Thursday, October 23, 2014
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AlphaSoul jazzfest jams get jammed

Players and listeners wait to be admitted into the Ottawa Jazz Festival jam at AlphaSoul Cafe. The Cafe was already jammed to capacity of 60 people. ©Brett Delmage, 2013Ottawa Jazz Festival jam sessions continued their popularity throughout the festival this year, despite the change in location to the AlphaSoul Cafe in Hintonburg, 3.5 km west of downtown and the festival's stages.

The "small but vocal group of Jazz Festival audience members" whom festival executive producer Catherine O'Grady said earlier were "disappointed by the prospect of a jam-less festival" have supported the new venue evening after evening. They have overflowed its maximum capacity of 60 people most evenings from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.

The number of headline musicians showing up to jam has been somewhat less that previous years, but world-class players, including saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, guitarist Gilad Hekselman (playing drums!), and cellist Matt Brubeck have continued to show up to jams, to the delight of listeners. The participation of excellent local musicians is up this year, introducing jam-goers to people they can listen to throughout the year. Pianist Miguel de Armas was a particular hit.

Read more: AlphaSoul jazzfest jams get jammed


Alan Jones embraces risk with his all-Canadian, all-star sextet

The Canada-U.S. border can be surprisingly porous when it comes to musical ties.

Take, for example, Alan Jones – a drummer, composer, and educator who's an important part of the jazz scene in Portland, Oregon. Jones is bringing his All-Canadian Sextet to the Ottawa Jazz Festival on Friday, and to the Jazz Bistro in Toronto on Saturday.

All-Canadian? Actually, yes. Five of the six star jazz musicians in this group live in the U.S., but every one is a Canadian citizen.

Alan Jones (image used by permission of the artist)Saxophonist Seamus Blake, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, and pianist Jon Ballantyne reside in the NYC area. Jones and bassist Tom Wakeling are in Portland. Only saxophonist Phil Dwyer lives in Canada, on Vancouver Island, and even he did live in the U.S. for a while in the 1980s.

So what you'll see on the festival stage will be mostly musicians who for family or musical reasons have chosen to live the expatriate experience. Jones himself is a perfect example: he's lived in various cities in Canada, the U.S., and Europe before settling down in Oregon a few years ago, and he argues that that roving was important to his musical development.

But what might not be quite as obvious is the long-standing musical ties behind this group. Jones has been playing with all but one of these musicians for decades – and those ties started in and were strengthened by experiences in Canada.

As he says, these are “my favourite Canadian musicians”. He picked the instrumentation of the sextet and wrote his compositions based on their capabilities, rather than picking the instruments and then finding musicians to play them.

Read more: Alan Jones embraces risk with his all-Canadian, all-star sextet


The Stretch Orchestra makes jazz bend

For once, Kevin Breit at 6'5 tall (l) overshadows 6'8 tall Matt Brubeck (r). Yes, that's why they're called the Stretch Orchestra. ©Brett Delmage, 2011

It's fitting that the Stretch Orchestra won a Juno Award last year in the Instrumental category – because that's the Juno category that's least classifiable.

The group, which appears at the Ottawa Jazz Festival on Thursday, is simply difficult to categorize – even while having an unmistakable and cohesive sound of its own. Its music can range from groove, to blues, to ballads and waltzes, to pure free improv, to fiery guitar solos. Its instrumentation is unique: no one else combines guitars and mandolin with cello and with drums and waterphone – or necessarily plays those instruments in the same way!

And while its members – guitarist Kevin Breit, cellist Matt Brubeck, and percussionist Jesse Stewart – all have impeccable jazz credentials, they've also played regularly in a wide variety of other genres. Brubeck was in Kent Nagano's Berkeley Symphony Orchestra from 1989-2003, and has played on albums by Tom Waits, Sheryl Crow, and the Dixie Chicks; Breit tours and records regularly with Hugh Laurie in Laurie's New Orleans-influenced blues band, as well as backing up singers like Holly Cole or Rosanne Cash. Stewart is notable for his performances on instruments made of water, fire, ice, and stone, and his work in contemporary experimental music.

That experience in music other than jazz has given the group more freedom to experiment, Brubeck said. “I think that the stretchy elasticity, especially in terms of idiom and style I associate with this band, means that I can write something in the abstract and then think, 'How would this tune go if we were reggae?' In other words, I can just think kind of melodically, harmonically, whatever, at the piano, at the cello, and then later, maybe even through the trial and error of rehearsal, figure out what does this little form stylistically demand, and go from there. Other projects that I'm involved with are a little more neatly packaged stylistically as to what they are.”

But that variety may be very appropriate for the iPod generation, he said. “I teach people who don't own CDs. Or only know a couple tracks from this record and that record, because, they hear one thing they like and they download it, right? So I don't think this is any sort of intentional thing, but I think we do reflect people's really diverse listening interests in music.”

Read more: The Stretch Orchestra makes jazz bend


Two exceptional percussionists play the Ottawa Jazz Festival this week (video)

Two exceptional improvising percussionists: Ottawa's own Jesse Stewart, and Chicago's Hamid Drake, will play at the Ottawa Jazz Festival's Improv Invitational Series this week.

Hamid Drake plays in the French American Peace Ensemble with William Parker, Kidd Jordan, and François Tusques on Sunday, June 23 at 6 p.m.

Jesse Stewart plays with the Matt Brubeck and Kevin Breit in the Juno-award-winning Stretch Orchestra  on Thursday, June 27 at 8 p.m. attended Stewart and Drake's first joint concert at GigSpace in March. Although you won't hear them play together this week, our video with excerpts from their concert will give you a real feel for their skill and versatility as percussionists and improvisers, together and apart.

    – Brett Delmage

Watch the video

Read more: Two exceptional percussionists play the Ottawa Jazz Festival this week (video)


David Byrne talks about music and the music biz, in all its eclectic glory (book review)

How Music Works
by David Byrne
McSweeney's, 2012, $37.95
reviewed by Alayne McGregor

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I had, of course, listened to the Talking Heads, but I had never seen their ex-lead singer, David Byrne, in person until a few years ago. Byrne was on a book tour to promote a collection of essays about cycling – Bicycle Diaries – and spoke at the Ottawa Writers Festival. The book turned out to be an interesting mixture of the personal and the larger picture. In person, Byrne was modest and interesting to listen to without being dogmatic.

He's just written a second book – this time about music – and again it contains a mixture of personal experience and larger-scale musings on music as a social phenomenon and a creative spur. And its publication happens to coincide with a concert appearance by him in Ottawa, on Sunday, June 23, at the Ottawa Jazz Festival.

Now, Byrne is a rock musician with worldbeat and art song influences. He doesn't play jazz. But a lot of what he has to say has great relevance to jazz listeners and musicians, because the music business and the experience of listening are common to all music fans. You may listen to different styles and different instruments and in different environments, but how you find that music or get to that concert poses the same challenges and provides the same joy.

Read more: David Byrne talks about music and the music biz, in all its eclectic glory (book review)


Roberto López combines Colombian rhythms and jazz into danceable music

Listening to Roberto López's Afro-Colombian Jazz Orchestra, you may experience moments of surprising unfamiliarity.

At first, this music may remind you of Afro-Cuban or Brazilian jazz: similar rhythm patterns, musical genres, and instruments – and similarly approachable and highly danceable.

Roberto Lopez (photo by Richard Deckers)But the accents will be different, the patterns subtly altered, because of where López's musical influences come from – Colombia, half-way between Cuba and Brazil.

You can hear the difference for yourself on Saturday, June 22, at 6 p.m., when López brings the orchestra to the main stage of the Ottawa Jazz Festival. It will be the first stop on a cross-Canada tour promoting the orchestra's first CD, Azul. The tour will also include a stop at the Montreal Jazz Festival on July 3.

López grew up in Bogotá, Colombia, studied jazz at Concordia University in Montreal, and has now lived and played music in Canada for almost two decades. He has combined his Colombian heritage and his jazz training to create a unique polyglot – taking Columbia traditional music and music by famous Columbian composers, and then adding his own jazz compositions inspired by this music.

His orchestra is similarly cross-cultural. It features well-known Montreal jazz musicians like saxophonist Joel Miller, bassist Fraser Hollins, and trombonist Dave Grott. But it also features many Colombian instruments: López himself on tiple, tambora, and guacharaca and two percussionists on alegre, tambora, congas, and campanas.

This cross-fertilization started soon after López first arrived in Canada. As he was absorbing jazz standards, his fellow students were asking him about Colombian music. That inspired him to learn more about the music which had surrounded him while he was growing up – for what eventually turned out to be years of research.

Read more: Roberto López combines Colombian rhythms and jazz into danceable music


Festival pass awarded - and two more to be won!

Brady Leafloor enjoys his Jazz Festival Bronze passCongratulation to Brady Leafloor, who won a 2013 Ottawa Jazz Festival Bronze pass from His name was randomly selected from the donors to our annual community funding campaign. Brady will enjoy a lot of great music during the next 10 days - and perform some himself! Catch him and his fellow Hornettes on the OLG Stage at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 29.

You have another opportunity to win Festival Passes!

Ottawa Chamberfest has generously donated a pair of passes to their 2013 Chamberfringe concert series (the late-night, on-the-edge part of Chamberfest) which we will be awarding to a lucky donor in mid-July, at the end of our fundraising campaign. These passes include a concert by jazz multi-instrumentalists Phil Dwyer and Don Thompson celebrating their 30 years of musical collaboration, as well as concerts by Jayme Stone and the Montreal Guitar Trio. Latin music lovers will also appreciate the Cuban and Brazilian music.

All donors of $20 or more to will be automatically be entered in our contest. And, more importantly, they will support's work for another year letting you know what's happening in jazz in Ottawa-Gatineau. Learn more about our work and how it's appreciated. Donate now!


Listeners follow Ottawa Jazz Festival jams westward to AlphaSoul Cafe

View photos from the jam

André St. Jacques was eager to hear the opening night of the Ottawa Jazz Festival's late-night jam sessions, at their new location at the AlphaSoul Café in Hintonburg.

André St. Jacques was one of the eager listeners who came out to the first night of the Ottawa Jazz festival's jams at AlphaSoul Cafe in Hintonburg. Brett Delmage, ©2013So after listening to concerts in Confederation Park, he pointed his four-wheel motorized scooter westward. 45 minutes and 3.5 km later, he arrived at the café and rolled right in. He happily listened until the music closed down at 1:45 a.m.

St. Jacques, the long-time host of the radio show Jazz et Compagnie on CHUO-FM, was only one of a group of listeners and musicians who drove, cycled, walked and rolled to reach the café Thursday night. There they heard several sets of almost completely-acoustic music – a pleasant contrast to music earlier in the evening in the park – which nevertheless filled the place from front to back. The sound was good even on the back patio at the far end of the café.

Three Montreal musicians – pianist Josh Rager, bassist Fraser Hollins, and drummer Rich Irwin – are hosting the first four nights of the jams (June 20-23). They played the first set themselves and then invited up guests.

The stand-out was tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, who is in Ottawa to perform with Tom Harrell's group Friday evening. In the three extended songs he played with a rotating group of musicians, his strong, clear, and assertive sax energized the space. Also playing were bassist Kodi Hutchinson, whose Hutchinson Andrew Trio had performed on the main stage earlier that evening; local drummer Ted Zarras; and pianist Deniz Lim-Sersan, who is currently studying at Humber College in Toronto.

The crowd listened intently and applauded enthusiastically. At least two listeners also applauded the café's refreshments, which included two local brands of beer, and fresh soups, sandwiches, and other healthy fare for those who had missed their dinner rushing from concert to concert.

This is the first time the Ottawa Jazz Festival jams have been located outside downtown. For more than a decade, the jams had been run at local downtown hotels, most recently at Arc The Hotel.

Read more: Listeners follow Ottawa Jazz Festival jams westward to AlphaSoul Cafe


Jazzfest 2013: Great jazz from across Canada

The breadth of Canadian jazz talent will be on display at the 2013 Ottawa Jazz Festival, including more artists from Western Canada.

Many musicians not seen recently in Ottawa – John Stetch, Brad Turner, Peggy Lee, Vic Vogel, Jon Ballantyne, and Seamus Blake – will appear, along with some new names like Tyson Naylor, Alan Jones, and Roberto López.

Mike Murley with David Braid at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. ©Brett Delmage

Several of these are hidden in less-expected series or under less-obvious band names. But there's an advantage to that, too – you get to hear them play with new people and feature new material!

Festival programming director Petr Cancura told that the wider geographic range this year was deliberate: “We really sat down and said, 'Let's make the Great Canadian series a cross-Canada thing – you know, really work hard on that'.” When all the jazz festivals in Canada met together in November, he said, they decided to “really try to represent each part of the country. So we stuck to it. We didn't back out.”

There will also be some impressive locally-connected groups playing the Main Stage, the NAC or Dominion Chalmers – the Stretch Orchestra, Kellylee Evans, Los Gringos, Rob Frayne's Dream Band, and the Souljazz Orchestra – which you can read about in our Local Artists story.

Here's's guide to some of the best Canadians or Canadian expats appearing at the 2013 Ottawa Jazz Festival.

  • Montreal saxophonist Chet Doxas must have an impressive address book – after appearing in Ottawa last summer with Dave Douglas and Steve Swallow, this year he's in two other projects with quite different styles and lineups.

    The first is a concert commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Oscar-nominated animated film, The Triplets of Belleville. Montreal guitarist Benoit Charest wrote the soundtrack to that movie, and won a French César Award for it. He was also nominated for a Grammy and an Oscar for one of its songs. He will be recreating the soundtrack on-stage, in a seven-piece band that includes Chet Doxas, keyboardist Dan Thouin, and drummer Jim Doxas, and instruments which range from tuba, vibraphone, and foley to vacuum-cleaner. heard Chet Doxas play an high-energy show together with Charest and Thouin at the 2012 Montreal Jazz Festival: see our review with photos.

  • The second project with Doxas is the Relative Quartet, a group only formed last fall, and which is just about to release its first album, Automatic Vaudeville. All four members are Canadians, but only Chet Doxas lives here: pianist John Stetch, bassist Michael Bates, and drummer Owen Howard now live in Brooklyn, NY.

    Read more: Jazzfest 2013: Great jazz from across Canada


Jazzfest 2013: CKCU-FM previews the 2013 Ottawa Jazz Festival

Updated June 19, 2013

TRon Sweetman, host of CKCU's In a Mellow Tone ©Brett Delmage, 2011hree jazz radio hosts on CKCU (93.1 FM) will preview the musicians playing at the 2013 Ottawa Jazz Festival this month. Each has already presented one festival preview show in the first week of June.

You can hear all these shows (and the ones below, after broadcast) on the Internet at; just search for the specific show.

Wednesday, June 19 from 11 p.m. to midnight: Bernard Stepien will present his third and last show about the Ottawa jazz festival on Rabble Without a Cause. He will interview festival programming director Petr Cancura about his "diversity of musical horizon" as a musician. "Petr will be in the studio tonight to discuss both his musical quest and how he puts it to use in programming the Jazz festival."

Sunday, June 23 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.: Swing is in the Air host Vince Rimbach will interview festival programming director Petr Cancura about Cancura's picks for the festival, plus his just-released album, Down Home. Rimbach will also interview Ottawa guitarist Garry Elliott and pianist Steve Boudreau about their new CD, Pre-Dawn Skies, which they will present in a free festival concert on Saturday, June 29 at noon at the Rideau Centre.

Read more: Jazzfest 2013: CKCU-FM previews the 2013 Ottawa Jazz Festival


Three generations of music at Italian Week Festival

Three different jazz eras on three different blocks – that's what you could hear on Preston Street on Friday night, during the free Italian Week Festival activities.

The Jivewires (Kelly Craig - trumpet, Steve Berndt - vocals shown) grabbed people's attention at the Italian Week festival on Friday night. They're playing again tonight and Sunday night.   ©Brett Delmage, 2013Furthest north was Cuppa Soup Combo, whose repertoire is mostly from the 1920s and 30s: the start of jazz. They played toe-tapping music like “Pennies from Heaven” – particularly appropriate since they were rattling donation cups for the Shepherds of Good Hope as they always do.

As one band member announced, the group includes the only member of the Ottawa local of the Musicians Union who officially plays washboard: Sanders Mommers. He ended their first set with a bravura performance with thimbles, cowbells, cymbals and all!

A few blocks up was the Richard Page Quartet, who played mostly hard bop and postbop from the late 50s and 60s: the Hank Mobley and Art Blakey generation. Page was playing a tenor sax which he had recently rescued from being a plant stand. He just got it back this week from being refurbished, and was getting used to it; it produced a strong, rich sound which suited their repertoire.

Read more: Three generations of music at Italian Week Festival


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