Alain Simard | The dreamer who transformed a city

Alain Simard challenges the belief that to succeed in business, you must display a rigid and belligerent attitude. The one who shaped the Spectra empire with its small groups and its festivals made its way with an attitude cool cat which has always fascinated me.


Published at 12:58 a.m.

Updated at 7:15 a.m.

This is why I dove with undisguised pleasure into reading I dreamed of a festival, an autobiographical work which retraces his impressive journey. He even takes the liberty of going back to his sources, those of his great-grandfather and his grandfather, Philorum and Omer, who were very involved in the cultural life of Montreal during the 20th century.e century.

It is this same blood that flows in the veins of young Alain, passionate about music and shows, who, after a memorable trip to Vancouver, leaves adolescence. Then, there will be the first formative shocks: Grateful Dead, Dylan, Kerouac and the inevitable first joint. Expo 67, the student protests of 1968 and the festivals peace and love of 1969 will complete the work.

Nourished by all these fruits, Alain Simard, who has not yet reached his twenties, sets out to introduce people to music underground to the Montreal public. It was by wanting to walk off the beaten track that this future great producer made a name for himself. “I admit, I was pretentious to think that the music I liked was more valid than what others liked,” he said in an interview.

PHOTO PROVIDED BY THE MONTREAL INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL, TAKEN FROM THE BOOK I DREAMED OF A FESTIVAL

Alain Simard with Oscar Peterson

With friends, including Pierre Huet, it will be the adventure of La Clef café-spectacle. Customers entered a keyhole-shaped entrance and then passed through a foil-lined tunnel lit by a black-light. This place, located on Boulevard Henri-Bourassa (before moving to Rue Saint-Paul and Terrebonne), quickly became the haunt of left-field artists.

At the beginning of 1971, La Clef merged with the Organization, a cooperative of young idealistic producers headed by André Di Cesare. Then, it will be the creation of La Maison and Productions Campus which, in the company of Productions Kosmos, will program the cream of music underground. Some examples ? Pink Floyd, Gentle Giant and Genesis, no less.

After the end of Kosmos, Alain Simard officially joined Paul Dupont-Hébert and Productions Beaubec in 1977. There he found André Ménard, whom he had known earlier and who would become a faithful ally. It’s an exciting time for Quebec music. Harmonium, Raôul Duguay, Octobre, Beau Dommage… Alain Simard works with everyone. Or almost.

It was in 1978 that Alain Simard legally registered the name Montreal International Jazz Festival. He has been dreaming of this project for years. For him, that was the goal to achieve. In 1980, a first edition took place. “A festival was the new mass for me,” he said. This idea that people will commune at the altar of music enchanted me. I was idealistic and naive, but that’s what I believed. That said, the International Jazz Festival has transformed the face of Montreal. »

  • Alain Simard and André Ménard in their younger years

    PHOTO ARCHIVES LA PRESSE, TAKEN FROM THE BOOK I DREAMED OF A FESTIVAL

    Alain Simard and André Ménard in their younger years

  • Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones with Alain Simard

    PHOTO PROVIDED BY THE MONTREAL INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL, TAKEN FROM THE BOOK I DREAMED OF A FESTIVAL

    Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones with Alain Simard

  • Festival Square

    PHOTO JEAN-FRANÇOIS LEBLANC, PROVIDED BY THE MONTREAL INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL, TAKEN FROM THE BOOK I DREAMED OF A FESTIVAL

    Festival Square

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Alain Simard continued to think big and created Spectra and its many activities with Spectel Video, the Spectrum, Audiogram (with Michel Bélanger and Rosaire Archambault), the Francos and, later, Montréal en Lumière.

As for the artists he looks after, their names are Paul Piché, Claude Dubois, Zachary Richard, Michel Rivard, Offenbach, Carole Laure, Jean Leloup and Louise Forestier. “What motivated me was to make known the artists I loved. That was my primary motivation,” he confides.

We can clearly see that if Alain Simard pursued this career, it was mainly for the encounters it allowed him to make. Moreover, throughout the book, he focuses on figures who left their mark on him: Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Michel Legrand, Oliver Jones, Miles Davis and several others.

Combining friendship and business has never been a problem for him. ” It was easy. I’ve never had trouble negotiating. Paul Piché, who is a protester as everyone knows, told me that it was thanks to him that my record company became Audiogram. He wanted a deal special because he was the godfather of Audiogram. I understood that and I accepted. Same thing with Jean Leloup, who found me too paternalistic. We talked. »

PHOTO FROM THE BOOK I DREAMED OF A FESTIVAL

Alain Simard in his office

Money issues, however, put an end to his relationship with Gerry Boulet. That and a story with the members of Corbeau.

For the rest, Alain Simard navigated through all these projects and these artists with the smile that is eternally plastered on his face. Even Plume Latraverse’s hanging trick couldn’t shake him off his hinges. Scheduled at Place des Nations, Plume asked for $2,500 to be added to his $10,000 fee. However, he promised to offer a “surprise element” to this show entitled Plume and his Watermelons.

Alain Simard then imagined that the iconoclastic artist would add a choir or a brass ensemble. What was his surprise to discover on the evening of the show that Plume had placed at the front of the stage… 12 watermelons. “I probably wouldn’t have found it funny if I had lost money,” says the producer. But the room was full. He deserved to make more money. »

Alain Simard always said that he would not write his biography. However, it offers a rich testimony which teaches us a lot about the man, but also about the abundant period he went through.

“For years, friends have been telling me that I should share the privileged point of view I had on music. Writing the book was a wonderful experience. Without really realizing it, I broke down several doors. That said, I believe I have always been in the right place at the right time. »

Alain Simard sums up the success of his career too simply. Naive ? It probably was. Dreamer? Resolutely. But above all he was a great visionary and builder. And we owe that to his “hard head” and incredible determination.

In bookstores June 20

Posters, photos and memorabilia recounting Alain Simard’s rich career will be presented at the Place des Arts exhibition hall during the next edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, from June 27 to July 6. The author will be present every evening, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., for signing sessions. An auction will take place to benefit the Place des Arts Foundation.

I dreamed of a festival

I dreamed of a festival

Alain Simard

Editions La Presse

288 pages

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