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After 75 years of playing, Oliver Jones still masterfully shares the joy of jazz (review)

Oliver Jones Trio
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre, Studio
Thursday, April 24, 2014 – 8 p.m.

Near the end of his sold-out concert Thursday night, pianist Oliver Jones asked the audience to continue to support “all the wonderful musicians that we have in this country”.

“Now is the time to appreciate them!” he urged. “Don't wait until the big stars come from Europe or the United States. We have a lot right here.”

This is a message that Jones has been pushing for the last 50 years, and followed himself: the other two musicians in his trio are both from Canada and he's watched their careers grow. He's known his drummer, Jim Doxas, since Doxas was 8 years old, and his double bassist, Éric Lagacé, since Lagacé started playing professionally at about 18 or 19.

The three showed a musical rapport born of that long familiarity, as they played a mixture of standards, some originals by Jones, and several numbers by Canadian jazz icon Oscar Peterson. There were lots of smiles, and an almost intuitive understanding amongst the trio.

Jones' delicate handling of a slow ballad would be subtly underlined by Doxas' light brushes on cymbals and ringing chain of bells. Lagacé's bowed bass would join in with Jones' bright piano to provide two voices expressing the melody.

The concert opened with "Teach Me Tonight" by Gene De Paul and Sammy Cahn, one of the many jazz standards which Jones has always delighted in, and which the trio gave a swinging, full-bodied rendition with strongly propulsive drumming. Jones first recorded that song on Requestfully Yours back in 1986 – an apropos title given the number of requests he took from the audience in the second set of this show.

Read more: After 75 years of playing, Oliver Jones still masterfully shares the joy of jazz (review)


Kirk MacDonald shows 'next level of musicianship' at NACJB on Friday

This Friday evening, Kirk MacDonald, one of Canada's preeminent jazz saxophonists and composers, will make a rare Ottawa appearance.

But it won't be with his quartet or his big band. Instead, it will show a different side of MacDonald – as teacher and as a role model – as he appears as a guest artist with the Nepean All-City Jazz Band (NACJB).

Kirk MacDonald at his last Ottawa appearance in May 2013. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

For the students in the band, playing with MacDonald will show “them in ways that words can't describe what the next level of musicianship is,” said NACJB director Neil Yorke-Slader.

“I think it's like playing on an athletic team with someone who's better than you. You see the next level up close. You think you're playing a particular line a certain way with the right amount of style or conviction or accuracy. And then somebody who's at the next level plays it, and you go 'Oh, I never really thought about that. I need to end the note exactly there, I need to shape the note this particular way, or I need to play with a certain vibrato on the front of the note. Or I need to attack it harder.' ”

Yorke-Slader said he finds that the high school students he works with need “to play with more conviction, play like you're 45 years old, play like you mean it! I can talk about that all I want, but to have somebody five feet away from them doing it just shows them.”

MacDonald said that performing with students puts what he does as a musician “on a more tangible level”.

“When you're on the bandstand there's a different kind of intensity than in the classroom. So [it puts] them in the situation where they have to deal with things as they come up and pretty much in the moment. Decisions are made very quickly, you need to commit to things, you need to be prepared, you need to be in shape musically, psychologically, physically. All those kinds of things.

“It's just like: here it is. This is what we do.”

When MacDonald works with students, he said, he tries to “assess where they are and try to have some kind of recollection of what things meant to you at that time, and find a way of communicating that. Encourage them to find ways of pursuing their own path with music, if that's what they want to do.”

Read more: Kirk MacDonald shows 'next level of musicianship' at NACJB on Friday


No Rideau Centre stage at the Ottawa Jazz Festival this year

There will be no Rideau Centre stage at the Ottawa Jazz Festival this year and there are no plans to replace it.

"Heavy-duty" construction in the mall means there will be no Rideau Centre stage at the Ottawa Jazz Festival this year. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

That could mean 15 fewer concerts where listeners can hear local musicians at The Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2014, and a significant loss of local performances since the festival lost its World Exchange Plaza Stage in 2011. The only remaining stage featuring local performances will be the OLG Stage beside Ottawa City Hall, which featured 12 local groups plus two day-long showcases for student bands in 2013.

“We're not doing the jazz series this year,” Cindy VanBuskirk, the Rideau Centre General Manager, told

“The whole property is under redevelopment but that area in particular is going to be seeing some heavy-duty work through the next six to nine months. We won't be doing our jazz or blues series this year, but we will definitely be back at it next year, in 2015.”

VanBuskirk said that even the elevator that the stage has been adjacent to is moving.

Ottawa Jazz Festival Executive Director Catherine O'Grady confirmed the loss of the stage for 2014, and said the festival was not looking for a replacement.

Read more: No Rideau Centre stage at the Ottawa Jazz Festival this year


2014 Chamberfest features clarinetist Don Byron in its genre-bending concerts

Don Byron (photo: Christine Southworth)

The Ottawa Chamberfest will feature renowned jazz clarinetist Don Byron this summer in three shows – two jazz, and one more reminiscent of Brahms.

That's typical of this year's festival and in particular its late-night Chamberfringe. Many of its concerts will cross musical boundaries, combining jazz, classical, world music, and other genres:

“I'm thrilled to be able to have a number of very cool jazz components at this festival,” Chamberfest artistic director Roman Borys told at the festival launch April 15. “It's always a very special treat for me."

For jazz fans, the highest-profile show will be Don Byron's New Gospel Quintet on July 25. In 2012, Byron released Love, Peace, and Soul, a jazz hommage to the gospel tradition, and in particular the legacies of Thomas A. Dorsey and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. He's been touring that combination of traditional Christian hymns with the rhythmic disciplines of jazz and blues ever since.

Roman Borys saw Byron perform with the quintet last fall in Toronto: “It was just fantastic.” That lineup included several Toronto jazz musicians who will also play at Chamberfest: Michael Occhipinti (guitar) and Roberto Occhipinti (bass), and Juno-awarding winning vocalist Divine Brown, who has a five-octave vocal range.

Read more: 2014 Chamberfest features clarinetist Don Byron in its genre-bending concerts


Jacques Emond's jazz recordings play on, at Carleton University

Jesse Stewart needed 60 boxes to transport Jacques Emond's 4,000 vinyl records to Carleton University © Brett Delmage, 2014

A year after his death, Jacques Emond's huge collection of jazz CDs and vinyl records lives on at Carleton University. They are a vital part of the tens of thousands of music recordings and scores which have been recently donated to or acquired by Carleton University – now making its music collection of more than 70,000 recordings one of the largest among Canadian universities.

“We had a minimal jazz collection, that consisted almost exclusively of CDs,” Carleton U music professor and Juno-award-winning jazz musician and improviser Dr. Jesse Stewart told

He was very much hands-on in helping grow the jazz collection in the last six months: purchasing boxes to move the music to Carleton University and packing and transporting the LPs. (He even used one of the sixty empty cardboard boxes as a startling musical instrument at the 2013 IMOOfest [review])

“I feel like Carleton will now have one of the best collections of any Canadian university in terms of recorded jazz.”

Read more: Jacques Emond's jazz recordings play on, at Carleton University


John Geggie reunites with favourite Canadians for an Invitational concert tonight

John Geggie and Christine Jensen take a moment to go over the music they will play tonight at the NAC 4th Stage © Brett Delmage, 2014For more than a dozen years, jazz bassist John Geggie has brought superb jazz players from Canada and the world to play together in new combinations. Tonight in Ottawa at the NAC Fourth Stage, and tomorrow afternoon in Kingston, is the latest – and perhaps last – in this long-running series of concerts.

But if it is, he's leaving with a great lineup, with many Juno-award-winning Canadian jazz musicians. Geggie has played with every one of them at a previous concert in his series, some several times.

Saxophonists Christine Jensen (2014 Juno) and Joel Miller (2013 Juno), and pianist David Braid (2012 Juno) are all well-known as ground-breaking composers as well as instrumentalists. Trumpeter and composer Jim Lewis is a frequent face in Ottawa, performing with Geggie and with Christine Duncan, and is a long-time instructor at the JazzWorks Jazz Camp. Drummer Ted Warren has played in many memorable concerts here.

The one thing you can guarantee about a Geggie Invitational concert is that it won't just be a collection of greatest hits. Each musician contributes music, but the group reworks it and gives it new interpretations. As Geggie said in an email, “Ultimately, I simply wanted to put together a fun band of friends and create some creative music.”

    – Alayne McGregor

Read more: John Geggie reunites with favourite Canadians for an Invitational concert tonight


Omer Klein gave an exhilarating and intense performance for his Canadian debut

Omer Klein ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Omer Klein and Haggai Cohen-Milo
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Ottawa, Canada
Wednesday, April 9, 2014 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos of this concert

One piano. One double bass. And they so filled the Fourth Stage to the walls with melody and layers of sound that nothing more was needed.

This show was pianist Omer Klein's debut performance in Canada. He made the most of it with an exhilarating and intense presentation, which clearly showed his strong and longstanding connection with bassist Haggai Cohen-Milo. The two were in constant visual and musical communication, trading off the lead and reacting to each other's ideas – important given the amount of improvisation they included in the music.

Klein was touring to support his latest album, To the Unknown [Plus Loin Music, 2013], and started the show with the first two pieces from that album. “Fear of Heights” began with repeated circling patterns and then developed into a flowing, classically-influenced melody, almost like a lullaby. “Bliss” started off in a jazzier mood, with a strong initial riff on both instruments; it then added more texture with flurries of notes, glissandos, fast repeated riffs (bass against piano), and staccato interludes – accented by occasional foot stomps from Klein.

The title of “Modesty” reflected the fact it was based on seven different modes – but also that it was a “modest attempt” by a composer to understand he can't come up with a better melody that would be produced by improvisation, Klein told the audience. The actual composition is just a list of chords and a bass line, without a specified melody, he said; the version he played wasn't going to sound like the piece on the album. This version opened in a more quiet, stately manner, and the melody progressed thoughtfully, exploring variations, before slowly diminishing into a stream of individual sparkling notes.

Klein studied jazz at the New England Conservatory of Music, and privately with renowned pianists Danilo Perez and Fred Hersch. His compositions and improvisational style are clearly in the modern piano jazz tradition: multi-layered, strongly improvisational, and unpredictable with contrasting melodies and rhythms. In fact, he noted that he often doesn't even pick which song to play next before he sits back on the piano bench.

Read more: Omer Klein gave an exhilarating and intense performance for his Canadian debut


Omer Klein's lifelong love affair with the piano ... and improvisation

At Omer Klein's concert Wednesday night, you'll hear the result of a life-long love affair with the piano.

The Israeli-born jazz pianist, who studied in the U.S. with Fred Hersch and Danilo Perez, was immediately transfixed when, as a child, he saw a piano being played for the first time.

“It wasn't so much that the specific music did anything to me, it was just the sound of the instrument, and also the look – the black and white keys. It became very, very clear to me that I must press these keys. I don't know a better way to put it. I just felt very strongly that I needed to do that.”

Omer Klein (photo provided by the artist).His concert at the NAC Fourth Stage is the start of an eight-date cross-country tour, from Ottawa to Victoria. It will be his Canadian debut, the first time he has played here despite being introduced to jazz by an Oscar Peterson CD.

The piano will be up-front throughout: on the stage will just be Klein on piano and his long-time musical collaborator, Haggai Cohen-Milo, on double bass. No effects, just the natural sound of the instruments.

“The piano, it's such an amazing instrument. It's so open. It's inviting the pianist to find his or her way to create nuance, to get colours out of the instrument. It's really capable of a wide area of colours and nuance, and I don't think that any effects are necessary.”

He and Cohen-Milo “use a very wide variety of textures when we play, so there is a lot of interplay going on and listening to each other and reacting to each other. The melody can jump around in any direction, harmonies are played by everyone. So it's creating rich textures.”

Klein, who now lives in Germany, has toured worldwide, and released five albums. The latest consists of all originals and features his trio, with Cohen-Milo and drummer Ziv Ravitz. He calls the compositions on the album “songs”, and emphasizes they could be sung, hummed, or even whistled. “They have this kind of lyrical quality.”

“I think my first inspirations as a musician were songs, the human voice singing a three-minute song. That's what I heard first. I discovered jazz later and I discovered the classical instrumental music later. I just think that really emotionally I'm based in that, in song.”

But at the same time he stresses that he and Cohen-Milo are jazz musicians, and how important improvisation is to their performances.

Read more: Omer Klein's lifelong love affair with the piano ... and improvisation


The Mash Potato Mashers parade for their final time

The Mash Potato Mashers will parade for their final time on Friday, April 4, after four years of never standing still.

Mike Essoudry leads the Mashers in a crowd-pleasing outdoor concert at the Montreal Jazz Festival ©Alayne McGregor, 2012

Masher leader Mike Essoudry told that the April 4 gig at Irene's Pub – where the band was a perennial favourite – would be the band's last.

“It was a great run, a great time. We had a [cross-Canada] tour, records. It was really fun. And I thought, if it's not going to be that fun and we can't work on stuff, then we can stop.”

One consistent description of the eight-piece marching band has been “fun”. No sitting down and looking serious. No sheet music (they memorize their entire repertoire). In performance they're constantly on the move, whether playing in the street at jazz festivals or shimmying through local clubs, and making the audience laugh with their musical and non-musical antics.

But managing a band that size is “difficult”, Essoudry said. “It used to be very easy, at the beginning of that band: the organization was easy, the gigs were very easy. It was easy to do the work when stuff was coming in; it was really great."

“But it was just getting harder and it was getting stressful for me to think about it. I'd get a call for a gig and then I'd email people and then I wouldn't get replies for days. And it's like I can't be chasing people. So that got a little frustrating that way. And I know people are busy: I know two kids have been born in the time and things have happened. Craig [Pedersen] has moved to Montreal, and the first drummer quit the band.”

He decided now was the time to leave. “But it was great. We had a really great time. It was fun; it was a good thing. It was a unique thing for Ottawa.”

Read more: The Mash Potato Mashers parade for their final time


Steve Berndt and Brian Browne turn tasty leftovers into gold with "All Over Again"

The musical connection between pianist Brian Browne and vocalist Steve Berndt is immediately apparent. Walking into the piano showroom where I was to meet them, I could see Browne playing the piano, Berndt listening intently, with obvious enjoyment. As we talked, they amplified each others' comments, and laughed and joked together.

This Friday at the NAC Fourth Stage, they release their second album as a duo: All Over Again. It's a direct sequel to 2012's Déjà Vu, and even the album titles are linked. As Berndt explains, it's two halves of a quote from baseball great Yogi Berra: “It's déjà vu all over again”.

Four of the songs, all jazz standards, were recorded in 2012; others were recorded recently.

“Some of the tracks that we recorded in the original Déjà Vu sessions were very good, and I had to make a decision about having an album with 17 or 18 songs on it,” Berndt said. And so I made some decisions about what would be on Déjà Vu, and there's always been these extra tracks.”

“And so I began thinking it would be good to do a bookend album using those tracks, and also to have the chance to record with Brian again. So that's part of the reason I named it All Over Again. So all I had to do was to write a song called 'All Over Again' that was worth listening to and good.”

The bookend theme extends to the cover art. Both CD covers feature piano keyboards, but All Over Again is in ivory and gold, contrasting with Déjà Vu's black and white.

Read the full interview


The Roddy Ellias Trio never stops talking with their music (video)

Roddy Ellias and Adrian Vedady at GigSpace. © Brett Delmage, 2013

Ottawa guitarist and composer Roddy Ellias has left audiences in both Ottawa and Montreal absorbed and delighted by his live music with his trio. This month Ellias, bassist Adrian Vedady, and drummer Thom Gossage are putting out their first CD as a group, Monday's Dream. They're marking the occasion with a CD release concert in Ottawa on March 22 and in Montreal on March 30.

The trio recorded the album starting last December, and prepared for it with a well-received concert at GigSpace in November. interviewed Ellias after the concert about his music, and you see highlights from their concert and that interview in our video below.

   – Brett Delmage

You can hear samples from the Monday's Dream and purchase tracks or the whole album at

See's interview with Roddy about the upcoming CD, and our photos and story about their last Ottawa concert:

Watch the video


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