Wednesday, October 07, 2015
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Duchess: “Girl-on-girl harmony” in a very easy to enjoy show (review)

Great Canadian Jazz Series
Ottawa Jazz Festival
Confederation Park
Saturday, June 20, 2015 – 6:30 p.m.

There was a time when jazz didn't take itself too seriously.You went to a jazz show to have fun, to dance, to get cheered up.

The vocal trio Duchess – Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou – did its damnedest to bring back that era at its Ottawa Jazz Festival concert Saturday. Supported by a strong rhythm section, they sang cheerful jazz standards in tight harmony, in a show that was very easy to enjoy.

“Girl-on-girl harmony” is how the trio describes its music, and a great deal of it was sung in unison. They alternated verses and even lines, and their voices melded well as they celebrated the songs – which were mostly from the 1930s to 50s, and which they described as “timeless”. They followed that theme through by dressing similarly – though not identically – in well-cut, blue polka-dot dresses in a distinctly retro style.

Read more: Duchess: “Girl-on-girl harmony” in a very easy to enjoy show (review)


Ottawa Jazz Festival's late-night jam an upbeat completion to Saturday's music

Festival programming manager Petr Cancura (l) listens to a swinging duet by jam hosts pianist Steve Boudreau (on June 27-30) and guitarist Roddy Ellias. All three played with a variety of guest musicians throughout the jam  ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Ottawa Jazz Festival Late-night jam
Spin Kitchen & Bar, Ottawa Marriott Hotel
10:30 p.m. Saturday, June 20 to 1 a.m. Sunday, June 21, 2015

View photos of this jam by photojournalist Brett Delmage

Jazz fans who wanted an upbeat end to Saturday evening would have enjoyed the Ottawa Jazz Festival's late-night jam session. For 2½ hours, Spin Kitchen & Bar was filled with fast-moving jazz, with a good participation by both local and visiting musicians.

The house band – Roddy Ellias (guitar), John Geggie (double bass), and Nick Fraser (drums) – all have years of experience running jams. They opened with a half-hour set of three standards, including “Cheek to Cheek” and “Domino”. Each was given an extended treatment, and the music quickly captured the attention of the listeners near the stage.

By 11 p.m., the room, seating approximately 50 with clear sight lines to the stage, was mostly full. Ellias called up local pianist Steve Boudreau to the stage to join the band for several instrumentals. That set the shape of the music for the evening: energetic with lots of interplay, including a swinging duet between Boudreau and Ellias. The audience responded with continued appreciative applause.

Read more: Ottawa Jazz Festival's late-night jam an upbeat completion to Saturday's music


Keen listeners share their 2015 Ottawa Jazz Festival favs, and opinions

Overlapping concerts, long line-ups, people who won't shut up, and not enough jazz – those are the main frustrations to expect at the 2015 Ottawa Jazz Festival, according to respondents to's listeners poll.

On the other hand, many listeners love the festival's atmosphere, and highlighted jazz groups on the schedule which they were eagerly looking forward to.

The poll was open to subscribers of's weekly jazz events newsletter, in the week leading up the festival's start. Because it was not a randomly sampled poll, the results can only be considered indicative, not statistically significant.

A little more than one-half (55%) of those who responded aren't happy with the amount of jazz they'll be hearing at the Ottawa Jazz Festival this year, and several complained that the festival was moving its focus away from jazz and improvised music.

But they still were enthusiastic about some of the musicians and groups appearing at the festival, including Kneebody, Robi Botos and Seamus Blake, the Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra, Snarky Puppy, The Stanley Clarke Band and Branford Marsalis.

Interestingly enough, 50% of those who responded were not buying a pass for this festival, but instead were buying individual tickets to shows. 17% were buying an all-access Gold Pass, and 15% a Bronze Pass.

The prevalence of non-jazz in the Concert Under the Stars and other series was the most consistent criticism, although some people praised several non-jazz artists, including Tower of Power and Huey Lewis.

“I understand that non jazz acts are part of paying for the festival, but this year's main stage shows are the weakest ever. The headliners are b list at best,” said one. “There's so much non-jazz crapola in this category, it's like shooting fish in a barrel to diss it,” said another.

“It's better than in the worst years, but really - no serious jazz on the main stage, and a few evenings with only 1 or no real jazz artists,” said a third.

Read more: Keen listeners share their 2015 Ottawa Jazz Festival favs, and opinions


A fanfare of horns opens the 35th Ottawa Jazz Festival

The Ottawa Jazz Festival opened with a slighted muted fanfare Thursday, with a late-afternoon concert featuring six horns celebrating its 35th anniversary.

It was a low-key affair, with the musicians simply standing or sitting in the shade of trees surrounding Confederation Park's fountain, and listeners pulling up plastic chairs nearby. But on the other hand, it was real jazz, not Bollywood or rock, and the audience sounded consistently appreciative.

Festival programming manager Petr Cancura brought together six well-known Ottawa musicians – Tyler Harris (alto sax), Ed Lister (trumpet), Mike Shultz (sousaphone), Ryan Purchase (trombone), Roddy Ellias (guitar), and Mike Essoudry (drums) – along with trumpeter Lina Allemano from Toronto, and himself on clarinet and tenor sax. They played a mixture of standards, rearrangements of pop tunes, and New Orleans and Balkan-style jazz.

Five years ago, the 30th edition of the festival opened with a procession down Elgin Street and through the park – led by Essoudry's marching band, The Mash Potato Mashers. While the Mashers ended their run last year, the set list for this show included several songs which were originally written or arranged for that group.

Read more: A fanfare of horns opens the 35th Ottawa Jazz Festival


Mike Tremblay,Tim Bedner,Ben Heard to record without a net at Friday concert

Saxophonist Mike Tremblay, guitarist Tim Bedner, and bassist Ben Heard will be playing without the safety net of multiple takes on Friday evening, when they record their show live for a CD in front of an audience at GigSpace.

Mike Tremblay will be playing without a net as he records his second CD at a live concert Friday at GigSpace. ©Brett Delmage, 2009“I wanted to see if I could put together a program and have the challenge of 'no second takes'. This is recording, and it's a live concert, and it's nice to be under that pressure,” said Tremblay, who leads the new trio for this occasion.

“When you're in the studio, you do two or three takes of full tunes and then you sit on them and listen for a while - 'Do we need to go back and record them again?' It's really nice to just go in and say 'Here it is'. And tapes don't lie. This is how you play,” Tremblay said, laughing at the other end the phone.

Joining him and Bedner, both who have decades of experience performing and teaching, will be Ben Heard. He graduated from high school just this week.

“It's a bit daunting for me. I've done tapes and stuff like that but never a true recording with the intention of it being released,” said Heard. “It's funny, because when I play gigs with older players and there's been a CD table, we've always joked how I bring my full discography – which of course is nothing.”

“I'm so honoured, playing with Tim Bedner and Mike Tremblay. I'm excited but scared in a way too. In a healthy way.”

Experience performing together

“This is 'old school' jazz recording. We just show up to the session and see what happens,” Bedner said, laughing.

“I'm going to trust Mike that he knows what he's doing. But I am glad we're having a rehearsal,” Bedner added, speaking to his own healthy concerns about doing the best possible job.

The members of the trio have extensive experience playing or working together in pairs, developing the trust needed to perform without a net.

Heard was in Grade 9 when Tremblay discovered him while teaching one of the Ottawa Jazz Festival's “Jazz Ed” workshops. He's continued working with him for four years now, including after Heard moved to Canterbury High School, where Tremblay runs the senior jazz ensemble.

Read more: Mike Tremblay,Tim Bedner,Ben Heard to record without a net at Friday concert


Aylmer's free outdoor jazz festival announces a younger line-up for this summer

The Festival de Jazz Desjardins in Aylmer will feature the younger generation of Quebec and Ontario jazz artists in its free outdoor concerts this July and August. The line-up was announced this week.

Jérôme Beaulieu will be back in Ottawa-Gatineau for a free outdoor concert in Aylmer on July 31. ©Brett Delmage, 2014Pianists Emie R. Roussel and Jérôme Beaulieu – who both played well-received concerts recently at the National Arts Centre – will bring their trios to Aylmer, along with the Jazz Street Boyz from Montreal and the Chocolate Hot Pockets from Ottawa. The four consecutive evening concerts will run from July 29 to August 1, 2015.

On Wednesdays in July, the City of Gatineau will also feature Ontario and Quebec world music artists, several of which also have a jazz flavour: Patricia Cano, Elage Mbaye, and Vox Sambou.

The Festival de Jazz Desjardins concerts will be held in Parc de l'Imaginaire in Aylmer, immediately across from the Aylmer Marina. All concerts start at 7:30 p.m. and last for at least an hour. Picnics and families are welcome. Listeners should bring their own lawn chairs or blankets, because seating is not provided. And they should hope for clear skies, because concerts are canceled in the event of rain. Donations are welcome.

This is the 29th year of the Desjardins festival, and in a change from previous years, all the musicians featured are in their 20s and in the earlier stages of their careers. Both Beaulieu and Roussel were named as Radio-Canada’s jazz “Discoveries of the Year” in its Révélations program, in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Read more: Aylmer's free outdoor jazz festival announces a younger line-up for this summer


Three jazz groups on the 2015 Polaris Prize long list

Elizabeth Shepherd - The SignalThe 2015 Polaris Prize longlist, which was announced Tuesday, includes three jazz-related CDs out of 40 nominees:

  • the trio BADBADNOTGOOD,
  • vocalist and pianist Elizabeth Shepherd, and 
  • saxophonist Colin Stetson and violinist Sarah Neufeld.

It's the highest number of jazz-related CDs in the Canadian best-of list in recent years.

Shepherd is nominated for her recent CD, The Signal; she played selections from that CD at her show at the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival in February. BADBADNOTGOOD are nominated for Sour Soup, recorded with Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan. Stetson is nominated for his instrumental collaboration with Neufeld, Never were the way she was.

The short list will be announced July 16, and the winner September 21.

The 2014 Polaris Prize was won by improvising vocalist Tanya Tagaq, for Animism. The only other jazz-related nominee that year was BADBADNOTGOOD. In 2013, Colin Stetson was the only jazz/improv-related nominee for New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light.

Read more: Three jazz groups on the 2015 Polaris Prize long list is looking to reach more jazz listeners, in a second series further afield

Next year, the house concert series wants to double up.

Arnie Francis is enthusiastic about Diane White and seven other groups in the 2015-16 series. ©Brett Delmage, is about to announce its 2015-16 season of monthly jazz concerts from September to next June. The series will feature local favourites like vocalist Diane White and the Robert Fontaine Quartet, as well as visiting artists like Mike Rud and Sienna Dahlen from Montreal.

Read about the concerts in the 2015-16 series

But the Almonte/Mississippi Mills-based series has almost reached capacity – an impressive seven of its eight concerts this season were sold out, often weeks in advance. So organizer Arnie Francis told that he's looking to start a second series, based closer to Ottawa.

But he needs houses, and hosts, in locations like Manotick, or Stittsville, or west Ottawa.

Francis and his wife Ingrid Kadoke are long-time jazz fans. In 2012, they decided to share their love of jazz with their neighbours – and hear more of their favourite music – by hosting jazz concerts in their home in Almonte, and the JazzNhouse series was born. When they downsized from that house the following year, they found several hosts in the Almonte area who were willing to lend their homes for a concert once or twice a year. The concerts have continued to move from house to house in the general Mississippi Mills area for the last two years.

“Every year [attendance] gets a little better,” Francis said. “The first year based on averages, we had about 26 people per concert in the first 8 concerts. Then in 2013-2014, we had about 35 people on average. Well, this year, we're averaging 41-42 people per concert which is quite towards the top end of what house concerts can handle. We're not going to be expecting to expand that.” (In comparison, GigSpace, which hosts many jazz concerts, normally accommodates 46 listeners.)

And that has meant that he's had to turn people away – for example, the last concert of this season, on June 20 with the Melissa Boyce Trio from Toronto, has been sold out since early May and there's a wait-list. So Francis would like to find other locations so he could book artists, particularly visiting ones, for two consecutive concerts, for example on Friday and Saturday nights.

Read more: is looking to reach more jazz listeners, in a second series further afield


2015 Ottawa Jazz Festival jams spin to new location with varied house band

Providing as much variety in venue as the people who play in them, the Ottawa Jazz Festival jams have moved to yet another location this year: the Marriott Hotel's Spin Kitchen and Bar.

Listeners who want to see the musicians jam will want to arrive early to get a nearby seat. The planned stage location is by the far window and behind the far right column. It won't be visible from many of the seats. ©2015 Brett DelmageThe 2015 jam location is at the northwest corner of Kent and Queen streets, four blocks west of Confederation Park and the NAC. It is one-half block closer than the 2008-10 jam sessions in the Delta Hotel.

Complementing the new location, five different variations of the house band will host this year's jams, providing even more variety for regular jam listeners beyond the guest musicians who are expected to show up to jam. The musicians in the band will be mostly familiar to jazzfest jam regulars and people who enjoy live jazz all year long. John Geggie, who has led the jam's house band for 11 of the past 14 years, will be there for the entire run. Geggie has a demonstrated track record of attracting a wide range of musicians to participate in the jams, from high-profile festival headliners to talented members of the youth summit.

The jazz festival jams have been an essential part of the jazz festival since it started. Musicians and listeners vocally objected when the Ottawa Jazz Festival threatened their cancellation in 2013.

The 2015 Ottawa Jazz Festival jams run for the duration of the festival: June 19 to 30. They will be hosted by:

Read more: 2015 Ottawa Jazz Festival jams spin to new location with varied house band


Renée Yoxon finds songs about the enchantment of childhood for her new CD

Vocalist Renée Yoxon returns to Ottawa Saturday, with a show evoking memories of childhood.

Chad Linsley and Renée Yoxon in the midst of their research on children's stories. Photo by Jesse Daniel SmithTogether with two Montreal musicians – pianist Chad Linsley and bassist Adrian Vedady – Yoxon will present music from and inspired by film adaptations of children's stories, arranged by her and Linsley for jazz trio.

The GigSpace concert will be a “sneak peek” at songs she'll be releasing on a live CD later this summer, she said. Discovering those songs has obsessed her in an “archaeological project” for the last year.

Yoxon was a major force in Ottawa's jazz scene from 2009 to 2013, developing new venues and series and releasing two CDs. For more than four years, her jazz series at the Mercury Lounge was a Monday night staple. Her tribute concert to Dave Frishberg, in collaboration with pianist/arranger J.P. Allain, garnered her praise from Frishberg himself.

She moved to Montreal two years ago, and since last fall has been studying in the jazz performance program at McGill University.

Yoxon ended up watching – and rewatching – many movies to pick the songs for this concert: two different versions of Cinderella, the 1960 version of Peter Pan with Mary Martin, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and even The Muppet Movie.

Read more: Renée Yoxon finds songs about the enchantment of childhood for her new CD


Laura Crema brings a fresh approach to jazz standards

Laura Crema's strong, supple voice, with a huskiness in her lower registers added extra depth and interest to the show ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Laura Crema
NAC Presents
National Arts Centre Fourth Stage
Saturday, May 30, 2015

View photos of this performance

There have been times when I've become Great American Songbooked-out. No more Broadway show tunes. No more songs that are indelibly associated with Billie or Peggy or Lena or Blossom. No more George Gershwin or Harold Arlen.

It's not that these jazz standards aren't extremely well-written – both lyrics and melody. But I've heard them sung in much the same way too many times.

This is an issue for any singer who includes more than a few standards in a show. Recognizability gives you an extra link to the audience, but it can also make you blend into a crowd of similar singers – unless you make an individual connection to a song.

So we come to Vancouver jazz vocalist Laura Crema, who made her National Arts Centre debut as part of the NAC Presents series on May 30. Crema's four solo albums have almost exclusively featured jazz standards; her latest, Fotografia [2013], includes seven standards, but also two songs by Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim and two originals.

For the NAC show, she interspersed the jazz standards with three Jobim numbers, two songs by John Lennon and by Paul McCartney (“new standards”), and a few originals. And what really appealed to me is that she and her musicians took a fresh approach to the music.

Read more: Laura Crema brings a fresh approach to jazz standards


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