Taking a Trip to the Montreal Jazz Festival’s Médiathèque

A History of Montreal’s Music Scene All in One Place

  • A roll of negatives from an Oscar Peterson concert. Photo Carl Bindman

How can one preserve the ephemeral experience of going to a concert? The memory of what it was like to be there in the moment?

It’s not easy–but the Montreal Jazz Festival attempts to bring that gap in memory with its médiathèque archive.

The space itself is filled with stories and memories that date back nearly four decades. A television set plays Pat Metheny’s outdoor concert from 1989, bouncing sounds from the past off the walls of this space.

This documentation center is known as the Montreal Jazz Festival’s memory. It holds and preserves books, concert programs, and betamax cassette tapes that date back to the festival’s first edition in 1980.

“The mission is really projecting the different amounts of archival material behind the festival’s memory,” Philippe Chayer, the archival librarian explained.

The médiathèque is located on the third floor, inside the Maison du Festival building at the corner of St. Catherine street and Bleury street.

Hundreds of monographs, musical instruments, and artistic biographical books that are not dedicated to jazz line the shelves, that feature different musical genres like blues, rock and pop.

Glass display cases were scattered around the room that showcased press passes, musical guide books, and scribbled notes that belonged to Montreal’s journalist and jazz aficionado, Len Dobbin.

“On the multimedia stations, we have around 1000 concerts that were taped for television,” Chayer said.

These multimedia stations are not based around those concert tapings. Instead, they offer an extensive photo album and musical discography of the musicians that have performed at the festival over the years. That list includes names like Ray Charles and Miles Davis, amongst others.

“Like the Montreal Jazz Festival, there are more musical genres than just jazz and it’s the same thing here, how we offer different genres of music.” Chayer explained.

All of this is just a tiny portion of médiathèque’s archive.

Philippe Chayer, the archival librarian, standing among just a sliver of the archives collection. Photo Carl Bindman

Hidden near the entrance is a large structure simply known as “the vault.”

Filled with music posters, CDs, and miles upon miles of film reels were stacked one on top of the other.

Once a year, the médiathèque hosts an event during Montréal en Lumière’s all night event called Nuit Blanche, which gathers visitors to interact and discover music.

“We hosted a special event with André Ménard [the vice-president, artistic director and co-founder of the jazz festival], who shared his stories of past jazz festival editions to an audience,” Chayer said.

The need for promoting and attracting visitors to the médiathèque will help to construct its identity as one of Montreal’s musical resource centers that incorporates different musical genres, musicians and especially the Montreal Jazz Festival.

“Montreal is known as the city of festivals and I think the Jazz Festival was the first big festival,” Chayer said. “The médiathèque is the place where you can re-live any magical festival moment given at its time in the city of Montreal.”

Médiathèque Festival International de Jazz de Montréal // Maison du Festival (305 Ste. Catherine W) // FREE // montrealjazzfest.com.

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