The Montreal Jazz Festival is always one of the most exciting parts of summer in the city. Whether you're an avid jazz fan or just looking to enjoy some music outdoors, Jazz Fest is a fun way for anyone to spend a summer evening in Montreal. In fact, many of the artists performing don't play exclusively jazz (and some don't play jazz at all), so all music lovers can easily find something to enjoy. Even better, many of the shows have no admission fee, so all you have to do to see them is have the energy to get yourself there.
Still, the amount of shows at the festival can be quite daunting, particularly if you're unfamiliar with the artists. Read on for a guide to this year's best free shows, and you'll have your Jazz Fest experience planned out in no time.
Where: Scéne TD
When: June 26th at 9:30 pm
Remember what I said about Jazz Fest not being just about jazz? The first band on our list provides excellent proof of my point. Frontman Zach Condon and his folk band are kicking off the festival in style with their unique instrumentation, featuring sounds ranging from ukulele to sousaphone. As good as they sound on record, seeing the massive collective in person is something else altogether, so you'll want to be sure to catch this set.
Photo cred - Eva Blue
When: June 27th at 10:00 pm
For years, countless DJs and rappers have been showcasing the spiritual DNA between jazz and hip-hop, and this Montreal rapper continues proudly in their footsteps. For the festival, he's making the connection between the two styles particularly explicit by performing with a full brass band. Dramatik is an undeniable legend of Quebecois hip-hop, and this show promises to only build his legacy further.
Where: Lounge Heineken
When: June 28th and 29th at 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm
Gypsy jazz, from Django Reinhardt on, is a crucial part of jazz history, and this Halifax band keeps the tradition alive well. While the septet does proud by Django and his ilk, they're also not afraid to innovate, mixing a traditional gypsy sound with influences ranging from tango to hard bop. No matter what influences they're channeling, they always do it with energy and a sense of style, making any of their sets appointment concert-going.
Photo cred -Heri Rakotomalala
4. Nomadic Massive
When: June 28th and 29th at 9:00 pm
Any Montreal hip-hop fan has probably already seen this group at one of their live shows around town, but their festival sets are as good a time as any to check them out. Featuring five vocalists rapping in five different languages, the group creates their multicultural vibe with sounds as diverse as their backgrounds. Their mixture of live instrumentation, samples, and an all-around good vibe makes for a can't miss live experience.
5. Youngblood Brass Band
Where: Scéne TD
When: June 29th at 9:00 pm and 11:00 pm
Continuing in the vein of unconventional hip-hop bands is this brass ensemble. Hailing from Wisconsin, this group combines an instrumentation reminiscent of a New Orleans brass band with a deeply felt hip-hop influence. In case you need any more push to see them, check out the link below and try getting the song's melody out of your head. I wish you more than luck.
6. Moutin Factory Quintet
When: June 29th at 7:00 pm
This French quintet is the first "pure" jazz band on our list, but that's far from all that makes them stand out. To start, they provide listeners with the chance to hear five world-class jazz musicians making music together, including virtuosic pianist Jean-Michel Pilc. Still, even without their fame, their ability to create funky grooves and mind-boggling improvisations make them a sight to behold.
7. Busty and the Bass
When: June 30th at 9:30 pm; July 2nd, 3rd, and 4th at midnight
McGill students will probably be familiar with this nine-piece funk band, as their danceable jams and astonishing musicality have made them an on-campus favourite. However, their popularity is hardly limited to McGill, as their catchy tunes won them CBC's nationwide Rock Your Campus competition. Check out one of their sets, and their victory won't be hard to understand, as they're sure to have you dancing in no time.
8. Illa J
Where: Scéne Bell
When: June 30th at 10:00 pm
Originally hailing from Detroit, this rapper (currently based in Montreal) is J Dilla's younger brother, and the familial lineage is easy to hear in his jazz-inflected hip-hop. His musical influences are hardly limited to jazz, as his electronic collaboration (titled "Strippers") with Kaytranada shows, and his silky smooth flow characterizes his all of his tunes, regardless of their style. Getting to see him in his current hometown should be a treat.
Photo cred - Directed by Ken Simpson
9. Sugar Brown
Where: Scéne CBC/Radio-Canada Sony
When: July 2nd at 7:00 pm
Ken Kawashima came up working with blues veterans such as Willie "Big Eyes" Smith in Chicago, and his authenticity can easily be heard in his gritty vocals, which leave no doubt as to their influence. He's originally from Toronto, but his dirty guitar sound is pure American blues.
10. Samuel Blais
When: July 5th at 7:00 pm
This name won't be a surprise to jazz fans, who've likely seen the saxophonist tearing his way through a set at Upstairs or Dieze Onze, both on his own and with jazz luminaries such as Dave Liebman. For both the uninitiated and those 'in the know', this set will be a perfect chance to see him showcase his melodic compositions and powerful improvisations.