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Jazzfest 2013: Local musicians you will want to hear

Florquestra's Leonard Constant and Fernando Acosta play at their sold-out CD release concert in Gatineau.    ©Brett Delmage

Don't ignore the locals! Ottawa-Gatineau musicians will present a wide range of jazz and jazz-crossover styles with new musical projects at the 2013 Ottawa Jazz Festival. Listeners who dismiss the two free local stages and larger concerts by local musicians because these are not headliner acts will miss good music.

“I had more than enough applicants to choose from. The last few years, it's been really strong. It's hard to pick,” festival programming director Petr Cancura told OttawaJazzScene.ca at the festival's 2013 launch.

“My approach to is to give opportunity to those who are really doing something new, and pushing it forward.”

Among those groups presenting new material will be The Stretch Orchestra, who received the 2012 Juno Award for Best Instrumental Album. The band, which includes Ottawa percussionist and improviser Jesse Stewart,was unable to tour after their unexpected Juno win last year because of a scheduling conflict. (8 p.m. Thursday June 27, Improv Invitational - NAC Fourth Stage)

Read more: Jazzfest 2013: Local musicians you will want to hear


Stellar year for young Ottawa musicians at 2013 MusicFest Canada

Ottawa alto saxophonist Sam Cousineau was awarded the Yamaha Kando Award last week at the 2013 MusicFest Canada – one of many awards and scholarships going to young Ottawa jazz musicians and ensembles this year.

Sam Cousineau solos at the Nepean All-City Jazz Band concert in Barrhaven on December 7. ©Brett Delmage, 2012MusicFest, held this year in Toronto from May 13 to 18, is an annual national competition for more than 10,000 musicians aged 12-25, drawn from the elementary, high school, college and university levels. The Yamaha Kando is the festival's “premier” award, for an individual who has “demonstrated outstanding musicianship, past musical achievements and solo performances.”

The winner receives $4,000 in musical instruments. Cousineau said he would be choosing a tenor saxophone, which he doesn't currently have.

And that wasn't Cousineau's only win last week: he also received the JazzWorks Camp Scholarship (as he did in 2012), and an entrance scholarship to Humber College.

The quiet musician has been playing in Ottawa student bands – currently the Nepean All-City Jazz Band (NACJB) – for many years now, as well as occasionally around town in local clubs. He said the regular Monday night rehearsals with the NACJB – augmented by playing with different people, playing in front of an audience, and talking about the music with others – have helped him develop as a musician.

His talent has been recognized, by being chosen at least twice to play in the Manhattan on the Rideau video masterclasses at the National Arts Centre. Cousineau said he learned so much from the classes with Dave Liebman and with Donny McCaslin: “Those two gentlemen are such great saxophonists and musicians and they're wonderful people.”

Neil Yorke-Slader, the musical director of NACJB, said that, “Sam is the most dedicated teenage musician I have ever known. He sets very high goals for himself, then applies himself with discipline and focus to achieve those goals. He has a remarkable fluency and emotive capacity in his saxophone playing. Remember the name - Sam Cousineau.”

Cousineau is the third Ottawa musician to win the Kando award since 2006. Coincidentally, previous winners Daniel Ko and Nathan Cepelinski also play alto sax and studied at Nepean High School.

Read more: Stellar year for young Ottawa musicians at 2013 MusicFest Canada


Gaby Warren's years as a jazz fan recognized at CD launch (review)

Gaby Warren: jazz fanatic ©Brett Delmage, 2013Gaby Warren: Reflections of a Jazz Fanatic CD Launch
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage

View photos of this concert

Partway through his CD release concert Tuesday, Ottawa vocalist Gaby Warren mentioned how he went to a club in the 1950s to hear Thelonious Monk. When he arrived, he saw a large Bentley parked out front, so he knew that Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, the patroness of jazz musicians in general and Monk in particular, was there. So that was the only time he got to talk to “Nica”, he told the audience.

Warren told this story with such matter-of-factness and modesty that one had to hide one's raging envy: he heard Monk live? And talked to the legendary baroness? It was simply to give another angle on Horace Silver's song “Nica's Dream”, which appears on his new CD and which he and his quartet – saxophonist Kirk MacDonald, double bassist John Geggie, pianist Nancy Walker, and drummer Nick Fraser – performed with verve and exactitude.

Read more: Gaby Warren's years as a jazz fan recognized at CD launch (review)


Split Cycle plays intricately-woven modern jazz (review)

Split Cycle
Thursday, May 16, 2013
GigSpace Performance Studio

Split Cycle, a group split between Montreal and NYC, performed Thursday in Ottawa on GigSpace’s new stage. They played tunes from their new self-titled CD, and some brand-new tunes written right before the tour. They played intricately woven modern jazz that swung and that rocked, that softly brushed, grooved in time, and freely escaped the constraints of time.

The band played music they are passionate about, music that was intense harmonically, melodically, and especially rhythmically. The collective of musicians would take turns counting in their own tunes, while the others buried their faces in their music stands.

The night started off with the leaping intervallic melody of “Samuraikatagi”, before falling into its 13/4 groove on which guitarist Aki Ishiguro soloed as bassist Nicolas Letman-Burtinovic and drummer Martin Auguste swung behind him. After returning to its melody and deceptive non-ending, saxophonist Samuel Blais took an unaccompanied alto solo that caused the band to slowly erupt, returning to the 13/4 groove and then ending with a pretty and new melodic section.

Read more: Split Cycle plays intricately-woven modern jazz (review)


Next concert in John Geggie Invitational series may be the last

John Geggie's Invitational concert on May 25 may be the last in that series at the National Arts Centre.

Simone Deneau, the NAC's producer of Variety and Community Programming, told OttawaJazzScene.ca that, although the NAC has not yet made any final decisions, the Geggie series would not likely return as a formal series in 2013-14.

John Geggie contemplates the score ©Brett Delmage, 2012

“I think it's going to be the end of the series as a series of community programming performances, so the one coming up in May is probably the last of the Geggie shows as a series.”

There will not be a subscription series of Geggie under Community Programming at the NAC, she said. “It might come back in another persona.”

When contacted by OttawaJazzScene.ca, Geggie said he thought the decision was “unfortunate”.

The series, now in its twelfth year, brought in a wide range of musicians from Canada, the U.S., and overseas, in innovative combinations which allowed musicians who had never before played together to perform each others' compositions, as well as jazz standards and some free improv. The concerts ranged substantially in style from mainstream to avant-garde to even some vocal jazz, but always involved combining musicians in new ways rather than showcasing established groups.

This season, the series was cut back to only half the number of concerts from the previous year, and featured only Canadians rather than a mixture of Canadian and international musicians.

Ottawa jazz fans who attended the concerts were exposed to a great number of different musicians – some legendary, some very well-established, and some musicians they might never have otherwise heard, Geggie said, including “an astonishing number” of Canadian jazz artists from across the country. Some musicians from outside Canada were sponsored by local embassies: for example, renowned drummer Jon Christensen's appearance in 2007 was supported by the Royal Embassy of Norway.

Each concert was different, with a certain amount of risk involved. As Geggie emphasized, the musicians “weren't just coming in doing their shtick. They were taking part in something bigger that that, which I feel is a much more interesting concept to shoot with.”

And he said he appreciated how Ottawa jazz fans came out to support the series, “that they actually really liked it and respected that concept and went for that.”

“To my mind, that was a successful thing. People were experiencing music on a different level. They were experiencing musicians they'd never seen or heard before. So in terms of value that way, it was great. For me, it was a great experience and it will be a great experience on the 25th just because there's great musicians and as always we come together to make music.”

Read more: Next concert in John Geggie Invitational series may be the last


Gaby Warren: a jazz fanatic steps to the other side of the footlights

Update: See our review and photos of of Gaby Warren's Ottawa CD release concert.

Despite his 40-year career in the Canadian foreign service, Gaby Warren has been an integral part of Ottawa's jazz scene since the early 1980s. He's served as the vice-president of the Ottawa Jazz Festival, and a JazzWorks jam coordinator. In 2005, the Ottawa Jazz Festival gave Warren its Award of Distinction for his commitment to jazz in Ottawa-Gatineau.

The inside of Gaby Warren's CD, Reflections of a Jazz Fanatic. Importantly to Warren, it has liner notes.

He's also one of the biggest jazz fans in town – not uncritically, by any means – but with a deep appreciation of many types of jazz. You frequently see him at concerts and clubs around Ottawa.

Talking to Warren – and he's always delighted to do so – is an education in itself. Partly courtesy of his travels for the government and expertise in issues related to the United Nations, he's seen more influential jazz musicians in concert than almost anyone. He also has an impressive CD habit, and these days, he's listening to live concerts from Smalls in NYC over the Internet.

But his deepest love is for Afro-Cuban jazz, courtesy of a stint in the Canadian embassy in Cuba in the mid-1960s. The result: Warren and Cuba had far more impact on each other than could ever have been predicted, including bringing music to renowned musicians like Chucho Valdès and Paquito D'Rivera.

Now Warren has stepped to the other side of the footlights. After 16 years of studying jazz vocals and 8 years of music theory lessons, he's released a CD. It's effectively his musical memoirs, playing hommage to the styles of jazz he loves, and backed by some fine musicians from Ottawa and Toronto. They include veteran Toronto saxophonist Kirk MacDonald, and the Geggie Trio (John Geggie on bass, Nancy Walker on piano, and Nick Fraser on drums) well-known for their decade-long run as the house band for the jams at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, and much more as individual jazz musicians in Ottawa and Toronto.

The CD's official release is at a concert in Ottawa this Tuesday (May 21) at the NAC Fourth Stage, and at The Rex Jazz Club in Toronto on June 3.

It's entitled Reflections of a Jazz Fanatic, and that's exactly how Warren refers to himself. He makes no secret of how much he loves the music.

OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor interviewed Warren a week before his concert, in an extended, free-flowing interview about how he was introduced to jazz, his adventures in Cuba, what types of jazz he loves, how he started singing, and about the album itself. We're releasing it as a podcast, and have included some excerpts from the podcast below.

Read more: Gaby Warren: a jazz fanatic steps to the other side of the footlights


No Ottawa Jazz Festival jam sessions in 2013? Listeners object.

View selected photos from past Ottawa Jazz festival jam sessions

Update May 21, 2013: The jams will be hosted by the AlphaSoul Café. Read the full story.

Update May 14, 2013: The Ottawa Jazz Festival tweeted this morning that it had found a venue for the late-night jams. "Band and more information to be announced shortly!"

Local jazz fans and musicians are urging the Ottawa Jazz Festival not to cancel its late-night jam sessions.

The jams have been in limbo for the last five months, and festival programming director Petr Cancura said they will not go ahead unless a sponsor is found for them.

Jammers and fans listen to percussionist Nick Fraser at an Ottawa Jazz Festival jam session.  ©Brett Delmage, 2005

“Basically we're looking for partners, and we're looking for venues, and it's hard because it's a sponsorship-partnership and the sponsorship deals with the hotels are constantly changing. ... Our sponsorship person is looking into that and working hard. Honestly, I keep bugging her every other day. I'm like, 'So what's happening? What's happening?' She's like, 'Working on it, working hard.' So that's all I can say.”

For the last two years, the jams were held at ARC The Hotel on Slater Street, close to Confederation Park. At its launch on Wednesday, the festival announced that ARC was back as a sponsor providing lodging for musicians, but had no announcements on the jams.

“We just don't know yet. There's a few talks, but we don't know,” Cancura said. He said he hoped to have news within the next two weeks.

Local jazz fans and musicians are arguing the festival should not be dropping the jams.

Read more: No Ottawa Jazz Festival jam sessions in 2013? Listeners object.


Jeff Johnston Trio enraptures the audience (review)

Jeff Johnston played into the space in his concert at GigSpace. ©Brett Delmage, 2013Jeff Johnston Trio
Friday, April 26, 2013
GigSpace Performance Studio

View photos of this concert

It was a night where the music flowed out over the audience, and they responded with rapt attention.

After an absence of many years, pianist Jeff Johnston brought his trio to Ottawa April 26. The occasion: the release of his new album, the first in more than a decade.

So long-time fans of the Newfoundland-born, Montreal-based pianist, some of whom had already heard the album, were anticipating the concert even before it started. And Johnston, bassist Fraser Hollins, and drummer Rich Irwin did not disappoint them.

The show consisted of originals from the new album, Returning, plus several interesting standards, played intensely and melodically in a way that made full use of the quietness and excellent acoustics of GigSpace.

Johnston started alone on the piano, introducing “How Deep is the Ocean”. He carefully took the song apart and arranged it in new patterns – before the bass and drums joined in for a an assured recounting of the standard. You could hear immediately that this trio had experience playing together: they smoothly switched places and easily supported one another.

The remaining songs in the first set were all originals from Returning, each of which used resonance and echo to add drama and interest to the music. In “At You”, Johnston and Hollins traded the lead but each built up the strong tune. “What” began with ghostly effects on drums and bass, with a few reverberant notes on piano following. Unlike the other songs in the set, it stayed sparse and somewhat jagged, increasing in intensity and speed until finally resolving to a still-sparse melody, with repeated fast runs of notes on both piano and bass.

Read more: Jeff Johnston Trio enraptures the audience (review)


Kellylee Evans to appear again at NAC Presents

September 2013: See our story on the full 2013-14 NAC Presents lineup.

NAC Presents, the National Arts Centre's showcase for Canadian musicians, will be bringing back Ottawa singer Kellylee Evans in its 2013-14 series – but that's the only jazz in that series so far.

Kellylee Evans launched Evans will be playing the NAC Studio (300 seats) on Wednesday, December 18. She appeared in this year's season of NAC Presents on April 20 at the 180-seat NAC Fourth Stage. That show sold out weeks in advance.

The NAC announced the Evans concert May 8, as part of an initial announcement of the fall section of its season.The remaining artists announced ranged from rock to folk to indie to country. There were no other jazz artists. In 2012-13, the NAC Presents lineup included eight jazz artists, including three in the fall; in 2011-12, there were five jazz artists, including two in the fall, plus the Geggie series.

Read more: Kellylee Evans to appear again at NAC Presents


Roddy Ellias: a humble Jazz Hero

Tuesday, April 30, was International Jazz Day. As part of the celebrations for this day, Roddy Ellias was officially recognized as a Jazz Hero at a ceremony at Carleton University . You can also see videos of the international Jazz Day celebrations here

A quiet and unpretentious Ottawa guitarist, composer and educator who lets his compositions and performances speak loudest for him has been recognized as a Jazz Hero.

Roddy Ellias emphasizes a point at a Carleton University masterclass. He received a 2013 Jazz Hero Award for his many contributions to the Ottawa jazz scene, including teaching ©Brett Delmage, 2011Roddy Ellias was the only Canadian among the 25 recipients to receive the award from the Jazz Journalists Association on April 1. The award honours “activists, advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors of jazz who have had significant impact in their local communities.”

“I'm very happy to get the award and humbled, very humbled,” Ellias said. That's typical: his regular upcoming performance announcements are notably free of the “greatest” superlatives that burden others' announcements. Ellias often doesn't even mention himself, preferring to focus attention on the other musicians he will play with.

While OttawaJazzScene.ca now lists 1800 performances and events annually including Ellias', it wasn't always that way. Ellias was, by himself, a significant part of the scene in earlier years.

“Imagine Ottawa in the 70's... there wasn't a lot happening,” he said. But Ellias was there, one of the musicians bringing jazz to eager Ottawa listeners before there was a jazz scene on this side of the river. In the early years he entertained many listeners at the Chateau Laurier's Cock and Lion, and he was in demand at Wildflower Café six nights a week.

Most importantly, he's been a steady musical contributer to the Ottawa jazz scene since the 1970s. He hosted his popular “Roddy and Friends” series at the former Café Paradiso, playing with a wide range of musicians, including famed guitarists Vic Juris, Gene Bertoncinoi, Lorne Lofsky, and David Occhipinti, but also moving further afield with an organ quartet featuring saxophonist Kirk MacDonald. Since the fall, he's continued that invitational series at GigSpace.

Ellias has numerous other musical projects on the go right now, including a recording with pianist Marc Copland, Adrian Vedady, and John Fraboni (they played at the Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2012), a planned trio recording with Andrew Downing and Ottawa Jazz Festival Programming Director and multi-instrumentalist Petr Cancura this month, and an intriguing concert of improvisation planned for May, with two of Canada's most talented improvisers: Christine Duncan and Jesse Stewart.

Read more: Roddy Ellias: a humble Jazz Hero


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