The enthralling Montreal Jazz Festival is set in French Canada’s dazzling bilingual metropolis. Since its founding in 1980, this summer festival has become a cherished getaway of music-digging lovers from North America and beyond.
The Montreal Jazz Festival is considered the world’s biggest and best, with everything that makes a jazz festival great. It takes place from late June through the first week of July, showcasing more than 2,500 artists in 500-plus concerts from noon to midnight.
The best part of the Montreal Jazz Festival: 350 concerts are absolutely free of charge.
On the last Saturday night of the festival, a free all-stars outdoor concert stops Montreal in its tracks. Tickets for paying concerts are easy to get and not too expensive; most seats are around $30.
The festival may be called “jazz,” but it resounds with an array of musical genres: swing, bebop, blues, world music, klezmer, salsa, Gypsy, reggae, cabaret, jazz-rock fusion, DJ sampling, and of course plenty of straight-ahead modern jazz.
Stars of the Montreal Jazz FestivalOver the years everyone who’s anyone in jazz has staked out a stage in Montreal. Some of the legendary cats who have played the festival include:
- Sax fiends Michael Brecker, Ornette Coleman, Kenny Garrett, Joe Lovano, Gerry Mulligan, Wayne Shorter, Sonny Rollins
- Guitarists George Benson, Larry Coryell, Jim Hall, B.B. King, John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Mike Stern
- Bass players Ron Carter, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, Christian McBride, Charles Mingus, Jaco Pastorius
- Trumpeters Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Hargrove, Wynton Marsalis, Arturo Sandoval
- Pianists Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Oscar Peterson, Chucho Valdes
- Drummers Eric Harland, Victor Lewis, Paul Motian, Tito Puente, Buddy Rich
- Other instrumentalists Ray Anderson, Gary Burton, Stéphane Grappelli, Chuck Mangione, Jean-Luc Ponty, Toots Thielemans
- Vocalists Tony Bennett, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ray Charles, Elvis Costello, Celia Cruz, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Prince, Dianne Reeves, Paul Simon, Sarah Vaughan, Tom Waits, Cassandra Wilson
Romance of the Montreal Jazz FestivalThe Montreal Jazz Festival is organized safely and sanely around a spotless open-air central square. Though it attracts about 2 million visitors annually, the festival doesn’t feel packed, and the mood is very civilized. Bathroom facilities are ample and clean. Theaters range from wonderfully intimate to large but manageable. (There’s only one massive performance space, the Salle Wilfred Pelletier.)
Several theaters are nightclub-style, with bar service. All venues feature outstanding acoustics, comfortable seats, a no-smoking policy, and quiet, respectful audiences.
Many couples spend entire afternoons and evenings at the Montreal Jazz Festival with a dinner break nearby. There’s a lot to do besides digging the tunes. Several festival shops invite browsing for CDs, posters and souvenirs (the festival’s T-shirts are always cool).
There’s a music-instrument fair, a theater that shows movies with jazz themes, and quiet nooks and lawns for resting.
Urbane open-air bars, cafes, and restaurants let festival-goers enjoy a Labatt beer or French Chablis with or without with a paté sandwich on a baguette or a platter of Quebec cheese.
And just beyond the festival area is Saint Catherine St. and its shopping. To the west, they are mainly fashion boutiques and bookstores; to the east, music, lingerie, and erotica shops.
The Montreal Jazz Festival constitutes a memorable vacation in a world-class city, with an abundance of incomparable entertainment.
Montreal Jazz Festival TipsMany couples make this musical extravanza an annual pilgrimage. Here’s how to do the Montreal Jazz Festival right.
- Book your hotel room as soon as possible, because the town fills up. (The Montreal Jazz Festival is held at the Place des Arts; many hotels are within walking distance.)
- Check out packages that include hotel and festival tickets.
- If you fly, consider not renting a car. Montreal’s subway system is excellent, with deals and discounts.
- You can pre-buy concert tickets online or toll-free. To save the service charges, hit the box office when you arrive; few concerts sell out.
- Bring a lightweight folding chair for your comfort at outdoor concerts. If a chair is too cumbersome, tote a cushion.
- Bring water (plastic bottles only), sunblock, something to read or do in between concerts, and a sweater for Canadian evenings.
- Leave passports and extra cash in your hotel-room safe. Stay secure at the festival with backpacks, fanny packs, or shoulder straps. No wallet-in-the-pocket for guys, no handbags or clutches for girls.
- Plan to have the time of your life in one of the world's most romantic cities.
Find Out MoreStart planning your visit to the Montreal Jazz Festival:
Official Web Site of the Montreal Jazz Festival
Official Web Site of Montreal Tourism