Montreal jazz fest's online edition a rousing success

As a virtual replacement for this year's real-life jazz fest, the event reeled in tens of thousands of viewers per day, Saturday to Tuesday.

Clerel (left) and Laurent Saulnier, Montreal International Jazz Festival VP programming, outside the Astral Building in Montreal, where online performances were recorded. Dave Sidaway / Montreal Gazette

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The Montreal International Jazz Festival’s online edition was a smash success.

As a virtual replacement for this year’s real-life jazz festival — which was cancelled due to COVID-19 — Le jazz est dans l’air reeled in tens of thousands of viewers per day, from Saturday through Tuesday evening.

“Frankly, I was surprised, from the first night, by the number of people watching — and that number kept increasing,” said jazz fest VP of programming Laurent Saulnier. “People dug in, and they stuck around, whatever the style of music.”

Around 2,000 to 3,000 viewers tuned into the festival’s Facebook page at any given time over the course of the event, but many more viewed the performances after the fact.

That’s great news for the performers in the impressively diverse, all-Montreal lineup, many of whom gained legions of new fans.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, over 60,000 had watched Saturday’s opening program, featuring fiery sets from Guadeloupian-Québécoise singer-songwriter Malika Tirolien, Mali-born Djely Tapa and Cameroon-Quebec soul singer Clerel, capped by the screening of a 2004 concert by piano greats Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones, taken from the jazz fest vaults.

Sunday’s lineup, with jazz-blues guitarist Jordan Officer, jazz pianist Marianne Trudel, Indigenous singer-songwriter Jeremy Dutcher and electro-pop chanteuse Charlotte Cardin — along with a 1982 jazz fest performance by bassist Jaco Pastorius — fared even better, garnering almost 100,000 views in 48 hours.

The second half of Monday’s show, featuring an awesomely ’80s set by the legendary Miles Davis at Théâtre St-Denis in 1985, drew 66,000 views over 24 hours.

Tuesday’s program included performances by jazz-soul singer Dominique Fils-Aimé and trumpeter Jacques Kuba-Séguin, both of whom won Junos on Monday night, and a closing show from the vaults by Sarah Vaughan.

While he misses the real-life festival, Saulnier was happy to see the online event achieve its goal of giving Montrealers free live music during what would normally be jazz fest time.

“In a situation like what we’re living in, it’s an excellent tonic,” he said. “And it turned out way better than I thought, despite everything. It was very, very, very fun to do.”

Of utmost importance was giving viewers a state-of-the-art concert experience. All shows were recorded on stage at L’Astral by a multi-camera crew. Each evening began with a one-hour live performance by a selected artist, followed by shorter, pre-recorded sets (taped at L’Astral over the last two weeks) by a wide range of music acts.

“I think people sometimes don’t realize how extremely rich and diverse the Montreal scene is,” Saulnier said. “I look at all this and I’m proud of our city, for real.”

All performances will be available to stream for the next 30 days at

The 41st edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival is slated for June 25 to July 3, 2021.