Tuesday, December 01, 2015
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On the scene today

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On the jazz and improvised music scene in Ottawa-Gatineau today:


A tough time for Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2015/16, members told at annual meeting

Ottawa Jazz Festival members got three pieces of bad news at their annual general meeting Wednesday: another deficit, a sharp drop in attendance, and the loss of an important stage location.

“It's not been a good week, let's put it that way,” said festival executive director Catherine O'Grady.

The day before the AGM, O'Grady was told by National Arts Centre staff that the NAC Fourth Stage would not be available for the 2016 or 2017 jazz festivals, because the NAC's renovation schedule has been moved up. “It is a surprise because we'd been assured all along that the renovations would begin after the [2016] festival was finished.”

Each summer, the festival has presented two to three concerts each day in its Improv Invitational series at the Fourth Stage. O'Grady told the AGM that the festival had already made offers to 18 groups that it had expected to present in that stage. She said she hadn't yet had time to determine an alternative location, but “we'll figure it out; we always do.”

The festival will still be able to use the NAC Studio. She said the festival will also put some groups in the 897-seat NAC Theatre in 2016 as an experiment, which could have the side-effect of avoiding “disappointment” for Bronze Pass holders who were shut out in previous years when the 300-seat Studio sold out.

The festival attracted over 274,000 listeners this summer, a 10% drop from 305,500 in 2014, according to the financial reports presented to the meeting. Box office revenue for the summer festival was down by 15%: from $1,038,763 in 2014 to $882,434 in 2015.

Read more: A tough time for Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2015/16, members told at annual meeting


NAC Fourth Stage to close for a year next May - before the Ottawa Jazz Festival

The NAC Fourth Stage will close next May, several months earlier than originally announced – a move which will remove an important venue for the Ottawa Jazz Festival and for local jazz musicians, in 2016 and 2017.

The NAC Fourth Stage will close from mid-May, 2016 to July, 2017 as part of the large-scale renovations to the National Arts Centre in 2016 and 2017. The low ceiling of the current stage is expected to be raised by two feet. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

In a press release issued Monday afternoon, the National Arts Centre (NAC) announced that it would be starting its major renovations in December in order to ensure they're completed in time for Canada Day, 2017. This will bring forward its previously-announced construction schedule by more than six months.

“The Fourth Stage will be closed starting in the spring of 2016 until July 2017,” the release said, adding that many of the shows and community events presented in that stage “will be moved to other [of] the Centre’s performance halls.”

Rosemary Thompson, the NAC's Director of Communications and Public Affairs, told OttawaJazzScene.ca that the stage would close in mid-May, after the last NAC Presents concert there on May 13. “My understanding is that everything up to that time will be fine, and then after that they're going to look at different venues within the building.”

“The Studio can be available at times. The Theatre is a larger venue but it's not impossible. And we're even looking at the two rehearsal halls as alternate venues for outside clients.”

Read more: NAC Fourth Stage to close for a year next May - before the Ottawa Jazz Festival


Mary Moore paints with emotional and sound brushes

“I'm so visual when I sing that I guess I do want to paint a picture,” says jazz vocalist and life-long visual artist Mary Moore. “You're painting with emotional and sound brushes. You're absolutely doing that.”

Mary Moore, designer/illustrator and painter: 'I'm enjoying the challenge of singing jazz' ©Brett Delmage, 2015Moore's painted pictures – in acrylic and sound – are featured at GigSpace this month. She is exhibiting seventeen jazz paintings in GigSpace's art gallery, and singing original jazz compositions in a concert with her quintet on Friday, November 27. Both the art show and the concert mark her progress in overcoming artistic challenges and developing as an artist.

While she's a relative newcomer to jazz singing, Moore had an early and easy beginning in visual art.

“I think I was born to draw. I remember drawing on the walls of my room when I was very small. I had a vision of me looking up and thinking my parents would never see it because my room was so big and the drawings were so small. But they did see it. But then they bought me paper. Lots of paper,” she laughed.

Today, Moore has decades of experience as a professional graphic designer/illustrator and instructor.

“Children's books. Different applications. Some commercial applications. Technical illustration. And then everything else under the sun. Graphic design. Publications. Websites. I do it all,” she says.

She has similarly broad musical interests, which have included singing choral, chamber choir, classical and “old-time music and a lot of folk-type music”. Around 2007, she was singing with the Dixieland band Souper Jazz. Then her deeper journey into jazz started. She participated in eight Ottawa JazzWorks jazz camps – and is now its current president, marketing chair, and webmaster.

Read more: Mary Moore paints with emotional and sound brushes


Folkrum to preview new concert space with jazz and more November 27-29

A new larger concert venue may be on the way for Ottawa. Folkrum is previewing a new venue this month with a weekend of live music, including a Sunday evening of jazz.

Miguel de Armas in deep concentration at the piano. He'll perform with saxophonist/flutist René Lavoie on November 29 at the Folkrum showcase. ©Brett Delmage, 2015The Ottawa non-profit group has been searching for a permanent location for a community music hub for almost two years, and has found a possibility in Vanier, just east of the Cummings Bridge. On November 27 to 29, they'll showcase local musicians in that space in three evenings of music, as well as in free daytime shows. The music will cover many genres, including soul/R&B, singer-songwriter, rock, indie, and jazz.

The jazz evening on Sunday, November 29, will feature three 45-minute sets by well-known Ottawa jazz musicians: the duo of double-bassist John Geggie and guitarist Roddy Ellias, followed by saxophonist René Lavoie with Afro-Cuban pianist Miguel de Armas, and finally The Four Heavies.

Tickets for each evening are $20. Daytime events, until 7 p.m., are free, and will include music and instrument-making workshops, dancing, and concerts by musicians and groups including the Capital Strings Collective, Erin Saoirse Adair, and Acacia Lyra.

“It's a bit of a test drive for us,” said Folkrum Director Kim Lymburner. “What it will do is it will give us a good idea of how well received we would likely be by the neighbourhood, an opportunity to give the community a first-hand look at what some of the activities might look like that take place at Folkrum, and give ourselves a little bit of a boost in terms of awareness and excitement.”

Lymburner announced the Folkrum initiative in January, 2014. Its aim is to create a hub for Ottawa-Gatineau's music community, to develop musicians and encourage audiences for all genres of music, including jazz. Lymburner's background is in arts administration: he spent 20 years at the Canada Council, and has also worked with CHUO-FM and SAW Video.

Read more: Folkrum to preview new concert space with jazz and more November 27-29


2016 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival returns to the festival's jazz and Canadian roots

The Ottawa Jazz Festival is headlining mainstream jazz – most of it Canadian – at its 2016 Winter Jazz Festival on February 4 to 7.

Bassist Fraser Hollins brings a rarely-heard cross-border quartet to the 2016 winter jazzfest, with American pianist Jon Cowherd and drummer Brian Blade, and Montreal saxophonist Joel Miller. ©Brett Delmage, 2013Canadian jazz musicians including Mike Murley, Carol Welsman, Fraser Hollins, Joel Miller, Petr Cancura, and the Montreal Guitare Trio (MG3) have prominent places at the festival, along with Americans Jon Cowherd and Brian Blade (both playing with Hollins), the Afro-Cuban duo of David Virelles and Román Díaz, and the Japanese jazz-prog-funk trio Mouse on the Keys.

Ottawa jazz veteran John Geggie has been awarded the festival's special project grant, and is using it to combine several of his musical worlds, including improvised jazz and chamber music.

The festival will run from Thursday, February 4 to Sunday, February 7, 2016. It will only run for one weekend instead of the two weekends it ran last winter. However, it will also be strictly jazz: no pop shows such as the 2015 festival's evening-long Leonard Cohen Tribute.

All concerts will be held at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage, with shows starting every two hours. In 2015, some concerts were held at Dominion Chalmers United Church, requiring listeners to rush between concerts being held every hour in two halls, with no time for intermissions.

On Thursday, February 4, festival programming director Petr Cancura will present the second show in his Crossroads jazz/folk crossover series. this time with Ottawa singer-songwriter Lynn Miles. [Read OttawaJazzScene.ca's interview with Cancura about the series and his first performance with Ian Tamblyn.]

Ottawa's The Chocolate Hot Pockets, known for their hard-driving mix of jazz and neo-soul, will play a free concert on the Friday at 5 p.m.

They'll be followed by a ticketed show: Juno-award-winning Toronto saxophonist Mike Murley, with guitarist Reg Schwager and bassist Steve Wallace. That trio conducts “intimate, lyrical explorations of jazz standards”, in the tradition of Murley's previous award-winning recordings with Ed Bickert. They released a CD called Looking Back in 2014 and plan another for 2016.

Bassist Fraser Hollins is an Ottawa export to Montreal, by way of New York City. Best known here as the nuanced and full-bodied presence enhancing the compositions of Christine Jensen, Joel Miller, Jeff Johnston, or Rémi Bolduc, he's also released an album of his own music, Aerial. In 2012, he teamed up at the Montreal Jazz Festival with Miller and two renowned American jazz musicians – drummer Brian Blade and Blade's pianist in his Fellowship Band, Jon Cowherd.

Read more: 2016 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival returns to the festival's jazz and Canadian roots


Ian Tamblyn and Petr Cancura are outside their comfort zone mixing jazz and folk

Two musicians. One is a jazz musician who spent the last decade in New York City. The other is a singer-songwriter who's spent more than 40 years writing about Canada and the natural world.

Ian Tamblyn (photo provided by the NAC)On Friday, November 20, Petr Cancura and Ian Tamblyn will combine those very different musical spaces and approaches at the National Arts Centre, in a jazz concert of Tamblyn's folk music.

It's a show the two Ottawa-area musicians have been working on since August – and it's taken them both well outside their normal comfort zones.

Talking to each of them a few days ago, they both still had a bit of a nervous tinge to their voices, but sounded excited as well.

“Ian and I have become friends for sure, and so that's an incredible thing in itself,” Cancura said. “And I think we've both really enjoyed it. It's scary – like both of us are stepping a bit out of our comfort zone to do this. That's the hard part. I think that's what takes the most effort and is the most nerve-wracking thing. But I also think we'll end up with something really fresh and exciting."

“I'm the guinea pig,” Tamblyn said. “I'm the one to see what the stretch is like. It's fun for me, but they're pushing me.”

Friday's concert is the first of three shows in Cancura's Crossroads series for NAC Presents, in which a jazz quartet led by him will play jazz arrangements of music by local singer-songwriters – with the full involvement of the songwriters.

Cancura said his musical passion “really is combining roots music and jazz”, which is what this series will allow him to do. He said he started developing the idea after discussions with NAC Presents producer Simone Deneau last fall, and after three or four months of work and research and further discussions with Deneau, they decided to put local singer-songwriters' music “in the context of jazz”.

“Part of what I like about folk music and roots music in general is the storytelling. Why I like to combine these two worlds is because that's what gives me goosebumps – the storytelling. And I think we can do that in jazz. And I always try to create a story, instrumentally."

“I love working with incredible improvisers because I think that's the strength of jazz. So putting that story-telling along with the rawness of jazz is a powerful thing. And it's something fresh.”

Besides Tamblyn, Cancura will also be collaborating with Lynn Miles on February 4, 2016, and Jeremy Fisher on April 7. With all three musicians, “I love what they do. So to get to play music in the way that I would like to play it and to work with them is a dream come true.”

Read more: Ian Tamblyn and Petr Cancura are outside their comfort zone mixing jazz and folk


Carlos Alberto Santana was determined never to give up on jazz

Through both coincidence and intense determination, pianist Carlos Alberto Santana will be showcasing his own vibrant fusion of mainstream and Latin jazz at the National Arts Centre this Friday.

Carlos Alberto Santana's nuanced mix of Latin and mainstream jazz was a big hit at Merrickville's Jazz Fest this year. ©Brett Delmage, 2015Four decades ago, few would have guessed that a young boy in Mexico City would end up in Ottawa leading a jazz quintet. But, as Santana explains, the path that led him to Canada was part by chance, and part by never giving up on his long-time love of jazz.

It all started with a bargain. “My father purchased a piano because he got a good deal, so I was playing that piano since I was maybe four,” Santana said. He began by playing randomly, but by age five was pressuring his parents for proper lessons.

He studied classical and traditional Mexican music on piano for many years, and then came the next chance encounter: “I listened to a long-play that my father bought by mistake by a great pianist Günter Noris. He's from Germany and he was playing classical music in a jazz way.”

That inspired him to listen to many more jazz records – including by Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, and Oscar Peterson. At age 11, Santana applied to the Conservatory in Mexico City, but was told that they didn't have a jazz program. “I asked for jazz and they denied that. You have to go somewhere else.”

But he kept going: “It was hard for me because there weren't many jazz teachers so I had to do a lot on my own, to listen and try to transcribe the music and learn from there. And I was like many musicians and just wanted to play!”

Read more: Carlos Alberto Santana was determined never to give up on jazz


Guillaume Martineau's cinematic music electrifies the NAC Fourth Stage

Guillaume Martineau Quintet
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Saturday, October 24, 2015 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos of The Guillaume Martineau Quintet

After the music ended and the applause died down, I simply sat for a few moments, reliving the the power of this quintet's performance at the NAC. It was a concert which began with quiet, classically-influenced passages and ended in thunderous jazz-rock, increasing in intensity and enveloping the audience during its 80-minute length.

At Guillaume Martineau's NAC Presents concert, there was a high degree of communication and conversation among the musicians (l-r Martineau, Tevet Sela, François Jalbert) ©Brett Delmage, 2015

The music was both electric – with the bass and guitar players making considerable use of pedals and effects – and acoustic – unadorned grand piano, saxophone, and drums – but with each voice contributing to the overall sound, whether simple and restrained, or all-out.

Montreal jazz pianist Guillaume Martineau describes his compositions as cinematic. And if you like your cinema mostly on a Lawrence of Arabia or Star Wars scale, rather than understated interior dramas, that adjective fits quite well. Each of the eight pieces he played at the NAC Presents show told its individual story through intertwining melodies and multiple sonic lines and each was memorable in its own way – some more grandiloquent than others.

That's not surprising with Martineau's wide-ranging CV: a Masters degree in classical piano from McGill University, followed by a jazz degree from Berklee College of Music. From his classical experience, he's developed a taste for multiple movements, multiple voices, and a large dynamic range in his compositions; from jazz, room for improvisation and collaboration.

Equally important to the sound were the other four other Montreal musicians on stage: Tevet Sela on alto and soprano sax, Simon Pagé on electric bass and effects, François Jalbert on electric guitar and effects, and Mark Nelson on drums. These are musicians Martineau has played with for the past three years, since he returned from Berklee. With the exception of Nelson, all appeared on his first album, Par 5 Chemins, released in 2014.

Read more: Guillaume Martineau's cinematic music electrifies the NAC Fourth Stage


Diane White expresses her love of Sixties music in jazz

Diane White, with Tim Bedner and Mark Fraser
Merrickville's Jazz Fest
Holy Trinity Anglican Church
Saturday, October 17, 2015 – 3:30 p.m.

View photos of Diane White and her trio at MJF 2015

Presenting a jazz concert featuring the music of the Sixties – as vocalist Diane White and her trio did at Merrickville's Jazz Fest – has a number of pitfalls. For example, you have, if anything, far too much to choose from – and no clear focus.

Diane White clearly charmed the audience with the heartfelt feel she gave to the lyrics ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Obviously, the British invasion qualifies, with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the Kinks and and Cream and many more. Surf music with the Beach Boys. Psychedelic rock with Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Burt Bacharach. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel, and Buffalo Springfield. Tiny Tim. Liberace. The Jackson 5, the Supremes, and other Motown groups. Frank Zappa. Broadway show tunes. Protest songs, blues, traditional folk, rock&roll – and did we mention all the great modal jazz, bop, post-bop, soul-jazz, avant-garde jazz and more?

You can't play it all. You can't even be truly representative. You can only pick what you'd like to play – and what works.

With two exceptions, I thought Diane White and her trio made excellent choices for her Sixties show at Merrickville. They picked songs with musical heft, ones which have lasted because they have memorable hooks and well-chosen lyrics, and their melodies insinuate themselves into your brain. Only one was an actual jazz tune, but they generally worked well in the trio's understated jazz arrangements.

Read more: Diane White expresses her love of Sixties music in jazz


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