Montreal Jazz Fest : Notes from the Jewish Ghetto

So while we’re hanging out in the backstage area the Krakow festival waiting for his sampler unit to dry out (it got rained on and now wasn't working and making him quite anxious,) I asked Montreal golden boy Josh Dolgin (ne “DJ SoCalled") where I was gonna eat when I hit his home town in 12 hours. You know, the important things. Without a moment’s hesitation, and belying his terror at the prospect of hitting the stage without the device he's built his entire sound around, he says “You’ll get a beef sandwich at Schwartz’s.”

Now with my orders clear I board the tiny set of regional jets that will take me from Krakow to Montreal for the big Jazz Fest. On my final flight I am joined my Beyond the Pale’s Martin Van de Ven, a cat I had never met before but who was playing his ass off in Poland every time I saw him. His accordionist Sascha had been bumped off an earlier flight and as recompense he was sitting in Business class on our flight as well. We all met up in the Montreal airport, bleary eyed and completely out of it from a weeks playing and assorted rambunctiousness. When we get into the festival provided transport, we start talking over when we planned on eating. Martin said the Schwartz was a good call and in fact they had catered his wedding some 15 years ago, hauling their famed meats down to Toronto for his reception. “That’s all fine and well for you all” Sascha speaks up “but I’m headed to Montreal Bagels.” He then begins to regale us with the most romantic and detailed description of the Montreal Bagel operation, noting the unique process of adding honey to the water they are boiled in and then the long wooden poles that the bagels are laid out to dry on. “They are not your New York bagels mind you,” he explains “They are good Lithuanian bagels, you cannot get them anywhere else.” Martin and I are so punchy from hunger and lack of sleep that we listen completely enraptured. It’s settled: Schwartz’s and then a bagel.

We check in the nice hotel close to the Festival ground in downtown Montreal and meeting in the lobby and then hail a cab. After a short jaunt we find the modest deli with two great lines of people out front. Like many “local” joints they have a well defined process that my appear daunting to the out-of-towner (note Katz’s Deli on Houston in NYC and their little tickets.) We have mistakenly gotten into the “to-go” line, but quickly figure out the process and get into the proper queue. Almost immediately 3 seats open up at the counter and we are in. The waiter can tell we are not from around here as we are looking at the menu. He states plainly “Look, what you’re gonna get is a beef sandwich. It’s what we do here. The best deal is to get a beef plat and make your own sandwich, a small should do you, but you’re hungry, go for the large. You can always take some home. Being punch drunk, I go for large.


I do my best work but I barely make a dent in it. Martin went for the small and then midway in he turns to me and says “You know. I’m a vegetarian. I haven’t eaten any meat at all since my wedding.” I ask him how he’s holding up, noting that I myself have fallen into a protein induced semi-coma. “Alright” he reckons “but we might look for some yogurt on the way home…”

Here's a toast of satisfaction from Martin and Sascha.

While we were walking down the street to the hotel, we walked past a crowd that had gathered a truck that had slammed into side of a building for some unknown reason. What was wild was that everyone was paying attention to a simple everyday single car wreck, when they should have turned around and seen one the the finest and best defined rainbows I have yet encountered. People be funny that way:

So while we're still walking back to the hotel, I hear the familiar restrains of a New Orleans style street band.
Lo and behold who do I see on the big, honking gate trombone, but Ms. Genevieve "JaJa" Duval, Montreal native and member of the amazing Panorama Jazz Band. I haven't seen her since Mardi Gras, and if she seems to be glowing that's because she's preggers and has begun to show ever so slightly:

At a break in her parade, she hips me to a brass band "blow out" later that evening at a local club where her Semel Rebel Brass Band will be throwing down with the Eastern Quebec based Fat Tuesday Brass Band. I'm invited am encouraged to drag along any of the Jew music blowers that I might run across. Martin signs up immediately, and when I run into young Dan Blacksberg and Micheal Winograd, they too join up. (For reasons best left unreported, neither Dan or Mike have been accommodated with a room, so I move them both into min, which was in fact a suite and had plenty of space for everybody.)

With nothing else to do between now and then, I meet up with the rest of Martin and Sascha's band, Beyond the Pale and head off for lunch.

We catch a bite at mandolinist Eric's favorite sandwich joint. In a matter of hours they are on the GM stage, where all the Jewish themed acts will be appearing all sponsored by the patrons of KlezKanada, where they play an enthusiastic crowd:

At the gig I learn, and it's always fun to get the details long after it too late to develop the proper attitude and responses, is that I am here at the graces of a patron who has in fact funded a "Jewish" stage for several nights at the Montreal Jazz Fest. That is to say, this is not so much a Jazz Fest appearance as a "KlezKanada at the Montreal Jazz Fest." Ironic for me as I have only ever attended that event once, and as a camper and not faculty. We have been graciously afforded all the respect and such as befits a Jazz Fest act, but the circumstances of our performances are quite different than I imagined. No matter, I was brought here at great expense to throw down in the manner that I am known for and that's precisely what I intend to do.

So Beyond the Pale wraps up at 10pm and most head off to sleep, which no none has done much of after playing a week in Poland an all. A 11pm rolls around, I hook up with Martin, Dan and Mike, strap on my brand spanking new Jupiter sousaphone and all four of us head to the nightclub where JaJa said to meet. We walk and walk and walk, thinking we may have gotten lost when all of a sudden we hear the combined skronk of two whole brass bands pouring out into the street. Not only were there the 15 or so players of both bands onstage, but a further sousaphone player was sitting in as well. Not missing the a beat, we walk in the door playing along and jump onstage with them for a burning session of funky New Orleans street music. The vision, and maybe the sound of, 4 combined sousaphones blatting in unison sends the audience into crazed palpitations.

There were quite a few drinks passed around, and I took quite a bit of photos, none of which make much sense. Though this one, a motion study of the drum section of the Fat Tuesday Brass Band turned out nice. Something I noted about these two bands was the participation of female musicians which between the 2 acts worked out to about 40%. Why there aren't more women in our field has always confused me.

Late into the morning we crawl back to the hotel and prepare for the next day (the same day really,) for 2 acoustic sessions with Alex Kontorovich's ad hoc Goldenshteyn Bessarabian Brass Band. Alex has been asked to field a team of musicians drawing from the bands already scheduled to play the festival in an attempt to recreate our beloved German's (a"h) sound. Showing great loyalty to me, he insists that I be brought in special and be included as tuba player. Since I'm already there, I'll be the string bassist for the swing-jazz influenced Klez Dispensers as well, hoping to create good value for the sponsor's dollar. It will mean shedding a lot of new material, with special emphasis on their arrangements, mostly by pianist Adrian Banner which are lovely.

At this point I was too busy working to take pictures, but the brass band sets when well, with the new horn dominating the entirely acoustic stages as I had hoped.

During which we met an interesting brass band called Marsh Dondurma from Israel of all places. They played a wide mix of music including some of my favorite Meron-Hassidic melodies and New Orleans music as well. Reminds me of the Panorama Jazz Band in fact, only with just slightly less moral authority. Jumping about on stage they put on a good show as well. Hanging out with them, we learn that they mostly met as bandsmen in the IDF during their obligatory 2 years military service. Stranger ways to start I band I guess.

The evening of the big show comes and it's back to the GM Stage for the Dispensers set. Even normally confident Alex is a wee bit intimidated on material he hasn't thrown down in quite a bit and like me is reviewing the charts right up to show time.

Please note the traditional Russian-Jewish study tool:

"Russian Standard" Vodka. Alex picked up a bottle at the Krakow duty free and hauled it to Canada for this very purpose. Not quite battery acid, but damn close and best served chilled with a little orange juice chaser to cut the metallic taste.

Earlier in the week, I made a point of checking out the string bass that was provided by the back line company for that stage and sadly judged it to be just terrible. Not a bad bass per se, but the pick up sound was basically useless. I had brought my little Ashbory bass with me to the sound check just in case, but to my great surprise, the sound engineer had brought his own personal bass for me to play this evening. Not only that, he had shown up early at the job site to get a decent sound out of the amp. I am pleased beyond words.

Here's a pic from the gig, taken by fiddler Amy Zakar:

Well all the hard work has paid off, and the band sounds slicker than two snakes swimming in a bucket of snot (that's an Oklahoma way of saying everything went very, very well.) I had about as much fun on this bandstand as I have ever, really. They ought to hire me more often in fact.

Here's the audience, which evidently was the largest "side" stage attendence for the whole week. The local press seemed to like the set as well as it was singled out as the 2nd best set of music at the Festival. Pretty amazing when you realize all the great talent that appeared.

I sleep that night for the first time in about a week and then head back to hot, hot Texas for all of 5 days. Then its up to NYC, Brooklyn, Slovakia and more tales to tell.....