It's so easy to be dazzled by the true and tested of the Montreal Jazz Festival. The Tony Bennetts, Sades, Princes and k.d. langs of every edition inspire admission sales with a simple name drop.
But half the fun is stepping outside of the familiar to find that jaw-dropping, hidden gem on the verge of breaking through.
And I think I found him. At least I did last March, when I discovered the unsigned singer/pianist was primed to play in Vue sur la relève, a local festival promoting young talent. Montrealer Jon Day was a complete revelation, in a league of his own. Weeks later, he was booked for the Jazz Fest, flooring local journalists with his performance during a press conference.
On stage, Jon Day is anything but hidden as he reaches for his falsetto voice, lighting up the room with the intensity of a gospel singer. One song and he's got you hooked. Hard to believe the B.C. native didn't know he could sing until three years ago. "Yeah, that was a recent discovery, Day admits during a quick exchange backstage at the Jazz Fest. "I love vocal music but I never thought I would sing in front of people. I didn't go to singing school or anything. But I was in this choir."
"Right, I said. "You originally came to Montreal to study jazz piano at the Schulich School of Music at McGill University."
"Exactly. In fact, I didn't even go there at first to study music," Day laughs. "I went to McGill to study chemistry. But I was involved with this little a capella choir. It was only after I finished [the jazz piano program] that I started this project."
"And so, a guy who thinks he can't sing ends up in an a capella group just ... by chance?"
Day chuckles. "Yeah! In fact, we were rejects! We auditioned for a group that existed already and we got rejected. So we made our own group."
Catching him catering to an all-ages full house at the 2011 Montreal Jazz Festival's opening night, accompanied by bassist Morgan Moore and drummer Mark Nelson, whose other project, Parc X Trio, won the TD Jazz Grand Prix award at the Jazz Fest's 2010 edition, the trio played a 90-minute set composed of songs from Exhibit B, Day's debut, independently produced album. On the lookout for a label to produce his next offering, Day also sprinkled in a few new unreleased tracks slated for Exhibit C, ever so slightly more up tempo than his previous efforts, save the highlight of the night when Day went solo, surrounded only by flickering tea lights and his wood-rimmed keyboard.
The Jon Day Trio performs one more night at the Montreal Jazz Festival, at 8 p.m. tonight, this Sunday, June 26, 2011 at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal. Admission $16.50 plus taxes and service charge. Buy tickets.
- Montreal Jazz Festival 2011: A Few Highlights
- Montreal Jazz Festival 2011: Complete Indoor Lineup
- The B-52s to Close the Montreal Jazz Festival
- GRUBB: Teen Gypsies Set The Record Straight
In line with About.com's and the New York Times Company's full disclosure policy, readers should be aware that Evelyn Reid was provided with complimentary tickets to review Jon Day, a common procedure in the entertainment industry. Also note that the latter gratuity has not influenced this review. For more information on full disclosure at About.com, please consult our ethics policy.