Montréal's best jazz and blues clubs, events and festivals
During her Sin City era, Montréal was home to some of the hottest jazz clubs on the planet and a wide-open scene fuelled by Prohibition. Gamblers, racketeers and the world’s greatest entertainers all came to Montréal at a time when the city’s most renowned musical export was jazz icon Oscar Peterson. His protégé was another jazz legend, Oliver Jones, who first performed at the fabled Café St-Michel at the age of 10 in 1944. “It was across the street from Rockhead’s Paradise, which was the first black-owned club in all of Canada,” says Jones. “The St-Michel was a little rougher. Rockhead never let anything get out of hand although there was always pressure from authorities to close him down. But I remember playing in the St-Michel and saw a lot of what I wasn’t supposed to see – girly girls and strippers. But the people there, there was always someone looking out for me.”
Today, Montréal still has a thriving jazz and blues scene with concerts in nightclubs by popular local musicians, as well as superstar headliners at the city’s jazz and blues festivals. Here is a sampling of some of the best Montréal has to offer:
House of Jazz
Montréal boasts a number of classic jazz venues, such as the downtown House of Jazz where Tony Bennett sang a couple songs impromptu one night, and Nina Simone stomped out another night when she couldn’t get a seat near the stage. Today, the venue books top local jazz and blues acts seven nights a week, including soul queen Michelle Sweeney who also performs at the House of Jazz Laval.
Bistro a Jojo
Montréal’s classic brash blues joint Bistro à Jojo in the Latin Quarter features live music nightly. Many local favourite blues acts headline the intimate nightclub regularly.
Over in Old Montreal, the Modavie Mediterranean restaurant and wine bar also features live jazz nightly. The bistro has much flair and character, and is popular with locals and tourists alike.
Dièse Onze and Résonance Cafe
Jazz hotspot Dièse Onze Jazz & Restaurant in the hip Plateau district also features live music every night and is worth the trip, as is the underground artist-run Résonance Cafe in the Mile End district, which attracts young jazz fans looking for up-and-coming talent and live music.
Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill
Close to the major hotels and popular with tourists, downtown’s Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill has been ranked by Downbeat Magazine as one of the Top 100 jazz clubs in the world. “I think the local Montréal jazz scene is healthier than I’ve seen it in two decades,” says Upstairs owner Joel Giberovitch. “We have the Montréal jazz fest, the Off Jazz Festival, many clubs in Montréal and the music schools. Jazz is vibrant in this city and people still come here to listen to this music.” Upstairs has live music every night. Reservations recommended.
Montréal International Jazz Festival
The city’s live jazz and blues clubs are especially busy during the famed Montréal International Jazz Festival, which each year features several hundred musicians performing ticketed indoor concerts and free shows on several outdoor stages. The 10-day festival begins the last week of June.
West Island Blues Festival and Montréal International Festiblues
Another event of note is the West Island Blues Festival, which hosts a free outdoor one-day concert every June in the Montreal suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeaux. Blues lovers also flock to the annual four-day Montréal International FestiBlues presented primarily outdoors in Montréal’s Ahunstic Park in mid-August.
Richard Burnett, blogger
Richard “Bugs” Burnett is a Canadian freelance writer, editor, journalist, blogger and columnist for alt-weeklies, mainstream and LGBTQ publications. Bugs also knows Montréal like a drag queen knows a cosmetics counter.
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