Montreal’s Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill takes its music to the Web

By Peter Hum

Originally published November 18th, 2011 on blogs.ottawacitizen.com.

Bookmark this link now, and expect to be enjoying it during the nights ahead, thanks to the largesse and promotional savvy of the Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill in Montreal, and its owner, Joel Giberovitch.

Upstairs is committing to not only streaming its shows live, but also to archiving them for time-shifted enjoyment. The newborn archive, just a few weeks old, already contains a set by Sheila Jordan (one that she dedicated to the late Len Dobbin, Montreal’s greatest friend of jazz) and a set by Theo Bleckmann/Ben Monder duo, as well as many shows by Montreal groups worth watching.

It looks like Smalls, the storied Greenwich Village jazz haunt that streams its nightly shows live on the Internet and has compiled a mammoth and impressive audio-only archive, will be getting some serious Canadian competition for the attention of web-savvy jazz fans.

For not quite a month, Upstairs has been quietly but effectively streaming shows on its recently improved website. While Giberovitch tells me that he has been working out the kinks regarding sound and lighting, I can say that both music and audio that I caught last night was already impressive. Upstairs, which is using player technology from the company BitGravity, is raising the bar for jazz streaming live on the Net.

“I think streaming is the future,” says Giberovitch, who has wanted to stream the music from Upstairs for more than year. He has not only invested in the video gear; it’s taking the audio from its soundboard and pumping it up on the Net. He’s clearly excited about taking his music to the Web, and while he says it has occurred to him to seek sponsors to help him recoup his investment, he otherwise says, “I don’t know where this going to bring us.”

For now, he’s happy to hear reports of Montreal music students tuning in to the feed and being inspired to compose music. He’s heard from musicians who are pleased that their friends and relatives in other Canadian cities and elsewhere can watch them perform. He’s not perturbed about potential customers staying home and watching the music without paying the in-person cover charge — he says some people have popped by for a night’s second set, saying that they were moved to come by after watching the first set online.

Giberovitch says that his old, no-frills website that he replaced earlier this year garnered as many as 5,000 unique visitors a month. His updated website, which featured YouTube videos was drawing up to 6,500 unique visitors a month. Now, with the streaming shows, the site’s numbers are climbing toward 10,000 unique visitors a month. “It’s unreal,” Giberovitch says.

Coming up at Upstairs:

Nov. 26, 27: New York saxophonist Ben van Gelder, with pianist Aaron Parks, vibraphonist Peter Schlamb, bassist Rick Rosato and drummer Craig Weinrib.

Dec 2, 3: New York baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan with Montreal’s Chateauguay Tenors group, co-led by Al McLean and Cameron Wallis.

Feb 24, 25: Drum elder Jimmy Cobb with the Chateauguay Tenors.

As well, Montreal musicians such as pianist Francois Bourassa, Josh Rager and Steven Johnston have gigs at Upstairs before too long.

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