“The UNIA Hall will be transformed into a fully equipped concert venue with a Baby Grand piano and appropriate sound and lighting to provide the audience with an unforgettable musical experience,” says Muhammad. “And, it’s a ticket only event. Doors close at 6:30 sharp.”
There was a time when Montreal was “the Harlem of Canada,” a time when Jazz was king and a great many of its subjects came from across North America and Europe to pay homage in a kingdom where the good times rolled.
Those who know say Little Burgundy, back then called Place St. Henri, was the place of that kingdom, and Jazz lived there for much of the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s making it a regular stop-over for many of the all-time greats who came to the city.
Legends of music such as Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughn, Louis Satchmo Armstrong all made it their business to play at the “downtown” joints Rockheads Paradise, The Café St. Michel and The Black Bottom.
The presence of these acclaimed musicians created an insatiable appetite for music in the little bedroom community on the edge of downtown Montreal, where almost every Black home had a piano and music lessons were a rite of passage for almost every child.
So it’s not by chance that Little Burgundy is the birthplace of two of the world’s greatest jazz pianists, Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones.
The place was also a second home to a legion of jazz greats such as Nelson Symonds, Ivan Symonds, Joe Sealey and Milton Sealey, all of whom added their touch to make music an integral part of the community.
Wali Muhammad, a U.S.-born drummer came to Montreal about 30 years ago, at a time when jazz was in transition. The music scene in Little Burgundy was snuffed out by politics and the emergence of other social trends like TV as well as disco and soul music, but there were a lot jazz musicians in town still jammin’, guys such as Skip Bey, Johnny Scott, Reggie Wilson, Charlie Duncan, Walter Beacon, Stan Patrick, Leroy Mason, Glenn Bradley.
He gigged with many of them on the circuit and they became his mentor.
Today, many have passed on, but Muhammad says what they gave to Montreal will always be a part of this city. So as a way of paying homage, he put together a musical tribute to jazz musicians of yesterday and today, which he calls a “celebration of life through music.”
On Friday, February 19, he is collaborating with the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) to stage Jazz In The Neighborhood.
“This event is for all who love music, for people of all ages,” says Muhammad. “Because the emphasis will be on the music we’ll be hearing from musicians from the past, present and future.”
Mervyn Weekes of the UNIA says the show will be “an appropriate celebration of Black History Month and of a community from which so many great musicians hail.”
CC Walker, himself a veteran crooner who has graced many a stage across the city, says “there’s something timely and exciting about bringing back jazz to the neighborhood.”
“It’s different because it brings the music from downtown back into Burgundy where it all started.”
Organizers say Jazz in The Neighborhood will be a “one-of-a-kind” show that will offer audiences the best talents that are still on the Montreal circuit.
“We’re not going to name names, but many of the top jazz musicians have already agreed to be there.”
“The UNIA Hall will be transformed into a fully equipped concert venue with a Baby Grand piano with appropriate sound and lighting to provide the audience with an unforgettable musical experience,” says Muhammad. “And, it’s a ticket-only event.
Doors close at 7:30 sharp.”
United Negro Improvement Association presents Jazz in the Neighborhood featuring the finest Montreal Jazz Artists of the past, present and future. Guest Band: Wali Muhammad at the UNIA Hall, 2741 Notre Dame St. W from 7:30 PM. Adm. $10 (No tickets will be sold at the door.) Info.514-487-2790.