was last in Montreal. From the 1960s through the 1980s he would perform regularly at Place des Arts. “Every year I did shows with my old buddy Pete Seeger,” he said in a phone interview from Washington, Mass., where he now resides. “And then the times changed and maybe the kind of music we were playing wasn’t popular.” Guthrie says the pace of his life hasn’t slowed. “I’m actually on the road more than ever. We spend about ten months on the road. If anything it’s more than it used to be.

“I took off September for the first time in my life because it’s such a beautiful time to be here in the north east.”

Guthrie was 20 when he became famous with his first album, Alice’s Restaurant. It remains his best known work. The title is taken from the record’s first and longest track, more than 18 minutes long, which is a bitingly satirical protest against the Vietnam war. It’s also based on a true incident: Guthrie’s rejection for military service because of a criminal record he got for littering on Thanksgiving Day in 1965 when he was 18. A few years later it was made into a movie.

Photo: courtesy of JP Cutler Media

Perhaps less known about Arlo is the fact that he is Jewish. Of Woody’s several marriages, his second was to Marjorie Greenblatt, a dancer who cared for Woody until his death in 1967. Another bit of trivia: Arlo was tutored for his bar mitzvah by Rabbi Meir Kahane, the controversial founder of the Jewish Defence League. Arlo, who was not yet into politics, remembers Kahane as “a very nice guy. Later in life, I wondered if it was my fault that he became crazy. I was such a terrible student.” (Kahane, who was ultra-nationalist in his political views, was assassinated in New York City in 1990.)

“I’m not religiously observant,” he said. “I made friends with so many people in other traditions and hence found a lot of inspiration in so many different places. I think that’s the challenge for a lot of people these days — how to explore and be inspired by other traditions without abandoning your own.”

During the late 1960s when the U.S. was at war in Vietnam, Arlo Guthrie’s name came to be associated closely with the anti-war movement. He was also distinctly on the left. As such, it must have raised a few eyebrows last year during the 2008 Republican Party Nominations when he publicly endorsed Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a libertarian. As it turns out, Paul was the only anti-war candidate among the Republicans.

“I joined them about five years ago because I thought they needed more people like me,” he said. They only seemed to have crazy people. I think I probably wasted my time.”

Guthrie remains as fervently anti-war as ever. “I don’t think we ought to be in Afghanistan. I don’t think we ought to be in Iran or in Iraq or any of these places. I think there’s better ways to do things and I’m hoping that the new president will see the world as I do,” he said.

Arlo Guthrie will perform Thursday, October 29 at 8 p.m. at the Outremont Theatre at 1248 Bernard Ave. with the Guthrie Family Rides Again Tour featuring Abe, Cathy, Annie, Sarah Lee and Johnny. Tickets: $55


A personal tribute to his 75th

Barbara Moser

October, 2009

I have always been in love with him. Since I was a student at the University of Manitoba in that chilly landscape that included my dormitory cot, I have been warmed by dreams of meeting him, of having him sing to me, of going on a date with him. Of course at the time I would have had nothing interesting or intelligent to say to him. I would have just gawked, maybe swooned. Since the first time I heard Suzanne, I wanted to be Suzanne – until I saw the documentary on the real Suzanne and realized she wasn’t even his lover. Then I wanted to be Marianne, but that was a problem because of the “So Long” part. I ­didn’t want to be a Sister of Mercy, but I often wondered what he saw in nuns, this nice Jewish guy.

He is actually 15 years older than I am, but when I was 18 he just didn’t seem 33. I imagined that if he ever were to meet me back then, he would have been seduced by my extraordinary beauty and wit. Yet his city, Montreal, seemed totally inaccessible to this Edmonton girl. During the time I lived in Israel, from 1971 to 1975, I imagined him on a concert tour meeting a Canadian girl, me of course, and admiring my adventuresome and romantic spirit.

I have seen Leonard Cohen live in concert only once, in Montreal with my daughter at the Forum. We got great seats and we both sat transfixed throughout the concert. The experience seemed to mean as much to Amy, 15, as it did to me.

My dream of dating Leonard never came true, but I did run into him twice. The first time, I was standing in line at a bank on St. Laurent and I turned around and realized he was behind me. I just didn’t have the courage to say anything. I didn’t want to look foolish. I was so angry with myself afterward. Why was I such a wimp? I regretted that “non-meeting” for years. Then, when my daughter Molly was 14 (she is now 28) the magical meeting occurred. Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. This was one of those times.

Molly and I walked into a grubby little pizza joint on St. Laurent. Leonard was standing at the counter, waiting for a young friend. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. I walked right up to him while Molly was getting a drink. She hadn’t noticed him. I introduced myself. I was shaking. “I just want to tell you that I’ve always loved… your music,” I stammered. “I used to lay on my dorm cot at university and think of you.”

No, I thought, this sounds ridiculous. But Leonard was gracious and sooooooo charming. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said, or something like that, shaking my hand. “I’d like to introduce my daughter to you,” I said. “Oh”, he said, eying her girlish stature, “she’ll never know who I am.”

“I think she will,” I said. I called Molly over. “Do you know who this is?” I asked her. “Leonard Cohen,” she replied immediately. He told Molly she was too young to know who he was. “Of course I know who you are,” she said, smiling. They shook hands. Then we left the place. I don’t remember if we bought any pizza or not. Our car was parked just in front.

We both walked out to the car. We looked at each other and put out our hands and said in unison: “I’m never going to wash this hand again.” I am 32 years older than Molly yet we had exactly the same reaction. How amazing is that?

Thanks, Leonard, for giving us that thrill. Thanks for your incrediblemusic, which I’ve memorized over the years. Start me off and I’ll finish the song.

Although we have washed our hands many times since that day, we have never forgotten that magical moment when mother and daughter bonded in our love of Leonard Cohen.


Tanzanian choir to perform

On June 20 the Voices of Africa choir and their director Simon Wanchira from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania will help Zerf Productions celebrate their 20th birthday at le Manor in NDG.

The choir will raise awareness and funds for children with HIV and Aids in Tanzania. The Zerf team plans to scale Mount Kilimajaro in September to raise money to drill a well at the Kikuhe orphanage in Kilimanjaro. The cost of this project is $40,000. Limited tickets are available at the door $25, seniors $15. Info:


Steeldrums: more than just fun

Playing the steeldrum is an ideal form of music therapy because it keeps you mentally alert and maintains digital dexterity.

Savoys Steelband workshop is a non-profit organization whose mission is to teach the techniques of playing the steeldrum, an instrument that was invented in Trinidad and Tobago in 1939.

Their focus is to introduce the steeldrum to seniors. They have grown from four students to 14 in the past nine years.

As a consequence they don’t have sufficient steeldrums for all of their students.

To raise funds to buy more of these expensive instruments they will perform Sunday June 14, at Theatre Du Grand Sault, 7644 Edouard at 6:30 pm. Admission: $5 donation. The seniors will be up against a group of young steelband players at this event.

Info: 514-595- 7187


Musical happy hour is back!

Violinist Andrew Van among performers Photo: Joanne David

March 2009

Make your way into the parlour of the JMC House Chamber Music Hall and experience the enchanting ambiance of legendary evenings in 19th century Vienna.

Jeunesses Musicales is featuring four passionate chamber musicians: Andrew Van, violin, Jean Philippe Tremblay, viola, Audrey Nadeau, cello, and Serhiy Salov, piano. On the program are two major works of the chamber music repertoire by the master of German romanticism, Brahms.

In the Parlour with Johann Brahms (1833 - 1897) will perform at the JMC House Chamber Music Hall, 305 Mont-Royal, March 18 at 6 pm.

Info: 514-845-4108, ext. 221.

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Not your father’s Mary Poppins

(photo: Robert Galbraith)

Jane Petrov, playing the Bird Woman in the Montreal School of Performing Arts’ a capella production of Mary Poppins, has been a returning acting student for five years now. “I did a lot of theatre when I was at McGill years ago, then I had a family and became a librarian,” she explains. “Then just before I retired, I decided I’d enjoy going back to theatre, so a friend brought me to MSOPA, and the reception I received was a very warm one. So I started taking classes, and I have no regrets.”

Unfazed upon learning she’d be belting out her numbers solo, she says it’s “not a problem since my mother was a music teacher – we started off early in life having to sing without accompaniment. It was the music of the Bird Woman that attracted me – it’s almost the theme song of Mary Poppins.” And theme is everything in this particular production.

“I think a lot of message got lost in the original musical,” says director Dale Hayes, who adapted the a capella version with an eye to highlighting the theme – which, to her, is about priorities.

“The message is family,” she maintains, citing elements of the story that got lost in the 60s version’s catchy tunes. “Mr. Banks, the children’s father, he’s very much business, business, business. And the kids several times during the opening of the play refer to their father – ‘I wish father had more time for us, I wish he could come and play with us.’ And through a series of events that happen in the play – that actually happened in the movie, but I don’t think people really focused in on that – the father comes to a realization that family is really important, that his children are more important than the almighty dollar, and it takes a tuppence – two pennies – to make him realize that in the end.”

An edgier, more meditative Mary Poppins? “We could have done a really dark version,” says Hayes, “but we weren’t going to go there. We still had to think about the kids, you know. There’s a lot of laughter and the kids are going to enjoy it because there’s what they’re expecting – the fun stuff – but there’s also this family message that’s clear. Of course the kids are going to expect A Spoonful of Sugar, Chim Chim Cher-ee, and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – and those songs are in the play – but it’s all a capella, we didn’t focus on the music. We really focused on the theme and the message, and it’s interesting, because the father, in the first half of the play, he talks about money and how important it is and about the stock market, and I thought, ‘how topical.’”

(photo: Robert Galbraith)

The modern resonance of the theme and the Bird Woman’s place in it held another part of the role’s appeal for Petrov. “It’s through the little boy giving a tuppence to this woman, to feed the birds, that the realization comes that there’s more to life than the stock market going up, up, up or down, down, down.”

But she didn’t simply have the part handed to her based on type. “It’s never done that a person is solicited for a role.” No one gets in without passing the audition – “you always have to in this school.”

“When we first started the school,” says founder Josa Maule, “we weren’t going to do any productions – just train actors.” After a couple of years, she recalls, “we did ‘pay to play.’ If you were in the class, you were in the production. That didn’t work really well – we did three shows, and it was cute and their family and friends came, but it just didn’t do it for us. So then we decided, yeah, we’re going to start auditioning people.”

“We cast within the school, but it’s an audition process just like it is in the real world,” says Hayes. “They have to pass a cold reading, which means that they don’t get any chance at all to go through the script. They can read it beforehand of course, but they don’t get to see the scenes that they’re going to be auditioning. The actors from our very first level right up to our more advanced students, they all have the opportunity to audition for the role. And they know going in that it’s a heck of a commitment. It’s serious stuff. We work for eight weeks, every weekend, some evenings – and as we get closer to the production date, it’s like… grueling, you know? But they live for it, and they’re up to the challenge, and it’s working out. I’m very proud of the progress we’ve made. It’s a professional-caliber production, not like a highschool musical. It’s good stuff.”

Besides the stage chops, students get preparation for the mechanics and etiquette of the trade. “We’re a school first and foremost,” Hayes notes. “It’s important that our actors are well informed about not just how to act, but how to audition, and how to get the role, and how to be in a production, and the protocol when you’re in a production, and all that sort of thing, so it’s a learning experience.”

Some learning curves are longer than others. “A few of our first students,” from 1992, “are still with us today,” reports Maule. “Alan’s one of our ‘oldest’ students (he’s in his fifties). He takes several classes over and over just to be in the game of things and to get everything right. He likes the opportunity of working with new people from time to time… he says I’m not getting rid of him anytime soon.”

Petrov sums up the experience as “going back to something that I really love doing… and what really meant most to me over these last few years is how you have young and old people all working together, to create the magic of theatre.”

“We’re an acting community within an acting community,” Maule says. “Once you come onto our stage it’s like you feel right at home.”

Maule’s school goes out of its way to make theatre accessible for actors and audiences alike, with $10 Friday workshops and regular show seats for $12. “Not everybody can afford $20-30 a person to bring out a family,” she says. “We also do casting mostly for independent and student films, which pay nothing or very little, and we’re doing 11 plays a year called Express O Theatre, where we promote new plays from new playwrights, preferably local.”

MSOPA hosts an open house 2 pm Saturday, January 10. Mary Poppins runs until Sunday, December 14 with shows at 2 pm Saturdays and Sundays and at 8 pm Fridays and Saturdays.

Info: 514-483-5526 or

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Nelson Symonds remembered

While rock guitar seems often to be about loud, egomaniacal posturing, the jazz guitarist is a much more subtle beast. The epitome of the understated, modest yet enormously talented jazz guitarist is Montreal’s own Nelson Symonds, whose passing on October 11 gives us reason to re-evaluate his work. Symonds was a sophisticated, though under-exposed artist whose music was deep and heartfelt.

Tributes are being written across the country. Many are speaking about Symond’s playing, including Ottawa-based guitarist Roddy Elias who was recently quoted as saying that upon his first hearing Symonds’ guitar, “on an emotional, expressive, spiritual, soul level I knew I was in the presence of someone truly extraordinary.” From what I gathered about the man, this greatness was the result of a humble approach to his art and the strong work ethic that governed his life, aspects that are documented in the 1984 film by Mary Ellen Davis, Nelson Symonds, Guitarist.

Born in Halifax in 1933, Symonds left home in 1951 to work as a musician in Sudbury, then toured the States with vaudeville and carnival troupes before heading to la Belle Province in the mid-50s. In an interview I had with him in 1983, he told me that his first jazz gig “was in 1958 in Montreal, at the Vieux Moulin on Sherbrooke Street near Bleury. That was my first legitimate jazz gig, although I’d improvised before in the Black vaudeville shows.”

Once settled in the Montreal area, Symonds mainly stayed put: “I only played in the States once, jazz wise. My only jazz gig in the US was in Milwaukee in 1960. I was there at a club for nine months.” Symonds was a tireless club performer until he was slowed down by heart trouble in his later years. “I’m supposed to be starting a job tonight at Mingus on Bishop for a couple of weeks,” he told me that spring afternoon in 1983. He also told me about how he had spent “three years at Rockhead’s Paradise [on Saint Antoine]. Before that I was up north with Charlie Biddle for six years, from ’71 until ’77,” he said.

Although he played at most of Montreal’s Jazz clubs in his time, and performed with many top name jazz artists (people like Rahsaan Roland Kirk, John Coltrane and Blue Mitchell to name a few) he didn’t record until late in his career, and made only two CDs as leader and as many as a sideman on saxophonist Dave Turner’s dates. “I really never thought about it cause I always got a chance to play here in Montreal,” he said by way of explanation. “I was at the Black Bottom for five years from ’63 till about ’68 and La Boheme from ’68 till ’71 and then we were up North.”

Neither was studio work his bag. “I’m not into that. I’m self-taught. I’m not a sight reader,” he said. He also preferred the intimacy and the flexibility of the club. “Usually I’ve been in a place for a long time. So I really didn’t care about recording if I had a chance to play. A lot of people ask me the same thing, but, I don’t know, it’s not something I really thought about ’cause I always got a chance to play.”

The change in the jazz scene in Montreal in the 1980s that saw the fall of the jazz club in favour of the festival format meant sporadic engagements. But it also meant a chance to play with international celebrities for a large audience, like Symond’s opening set for a Ray Charles concert in the St. Denis Theatre at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. “We’re not used to that,” he said. “It’s not like playing at a night club. Doing concerts like that. You know you’ve only got an hour shot. You have to be ready for that. The main players are geared to do that, and they do a lot of it. We’re used to playing in clubs. You try to get yourself up for that. A lot of times you’re playing at a new club and you open up the first night and you really feel great the first set, but you don’t plan on that. If you don’t feel great that first set you know you’ve still got a couple more shows to play. So sometimes I have a tendency to be a little bit uptight, but I tried to be as loose as possible on that concert with Ray Charles. I never really played in front of that many people, that’s another thing. So I was pretty tense. Everybody that knows us knows that. Under those circumstances it was adequate. Most of the time was for Ray Charles. But anyway, it wasn’t too bad.”

Most of his fans would say, rather, that the music of Nelson Symonds was some of the finest jazz you could hear in this city and anywhere else, for that matter.

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Nikki Yanofsky at ORT Gala

Nikki signing autographs (photo: Triviaking)

At the age of ten, when most kids are online checking out the latest teen idol, Nikki Yanofsky was discovering the magic of Ella Fitzgerald and listening to jazz classics like It Don’t Mean A Thing and A Tisket, A Tasket.

Four years later, just past her 13th birthday, the singer was in a recording studio with Grammy Award-winning producer Tommy LiPuma and some of L.A.’s top session musicians, brilliantly scatting her way through Lady Ella’s classic Airmail Special for Verve Records’ all-star collection We All Love Ella: Celebrating The First Lady Of Song. Nikki more than held her own with the legendary artists on the album including Michael Buble, k.d. lang, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole, Etta James, Queen Latifah, Linda Ronstadt and Gladys Knight.

Nikki performed at the Montreal Jazz Fest in 2006 and 2007, selling out a four-night run at Place des Arts. After rehearsing with Nikki, jazz pianist Oliver Jones raved: “Jazz is alive and well in Canada!”

Over the past 18 months, Nikki has made numerous television and radio appearances in English and French, including documentaries on CBC and CTV. She has been the subject of countless magazine and newspaper profiles, including full page feature articles in the Globe and Mail, the Gazette, and La Presse. She has sung the national anthems at Montreal Canadiens’ hockey games and at a Lakers game at the Staples Center in L.A.

Since January 2008 Nikki has toured with Marvin Hamlisch, and the two are scheduled to take the stage in Montreal at the ORT Gala November 16.

Marvin Hamlisch’s music is notable for its versatility and substance. As a composer, Hamlisch has won virtually every major award that exists: three Oscars, four Grammys, four Emmys, a Tony and three Golden Globe awards. His groundbreaking show A Chorus Line received the Pulitzer Prize.

He is the composer of more than 40 film scores including his Oscar-winning score and song for The Way We Were and his adaptation of Scott Joplin’s music for The Sting, which won him a third Oscar. His prolific output of scores for films include original compositions and/or musical adaptations for Sophie’s Choice, Ordinary People, Three Men and a Baby, Save the Tiger and others.

Hamlisch was Musical Director and arranger of Barbra Streisand’s 1994 concert tour of the U.S. and England as well as of the television special, Barbra Streisand: The Concert, for which he received two of his Emmys.

Hamlisch holds the position of Principal Pops Conductor with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He is also the Pops Conductor for the National Symphony and San Diego Symphony Orchestra.

Hamlisch is a graduate of both Juilliard and Queens College. He believes in the power of music to bring people together. “Music can make a difference. There is a global nature to music, which has the potential to bring all people together,” he says.

ORT’s 25th Anniversary Benefit Gala is at Place des Arts on Sunday, November 16. For reservations, call 514-481-2787.


It’s music to their ears

Tott Moens at the piano

Pianist performers Mark Pinkus and Tott Moens are two entertainers transporting their audiences back in time.

Tott Moens is my mother. I grew up listening and dancing to her music when she played for my sister and me or led singalongs at her parties. Now an octogenarian, she fell into her third or fourth career after a friend of mine asked me six years ago to find someone to tickle the ivories for his aunt’s 90th birth­day party at Place Kensington.

In spite of protests – she hadn’t played in over 10 years – she played a repertoire that ran from the Gay Nineties through the Roaring Twenties into Tin Pan Alley and the Big Bands and even the Beatles. A new career was born.

Knowing the music her generation loves to hear and sing along to, she tailors her setlist for each group and event. “I know my audience doesn’t want to just sing along to My Darling Clementine. They want to reminisce with music they were courted to and socialized with at parties and dances. It brings back feel-good memories.”

Mark Pinkus (photo: CECHEL)

I met Mark Pinkus when he was launching his fifth album of original piano compositions. Part of the independent artists’ scene in Montreal, Pinkus went full time with his music after a 12 year career as a preschool teacher. Pinkus delights his audiences at senior residences, including a regular program with Jewish Elder Care.

“The music I play brings my audiences back in time and hopefully gives them new delightful moments of life.”

Pinkus’ performances are spontaneous and he often adds theatre and comedy as the mood allows. “The most important thing for me is to put a spark in their eyes and a great smile on their faces.”

Reach Tott at or Mark at


Local folk will love these vocals

The summer festival season may be long gone, but there’s no reason to hibernate just yet, since there is lots of good music to be heard around town both familiar and exotic.

In the first week of November, the Festival du Monde Arabe happens at three main venues: Place des Arts, Sala Rossa and Kola Note. Over 20 shows present the richness and variety of music with roots in North African and the Middle East, from Iranian music steeped in ancient Sufism to bluesy Gnawan music to more modern fusions. This is music that knows no borders of religion or nationality. A delight for the ears.

Also in the first week (November 4), the three-decades-old Willelm Breuker Kollectief swings by for a visit at Sala Rossa. This unusual Dutch free-jazz-meets-cabaret big band is entertaining and virtuosic, featuring skilled instrumentalists with a strong dose of humour.

Fans of vocal music are blessed this month with a wide palette of choices. Jazz singer Ranee Lee takes up the mic for some mainstream jazz balladeering the weekend of November 7-8 at Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill on MacKay Street. Lee’s voice is unique: unlike so many Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald imitators, she has her own sound. The less original but nonetheless pleasant Susie Arioli and her band appear at the Theatre Outremont November 27 as part of the Montreal International Jazz Festival’s off-season programming.

Classical vocal music is also plentiful, with, among many others, the Opera de Montreal’s presentation at Place des Arts of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, which contains many well-loved arias (November 1-13). International and local artists take the stage at the intimate Chapelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur at 100 Sherbrooke E to present Czech and Slovakian lyrical gems November 13. Featured artists are baritones Adam Plachetka, Mikulas Scneifer and Pavol Kuban.

Three concerts of note at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall are those of jazz trumpeter and music professor Charles Ellison, which takes place November 13 at 8pm ($5 seniors), the Klezmatics November 29 at 8:30pm with proceeds from the show going to support the KlezKanada Youth Scholarship Fund, and finally, on November 23 at 8pm you can help support the I Medici Di McGill Orchestra by attending their 20th anniversary concert.

This group is made up in part of members of the faculty of medicine at McGill. They will be joined by guest piano soloist Seth Durst from New York City to perform works mostly by Mozart.

Admission by donation is $10.

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Jeunesses Musicales concerts ideal for young and young-at-heart

(photo: Jeunesses Musicales du Canada)

Jeunesses Musicales Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting young musicians and reaching young audiences, is offering two series of concerts that are affordable and timed perfectly for seniors and youngsters: not too late at night, and not long enough to tax grandchildren’s attention spans.

The Concerts for the General Public take place early Wednesday evenings. An aperitif, included in the price, is offered prior to the concert at 5pm. The music begins an hour later. The next performance on November 12 will feature the young award-winning violinist Jinjoo Choo, in a spectacularly beautiful program including the music of Bach, Vaughan-Williams and the deeply moving yet mysterious Prokoviev Sonata No 2 in D.

There are short (35 minute) and long (55 minute) versions of Concerts for Families, both taking place on Sundays. December 21, a most unusual combination of trombone, banjo and souzaphone will be showcased, representing three penguins as they compose a song. There will be spoken text in French, though the music and movement are universal.

To subscribe or receive information on upcoming concerts, call JMC at 514-845-4108 x 221.

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Retreads harmonize for 30 years

They’ve been rehearsing since May and now the Retreads Harmony Group, comprised of 14 retired men together for 30 years, are ready for another season of song.

Although the group has been reduced from its original 30, the choir is still going strong, organizer Doug Cooke, says of his longstanding West Island group: “We perform from October to Christmas, then from February to May.”

They perform in residences and bring a repertoire drawing largely from the 1920s and 1930s: “all the songs that they remember.”

The group performs mainly in the West Island with members “from Hudson to NDG and everything in between.”

When the audience starts to sing along, says Cooke, it’s amazing. That’s what they aim for during these performances.

Over the years, the choir has raised money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, NOVA and many more beneficiaries. Their donations have amounted to over $30,000.

The Retreads Harmony Group is seeking volunteers to join the choir. “We just want bodies,” Cooke says. “If they can carry a tune, then great!” The only requirements are to be willing and able.

Performances are once a week in the afternoons and last from an hour to an hour and a half.

Their first performance of the season will be at 7 pm Monday, October 13 at 20 Vermont in Pointe Claire.

Info: 514-630-9660.


I Musici: good things come in small packages

Pat Gueller

Magician Pat Gueller will be on hand to launch the first concert in I Musici's Piccoli series, The Wizard's Book of Spells. The concert on Sunday, September 14 will be followed by other concerts especially conceived for children throughout the year. Storyteller Suzanne De Serres will welcome artists from various backgrounds, including circus, dance, magic, theatre, mime and art. Before each show a musician in the orchestra will talk about his or her instrument. The music on the program will feature works by Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Respighi and more. Concerts are presented in French at Ogilvy Tudor Hall, 1307 St Catherine W, 5th floor. $12/$8.

Info: 514-982-6038 or

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400th birthday fest fills August with music

The International Festival of Military Bands comes to Quebec City from August 14 to 24 (photo: David Cannon)

Quebec City’s 400th birthday brings partygoers a full slate of free performances this month. Over $151 million has gone into public infrastructure, notably a new park along the riverside and a new performance site called Espace 400, to be the epicentre of many anniversary activities. For 2008 the city expects a 5% increase over the five million tourists who visit in a typical year.

Events and exhibitions are clustered around the city’s Old Port, now a Unesco World Heritage Site, and the Plains of Abraham, just outside its gates. Céline Dion’s free show there Friday, August 22 is expected to draw a crowd matching or exceeding the estimated 200,000 that flooded the Plains for Paul McCartney July 20.

Odds favour a record turnout for the Charlemagne-born diva, whose homeland credentials remain impeccable — she once refused a Félix Award for best anglophone artist — and whose setlist is expected to trend heavily francophone for the occasion. Fresh off her 5-year Vegas spectacle, Dion and her Taking Chances tour will detour to the capital midway through a 6-night stint here at the Bell Centre. For the birthday show she’ll be joined by Claude Dubois, Zachary Richard, Éric Lapointe, Garou, Nanette Workman, Marc Dupré, Dan Bigras, Mes Aïeux, La Famille Dion and Jean-Pierre Ferland. Those with limited mobility will want to arrive very early in the day and stake out a place behind the Musée national des beaux-arts, and not in front of the  main stage site, where chairs won’t be allowed and where hundreds sprinted for choice spots when the gates opened to the McCartney show.

Stages in and around Quebec City’s Old Port will feature a dizzying lineup of acts from folk to hip hop, klezmer, rock, cabaret and marching bands. Bassin Louise’s Grand Place will host Quebec folk singer Belzébuth, hip-hop artist Wapikoni Mobile, and klezmer group Socalled Sunday, August 17, and the city’s own Dynamite Cabaret August 18 and 25. Other performers will include France’s Mell, Belgium’s Mix-Music, and Ontario rockers Great Lake Swimmers. For brass fans, The International Festival Of Military Bands runs August 14 to 24 at Place George V, with 1200 musicians from 13 countries. (More event details below.)

Family events will take place at Bassin Louise’s Ephemeral Gardens Stage and Petit Place in the Old Port.  For harmony fans, highlights will include Groupe vocal Privilège Sunday, August 17, Harmonie du Collège Letendre Thursday, August 21, Chœur basque Argileak Friday, August 22, and La Clé des Saisons Sunday, August 24. The venue presents Argentinian tango from Association Tango-Quebec Saturday, August 23, Latin and Caribbean rhythms from Salsa Attitude Sunday, August 24, and oriental dance from Baladi Quebec Saturday, August 30. Cultural fare of note includes West African percussionists Oké Djembé Thursday, August 28, and bagpiping troupe Cornemuse Quebec Friday, August 29.

Autumn will hold further spectacles wrapping up with a closing extravaganza Sunday, October 19 at the Colisée, featuring a Cirque du Soleil performance created for the event. Free tickets will be distributed by lottery, and the show will be projected on a giant outdoor screen.

Travel and accommodation packages by air, bus, and train are widely available and a worthy option during the summer’s peak demand time. Tourist info and referrals are available at Festival organizers recommend getting around the city by public transit, which is more than just a good idea — when the streets are swarming during the big events, it may be the only chance you get to sit down.

Tourist info: 866-585-2008 or

Complete listings:

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A smorgasbord of summer festivals

Festival de Lanaudière - Bernard Labadie and Violon du Roy players

Whether you plan to go out to the country or stay in town, there are plenty of musical events to celebrate the summer season. Choices abound, from festivals in bucolic settings that give “country music” a totally different meaning to urban festivals a metro ride away.

Running July 5 to August 3 just a short distance from Montreal, the 31st year of the Lanaudière Festival has a rich offering of first-rate classical musicians, both local and international, from medieval to contemporary, throughout July and early August. Featuring Kent Nagano and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, pianists Alain Lefèvre and Valentina Lisitsa and the Baroque Orchestra of Freiburg, the festival offers a healthy fare of music with dinner, encounters with musicians and cruises on Lac St-Pierre. There is also a special sound installation of bird songs taking its cue from the works of Olivier Messiaen.

Francofolie crowd

Music of a different ilk can be heard north in the hills of the Laurentians, with the Mont Tremblant Blues Festival running from July 4-13 and featuring Johnny Winter, Paul James, Keb’ Mo’ and a tribute to the recently deceased Jeff Healey.

Along the breathtaking views of the lower St. Lawrence just south of Rimouski, the Parc du Bic presents its Concerts aux Îles du Bic chamber music festival from August 1-10. Yuli Turovsky and I Musici of Montreal perform intimate classics. The varied chamber music formations deliver the calming repertoire of Mozart, Debussy and Poulenc.

Festival international du blues de Tremblant

If your summer promises to be an inner-city affair, there are scores of festivals to choose from. Besides the well-known Montreal International Jazz Festival, there’s Nuits d’Afrique, which runs from July 8-20, and features African musicians with both free shows, at the Place Émilie-Gamelin, and ticketed shows. There’s also Francofolies, from July 24 to August 3, which serves a wide range of music by francophone artists, in the same setting as the Jazz Fest, this year featuring homage to the great Félix Leclerc.

Urban and bucolic at the same time are the events known as Les Weekends du Monde held at the Parc Jean-Drapeau throughout July. The program features daylong activities with music from the Caribbean and Latin America, as well as Classical Thursdays.

The Celtic Music Festival, held on the beautiful grounds of the Douglas Hospital in Verdun ran until a couple of years ago. It featured wonderful music from North America, Ireland and Britain, Celtic France and Spain. Hopefully this festival will see the light of day once more, although not likely this summer. Perhaps in 2009?

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Music events July 2008

Orgue Et Couleurs presents the 44th season of “Concerts populaires de Montréal” under the artistic direction of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, at Centre Pierre- Charbonneau, 3000 Viau. $18 to $27.

  • Wednesday, July 9 at 7:30 pm, Tango Spotlight features spirited tango music with the warm sounds of the bandonéon, an authentic voice and other instruments.
  • Wednesday, July 16 at 7:30 pm, Backstage At The Orchestra. Classics and comedy go hand in hand.
  • Wednesday, July 23 at 7:30 pm, Land of Love features works from the Classical and Romantic periods.
  • Wednesday, July 30 at 7:30 pm, At the English Court promises one royal evening, two eras: the 18th and 20th centuries. Orchestre Métropolitain Du Grand Montréal, conducted by Julian Wachner.
Info and tickets: 514-899-0938 or

The City of Beaconsfield presents its summer line-up of free summer concerts and activities in the park.

  • Sundays at 12 pm, bring a picnic to Centennial Park for free activities and concerts. 288 Beaconsfield.
  • Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, six outdoor concerts are presented in collaboration with Sunrise Senior Living. Rain venue: Beaconsfield Recreation Centre, 1974 City Lane.
Info: 514-428-4480 or


My Vegas: 30 years of memories and Elton

Elton John singing Candle in the Wind at this 200th concert in Vegas

Most people I know who haven’t been to Vegas have little desire to experience it. They have no connection to the place. They see it as crass and glitzy.

But for me, Vegas means a lot. It holds 30 years of memories — of family, love and loss.

My first time was with the father of my daughters just before we married in 1975. I was smitten — with Vegas.

We never left the Tropicana: the food was free or close to it, the orange juice freshly squeezed, the lox abundant and succulent. It was my first encounter with the starry glitter and tinkle of the slots. Not that I’m a gambler, but I’ve always liked the nickel machines.

My mother lived in Vegas for ten years. She moved there to be closer to Paul Anka. Once at a show we saw together, he asked her to dance, recognizing her from her many fan letters. She still has his autographed pictures on her walls: “To Eva, Love Paul.”

On the Strip: Flamingo Hotel bathers

On my visits during those years, Mom and I would sit for hours in the piano bar at one of the Strip’s cheaper hotels and watch Angelo, the singer-piano man, belt out our requests — hers being Nat King Cole and Paul, and mine, Elton John.

My sister Melanie moved to Vegas to live with my mother. Melanie had a tough life and in Vegas she felt like a somebody. She loved the Strip, the slots, the lights, the free drinks, the buffets, the music — and most of all, Neil Diamond.

Melanie died in Vegas in December 2000. She was 48. Her funeral was in a room at her favorite hotel, the famous Golden Nugget.

I remember walking along the Strip the day of the funeral, having come from Melanie’s apartment carrying our grandmother Molly’s wine glasses wrapped in our grandmother Laura’s embroidered tablecloth.

Melanie had no children, just a dog. I remember taking her aging Pekinese to have him put to sleep. She would have hated me for that, but I just couldn’t take him on.

On this trip, I see Melanie everywhere.

I’ve come to Vegas to visit my daughters and accompany my husband on business. I am staying at the Hilton Star Trek, just off the Strip. Gone are the days when you could stay at the Aladdin or the Hilton Flamingo for $17 a night. These rooms cost $160. Alas, the laid back Aladdin was blown up to make room for a glitzier hotel, which is the fate of most Vegas hotels.

The slots have changed. Now you slide your bills in and if you win, the coins don’t come pouring out. I miss that sound. Now it’s a fake jingling and you get a slip you can exchange in another machine. The drinks at the slots are still free and are they ever strong! They still do everything to get you to gamble.

There are no bookstores in sight. And I’m the only one this morning at the Hilton Buffet with a laptop. People are looking at me like I’m weird.

The buffets are still good and plentiful, but prices are up. Today’s brunch is $14. It’s a better deal than the restaurants; the fresh fruit grown in California, just two hours away, is divine.

They now have penny slots in every hotel but the thing is you have to bet at least 25 cents if you’re going to win more than a few pennies. I still love to watch the high rollers bet $25,000 a shot. But I don’t dare try my hand at Black Jack anymore.

Now for my jackpot! Amy, Molly and I took in the Elton John show at Caesars. Tickets start at $100 and peak at $250. We opted for $115 in the first row of the second balcony. We all agreed the concert was the best we had ever seen. I cried every second song, seeing 40 years of my life and Elton’s career pass before me in a flash, watching the big screen images of the sixties, reveling in the memories and the present. Holding my daughters’ hands and swaying back and forth, we waved the black and red boas we had been given in the lobby to celebrate Elton’s 200th concert in Vegas.

What a show! The stage was an ever-evolving magical place with massive inflated breasts, red roses, a lipstick and other overtly playful phallic parts. I was thrown back to the days when sex was less serious and more innocent. I cried during Candle in the Wind, Rocket Man, and most of all, when he sang his finale — Your Song, in honour of his two bodyguards who had just tied the knot in California! I laughed when he lovingly referred to Celine Dion as “that skinny bitch” who never has to worry about her weight as he does.

Amy, Mom, and Molly in our boas after the concert, taken from Amy's iPhone

He looked just lovely to me in his longish appliquéd jacket and the glasses, more muted than I remember – the whole Elton aging gracefully into a less raucous show-off, his virtuoso piano playing more beautiful than ever, his voice strong and robust, having lost none of its sexy, smooth tone. My girls and I knew all the words, sometimes singing along. This is the sign of a star — to last more than two generations.

Molly and I walked over to the Riviera in the heat and were blessed with a stunning rendition of Your Song by a house crooner, the talented and friendly Mark.

To cap off our stay, we saw Menopause — the Musical, a zany slapstick look at “the change” through the eyes of four icons of “our age” — the professional woman, the fading soap star, the Earth Mother, and the Iowa housewife. The songs are takeoffs of tunes from the 60s and 70s, with themes ranging from the ever-present hot flashes to ever-present need for food to the ever-present need for sex from hubby. The best performance of the show was a very risqué dance rendition of My Guy sung to a huge red vibrator. (I just can’t bring myself to use the D-word).

All of us who have gone through the change were invited onstage to do an aging can-can and receive buttons: I’ve changed.

I don’t have much change left as I leave this town. If you go to Vegas, I recommend staying on the Strip. You can take the monorail (at $11 a day) to get around but you’ll still have some walking to do. It’s much more expensive, more crowded, less accessible, and you get a lot less “bang for your buck.”

Vegas has changed — a lot since 1975! Little is free in this town. It’s not the easygoing place I fell in love with 30 years ago. Yet, all in all it was a slice. Thanks Elton for playing my songs!

So, everyone, get off your high horses and live a little. You won’t find high culture here, but it’s a breath of not-so-fresh air in the city that never sleeps.

Elton John plays the Champlain Valley Fair in Vermont July 21.

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Crosby, Stills & Nash look backwards and forwards

Crosby, Stills & Nash’s performance at Place des Arts Tuesday, July 22 brings more music and less politics to the stage than their 2006 Freedom of Speech tour with Neil Young, which bitterly divided critics and audiences over its focus on the Iraq War.

Renowned for its three-hour marathon shows, the group tested the limits of its unity and stamina during the tour – choosing to include large chunks of Young’s Living With War album, noted for its single Let’s Impeach the President – and drawing the ire of many fans. The turmoil is captured in the tour’s documentary CSNY: Déjà Vu, slated for theatrical release in 15 cities the weekend after their Montreal show, with a simultaneous video-on-demand release and streaming video via Netflix. The DVD comes just in time for November elections in the US.

Premiering to mostly positive reviews in January at Sundance, the film features ex-ABC News Iraq reporter Mike Cerre “embedded” on the tour bus and showcases both sides of the critical reaction, including one infamous judgment that “the huddled sixty somethings look like they’re comparing prescriptions on stage.” Besides strong lyrical content, the tour featured backdrops of war scenes, casualty counts and clips of the Bush administration’s finer moments. Reception in some cities, particularly Atlanta, was openly hostile. The strain on the foursome’s solidarity, and the resulting internal political struggle, is documented cinema-verité style in moments backstage. Produced by Young, the film was judged by one critic as “not so much the chronicle of a newsworthy tour as a committed political artist’s sincere attempt to get to grips with an America whose mood seems to have changed utterly since the band’s debut.”

The current tour, minus Young, picks up some elements from 2006 and introduces new ones, notably sharing one microphone on some acoustic numbers for the first time. “It screams of how much we’re getting it on together,” Nash said in a recent interview. “Instead of our sound man trying to blend three sources, we’re doing it ourselves. It’s not easy to sing so close to each other. But it sounds great.”

A feature of the 2006 tour sure to be repeated is its compelling example of eco-responsibility. Pioneering the modernization of the notoriously messy touring business, they achieved a zero carbon footprint by using 100% biodiesel for the entire convoy of vehicles and offsetting 100% of the tour’s greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing and permanently retiring credits from the Chicago Climate Exchange – a “registry, reduction, and trading system” similar to the Montreal Climate Exchange, that allows emitters to “neutralize” their carbon footprints through large-scale sustainability projects.

Reviews of the current tour have been favourable, often commenting on the trio’s newly trim physiques and lauding their unabated vocal form, impressive musicianship and wise musical choices. Setlists are partly chosen by fans – the group has been soliciting requests online for upcoming shows at – and Nash has found “some surprises” from this, noting “we’re doing about four or five suggestions of stuff we haven’t done in years.”

Special VIP seats are still available online through two charity beneficiaries of the tour, the Guacamole Fund and World Hunger Year.

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Music events June 2008

Tuesdays in June at 12:30 pm, hear organ concerts at St. James United Church, 463 Ste-Catherine W. Info: 514-288-9245 or 514-739-8696

Wednesday, June 11 at 8 pm, Temple Emanu-El presents Joshua Nelson, a singer who mixes Hebrew text with Gospel melodies. Seniors $18. Info: 514-937-3575

Saturday, June 14 at 2 pm and 7 pm and Sunday, June 15 at 2 pm, the West Island Student Theatre Association presents the cabaret A Salute to the Music of Disney at the Karnak Shriners Hall, 3350 Sources, DDO. $15. Info: 514-636-4603 or 514-333-3325

Tuesday, June 17 at 8:30 pm, ten singers and musicians perform at Cabaret du Casino. Reservations before Friday, June 13 at 5 pm. Info: 514-985-4472 x 2135

Every Wednesday from June 18 to August 27, from 12 – 1 pm, Les Midis Financière Sun Life holds concerts at Dorchester Square. The first concert features blues singer Angel Forest. Info: 514-523-9922

Saturday June 21 from 1 – 10 pm, Festival Folk sur le Canal at St-Ambroise Terrace takes place rain or shine, 5080 St-Ambroise. $20, free for kids under 12. Gates open at 12 pm. Info: 514-524-9225 or

From Friday, June 27 to Saturday, July 5, The Segal Centre presents Houdini as part of the International Jazz Festival. Info: 514-739-2301 x 8324


Festival Lanaudière - music and so much more

Festival performers (photo: Baptiste Grison)

Montrealers must count their cultural blessings. Just as the greatly anticipated Jazz Fest winds down, another international music festival dedicated to classical music opens, less than an hour away from the city.

Now celebrating its 31st season, the Festival Lanaudière has presented indoor and outdoor concerts performed by international artists in its spectacular Amphitheatre and beautiful heritage churches, some of which date back to the 17th century. Though the festival’s program has blossomed from eight concerts in 1977 to 26 this July, the organizers’ vision – to create “a place where a large audience can listen to beautiful music performed by the greatest musicians” – remains intact.

This year an array of activities are geared toward young people making the festival an ideal opportunity for families to spend time together and build a lasting love of music in their youngest members.

The festival begins Saturday, July 5 with a resounding rendition of Carmina Burana, Carl Orff’s greatest masterpiece that grandchildren will recognize as the unmistakable inspiration for the soundtrack of the video game Final Fantasy I. The score calls for four choirs and a symphony orchestra – 200 musicians performing together.

Opera lovers won’t want to miss the 150th anniversary of Puccini’s birth, which the festival will honour with performances of his great arias, from La Boheme, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot on Friday, July 11.

Fledgling ornithologists will enjoy learning that the great composer Olivier Messiaen loved birds so much that he actually recorded their songs and wove them into his music. All the music performed on Saturday, July 12 will be devoted to birds, and will include Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques, Stravinsky’s Firebird, and Saint-Saens’ Le rossignol et la rose. Afternoon activities are free and will include a sound installation by Oswaldo Macia, an open rehearsal of the night’s concert with commentary, and an onsite exhibition of birds of prey. The evening concert will be accompanied by the winning entries in the bird photo contest organized by the Festival and the Regroupement QuebecOiseaux.

Little astronomers can be fascinated by projections of NASA photos on a giant screen on Friday, July 18, accompanied by Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite The Planets, with Jean-Marie Zeitouni conducting the Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal.

Starting Sunday, July 6, outdoor concerts for the whole family include the famous London vocal quartet Cantabile, swing from the 40s by The Easy Answers, and Romeo and Juliet in the passionate universe of the Tango.

On Saturday, July 19, a day declared by Festival Artistic Ambassador Alain Lefèvre as “a day of piano and youth,” everyone under 25 will be admitted for free to hear Lefèvre and his confrères push the limits of piano playing in performances of concertos for two, three, and four pianos with eight virtuosos taking part. To engage the “pianistically reluctant” free hot dogs will be served, compliments of Maple Lodge Farms.

Other treats include tourist outings along the St. Lawrence, featuring a boat trip to the Lac-Saint-Pierre Archipelago, a unique nature reserve recognized as a biosphere by UNESCO on Sunday, July 7, and a dinner cruise on Friday, July 11, going from Montreal’s Old Port to the pier in Saint-Sulpice, where guests will board a luxury coach for the Amphitheatre.

For those who don’t want to drive, a shuttle service to the Amphitheatre, the Festival Express, leaves from downtown Montreal.

Info: 450-759-7636 or

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Fifty years in the band still isn’t enough

Marshall Allen (photo: Alan Nahigian)

Montreal will be awash with jazz in the next few weeks, with a total of four festivals going on. There’s not only the International Jazz Festival that everyone around the planet knows about, but also two equally appealing festivals (if not more so, for hard-core jazz fans) following in short order, plus the festival Bryan Highbloom has been offering at the Jewish General Hospital. That spells a lot of music.

As usual, veteran musicians are a big part of the draw, whether they are jazzers, like pianist Hank Jones, or jazz-related like the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, who is still belting it out. Locals like drummer Guy Nadon and pianists Oliver Jones and Vic Vogel are also in on the fun. All of these performers are appearing at the high-profile Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. The two other festivals, the Suoni Per Il Popolo (run by the Casa del Popolo) and the Off Festival (run by and featuring Montreal musicians), have an equally interesting lineup, and this year they are teaming up to present a couple of events, the most prominent being the Sun Ra Arkestra.

Led by Marshall Allen after Sun Ra’s passing in 1993, the Arkestra follows the big band tradition but with an avant-garde twist, as likely to play When You Wish Upon a Star or There Will Never Be Another You as they are to revisit Sun Ra’s quirky themes like We Travel the Spaceways or one of the many tunes Allen has penned. Formed in the 1950s, the Arkestra is still thriving. I spoke to Marshall Allen, who still lives in the Sun Ra house in Philadelphia, a couple of days before his 84th birthday as he was preparing for a celebration in New York at Sullivan Hall.

I asked him about his long association with the band and about his long life in music. “It contributes to my well-being and in my 80s, that’s what I’m doing,” he said. “When you’re younger, you’ve got adventure, you’ve got a strong drive to move forward and get something down. Now I’m not that youthful, but there are still things I want to do, and I don’t have to go through a lot of that stuff like when I was younger. Now I have more time to stay with the music and more time to concentrate.”

He went on to tell me about life before Sun Ra, playing in Paris, Germany, and England, and spending time in the Army until he met Sun Ra in Chicago. “He lived a few blocks away from me and he rehearsed his band, and I went to rehearsals and listened and his other band in New York was breaking up and I got into the new band.”

That was 1958, and Allen waxed enthusiastic when he realized that this year marks the 50th anniversary of his joining Sun Ra. “Back in those days I didn’t think I’d still be playing in the band in 50 years,” he said in his endearing Kentucky drawl.

He has a simple answer to what keeps him committed to the band: “It’s the music! Sun Ra was a good teacher and that was like a gold mine. All I had to do was put in the time.” The time, in this case, has meant a whole career devoted to the Arkestra, which has required a lot of study, given the founder’s unique vision.

But there are also more practical issues: “Through the years, music gets displaced, songs are there with no names on them. It’s quite a thing to try to get the parts back together. It’s like a puzzle.”

He also still studies the challenging music: “Sometimes there’s time against time, or different times together. He always had a large band and a lot of stuff going on. So I just do the main thing and sometimes rework some of the music. He has about a thousand pieces, some of which haven’t been played yet. He would write for different people, change things, chords, melodies, depending on the person who would be playing… tailor made. So I still got some challenges, interpreting the music.”

The audiences are still coming to the concerts and include lots of young people. “We make a little story with the band going way back and coming right on up, so it’s like a music lesson for those who weren’t born. We show them what they were doing in the 30s and early 40s and what they’re doing now.”

The Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of Marshall Allen will perform at the Sala Rossa Sunday, June 14 at 8:30 pm.


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Victoriaville festival celebrates 25th

Saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell (photo: FIMAV)

Every year, the town of Victoriaville, once famous for producing hockey sticks, draws hundreds from across North America for a five-day festival that celebrates Musique Actuelle.

Musicians also flock there, eager to participate in what is considered a premiere showcase for music that pushes the conventional envelope beyond accepted norms of harmony, melody and rhythm.

No, you will not hear Norah Jones or Paul Anka at this 25th Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, which gets underway May 15 in the town, halfway between Drummondville and Quebec City.

What you will get is a broad range of music that can be classed as musique actuelle, a term invented to embrace creative music that ranges from free jazz and improvised music to electronica, Noise, vocals, alternative rock – even a group or two that could be classified as folk.

The variety is astounding, considered without equal in its scope and the level of the musicians.

This year’s lineup was conceived as a retrospective and includes some stellar performers who have given Victo its reputation.

The regulars who attend include a Calgary physician, a McGill University mathematician who develops models in the Faculty of Medicine, and a saxophone player from Niagara Falls, NY. Part of the fun is walking from one venue to the next, chatting about the highlights – and lowlights.

There are plenty of fine concerts to choose from among the 23 shows. Visitors can always choose a combination that can be included in a package. For $99 a person, you can see two concerts, plus a night in the Hotel Villegia, double occupancy with breakfast the next morning. A range of accommodations includes camping.

The festival opens Thursday, May 15 with pioneering Montreal-based saxophonist/composer Jean Derome and a dozen of the city's best-known improv musicians with two pieces, including a tribute to Victo.

Fans will welcome the return of saxophonist John Zorn, who rose to prominence with his virtuosity and unique combination of Jewish-sounding themes and avant-garde harmonics. Zorn leads a sextet at 10pm in his “The Dreamers” project, recorded this fall on his Tzadik label, with guitarist Marc Ribot, drummer Joey Baron and Kenny Wollesen on vibraphone, and percussionist Cyro Baptista.

Zorn plays again Friday at 10pm, blowing that battered horn and leading his hard-edged Moonchild project, featuring experimental rock vocalist and guitarist Mike Patton.

Two other shows earlier Friday should be fascinating: Montreal guitarist Tim Brady presents three works for electric guitar, digital processing and tape at 1pm, accompanied by video, and then a “double quartet” tribute to the great Dmitri Shostakovich.

Then at 8pm, improvising electric guitarist Fred Frith premiers his Cosa Brava ensemble featuring violinist Carla Kihlstedt, accordion player Zeena Parkins, and drummer Matthias Bossi. Oh, they all sing. Skipping to Sunday, Shanghai-born Xu Fengzia returns for a 5pm gig with her zither-like guzheng, accompanied by German violinist Gunda Gottschalk.

Jazz fans will not want to miss two exciting shows Sunday. Saxophonist/pocket trumpeter Joe McPhee leads a quartet of European musicians at 8pm.

Roscoe Mitchell, a founder of Chicago’s ground- breaking Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, plays at 10pm with a double quartet that includes such exceptional performers as pianist Vijay Iyer and trumpeter Corey Wilkes.

Electric guitarist René Lussier kicks off Monday's triple bill, with turntablists Martin Tetreault and Otomo Yoshihide, who may also play guitar.

You may not like it all, but there is a lot of choice.

For the full lineup, ticket and accommodation information, go to

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Music Music Music

Concert to benefit Extra Miles Senior Visiting Program

Wednesday, May 14 at 2:30pm the Montreal West United Church, 88 Balllantyne Ave. North, will present a brass chamber music concert featuring music from Bach to Joplin, from Brahms to Bernstein. Performers are members of the Low Bass section of the OSM. $10 at the door. Wheelchair accessibility. This concert is a benefit for MWUC’s Extra Miles Senior Visiting Program. Extra Miles matches up volunteers to be friendly visitors with isolated seniors in NDG, Montreal West and Côte St-Luc. Info: 514-482-3210 or

Cummings Centre presents Toxic Audio Live and Off Broadway

Tuesday, June 3 at Club Soda, the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors Foundation will present Toxic Audio Live and Off Broadway, featuring award-winning singers who will perform with nothing but their voices. To purchase tickets online in support of CJCS, visit


Jeunesses Musicales - A pianophile's paradise

Many renowned musicians first gained international attention through winning an established musical competition.

From May 19-29, Montrealers will have a chance to hear some of the best and brightest young pianists in the world at this year’s Montreal International Musical Competition.

Organized in 2002 at the initiative of Jeunesses Musicales, each year’s event highlights either voice, piano or violin, the three disciplines presented in a rotating four-year cycle. This year’s competition received 130 applications from pianists under 30 from 28 different countries.

Chosen finalists will perform at the Quarter and Semi Finals at Salle Pierre-Mercure on May 20-22 and 23-24 and six will play at the Finals on May 26-27 at the Theatre Maisonneuve at Place des Arts. The young artists will prepare different repertoire for each concert.

The price of admission to each session is kept intentionally low at $10 as the MIMC wants to keep these concerts by these young musicians of great talent as accessible to the public as possible.

The event will culminate with the Gala Concert on May 29 at Salle Wilfrid- Pelletier where the finalists will be accompanied by the Competition’s resident orchestra, the Orchestre Metropolitain du Grand Montreal (OMGM) conducted by Jean Marie Zeituni.

The Competition’s stated aim is to “discover, reward and assist” young musicians all over the world who distinguish themselves through the mastery of their art and to give them a chance to showcase their talent before the international artistic community.

The jury is composed of a panel of eminent musicians from several countries and the event is the only Canadian international music competition held each year.

Info: 514-845-4108

Tickets: 514-842-2112


Cantabile celebrates

Founded in 1985 and formerly known as The Knight Singers, the Cantabile Chorale has performed many of the major choral works in the classical repertoire.

Their next concert will mark the 15th year composer and conductor Peter Willsher has directed the choir and the choir’s 10th with its own symphony orchestra.

“Last year we premiered a work that I wrote for the choir and orchestra, a cantata called The Journey. It is appropriate in many ways that this concert is also called Journey,” Willsher says. “It is a Journey that Cantabile and I have travelled; it includes music from Canada, UK, France, Germany, Austria and Italy. Not least, is my own personal musical journey of which Cantabile has been integral for most of my Canadian life.”

Highlights from the program include selections from Brahms’ Faure’s and Mozart’s Requiems, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion and Handel’s Messiah.

The concert begins at 7:30 pm at Ste. Genevieve Church, 16037 Gouin Blvd.

Info regarding the concert or to join the choir: 514-634-1275


After the flood, sound the trumpet

Tales of destruction by flood are retold in nearly every culture, wherein the event is endowed with mythical qualities, an act of God that forces reflection on its victims. The devastating storm that flooded New Orleans is no longer news, but its aftereffects are still real to the survivors who are trying to pull their lives back together. Musical stories of that flood are told by two jazz musicians from the Crescent City — trumpeters and composers both — in their most recent CD releases.

For his Tale of God’s Will: A Requiem for Katrina (Blue Note Records), Terence Blanchard, the elder of the two trumpeters, was awarded a Grammy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. With Blanchard, the rhythms are recognizably New Orleans, starting with the march-like drum beat that opens the suite of pieces, announcing the requiem that this project presents. The title of the disc asks listeners to consider the storm as part of God’s plan — how else to explain the destruction and loss of life and home for so many? This must have been the reasoning behind the music, much as it is in the Old Testament story. Blanchard’s trumpet voice is compelling in its nuance as it dominates the varied textures of the compositions, some of which originally appeared in Spike Lee’s documentary film “When the Levees Broke.” Blanchard, one of the young lions from Wynton Marsalis’ generation, has scored many a film in recent years and knows how to create mood and meaning with sounds. Here his sextet (trumpet, saxophone, piano, bass, drums and percussion) is augmented in several pieces by the lush, yet subtle strings of The Northwest Sinfonia.

The tunes urge the acceptance of God’s will, as in “Ghost of Congo Square,” “Mantra Intro” and “Mantra,” mixed with clearly programmatic pieces like “Wading Through,” “In Time of Need” and “The Water,” and references to past storms in “Ghost of Betsy” and “Ghost of 1927.” Inevitably, there is also grief expressed in the blues laments of “Levees” and “Funeral Dirge.”

The younger trumpeter, Christian Scott, a couple of decades Blanchard’s junior, leads a smaller group, with sonorities that are more contemporary. However, the mood in Anthem (Concord Jazz) is equally reflective. The twelve pieces featured have titles that directly reference the flood, like “Katrina’s Eyes,” and the title cut appearing in two versions, “Anthem (Antediluvian Adaptation)” and “Anthem (Post Diluvial Adaptation)” — the first having a kind of ominous foreboding vamp that launches the quiet storm of melody and rhythm, and the latter featuring a lyrical commentary by rapper Brother J of X-Clan on the human struggle that was brought into relief by the storm and its aftermath. Through it all, Scott’s keening horn (he plays trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn and slide trumpet) is a lyrical, compelling voice addressing the drama that is both social and cosmic. He and his quartet (horn, drums, bass, and guitar) offer jazz with a contemporary urban beat, but with lyrical content that maintains a thread with tradition.

It is fitting that the trumpet is featured in these almost religious musical mediations. Considered by ancient people as the sound of the voice of God and used as a heraldic instrument to announce divine interventions, it is strikes a deep, resonating chord in the human soul.

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