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Montréal and all that jazz

18 June 2024, 20:00

As the 44th edition of the Montréal Jazz Festival prepares to launch, Director of Programming Maurin Auxéméry shares what it’s like to curate the largest festival in the world.

Every summer since 1980, downtown Montréal is transformed as the famous Jazz Festival brings over 2 million visitors each year all looking to share in the world’s largest celebration of jazz.

Its 44th edition will see over 350 shows in the heart of the city, and two-thirds will be completely free. A diverse lineup of performances – everyone from André 3000, Norah Jones and Hiatus Kaiyote to Laufey, Robert Glasper and Orville Peck – are part of an eclectic programme that proves that jazz has no boundaries.

With alumna that also includes Ray Charles, Lou Reed, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, and Nina Simone, delivering on its reputation seems a somewhat daunting prospect. Maurin Auxéméry, Director of Programming, shares his insights on what makes this one of a kind event possible, and highlights some of the artists he's excited about this year.

Maurin Auxemery photo by Victor Diaz Lamich 4558 1
Maurin Auxéméry by Victor Diaz Lamich
BEST FIT: Can you tell me about the first jazz show you ever went to?

MAURIN AUXÉMÉRY: I was raised in a small village called Marciac where there’s a big jazz festival that’s been going for over forty years. When I was older we moved to Toulouse but we kept our shepherd’s house in the village and every summer we’d go there with all our friends and family in Marciac.

What was my Dad’s music became something that I was interested in. My first show was Wynton Marsalis, the trumpet player, I went inside the big tent and thought, “that’s my dad’s music and that’s not that bad actually”. He was playing with Roy Hargrove. I have so many memories from Marciac where I saw a few legends. After that when I was 15-16 years old I started to listen to the new scene. It was when Joshua Redman and Ronaldo Folegatti were starting their careers.

What was it that really excited you about jazz?

My father was a big fan of Thelonius Monk. I was hearing all these weird songs from Thelonius, always being a bit on the edge. Exploring what is slightly dischordant. It struck my ear back then. Those melodies are interesting.

Dominique Fils Aime credit Jetro Emilcar copy
Maurin on Dominique Fils-Aimé: "She’s our local Montréal talent jazz and soul singer, a voice to discover."
What do you think makes someone a good programmer?

Oh my god. I wonder myself if I’m a good one. My job has evolved so much. I have two, three people working on programming with me. They bring all the ideas, obviously I put ideas on the table too. I’m the one taking the final decision but it’s too big to be a one person gig it’s impossible. We do it for the audience. Programming could be a selfish job because you want to hear what you like.

But it’s important to be thinking about the people who follow your festival. Montréal Jazz Fest is an institution, it was here before I was born. I got to the festival 11 years ago and there are some people who have been coming for maybe 25, 30 years. So we need to respect them. It takes curiosity, we need to have ears everywhere all the time. That’s the tricky part. Sometimes it takes patience. We have Hiatus Kyote playing at the festival this year. I have been chasing them for probably eight or nine years.

What are the most practical challenges of keeping the festival going? I think to a global audience it seems like such a huge task to pull this off.

It takes the spirit of Montréal and probably the spirit of Canadian people to be able to create something like that. I would never do something like that in France for instance because it would become a giant shit show. Canada is a very respectful place. People don’t shit in the street here, people are just respectful and that makes events like that possible. It’s not something that is forced it’s something that is natural. But also, it takes a team that is working on getting money everywhere. It needs to be financed. That’s the tricky part. The programming team is spending the money, but lots of people work so hard to be able to bring those budgets together. We get public funding and private sponsors. It’s been very successful over the years, we have strong relationships with the government and our brand partners.

What are the hallmarks that make it a Montréal festival?

It’s a city that’s been organised specifically to host these kinds of events. It’s a city of festivals, there’s a new festival every week in Montréal. Many years ago the founders of the festival were involved in this urban vision for the entertainment district. In downtown Montréal we have four different squares where you can do shows, it’s all connected.

Baby Rose 2024 Press Pic2 copy
Maurin on Baby Rose: "She’s an American singer with a beautiful old soul voice."
How do you think the curation of the festival has evolved over the past forty years?

I don’t think it’s changed. The idea of the festival is the balance of big names and up and coming artists. You need to find the right balance between all that. Of course it has changed because we don’t have the same approach necessarily. We have a responsibility to be open minded and to create a lineup that is a reflection of society. We had to integrate questions of gender balance and diversity into the mix. I think it’s extremely exciting. It makes it completely different from before. Montreal is extremely multi-cultural. There are communities from everywhere in the world. It’s super cosmopolitan. The festival should represent what our society is and what the city is. We are very sensitive to that and try to offer music that fits that landscape.

Has the lineup always been so eclectic?

The first year of the festival Ray Charles was playing: is he really a jazz artist? Not really. For me he’s an RnB soul artist. That was it from the start. Jazz will always be the heart of the programming. 50% of the programming is jazz at least every year. That’s the base. As it’s a big festival, as we have all those stages, all those venues, we need to be talking to more people.

If we were just doing jazz I think we would have lost a lot of people on the way and the Montréal Jazz Festival would never have been what it is today. We have to keep exploring. It’s very important for me is that we try as much as possible to book people who are connected to jazz somehow.

When you look at the history of music, that tree of music, how all the styles have been influenced by each other, jazz has a central place at the heart of the history of music. From jazz, disco was created, funk was created, rock was created. There’s a connection between all of this and jazz.

What I see right now is how all that music is giving back to jazz today. When you hear Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly is jazz. It’s giving back to the history of music. Artists like Laufey, she defines herself as a jazz singer, I think it’s really interesting. She was influenced by all those old singers, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella. She’s got millions of followers on TikTok and she’s talking to her audience with a jazz language.

Elisapie credit Leeor Wild 8 copy
Maurin on Elisapie: “She’s an Inuit singer who has translated big songs into Inuktitut. We are very proud to present indigenous artists every year.”
What are some of the trends you’re seeing emerge in jazz and how are they taking shape in this year's lineup?

In the last eleven years doing this job I was really into exploring what the UK has been developing in terms of jazz. We’ve been the first port of call for many UK artists, like Shabaka, like the Comet Is Coming. GoGo Penguin was with us. Nubya Garcia, we’ve been with her from the start.

When I first got the job to be part of the programming team at the festival I felt like I needed to find names that I didn’t know. I discovered GoGo Penguin and became obsessed with them and the following year we invited them to the festival.

UK jazz has been with us for the last ten years. The other stuff I’ve been really interested in and help emerge is what I used to call neo-classical but I now call post-classical music: Nils Frahm, Olafur Arnalds, Ludovico Einaudi. We’ve tried to push that scene in Montréal. Today we are trying to explore that psych-jazz that is emerging right now, we have L’Eclair from Switzerland, we have Robohands. And Japanese Jazz, that’s what we’re starting to explore for next year!

Montréal Jazz Festival runs from 27 June 6 July. Find out more at

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