Friends Alain Simard and André Ménard started a musical collaboration 30 years ago that has become the world’s largest jazz festival

The Montreal International Jazz Festival is celebrating its 30th Anniversary this summer. The musical partnership between co-founders Alain Simard and André Ménard began the 70’s while André was a student at CEGEP Maisonneuve. “Alain is a little older than me, and he was promoting bands in the Montreal-area. I was in charge of booking bands into our school for entertainment, and that’s how we got to know each other.”

The two friends continued to promote concerts, and in 1977 they formed Équipe Spectra, which would grow to become recognised by The Financial Post as one of Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies.

André continues; “There was a longing in Montreal for the ambiance of Expo ’67 and the ’76 Olympics.”

The young promoters came up with the idea of an outdoor Jazz Festival, and on July 2, 1980; Ray Charles took the stage at Man and his World (the former Expo ’67 site) and the Montreal International Jazz Festival was underway. “Right from the beginning, we had a gathering of all the ‘clans’ in Montreal,” noted André; while attending the launch party for Jazz Expressions; a double CD celebrating the festival’s 30th Anniversary.

“We didn’t know it at first – but in the summer there is no politics. So there’s lots of media space available for coverage; especially when you’re bringing in internationally famous performers like Ray Charles, Dave Brubeck and Ella Fitzgerald.”

Soon jazz writers and critics were coming to Montreal from all over North America and Europe. The first festival welcomed 12,000 fans; and now 2.5 million people annually attend the collection of paid and free concerts over a 10 day period, which has been extended to 13 days for 2009. The Guinness Book of Records claimsstates that it is the World’s Largest Jazz Festival.

Alain Simard, André Ménard and their colleagues at L’Équipe Spectra aren’t resting on their laurels. The company will soon be moving into a renovated building at the corner of Bleury and Ste-Catherine; La Maison du Jazz, which will be home to a state-of-the-art performance space L’Astral, reminiscent of the hugely popular Spectrum. One block over, La Place du Quartier des Spectacles will be the new main stage area for the mega-outdoor concerts. Its full steam ahead… “We can now project into our new phase of development,” says an animated André Ménard.

The 30th edition features many long-time festival favourites, including Dave Brubeck, Tony Bennett, Wynton Marsalis, and the Glenn Miller and Harry James Big Bands facing off in a Battle of the Bands. There’s a musical style to satisfy most tastes. Local favourite Oliver Jones will inaugurate L’Astral on June 29th, with special guest Ranee Lee. joining in the celebration. In all, There will be 650 performances over the festival’s 1213 days, including 450 free outdoor concerts.

The two friends – two music fans – have built the world’s largest jazz festival; plus The Montreal Highlights Festival, Les Francofolies and several related businesses. They have provided a significant opportunity for Montreal musicians to build a fan base, and have helped launch the careers of many successful artists, including Diana Krall. Along the way they have brought hundreds of $millions into Montreal.

Each year Alain and André pose for a “family photo” with Montreal jazz musicians. It’s more than a public relations gesture. They share a deep appreciation for the music and the people who create it. That why it’s still fresh – 30 years and thousands of performances later. Bravo!

The 30th Anniversary edition will take place from June 30 – July 12. For information about all the shows and ticket sales, please visit:

Kool & The Gang

35 years, 70 million albums and still electrifying audiences

Kool & The Gang give credence to the expression; – …and the hits keep on coming! In addition to superbe musicianship, their performances feature an incredible string of hit songs, many that have become popular classics – blending a driving R & B beat and the catchy musicality of pop songs. It’s proven to be an enduring and successful recipe for the group.

Kool & The Gang has sold over 70 million albums worldwide and influenced the music of three generations. Thanks to songs like Celebration, Cherish, Jungle Boogie, Summer Madness and Open Sesame, they’ve earned two Grammy Awards, seven American Music Awards, 25 Top Ten R&B hits, nine Top Ten Pop hits, and 31 gold and platinum albums. Kool & The Gang has performed continuously for the past 35 years, longer than any R&B group in history.

In 1964 Khalis Bayyan (AKA Ronald Bell) and his brother, Robert “Kool” Bell, joined Jersey City neighborhood friends Robert “Spike” Mickens, Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, Ricky Westfield, George Brown, and Charles Smith to create a unique musical blend of jazz, soul and funk. They tried four names before settling on Kool & The Gang.

Their self-titled 1969 debut album introduced their signature instrumental sound and fierce horn arrangements, and spawned their first Billboard R&B charted single, Kool and the Gang.

The group began recording in 1969 with self-titled instrumental album, and a second titled Live At The Sex Machine released in 1970. However it was the group’s 1973 gold disc Wild & Peaceful took Kool & The Gang to another level (#6 R&B, #33 Pop), spurred by the immortal party anthems Funky Stuff, Hollywood Swinging and the platinum smash Jungle Boogie. Hits like Higher Plane (#1 R&B), the classic Summer Madness (featured on the Grammy-winning movie soundtrack Rocky) and LPs Spirit of the Boogie, Love & Understanding and Open Sesame followed. The latter’s title track was featured on the top-selling movie soundtrack of all time, Saturday Night Fever, earning the group their second Grammy.

In 1979, Kool & The Gang unveiled a smooth new sound with Ladies Night, which became the group’s first platinum album. The #1 R&B title track also reached #8 at Pop. It was followed by Too Hot (#3 R&B, #5 Pop). The ’80s would see them dominate the mainstream, starting with the double platinum-selling album Celebrate (driven by the international monster hit Celebration, which spent six weeks atop the R&B chart and became a #1 Pop single). Celebration, which played as the American hostages returned from Iran, remains de rigueur at joyous occasions worldwide. The smashes Get Down On It, Take My Heart, Let’s Go Dancing, Joanna, Tonight, Misled, the #1 R&B, #2 Pop giant Cherish and the #1 R&B anthem Fresh (these last three from the multi-platinum LP Emergency) solidified the group’s international superstardom.

After an outstanding performance 7 years ago, Kool & The Gang are returning to The Metropolis on July 1. Metropolis Box Office: 514-844-3500.

Susie Arioli – A new recording and a new show have her poised for international success

Montreal performer brings style and grace to popular jazz classics with her latest album – Night Lights

“I started singing at jam sessions hosted by the Stephen Barry Blues Band. I did that for many years, and it gave me a chance to gain confidence and find my own style.” Susie Arioli is describing how she got her start. “When I first began – like most singers – I imitated my favourites. In particular I was influenced by Billie Holiday.” Susie continues, “Eventually I learned to be myself…”

And singing like “herself” is paying off very well for Susie Arioli. She has recently signed a new record deal with Spectra Musique, the record label owned by the same folks who produce the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

It’s a testament to Susie’s talent that the producers of the world’s largest jazz festival are confident that they can realize a solid return on their investment by producing her on their new label.

Susie and her musical collaborator Jordan Officer have established a niche performing jazz music that is accessible and entertaining; with a repertoire comprised of songs from The American Songbook. Susie is a true singer, interpreting songs with respect for the lyrics and a graceful presentation. She has been greatly influenced by Ella Fitzgerald and Django Reinhardt. “They basically sang the melody, and then threw in a flourish.” It’s a nod to style and grace that we don’t often see or hear in the era of vocal excesses – where volume overrules the melody of the song. “An inelegant lack of modesty” is how Susie describes performers who replace style with volume.

By contrast, you can hear a pin drop when Susie, Jordan and their fellow musicians are performing. With her natural charisma; Susie has the ability to create an intimate atmosphere – even in the 3000-plus seat Salle Wilfred Pelletier at Place des Arts. “I’m always happiest when I feel that I have a connection with the audience.”

Susie and Jordan impressed Jazz Festival audiences in 1998 – even though they were relatively unknown at the time. They were so impressive that festival Artistic Director André Ménard invited them to open for the legendary Ray Charles a few days later in Salle Wilfred Pelletier.

Susie and Jordan released their first album It’s Wonderful in 2001, earning critical acclaim, including kudos from The Toronto Star’s Peter Goddard, one of the toughest critics in Canada. “Susie is unerringly right in what she chooses to sing and unrivalled in how she sings it,” wrote Goddard.

Night Lights is the fifth album for Susie, and was produced by Jordan Officer. Susie delivers wonderful interpretations of classics such as Blue Skies, Can’t We Be Friends and Beyond the Sea. Susie is optimistic that the Spectra international contacts and relationships will help to open access to more and better performance venues, and especially more jazz festivals.

This fall Susie will be heading to Europe for performances in France and Germany, with the possibility of more countries to be added to the itinerary. Night Lights is already selling well, helping to build upon her existing European following. Montrealers will be able to enjoy Susie Arioli at Place des Arts’ Theatre Maisonneuve on July 4 at 6 pm. For tickets, please call: 514-842-2112 or visit: Bravo!

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