Feature: Jazz brings bucks to Montreal

By KEN FRANCKLING, United Press International  |  June 17, 2003 at 7:05 PM
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, June 17 (UPI) -- The Montreal International Jazz Festival, which opens its 24th year on Thursday, June 26, is the world's largest and long has been regarded as one of best run and most creatively programmed events of its kind.

It's also proof that if a city supports -- and sticks with -- a jazz festival for the long term, that relationship can reap benefits for everyone involved.

"It has become a social and touristic phenomenon," says down-to-earth festival Founder and President Alain Simard.

The Montreal Jazz Festival has a budget of about $13.5 million, half of which comes from sponsorships. Thirty percent comes from the public through revenue from ticket sales, the sale of souvenirs and beer. And 20 percent from the city, provincial and national governments' tourism funds, Menard said.

Much of that tourism agency support is spent on foreign market advertising to draw visitors from the U.S. and other countries, who collectively comprise about 20 to 24 percent of attendees in an average year.

"The economic windfall to the Montreal community because of the jazz festival now is about $75 million," Simard said Monday. "Local residents would find something else to spend their dollars on if we did not exist."

What's more important is that the combined spending of tourists who come to Montreal because of the festival is about $25 million, according to a 2001 study by the accounting firm KPMG, he said.

Through its independent research, KPMG has also found that 80 percent of the tourists coming to Montreal from outside the province of Quebec -- and 86 percent visiting the city from elsewhere within the province during this two-week period -- do so specifically for the festival. Area hotels are sold out during festival weeks, with price escalations of 30 to 40 percent over normal weeks.

"The spending of tourists brings back $7.5 million to the government of Quebec and $5 million to the government of Canada," Simard said. "More or less, what they give us in subsidies is 10 percent of the money spent by the tourists. It is a good investment for them."

The major sponsors include General Motors of Canada, Labatt Blueue, Banque Nationale and Bell Canada.

The jazz festival began in 1980 at the former Expo '67 world's fair site, Man and His World, where it drew a total of 12,000 spectators. The next year, attendance nearly doubled to 22,000.

After five years in downtown Montreal's Latin Quarter along St. Denis Street, the festival moved in 1986 to its present home in and around the city's Place des Arts, attracting some 425,000 music fans. Attendance surpassed the 1 million mark for the first time in 1989. Crowd estimates have exceeded 1.6 million every year since 2000.

So what's the draw?

A whopping 11-day schedule offering some 500 performances. There are 150 ticketed, paid admission indoor events and some 350 free outdoor events -- all within a five-minute walk in a six square-block area from which vehicular traffic is banned for the duration.

The festival employs more than 2,000 musicians. Staff to run the festival and stage its events provides what Simard says amounts to employment for 1,255 people per year. His firm, Equipe Spectra, which produces three different festivals and produces TV programs, employs 300 people year round.

"Since the outdoor concerts are free, we don't collect anything," said Simard. "We have to pay security, cleaning and temporary infrastructure. The only way to break even is to get government money."

Last year's festival reported 57 of its ticketed concerts were sold-out and on-site sales rose 15 percent. One-third of a $225,000 surplus is being put into a capitalization fund to launch a new venue, Club de Jazz, at next year's 25th festival. Most of the remaining surplus was used to present 20 concerts in a Jazz Year-Round series.

This year's festival headliners include Ray Charles, Grammy darling Norah Jones, Bobby McFerrin, Cesaria Evora, Mark Knopfler, Elvis Costello, the Dave Holland big band, Ben Harper, Joe Zawinul and trumpeter Roy Hargrove's new band, RH Factor.

Montreal's innovative Invitation Series, which features two musicians performing in different contexts and with different "dream" bands over four nights apiece, will present saxophonist Lee Konitz and drummer Jack DeJohnette with varying bands from duo to nonet.

A gigantic free outdoor concert -- the Grand Événement General Motors, featuring Manhattan's Spanish Harlem Orchestra -- is scheduled for July 1. This mid-festival concert extravaganza usually attracts more than 100,000 people to an evening of dancing and partying.

"The people appreciate that it's a free (outdoor) festival but also the quality of music and the setting," Simard said. "There is nothing being sold or hawked inside the gates. The social impact is phenomenal. There are no barriers of race, language, religion for 11 days."

Simard's firm also puts on Montreal's FrancoFolies Festival on the same site from July 24 through Aug. 2. That festival -- now in its 15th year -- features all French and French-disaporic music. It is set up similar to the jazz festival, with free outdoor stages, but has fewer shows.

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