|André Ménard (Photo by: Tshi)
Industry Profile: André Ménard
By Larry LeBlanc
This week In The Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: André Ménard There may be no measure in today’s entertainment culture to absolutely gauge the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal that celebrates its 30th anniversary June 30-July 12.
Its size and scope—as the world’s largest jazz festival with a budget of $28 million for 2009—places it alongside festival giants. Its ability to amalgamate jazz and other popular genres at free and ticketed shows in the heart of a primarily French-speaking North American city, however, defines its uniqueness.
An estimated 1.5 million spectators will likely turn out for this year’s festival, operated by Alain Simard and André Ménard, who also run the Montreal-based concert promotion firm L'Équipe Spectra, providing local businesses with an estimated $100 million in tourism revenue.
Over 3,000 musicians will perform--from noon to midnight--at 650 concerts, including over 400 free shows. Musicians from 20 countries will participate in a program that encompasses traditional and avant garde jazz, blues, funk, hip-hop, electro and world music.
Shows are held in a wide variety of venues, from relatively small jazz clubs to the large halls of Place des Arts. Some of the outdoor shows are held on cordoned-off streets while others are on terraced parks or empty lots. This year, the festival also unveils its new year-round home, the Maison du Festival de Jazz in the new Quartier des spectacles sector.
Many parts of Montreal’s downtown core will be closed to traffic for the days of the festival as outdoor shows are free to the public and on several stages at the same time. Attendance to some shows will run between 100,000 and 200,000 people.
Among the free shows is the opening event with Stevie Wonder. Other large events include those with Ben Harper and Relentless7, local singer and pianist Patrick Watson, and 15-year-old local singer Nikki Yanofsky.
Among the other artists booked this year are Toots & the Maytals, John Pizzarelli, Ornette Coleman and Susie Arioli, who are among the 2009 winners of the prestigious prizes awarded annually by the FIJM to artists who have made outstanding contributions to the evolution of music.
As well, FIJM is marking its 30th anniversary with the creation of the Bruce Lundvall Award to be presented annually to a non-musician who has left a mark on the world of jazz or contributed to the development of music, through media, concert or record industries. Its first recipient is Bruce Lundvall, himself president of EMI Music, Jazz & Classics.
Ménard, co-founder/artistic Director of the FIJM, and VP/CEO of L’Équipe Spectra, was born in Tétreaultville, Quebec in a working class family. While attending Collège de Maisonneuve in Montreal, he began to produce shows. Following graduation, he presented shows at Montreal’s Théâtre Outremont with Paul Dupont-Hébert; and was a director of several large local events including the annual Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day festivities on Mount Royal.
In 1977, Ménard, Simard and Denys McCann formed L'Équipe Spectra which also today operates the Metropolis club and Théâtre Outremont, and oversees the annual Les Francofolies de Montreal that has 250 concerts later in the summer. An affiliated booking and concert firm Agence Spectra handles Zachary Richard, Michel Rivard, Paul Piché, Coral Egan, and Susie Arioli.
Ménard and Simard planned their first festival for the summer of 1979. However, unable to secure sufficient funding, they were only able to produce two nights of shows with Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny at Théâtre-St-Denis.
The pair then organized a series of concerts in 1980 on the original Expo ‘67 site. With bills headlined by Ray Charles, Vic Vogel, Chick Corea and Gary Burton, the series attracted over 12,000 people and was deemed a modest success. In 1982, the festival moved to St. Denis Street downtown with daytime shows attracting a whopping 80,000 people.
In March, 2009, Tourisme Montréal bestowed two of its Ulysee Trophies 2009 on L’Équipe Spectra: to the FIJM in the new “Sustainable Tourism” category; and to Les FrancoFolies de Montréal in the “Festivals and Tourism Events—Operating Budget of $1 million or More” category.
Considering past bookings and that this year's festival lineup that includes Stevie Wonder, Toots & the Maytals, Burning Spear, Joe Cocker, Van der Graaf Generator, Jeff Beck, the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Jackson Browne, and rapper Mos Def, when are you going to change the name of this jazz festival?
The “jazz police” are always on our ass saying that (there are too many non-jazz acts). We have many headliners that are in types of music related to jazz but they are not necessarily jazz. However, if you look at the strictly jazz programming at the festival, it still makes for a huge festival.
I am amused that many years ago Wynton Marsalis said something (about jazz programming being in danger because of outside musical influences). Now when I look at his programming at Jazz at Lincoln Centre in New York City, there are folk singers there. And, in the past few years, he has mingled with the likes of Willie Nelson. So it seems like he too has come to envision music as a big continuum. Contributions to jazz come from the right and the left. At the same time, jazz has influenced a lot of the pop music we hear right now.
[Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will launch the Pleins Feux series at FIJM on June 30 followed by Jamie Cullum (July 1), Tony Bennett (July 3) and a double-header with Al Jarreau and Molly Johnson (July 5) in the series’ lineup.]
Miles Davis recorded Cyndi Lauper’s “Time after Time.” There was also Joni Mitchell’s collaboration with Charlie Mingus for the “Mingus” album in 1979.
And Sonny Rollins appeared on TV with Leonard Cohen (performing “Who By Fire” on "Night Music with David Sanborn" in 1989]. You just mentioned the only act (Joni Mitchell) that we have sought for 30 years that has never played the festival.
While the big names at the festival receive a lot of attention, you have brought in many new and lesser known international artists through the years.
I like to work with smaller acts. I also like to book many of the European acts because they don’t often play in North America. So, in order to differentiate our festival from the other festivals in America, we have featured quite a few European musicians and there have been some American artists that only had recognition in Europe that have gained some notoriety and some ‘career’ back home through our festival. Dee Dee Bridgewater, for example.
The festival has the resources to hire major jazz players. You may hear them in the invited artist series with different ensembles over several evenings.
We like to re-discover (artists) or give artists a different spotlight. At the tenth festival we gave (American bassist) Charlie Haden 8 different concerts for 8 nights with 8 different bands. We have been repeating that (concept) since then. In most cases, it has helped the artist’s career.
This year the festival will present the inaugural Bruce Lundvall Award. During 22 years at Columbia Records, and 25 years as the president of EMI Music, Jazz & Classics, where he revived the legendary Blue Note label, Bruce has signed such artists as Norah Jones, Anita Baker, Phoebe Snow, Stan Getz, Wynton Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson, Dexter Gordon. Bobby McFerrin, and Dianna Reeves.
How did you decide to give Bruce an award named after himself?
Every fifth year of the festival, we have created a new award. For this year, we did not want to do another artistic award. We already have four (artistic awards). I suggested that we do an award that would go to either a media or a business personality that has made a significant contribution to the world of jazz. Trying to find a personality that could fit both media and (music) industry worlds, I thought of Bruce Lundvall because he gets respect from both sides. (His signings) have always been about good artistry that some times have had led to jazz and sometimes not. He was quite surprised (when informed). He was flattered but flabbergasted at the same time.
During the last of his three concerts as preludes to last year’s festival, Leonard Cohen said that on his last time performing in Montreal he was, “60 years old, just a kid with a crazy dream.”
Man, that was so emotional. Leonard performed on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. [Quebec's national holiday Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day on June 24 is celebrated as a festival of French Canadian culture]. He asked me if he’d stir some shit here because he was taking some heat (attention) away from Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day.
I said, “Leonard, Gilles Vigneault accepted the money from the federal government for the Governor General Award in the early ‘90s. You turned it down because you didn’t want to hurt your French friends’ sensitivities. So, as far as I’m concerned, you are a true Quebec hero, and Gilles Vigneault is not.” So Leonard said, “You say that but not me.”
(By not accepting the award), he didn’t want to jump into that (separatist) debate. So during his show on June 24 (2008), he told the audience in French, “I am so glad that I can be here for our national day.”
[Québécois folk singer and political activist Gilles Vigneault accepted the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards - Lifetime Artistic Achievement in 1993. In 1968, with the release of the anthology "Selected Poems: 1956-1968," Cohen was awarded the Governor-General's Award. He declined the honor, stating "The poems themselves forbid it, absolutely." In 2003, however, Cohen agreed to accept the Companion of the Order of Canada, the country's highest civil honor for achievement in the arts.]
How far back do you go with Leonard Cohen?
Not that far. I have admired him from afar for probably my whole life. I delivered a phone book to his Westmount home when I was 15 or 16. That’s really true. I would later see him at the (popular nightclub) Nuit Magique in Old Montreal [operated by Cohen’s friend Bob DiSalvio]. But I would never dare to talk to him.
Then with the release of Anjani’s album in 2006 [“Blue Alert” co-written by American singer-songwriter Anjani Thomas and Cohen] I was contacted to do a showcase at the festival for Anjani but it was past our programming date. So I spent festival money organizing a showcase for her at the Just For Laughs Cabaret. Leonard took notice that I was very helpful in this case and he returned the favor by giving us the dates. To be able to do this in return for Leonard Cohen on his home turf is probably one of the biggest things in my whole professional career.
How many people came to the festival in 2008?
Last year the weather was quite nice so we went past two million.
The festivals draw a lot of people who aren’t normally interested in jazz.
We call them “music tourists.” These are people that come from all over the city as well as the suburbs and different regions of Quebec that are not real jazz lovers but they want to take in the party. At the same time, they end up buying records (of the festival’s performers). After a live performance on one of the stages, an artist can quickly sell 200 or 300 copies of a record on the site itself (through the festival-operated retail kiosk). CDs really go out of the boxes once a performance ends.
There’s so much going on at the festival every day.
There are two festivals in one. The (street) and concert festivals take place in the same neighborhood but they have different crowds. And, within these two festivals there are all of these concerts with music personalities that showcase different types of music. People can go indoors for (paid) concerts) or outdoors (for free concerts). The free programming will go past 400 performances this year. Unemployed people get to stand at the same place as the president of our sponsor companies. It is a very inclusive event. It is for everyone. We do that with sponsor money, mainly.
What is the festival’s operating budget this year?
I believe it is around $28 million. It is a lot of money.
What are sources of funding?
Normally, the box office covers 30% (of the overall budget); sponsorship is normally 50%; and the rest is derived from revenues from merchandising, radio & TV and ancillary (including government) sources of revenue. TV revenue used to be more years ago. The multiplication of channels did not bring an increase in revenue, quite to the contrary.
This year, there is also a special contribution of $3 million from the federal government to maintain the level of activity of the festival, if the box office is not the same as last year. That might not be repeated. It is only for this year.
What do you recall about the 1979 start-up? Unable to secure sufficient funding for a full festival, there were only two nights of shows at Théâtre-St-Denis with Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny.
The false start. We wanted to do something quite expansive but, in order to bring a mass of artists in a certain week to Montreal, (we found that) we couldn’t only take artists that were on the touring circuit at the time. We had to do one offs (booking single dates with acts). But in order to do that, the box office cannot meet all of the (event’s) expenses. So we knew we would need some sponsors or public (government) money. We were told we could never get a public grant in the first year of an event.
When we saw that (the planned festival event) would have an assured deficit, we decided we weren’t going to do it (as a full festival) but we would take a different approach the following year and see how we could do it.
You and Alain then organized a modest jazz festival on the former site of Expo ‘67 in 1980.
The site was deserted but (the buildings) Place des Nations and Kiosk de International remained from Expo ’67. We took Place des Nations for every Thursday of the summer. The first show was with Ray Charles. The second Thursday was with Gary Burton and Chick Corea.
In between, we took Kiosk de International and did two or three TV tapings for Tele-Quebec. The audio was sold to CBC-Radio in English Canada. Those TV and radio rights compensated for what we didn’t have in (box office) revenues and made the festival that year possible.
In 1982, the festival had Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis for the first time. The festival also moved to downtown Montreal. What was the impact of the move?
After moving the festival to Saint Denis Street [a major north-south thoroughfare in Montreal] in 1982, we began to see the two big solitudes (Montreal’s English and French population) going to the same place. That would never have happened before. When we moved the festival there were suddenly Anglos mingling with Francos. I think that the festival created some warming up of the two groups. And in the ensuing years, the ethnic communities started coming too.
FIJM has come to embody what Montreal is all about. A very diversified, cosmopolitan city.
The jazz festival has become this place where Montrealers from every walk of life, with social, ethnic or economic differences, can all go to the same place. This we achieved not knowing we were doing that. We aren’t unhappy about that.
I remember when there’d be nobody in downtown Montreal during the summers. Now there’s FIJM, the Just For Laugh Festival, and Les Francofolies de Montréal; all downtown in the summer months.
Yeah, it was a very deserted city in the summers. Now there’s this sequence of big events that make for a very lively and sexy city to come to in the summer. I don’t want to boast about all of the other festivals. I know we have done some good things, and we have made mistakes but, overall, our festival has changed the life of this city.
First, culturally. The festival draws artists that would never have come to the city otherwise. And secondly, economically. I hear that we bring $80 to $100 million a year to the city. This is money spent by dedicated tourists. People that come for the festival. Not incidental tourists that happen to be here (during the festival).
Wasn’t 1986 a difficult year for the festival?
In 1986, we had a deficit. We lost our two main sponsors, Belvedere (cigarettes) and Molson Brewery. We still weren’t getting any support from the city of Montreal yet the Montreal Film Festival was getting $75,000 (annually). Jean Drapeau (Montreal mayor from 1960-82) was never warm to us because he could not claim any credit over the event. It was big by the time he realized that it was big. And he could not claim credit for it.
Before the 1987 festival, we had to replace those two sponsors and we had to gain some support from the city. That came with (mayor) Jean Doré when he took power in ’86. (The municipal funding) was minor to what our budget then was but the wind had changed (at city hall) and the services (for the event) came. It really became a city event at that moment. Even though the city of Montreal for many years did not did not pay more than 1% of the budget, they were letting us happen (downtown) which was not bad.
A recent achievement is that Montreal’s downtown is changing to further accommodate the festival.
[In 2007, the city of Montreal produced an urban development plan for the Place des Arts area of the Quartier des spectacles. The city, as well as the federal and provincial governmental bodies, have made mutual commitments to invest a total of $120 million over four years for the re-development project that will showcase the festival.]
Now we are seeing recognition from the city for our contribution to the social, economic and cultural life in Montreal with this sort of urban revolution in Montreal around Place des Arts area of the Quartier des spectacles.
There had been a lot of projects previously that were making us lose the open space we used to have for the festival. We run (stages) from parking lots and from and from parks. Much of that was disappearing. So we asked the city to protect a belt around Place des Arts so that we can keep holding these gigantic festivals without waiting for the next development to push us aside. And the city are doing that to the extent that they are even going to demolish a three-story building on St.Catharines Street in order to complete the square belt around Place des Arts. That’s quite an achievement for us. This square belt would not have been thought of if it was not for the big parties that we have been throwing for 30 years.
[This summer, the Maison du Festival de Jazz, opens in Quartier des spectacles. The facility--that includes a performance hall, a restaurant, a Hall of Fame, an exhibition space, and an audiovisual documentation centre--is intended as a permanent performance venue for jazz, blues and world music artists as well as a place that will preserve the festival’s musical heritage. Montreal jazzman Oliver Jones will inaugurate the Maison’s 350-seat performance hall with the first concert of the jazz festival on June 30, 2009.]
Do you attend other jazz festivals?
I do. New Orleans is a magical city for me. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival doesn’t need that many big stars to draw attention because New Orleans itself is the attraction. There are the fairground activities in the afternoon, and the clubs at night (during the festival)
In Europe, North Sea Jazz Festival at Rotterdam's Ahoy (arena) is fantastic too. It is quite a piece of engineering. They hold the festival in the Ahoy and the Congress Center that is linked. They build concert spaces out of scratch from garage-like locations to bigger venues into a fantastic festival that runs over three days with about 70 acts a day.
You worked with Alain before becoming partners in 1977?
I was talent buyer at my college (Collège de Maisonneuve) and Alain was a tour organizer (booker & promoter) selling and organizing tours for (French-language) Quebecois and foreign artists. He was the first to bring Pink Floyd and Genesis to Montreal. I bought some acts from Alain including Soft Machine (on a bill with Maneige) and Manfred Mann. I also did shows with (Quebec acts) Robert Charlebois, Harmonium, and Plume Latraverse.
Despite growing up as rock music fans, you and Alain did tours in Quebec with American bluesmen John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and others before you did the jazz festival. Why didn’t you book rock acts then?
Promoter Donald (Donald Tarleton of Donald K Donald) used to hold this immense power in Montreal based on the fact that he controlled the rock shows at the Montreal Forum. This forced us to take an interest in more marginal stuff. There was no room for two big rock promoters in Montreal. Alain had been doing a lot of jazz and blues events as well as blues tours. He once did a 23-city tour of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee playing small towns in the province of Quebec. They even played in a sugar shack. We did the same (routing). John Lee Hooker would play Sherbrooke, Chicoutimi, Quebec City and Trois-Rivières.
What music did you listen to growing up?
My first love was for rock and roll and for (French-language) Quebecois music. The initial flame was lit by the Beatles. I was a Beatles’ fan until their demise. Then I became a huge Rolling Stones fan. From 1972 to now, I have seen the Rolling Stones perform over 50 times. I still have my ticket stubs.
What Quebecois stars were you fans of?
The biggest for me was Robert Charlebois. He was a “revolution of the mind” for (Quebec youth). It was the first time we realized that we not only had great songwriters in Quebec but we had great performers in the rock mode. He was the first to tell us that it was possible to (sing rock) in French. He even told the French it was possible to do sing in French. Johnny Hallyday and artists in France were doing covers of American rock songs back then. Charlebois was an original French rocker. I will forever be thankful to Charlebois for the impact that he had at that moment. I have the ultimate respect for Charlebois and for (French-Canadian folk singer/poet) Félix Leclerc. I did his two last shows ever in Montreal in 1977.
[Home grown rocker Robert Charlebois dominated Quebec’s music scene throughout the ‘60s and ‘’70s. During the same time, Félix Leclerc played a major role in revitalizing the Quebec folk song ("chanson") tradition. He also was a strong voice for Quebec nationalism. The Félix Awards, given to Quebec recording artists, are named after him.]
What your first exposure to jazz?
At the Expo ’67 site when I was a teenager, there were free concerts. I saw Mahalia Jackson, Oscar Peterson, Error Garner, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk who played three saxophones. It was all about showboating but, at 14, I thought it was great. Seeing these shows taught me that there was something more than rock and roll.
You have recently produced “Our Stars Celebrate Jazz in Montreal,” a CD of contemporary Quebec stars singing American jazz standards.
Coeur de Pirate does “Someone To Watch Over Me”; Marie-Elaine Thibert does “Heart and Soul”; Michel Rivard does “My Funny Little Valentine”: Daniel Lavoie does an extraordinary version of “Send In The Clowns”; Eric LaPointe does “Fever”; Florence K does “I Put A Spell On You”; and Garou recorded “Mac The Knife.”
There are some bonus (non-exclusive) tracks including: Celine Dion doing “Nature Boy” and a live performance of Ginette Reno and (pianist) Oliver Jones doing “The Lady is a Tramp”; Jean Leloup doing “Petit Fleur”; and Offenbach with Gerry Boulet with the Vic Vogel Jazz Big Band doing “George On My Mind.”
It is the first time I’ve produced a record. I selected the songs, the artists, and I suggested the tempos. The album is being released the day (June 30) we open the festival.
Earlier this year, you were in the studio when Celine Dion and Zachary Richard recorded a version of Robbie Robertson’s “Acadian Driftwood” for Zachary’s new album “Last Kiss.”
I was there when they did the vocals. Celine is called “One Take Celine” because she’s always prepared when she shows up (to record). After they did two takes. Larry Klein, who was producing, said that he had what was needed and that she could be on her way. But that night was her last performance for at least 18 months or more. She knew a vacation was coming but she didn’t feel like going to bed. She was on pure adrenaline. She asked if they could sing the track again. She did her vocals five more times. Just for the sake of doing it. And she did a different voicing each time at the end of the song when they would trade parts. It was fantastic to be there.
Zachary’s last big album in Quebec was “Cap enragé.” It sold more than 250,000 copies here (in 1997). At supper, Celine sang every single song of “Cap enragé.” She knew the entire album by heart.
[Agence Spectra represents Louisiana’s Zachary Richard who will be playing FIJM, July 8-11]
You and Zachary are quite close?
You know what he did for me? My mother died in 2001. My brother suggested I phone Zachary and ask him to perform at the funeral. He agreed to come. Instead of going to the alter to sing, he came into the middle (aisle), put his hand on the casket, and sang “Amazing Grace.” There were 300 people in the church because my mother had a big family. There was not a dry eye in the place.
You are now 55. You have grown up in an interesting time in Quebec.
I tell people that I wouldn’t mind cutting off 30 years of my age but I would not change what I have been through. From seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and watching man walk on the moon. Then there have been the social and political changes that have taken place here in Quebec. It made for very exciting times. I can’t say that I’m not missing that, but, at the same time, I like what I see now.
What things do you like?
The diversity and the power of the new media is fantastic. We are now seeing acts being born overnight and not all of them are rotten. But structurally (the music industry) is in danger. This new structure is very hot. It’s very abrasive. And it’s dangerous. There was a mystery to artists when I was young that you don’t have anymore. You would not see the Beatles all of the time in the media. You would not see video clips on rotation until you were fed up with them. The mystery (about them) was bigger than these artists today with all of the new media. I can’t wait to see who is going to survive. And who will be a stadium act in 20 years. Will we be able to build a global act like U2 again?
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008, Larry was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, the London Times and the New York Times.