So the Montreal International Jazz Festival is over and the weather is cold and miserable…sigh. But things are busier than ever on my end. We are in our last two weeks of the summer semester and into television broadcasting. We just put together our first TV piece which I’ll post later.
For my Jazz Fest piece, I took a different angle. I was always intrigued by the buskers who perform just outside the festival grounds. One unique individual was playing music off some interesting instruments and it worked really well. On his off time, I got a chance to speak to him. Here is the piece:
Eking out a living with a touch of jazz
by Sarah Leavitt
As the crowds swarm the St. Catherine Street sidewalks on their way to the famed Montreal Jazz Festival, many pause for a moment outside the refurbished St. James United Church courtyard. There, a dark-skinned man with long dreadlocks and a bright orange jumpsuit bangs on a plastic bucket and a tin can. But the music that comes from these recycled instruments has the whole audience moving.
Paul Audet has been busking in Montreal for over 20 years. He’s endured the worst of Quebec’s harsh winters and its hottest of summers. He’s busked in almost every neighbourhood and has a reserved sleeping spot under an awning at St. George’s Anglican Church downtown. Sometimes, the church warden gives him odd jobs to do for a few bucks.
Every year though, Audet looks forward to those two weeks in July when all of Montreal congregates between de Bleury Street and St. Laurent Street for the love of jazz. At this time, Audet pulls out all stops and performs his best for the crowd.
“I know the people are looking for good music to listen to and want to have a good time,” he says with his happy, toothless grin. “So I come out with my old ‘instruments’ and play with my heart. I also want to make some good money!”
Audet says that during the Montreal Jazz Festival, people are the most generous and he can make upwards of $200 an hour at peak times. His enthusiasm and bright attire attract people to him.
“It’s amazing what he can do with those two little cans,” said one watcher, who gave Audet $20. “He really knows where to hit to make many distinct sounds. He is smiling the whole time, you can tell he really enjoys performing.”
Audet confesses that he sometimes wishes he had stayed sober all those years ago so that he could be a professional musician today.
“I was a teenager and my family wasn’t so nice so I dropped out of school, ran away from home, and took to the bottle for medicine,” he says mournfully. “I can’t quit it, it’s been too long. But music always helps.”
While some of the money that Audet earns from his busking goes to his daily Jack Daniels’, he uses the rest to clean up a bit and get a bed at the YMCA downtown.
“Music has always been a part of my life and even though I messed it up pretty badly, at least I can still create some good sound,” he says, smiling sheepishly. “I think the crowd really enjoys my noise.”
While most get out to the Jazz site to hear the professional musicians hard at work, some are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Audet doing his thing. His staple spot outside St. James is always crowded, all looking eagerly at a man bang out his dreams.