Concert: James Taylor at the Montreal International Jazz Festival
The 2012 Montreal International Jazz Festival officially runs June 28 to July 7. Yet, organizers once again jumped the gun -- in delightful fashion -- and offered some shows on festival eve.
The two big events on Wednesday (6/27) were neo-soul star Janelle Monae performing at the Metropolis and folk-rock icon James Taylor at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. Both were tempting options, but -- having seen Monae more recently -- I decided to check in with the 64-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.
Taylor is a major part of this year's festival. Not only did he come to town to perform a two-night stand at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier -- with the second half set for the festival's opening night on Thursday (6/28) -- but he was also receiving a big award from festival organizers.
Earlier on Wednesday, Taylor was given the Montreal Jazz Festival Spirit trophy, which is intended to underscore "a popular artist's extraordinary contributions to the musical world."
"His gentle, sincere melodies, his perfectly resonant lyrics, his unique voice and his subtle and delicate guitar stylings have made James Taylor one of the most highly esteemed and beloved of singer-songwriters," organizers wrote in the statement regarding the Montreal Jazz Festival Spirit presentation.
Taylor would live up to every bit of that praise as he charmed the capacity crowd at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier during his 2 1/2-hour set on Wednesday.
The theater was still relatively dark when Taylor walked onstage. You couldn't see his facial features, but everyone knew it was him -- his height immediately gave him away. (I'm not sure how tall Taylor is, but I'd definitely pick him for my basketball team.) He came clutching his newly won Spirit award -- which is a mighty impressive looking trophy -- and endeared himself to all the French Canadians in the house by speaking, quite well, in French.
He'd then trade the trophy for his acoustic guitar and begin plucking and strumming his way through one beauty after another. Backed by a superb 11-piece band -- which included a horn section and backing vocalists -- Taylor made nearly every song in the setlist feel as comforting as a warm embrace from a loved one.
His music is downright medicinal in the way it can soothe a crowd. You might go into a James Taylor show worrying about work or family or finances, but those worldly concerns will likely melt away as the vocalist softly guides you down a "Country Road" or whisks you away to "Mexico."
Simply put, Taylor is responsible for crafting some of the most lovely folk-rock tunes in history -- which is why his 1976 "Greatest Hits" album has sold some 11 million copies in the U.S. alone.
The tracks found on that album remain Taylor's finest calling cards. Not coincidentally, those songs -- such as "Carolina in My Mind," "Fire and Rain," "Sweet Baby James" and "Country Road" -- were all highlights of Wednesday's concert.
Yet, they weren't the only memorable numbers. Taylor's voice and guitar playing were so warm and inviting that nearly everything he played was a winner. Even a pair of unlikely cover songs -- Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" and, even more unexpected, the Chubby Checker staple "The Twist" -- connected with fans.
It was a great jumpstart to the festival, which this year will offer such diversely appealing talents as Rufus Wainwright, Wayne Shorter, Liza Minnelli and Chromeo. For more information, visit the event's website.