The 2024 Montreal Jazz Festival was the ultimate showcase for contemporary jazz
8 mins read

The 2024 Montreal Jazz Festival was the ultimate showcase for contemporary jazz

Montreal Jazz Festival is much more than just a jazz festival — let’s get that out of the way. Thanks to the city where it takes place, it’s a festival that helps tell a story about diversity, history, futurism, accessibility, and the essence of music in a convergence of styles. And it’s that philosophy, shaped by a genre that’s still evolving, that has made this year’s 10-day event the world’s largest exhibition of the spirit of jazz music.

This year, MTL Jazz is largely a free event, with more than two-thirds of the program taking place on five outdoor stages in the sprawling network of downtown Montreal’s ever-expanding Place des Festivals, and the rest taking place across 12 venues in the world-class concert hall complex and nearby clubs.

These Holy Souls / photo by Émanuel Novak-Bélanger

These Holy Souls / photo by Émanuel Novak-Bélanger

But it’s the TD main stage, with its iconic hanging light fixtures that look like giant toothbrushes towering over the crowd of more than 10,000 people, that makes the performers feel instantly larger than they are. This is where SoCal Holy Souls played to probably their biggest crowd yet, and they totally rose to the occasion. The lowrider soul band are on the rise, and their headline performance on Tuesday, July 2nd—the first of my five days at the festival—was a masterful curatorial move to introduce the next big thing. It was like a coronation.

Orville Peck / photo by Frédérique Ménard-Aubin

Orville Peck / photo by Frédérique Ménard-Aubin

It was on the TD stage that Toronto’s Charlotte Day Wilson braved the pouring rain to deliver one of the year’s defining performances to an unwavering audience. Later that week, Orville PeckQueer country swept across the landscape with a vibrant grittiness, Cinematic Orchestra gave an audiovisual performance to mark the 20th anniversary of their iconic album Man with a movie camera, and the voice of Joey Quinones of East L.A. cholo soul desperados Thee Sinseers rang out at the festival’s sunset on “Hold On,” highlighting the wonderful diversity of these artists and giving the band a chance to perform in front of a massive audience.

Charlotte Day Wilson in the Rain / Photo by Victor Diaz Lamicha

Charlotte Day Wilson in the Rain / Photo by Victor Diaz Lamicha

At the Théâtre Jean-Duceppe, a 750-seat venue in the Place Des Arts complex, the Chicago drummer Makaya McCraven led the best band I’ve seen all week. He, along with bassist Junius Paul, trumpeter Marquise Hill, harpist Brandee Younger and vibraphonist Joel Ross, performed what seemed like McCraven’s entire latest album, In those daysan introspective and inspiring meditation on the creation of new and better worlds. Behind the cool and masterful McCraven (in his elegant Jordans, no less), this band embellished both classic and new jazz sounds and vibes in a beautiful contemporary channeling of the spirits of Gil Scott-Heron, Alice Coltrane, Roy Ayers, Yusef Lateef and others.

Makaya McCraven / photo by Frédérique Ménard-Aubin

Makaya McCraven at the Théâtre Jean-Duceppe / photo by Frédérique Ménard-Aubin

The future of jazz has always been present in Montreal. When London’s Alfa Mist played to 1,000 people at the indie-centric Club Soda, young people held up their phones to record trumpeter J Sphynx’s solo. It was fitting to see them on the same stage I’d seen Domi & JD Beck perform two years ago, which made me feel like MTL Jazz was back on the right track.

Alfa Mist / photo by Frédérique Ménard-Aubin

Alfa Mist at Club Soda / photo by Frédérique Ménard-Aubin

When I arrived in Montreal on Tuesday night, jet-lagged from the West Coast, the first act I saw was trumpeter Theo Croker on the open-air jazz club-style Pub Molson stage. His covers of Slum Village’s “Fall in Love” and OutKast’s “Spottieottiedopaliscious” quickly got my brain thinking about the inextricable bond between jazz and hip-hop. They also got me thinking about the audacity Andrew 3000A recent, fantastic attempt at experimental jazz flute playing that he performed at a festival a few days before I arrived.

Shabaka Hutchings and Brandee Younger / photo by Benoit Rousseau

Shabaka Hutchings and Brandee Younger / photo by Benoit Rousseau

And when, after five days, my cup was already full, around midnight I went to the converted church known as Gesú to listen to the last part of the performance of an artist who has been exploring the same horizons of woodwind instruments that André has recently brought to a wider audience: Shabaka HutchingsAs with McCraven’s set, Brandee Younger was on harp for this performance, shape-shifting alongside another humble titan of jazz, providing a blueprint for the wonderful state of jazz music today; showcasing its limitless potential to spark joy and creativity in anyone who listened. And she always floated in the air, wherever you went, on the grandest stage in jazz at the Montreal Jazz Festival.

Everything felt so wonderful and everything was free—what better way to expose people from all walks of life to such incredible talent? This is the ethos of jazz music, a liberating genre if ever there was one, whose hallmark is thriving on the ever-evolving nature of sound as an accompaniment to our hopes, creativity, and dreams without limiting constraints.

photo by Victor Diaz Lamicha

photo by Victor Diaz Lamicha

For more information about the Montreal Jazz Festival, see below.