With its classic wood paneling, stone walls, long bar, and elegant linen covered tables Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill is an intimate throwback to the golden age where musicians and fans alike considered jazz clubs a home away from home – a social meeting place, a headquarters, and above all a place of inspired musicality. As such, Upstairs is Montreal’s leading jazz club, presenting music 52 weeks a year in an atmosphere that encourages attentive listening, facilitated by a first–class sound system filling the cozy semi-basement.
Whether you like your jazz accompanied by a variety of libations and snacks or full course meals, Upstairs offers an optimum musical experience. Call it the art of making it an evening – as dressed-up or casual as you like.
Upstairs has hosted leading international exponents in jazz, encompassing a wide variety of styles, including Sheila Jordan, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier, Ingrid Jensen, David Binney, David Liebman, Houston Person, Mark Murphy, Jim Black, Greg Osby, Nate Smith, Bill Stewart, Tim Hagans, John Hicks, Donnie McCaslin, Ben Mondor, Antonio Sanchez and such local leaders as Christine Jensen, Renée Lee, Joel Miller, Chet Doxas, Lorraine Desmarais, Steve Amireault, François Bourassa, Jean Derome, Jeff Johnstone, Julie Lamontagne, and many more.
While Upstairs has become a key “intime” venue at the annual Montreal International Jazz Festival, the club also symbolizes jazz as a year-round affair in Montreal. The club is headquarters for the city’s finest musicians, no matter what style they play in. It has been the site of live recordings and it hosts numerous CD launchings, and its Monday night jam sessions, led by drummer Jim Doxas, amount to works-in-progress on the local scene.
Musicians appreciate the classy amenities at Upstairs. On showcase nights (Fridays and Saturdays), from the moment the lighting dims and club owner Joel Giberovitch’s voice intones a polite advisory that this is a jazz concert and silence would be appreciated, the musicians own the stage, and attention levels throughout the club quickly hit their peak. The club’s crystal clear sound system accentuates this vibe.
With its décor complemented by a panel of vintage album covers, a strip of autographed photos of musicians along a ceiling, and an impressively large framed photo of Sonny Rollins towards the back terrace, Upstairs spells jazz. Giberovitch describes running Upstairs over the years as “an education in jazz. My appreciation of the city’s great musicians has grown enormously over the years.”
Located in the heart of the city’s business and college hub, Upstairs also attracts a faithful luncheon clientele.
UPSTAIRS: THE MUSICAL PHILOSOPHY
Joel Giberovitch was studying political science at Concordia, when his father Sid, the original owner of Kojaks and the El Coyote restaurant, asked him if he wanted to get involved in a place that had gone bankrupt. So he started Upstairs in April 1995 as a simple piano bar, with pub-like food and an atmosphere that engendered backgammon and the like. A year later he realized his vision for the locale was different than his dad’s, so he set out for New York City and visited as many jazz clubs as he could. “Such clubs as The Village Vanguard, the Blue Note, Bradleys, and Smalls all left a big impression on me, and I came back inspired to give Montreal a New York-style jazz club.”
“I had a vision of jazz, food, ambience and service. To be honest, I wasn’t into jazz when I was growing up. I don’t have a technical background in it. But by listening to our original pianists, like Norman Zubis and Ernie Nelson, and getting exposed to the musicians and the music, I was like, ‘Wow, I love this music, ’ because it touches upon so many different emotions. If you’re sad you can listen to Billie Holiday, if you’re happy there’s Louis Armstrong, for introspective moods there’s Miles Davis.”
He remembers booking the legendary and reclusive guitarist Sonny Greenwich and “being so thrilled that I jumped up and smacked my head on one of the low ceilings at the back here, bleeding all over!” He’s proud to add: “Every time Sonny has played in Montreal in the past 15 years it’s been at Upstairs.”
Chef Juan Barros entered the picture about three years later with a menu that makes the dining-and-jazz experience complete. “Upstairs became a combination of both of our visions, ” says Joel. “I’ve learned through my own experiences but also through the expertise of other people. I’ve surrounded myself with people who know more than I do in certain areas. As long as you have a strong vision and are willing to grow, I think you attract good people.”
The downtown location of Upstairs naturally connects with players, students, teachers, and music entrepreneurs, not to mention the lunchtime regulars: “We’re very lucky in that we have several universities with great music schools: Mcgill, Concordia, Université de Montreal, UQAM, Vanier College, Marianopolos, so there’s a very high level of musicians teaching here. We have a very strong sense of community in the jazz scene. Then there’s the jazz festival, which not only brings in a ton of international acts, but also supports Montreal musicians, most of whom have played at Upstairs. We also have the Off Festival, and strong record labels in Justin Time and Effendi, and we have good media and jazz journalists, people dedicated to keeping jazz in the spotlight.
“I’ve always said that I don’t have a jazz background, but I like music that touches my heart. So once I book a Christine Jensen it’s because I like her music. And once...