Talk about a grand finale: for the first time anywhere, two of jazz's most celebrated orchestras shared the stage of Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier this afternoon for the closing event of the 2012 Montreal Jazz Festival. The concert was dubbed a Battle of the Bands - the 5th annual such contest - with the Duke Ellington and Count Basie Orchestras trading blows with standard after standard before eventually joining forces, sounding as if they've been playing together for years. As Basie director Dennis Mackrel told us from the stage: "All of you young people studying jazz history - this Is history."
When all was said and done, the celebrity judges awarded the trophy to the Basie band, by a razor-thin margin of 2 to 1. (For my money, the Basie Orchestra was definitely the tighter/more swinging band, but its really like comparing apples and oranges.) After accepting the trophy, Mackrel asked if he could address the audience.
"When we were invited to participate in this concert," he said, "I almost didn't accept, because I was afraid of something like this. Count Basie had the utmost respect for the Ellington Orchestra, and always included at least one Ellington number in every performance. As director of the Basie band, I consider myself Count Basie's representative. And, as his representative, there is simply no way I can accept this."
He then walked across the stage and, accompanied by a collective gasp, placed the trophy on the Ellington conductor's piano - something that had never happened before. The entire house, once they caught their breath, rose to their feet and cheered the incredibly generous gesture. You simply couldn't have scripted it any better.
The two orchestras played out their solidarity by joining forces once more on "Lester Leaps In" and "C Jam Blues" before finally allowing the curtain to drop on the stage, and on the 2012 edition of this greatest of all jazz festivals, in the city that knows how to put on a festival better than anyone.
Its a gorgeous 75 degree day and there's still plenty of daylight left, so I'm off to Parc Jean-Drapeau for Piknic Electronik and whatever else I can dig up.