The Montreal International Jazz Festival, recognized by Guinness as the world’s largest, has evolved into a celebration of music, with its roots in jazz and blues

My first contact with live jazz came while I was a teenager and I used to frequent the Saturday matinee performances at The Esquire Show Bar. The owner, Norm Silver, loved jazz and pretty much all forms of live music. He had his own little jazz festival before Andre Menard Alain Simard began what is now a huge international festival. During the course of summer in the late 60s, I was fortunate to see some of the world’s greatest jazz musicians within the intimate (and perhaps a little seedy) confines of The Esquire.

We didn’t know it at the time, but Norm Silver and I would become good friends about 10 years later when my band performed on a regular basis at his club on Lambert Closse across from The Forum. We must have been quite a pair, me as a twenty-something musician with longish hair and my rock ‘n’ roll clothes; and Norm in his rumpled blue suit sitting at the corner of the bar, both of us smoking cigars (well OK – I was puffing; he was smoking) and me listening to Norm’s entertaining stories about the scores of musicians that had performed in his clubs. Then we’d shuffle off for a bite to eat before I drove him home; Norm having mercifully dismissed his driver and friend Mac Walsh hours before.

I experienced rather than saw The Duke Ellington Orchestra blow the roof off Norm’s club with Take The A Train, and Satin Doll. Johnny Hodges, Cootie Williams and Harry Carney were in the band. They were all well into their 60s and some in their 70s. But they became as young as me when they played, young men thrilling to the sounds of their virtuosity and the latent power of a brass band playing the brilliant compositions of their leader – Duke Ellington. They were followed by The Count Basie Orchestra, Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton, Muddy Waters, and Junior Walker & The Allstars ripping into Shotgun.

The Duke Ellington and Count Basie Orchestras will be performing on the same stage for the first time in a Jazz Fest Battle of the Bands. To this day, The Duke Ellington Orchestra remains a family business, now being led by Duke’s grandson, Paul Mercer Ellington. Here’s a look at this American institution.

The Duke Ellington Orchestra

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington born April 29, 1899 is regarded as one of the most prolific American composers of the Twentieth century. His career spanned more than 50 years and included leading his orchestra, composing an inexhaustible songbook, scoring for movies, composing stage musicals, and world tours. Duke Ellington called his music “American Music” rather than jazz, and liked to describe those who impressed him as “beyond category.”

He remains one of the most influential figures in jazz, if not in all American music, and is widely considered as one of the Twentieth century’s best known African American personalities. As both a composer and a band leader, Duke Ellington influenced millions of people both around the world and at home. He gave American music its own sound for the first time. In his fifty year career, he played over 20,000 performances in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East as well as Asia. Ellington led his band from 1923 until his death on May 24, 1974 at the age of 75.

At that point, his son Mercer Ellington took leadership of the band. Mercer was an accomplished trumpet player and composer who wrote many songs for his father’s orchestra including the standard Things Ain’t What They Used to Be. In the early 1980s he became the first conductor for a Broadway musical of his father’s music, Sophisticated Ladies.

Under his direction he toured and recorded the Orchestra for the next 22 years until his own death in 1996. At this point the baton was passed to Mercer’s youngest son Paul Mercer Ellington who has been leading the orchestra and fearlessly preserving the music and legacy of the great Duke Ellington. The Duke Ellington Orchestra has been performing worldwide for the past 88 years under the guidance of three generations of the Ellington family and will continue to do so for many years to come.

The Duke Ellington and The Count Basie Orchestras will perform at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier on Sunday, July 8 at 2pm. Tickets: 514-842-2112 or

John Pizzarelli

Pizzarelli started playing guitar at age six, following in the tradition of his father. After playing in pickup groups and garage bands through high school he began exploring jazz with his father as a teenager, and was able to perform with a number of great jazz musicians who would be a major influence on his work, including Benny Goodman, Les Paul, Zoot Sims, Clark Terry and Slam Stewart. John went out on his own after recording My Blue Heaven for Chesky Records in 1990, then toured extensively, playing clubs and concert halls, opening for such greats as Dave Brubeck, Ramsey Lewis and Rosemary Clooney. In 1993, he was honored to open for Frank Sinatra’s international tour and then joined in the celebration for his 80th birthday at Carnegie Hall bringing down the house singing; I Don’t Know Why I Love You Like I Do with his father accompanying him.

For Pizzarelli though, his hero and foundation was Nat “King” Cole and the comparison to his iconic trio is the highest of compliments. “I’ve always said in my concerts that Nat ‘King’ Cole is why I do what I do.” But Pizzarelli adds, “We aren’t trying to copy him. His sound was singular and inspired. I’ve always said we’re an extension, a 21st century version of what that group was.”

Released in February 2010, Rockin’ In Rhythm, the singer-guitarist’s first ever Duke Ellington recording, features 12 classic tracks that prove Pizzarelli – like Ellington – knows how to show off the strengths of the musicians in his band.

Pizzarelli’s latest album, Double Exposure, focuses on two distinct styles to make a single fine recording. Released in May, Double Exposure is a collection of tunes by some of the great pop songwriters of his own generation that are framed squarely within traditional jazz arrangements.

Pizzarelli appears on several tracks on Paul McCartney’s 2012 album, Kisses on the Bottom. He performed with Sir Paul at an iTunes concert at Capitol Records Studios and the two also performed together at the GRAMMY Awards in Los Angeles.

In addition to being a bandleader and solo performer, John has been a special guest on recordings for major pop names such as James Taylor, Natalie Cole, Kristin Chenoweth, Tom Wopat, Rickie Lee Jones and Dave Von Ronk, as well as leading jazz artists like Rosemary Clooney, Ruby Braff, Johnny Frigo, Buddy DeFranco, Harry Allen and, of course, Bucky Pizzarelli.

A veteran radio personality, Pizzarelli hosted “New York Tonight” on WNEW from 1984 to 1988. John has also successfully launched “Radio Deluxe with John Pizzarelli,” his nationally syndicated radio program, co-hosted with his wife, Broadway star Jessica Molaskey. Bringing warmth, humor and that long-lost “live” feel back to radio, the show takes place in their “deluxe living room high atop Lexington Avenue” and the conversations are relaxed, candid, and off-the-cuff as is the music. He has interviewed a wide range of guests from Liza Minnelli, Mitch Albom and Regis Philbin to Kurt Elling, Annie Ross and Keely Smith. The show is available globally as a podcast at and via iTunes.

Pizzarelli performs annual engagements at the Café Carlyle with Jessica Molaskey and at Birdland with his jazz combo. He continues to tour throughout the United States, Europe, South America and Japan, performing classic pop, jazz and swing, while setting the standard for stylish modern jazz. John Pizzarelli will perform with his quartet on July 6 and 7 at Club Soda. Showtime is at 6pm. Tickets: 514-286-1010 or

Part of the fun with the Jazz Festival is just ‘being there’. I know of people who take a week of holidays so during the Jazz Fest so that they can enjoy of week of music. There are hundreds of indoor concerts and hundreds more free outdoor concerts. High school big bands often perform during the afternoon. For a complete schedule of concerts, please visit:
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