Rory Magill can't hide his excitement, as he prepares for the biggest and most impressive concert he's organized in a decade.
On Sunday, January 22, Magill and the seven other instrumentalists in the Rakestar Arkestra will join the 35-voice Tone Cluster choir and vocalist Christine Duncan to create “Sung Ra: The Songs of Sun Ra”. They'll fill the Church of the Ascension in Ottawa East with costumes, fancy hats, dancing – and entertaining, full-bodied jazz which can jump from melodic to awe-inspiring
The concert is a tribute to the unique jazz composer and bandleader Sun Ra, who in the decades between the 50s and 80s created “cosmic jazz” with his own mythology. To his jazz roots he added elements of avant-garde classical music; he was a pioneer in using electronic keyboards; and he believed in the power of spectacle, with his Arkestra usually dressed in bright, flamboyant costumes, and occasionally including dancers or jugglers or stilt-walkers. That's the spirit Magill wants the January 22 show to have.
“Sun Ra's concerts were always festooned with amazing costumes and ornaments and so on, and this is theatrics as he would do it. It's full-dress this time."
It's a concert which Magill has wanted to present for years. He's been working intensely on it since last year – writing grant proposals, composing music, and inviting other musicians to participate. He received a Canada Council grant for the project last summer – “a huge morale boost” – along with support from the City of Ottawa and the Juno 2017 committee.
There was a big smile on Jumpin' Jimmy Leroux's face on January 12. Leroux coordinates the music on Thursday nights at the Brass Monkey, a brightly-lit basement pool hall and performance space on Greenbank Road in Ottawa's suburban west end.
That evening was an experiment, the hall's first jazz night instead of the local rock bands Leroux usually programs for his new talent showcase. And to his delight, it attracted about 35 interested listeners to hear three Ottawa-area jazz groups, filling almost all the seats available. They enthusiastically applauded the music, and even Leroux's between-set jokes.
“It's a cold Canadian night,” Leroux told the audience, “and the easiest thing is to stay home on your couch. But here you came out to support music. Thanks!”
Up first on stage was Easy Living, a quartet providing smooth and easy-going versions of jazz standards including “But Not For Me” and “Summertime”. Vocalist Fiona George provided a flowing and clear version of “My Little Boat”, with guitarist Jim Mattson, bassist Len Leclair, and drummer Dan Quinlan warming the place with bright samba rhythms.
OttawaJazzScene.ca donors received full advance details of these shows and more than a hundred other jazz performances this month as a token of our appreciation for helping us shine a spotlight on the scene. Become a donor!
2017, Canada's 150th birthday, is a year to celebrate our own culture, including Canadian jazz. And this month will give you many opportunities to do that in Ottawa-Gatineau.
Local and Canadian jazz groups predominate in January – and several are taking interesting chances. The Rakestar Arkestra has a major concert planned with vocalist Christine Duncan and the Tone Cluster choir. Vocalist Betty Ann Bryanton is trying out a new repertoire of strictly Canadian jazz music with her trio. Record Runner Rehearsal Studios is presenting its second concert featuring a pianist not heard before in Ottawa in duo with an Ottawa native.
These January, 2017 jazz highlights are brought to you by OttawaJazzScene.ca readers Peter Liu, Karen Oxorn, Jesse Stewart, and Gaby Warren. We thank them for their support that makes this article possible.
It's also been a month that's continue to evolve and become more crowded even after the New Year’s fireworks. As we've been compiling this update,notifications of new shows and line-up changes have been popping up frequently.
On Sunday, January 8, Florquestra will play a rare late-afternoon show at the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield. The group combines an encyclopedic knowledge of Brazilian rhythms with a French melodic sensibility, in an always-exciting presentation.
Miguel de Armas Septet – New Year's Eve
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Saturday, December 31, 2016
If you were looking for a hopeful, happy way to kick 2016 out the door and look forward to 2017, you couldn't have done better than listening to the upbeat music from Miguel de Armas and his bandmates on New Year's Eve at Brookstreet.
The Cuban-Canadian pianist is ferociously energetic, and he surrounded himself with equally dynamic Latin musicians for this show. Most were from his Sabor de Cuba band, but he also brought in bassist Roberto Riveron – a fellow Cuban who has lived in Toronto since 2007 and has performed with Cuban bands Cubanismo and Klimax, and with Toronto jazz musicians Luis Mario Ochoa, Eddie Bullen, Jane Bunnett, and Hilario Durán.
By the time the music started at 8:25 p.m. – a few minutes early – there was a full house, with all the tables in the main part of the lounge filled. de Armas opened with a lively and flowing standard, supported by Riveron on six-string electric bass and Arien Villegas on congas. Drummer Frank Martinez joined in on the second song, and they remained a quartet for the first hour-long set.
Saorsa (Patrick Smith, Dan Pitt, Harrison Vetro)
Keagan Eskritt and Roddy Ellias
Wednesday, December 21, 2016 – 9 p.m.
Two up-and-coming Ottawa musicians demonstrated another growth spurt in their music in a eye-opening, two-part performance at Pressed in December.
Saxophonist Patrick Smith and drummer Keagan Eskritt grew up here in Ottawa, played in local student bands, participated in the jazzfest's Jazz-Ed program taught by master guitarist Roddy Ellias, and won scholarships and awards. For the past few years, both have been studying jazz performance at the University of Toronto – but over the holidays they came back, and performed for a home-city crowd.
The show opened with a 45-minute duo performance by Eskritt and Ellias, followed by an hour-long set by Saorsa, an improvising jazz fusion group which Smith has formed with two fellow U of T students, guitarist Dan Pitt and drummer Harrison Vetro.
Ellias is one of Eskritt's mentors and they've played together several times before. They opened the show with a lyrical set of guitar and drums, very much in the jazz tradition but with strong original voices of their own.
Three very different Christmas shows were presented by Ottawa's jazz and improvising musicians this month.
On December 14, Ottawa's Latin big band, Los Gringos, performed their Gringos-style adaptations of holiday favourites, with lots of horns, in their annual Christmas show. On December 16, Ottawa jazz aficionado and vocalist Gaby Warren hosted the JazzWorks Christmas jam for the 16th consecutive year, together with his friends – an accomplished group of Ottawa musicians. And on December 18, radio host, composer, and saxophonist Bernard Stepien and his orchestra presented the 10th annual rendition of A Very Ayler Christmas, a mixture of free jazz and carols, presented by the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO).
We recorded one Christmas-themed song from each show, and present the videos below.
Inside the Scene is made possible through the generous support of OttawaJazzScene.ca's donors.
Renée Landry Wishes You A Swinging Christmas
Live! on Elgin
Saturday, December 17, 2016 – 8:30 p.m.
Back in 1960, Ella Fitzgerald released an album called Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas. It quickly became a classic, because of Fitzgerald's joyful and clear vocal interpretations and Frank de Vol's well-chosen and swinging orchestral jazz arrangements. It was an album which celebrated the season and the well-known holiday songs – without being arch or ironic. Instead, it let you enjoy the songs for the well-crafted gems that they are.
Ottawa vocalist Renée Landry reinvoked the magic of that compilation on Saturday, with her second annual “Swinging Christmas” concert. Backed by a sextet of Ottawa musicians who understand classic jazz well, she sang the songs from the Ella album plus three of her own – keeping the joy and avoided the cutesy.
It's a project which she said she and the musicians had been working on since October, with arrangements by saxophonist Richard Page and Landry. The 90-minute show was by no means a copy of the album – for one thing, there weren't any strings in these arrangements – but Page retained De Vol's strong jazz vitality. And the songs were presented in almost the identical order as on Ella's album, with one of the CD's bonus tracks added and one song moved to the encore.
Rémy Bélanger de Beauport
Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) #151
House of Common, Ottawa
Sunday, December 18, 2016 – 7 p.m.
The cello is, in essence, a wooden resonating box with a neck and strings played by a bow or fingers. The tradition is to use it to produce beautiful, elevating sounds that unroll like ribbons and sigh like lovers.
Judging by his Ottawa concert on Sunday, Rémy Bélanger de Beauport does not follow this tradition.
The Quebec City cellist astonished and delighted his listeners at the last IMOO concert of 2016 with a short but very intense set of free improv. In the course of 15 minutes, he actively undercut everything they might expect from cello music, even in an improvised jazz context.
Melody was absent. The very first notes he played were jagged and raw, produced by very fast bowing, with some of his strings muted by a metal clip. de Beauport let his dissonant sounds echo around the room, soft and loud, sounding like buzzing bees and then attenuating down to barely audible vibrations.
His bow lightly rubbed the cello strings, and then pressed in again, creating at first atonal cries and then sounds like a foghorn and then high dissonant harmonics. He added occasional plucked notes to the bowing – and then increased the speed again before finally letting the last notes ring out into the space.
The audience asked for a second piece, and de Beauport obliged with harsh machine-like screeches, created by pressing a metal tuning fork within the strings. Then he threaded one bow through the strings and used a second bow to bow the first, creating a hard, crackling sound. As he sped up this two-bow performance, it almost sounded like not-quite-distinct conversation. He pressed his fingers along the strings as he continued bowing to continuously change the pitch, and then finally let the sounds fade out.
For earlier in December, see More jazz than Jingle Bells in the second week of December
Even as we get closer to Christmas, there's lots of opportunities to clear your musical palate with jazz.
It's now become a 16-year tradition: Ottawa vocalist and jazz aficionado Gaby Warren hosts the JazzWorks Christmas jazz jam. Warren has an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz – and not just his specialty, Afro-Cuban jazz – and can amaze you by recounting the musicians whom he's heard in person. Each year he brings this experience to picking his song list – mostly jazz classics with just a touch of seasonal music – and then performs them with a group of fine jazz musicians.
His group's 45-minute set starts at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, December 16, at the Georgetown Pub in Ottawa South – don't be late! After that, the stage is open for jamming.
On Saturday, December 17, you can celebrate the season with two high-profile concerts. At Live! on Elgin, vocalist Renée Landry pays tribute to Ella Fitzgerald's famous 1960 album, Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas, backed by six experienced musicians from Ottawa's younger jazz crowd. At the show, she's also releasing an EP, A Christmas Night, with her music and lyrics, produced by pianist Clayton Connell and with arrangements by Richard Page. The show is currently sold out.Watch for your opportunity to win a copy of this CD from us.
GigSpace, Ottawa's intimate jazz venue, is marking its fifth anniversary with two “Jazzin’ the Holidays” fundraisers on December 17 with Toronto-area vocalist and pianist Micah Barnes. Barnes is best-known for the years he spent singing in The Nylons; more recently, he has recorded a series of critically acclaimed solo jazz recordings. This spring, he released New York Stories, which evokes “the rich musical history of the Big Apple with songs that describe a long distance romance using the rhythms of the Cotton Club, the Brill Building, The Apollo Theatre and classic Broadway”.
The Record Centre
Sunday, December 11, 2016 – 4 to 5 p.m.
Every note was Canadian when 45north played the Record Centre Sunday afternoon.
The Ottawa jazz sextet specializes in music by fellow Canucks – both straight jazz and jazz fusion interpretations of pop and rock songs. So Joni Mitchell's “Both Sides Now” was followed by Mike Murley's “Stanstill”, and David Braid's “Cowboy Bebop” by the Powder Blues Band's “Doin' It Right”.
The combination – lively and upbeat, with horns – was a good antidote to the looming dark and frigid weather outside. The band played to customers who came and went and a varied group of listeners who stayed and clapped enthusiastically – adding to the beat during some songs as well as afterwards. Near the end of the show, a youngster in a blue snowsuit (and a 'Canada' toque) peered through the outer door from the sidewalk in fascination for almost 10 minutes, but couldn't be coaxed inside to hear the band directly.
The Ottawa Jazz Festival made a sliver of a surplus in 2016 after cutting its payments to musicians by more than a third, while staff and contract costs remained stable.
At the festival's annual general meeting on November 28, festival treasurer Lee Tessmer reported that “after two challenging years, we're back in the black”. The festival had a net income of $3,449 this year, after losses of $123K in 2015 and $141K in 2014.
But the tiny surplus did not come from greater ticket sales, which were down by almost 10% in 2016 from the previous year. (The weather during this year’s festival was primarily warm and sunny, with rain on only two days with ticketed concerts.) Similarly, grants were down 29% and corporate sponsorship down 24%, and advertising revenue was zero.
Instead, the festival cut costs – and particularly for musicians' fees. In 2016, it spent $954,671 on programming, compared to $1,459,246 in 2015 and $1,496,535 in 2014. This was despite 2016 being the festival's 35th anniversary.
The festival spent marginally more on non-musician wages and contract services, from $493K in 2015 to $497K in 2016. In 2015, according to the most recent Canadian Revenue Agency filings, the festival had three employees earning from $40,000 to $79,999, and one employee earning from $80,000 to $119,999.
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