Red-hot jazz club Upstairs plans blowout 20th birthday party

It’s 10am on a Friday and the owner-manager of Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill has been at work for almost an hour. He won’t leave until midnight.

These are the hours Joel Giberovitch puts in on busy weekends to ensure everything is running smoothly—from the staffing to the music and the paper work a successful operation entails. This dedication and, as he concedes, learning from experience have made his semi-basement club at 1254 Mackay. The Place for live jazz in Montreal for 20 years.

To mark this milestone, Giberovitch has planned a series of 11 events from Nov. 12-22 that illustrates what he’s accomplished presenting some of the best in live jazz, 362 days a year. The lineup is both exciting and imaginative, reflecting his sophisticated taste and appreciation for innovation and tradition.

The celebration opens with a trio of master pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, now teaching at McGill, U.S.-based drum innovator Ari Hoenig, and bassist Fraser Hollins, and closes with veteran saxophonist Houston Person and the trio of Montreal pianist Julie Lamontagne.

Among other highlights are the incredibly talented Colombian harpist Edmar Cataneda (Nov. 13), drummer Jim Black in a trio (Nov. 17), and veteran guitarist John Abercrombie with organist Gary Versace and drummer Adam Nussbaum (Nov. 19 and 20). Israeli-born clarinetist Oran Etkin (Nov. 21) re-imagines Benny Goodman, with vibraphonist Steve Nelson and pianist Aaron Goldberg.

Ranee Lee will deliver her homage to Billie Holiday (Nov. 14), followed by an evening of song with Emilie-Claire Barlow (Nov. 15), and an evening with pianist Oliver Jones in a trio (Nov. 18).

Two of the most anticipated events are on Nov. 16. Starting at 6 p.m., documentary filmmaker Guylaine Dionne will present the result of her filming the club over several years followed at 9 p.m., by what could be a red-hot session: a jam with the Jim Doxas Trio, when dozens of musicians, who have played at the club over the years, strut their stuff.

Giberovitch, who opened the club at 23, credits his parents for passing on their work ethic. It is a big part of the club’s success and worldwide reputation.

“I love what I do also, and you really don’t count hours when you’re passionate about what you do. When I do something I want to do it really well.”

A graduate of Herzliah High School, Giberovitch learned the downtown restaurant trade, starting at the bottom while working for and with his father as a dishwasher, busboy, and waiter at El Coyote Mexican Restaurant on Bishop St.

When he opened Upstairs at 1254 Mackay St., he inherited Chilean-born chef Juan Barros from his father’s employ. Giberovitch credits Barros, who orders the food and is an excellent chef, with being key to the club’s success and sharing his work ethic. “Running Upstairs is a lifestyle that I adore – both from the business and the arts aspect.”

From the start, he sought to bring Upstairs to a level beyond the proverbial dark, smoky club with a broken down piano, squeaky tables and mismatched chairs that often characterize jazz joints.

In its tenth year, he invested in a grand piano, a Yamaha C3, which not only signaled an interest in a great sound, but respect for the music and those who bring it to life. The sound system is superb, and the show is projected on video screens. A new and better piano and new furniture are on the way.

“The music, the food, the ambience, and the service — each stands on its own,” he says.

As a regular over the years, I can vouch for this statement.  “Everything I learned was by trial and error. For the first ten years, I didn’t make a profit. About seven years back, I stopped being a waiter, and I started to say, ‘Ok, this is where we can go.’ ”

The venture has been an artistic and business success, enabling Giberovitch to buy the building in which the club is located. He gets more requests to play at the club than he can handle. The customers turn out for lunch during the week, and every night for live music in this warm, comfortable setting.

Over the years some of the greatest musicians have played at the club, including singer Mark Murphy, who died last month, pianists Barry Harris and Kenny Drew Jr., trumpeters Tom Harrell and Tim Hagans, saxophonist Joe Lovano, guitarist Russell Malone, and singer Sheila Jordan.

“I eventually get around to most of the musicians I want to perform here. I think they really enjoy playing here, and the treatment they receive.”

As for what else has changed since the 10th anniversary, he says, “We’ve had ten more years of music every night, musicians putting their music into the room, and it’s absorbed into the walls, and chairs. You can’t get that after opening one year, and we’ve done it for 20.”

Info, reservations:, 514-931-6808

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