Clarinetist Phil Nimmons, one of Canada's leading jazz bandleaders, composers, and educators, completely reinvented himself in his 80s. He moved away from the highly-organized quartets and large ensembles he was famous for, and started playing completely improvised duets with pianist David Braid.
Nimmons and Braid have played more than 100 concerts together over the past nine years, including Ottawa Chamberfest in 2011. At each concert, they have explored new territory and performed without an advance road map, but still retained their mutual love of melody and jazz form.
They'll be doing that again this Friday evening at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage – with an added photographic development.
Braid told OttawaJazzScene.ca this week how inspiring he found Nimmons' new direction.
“Like, how courageous is that? Think of other jazz musicians in their 80s or even 90s. I mean, it's wonderful that they're still playing, I'm not knocking that. But usually, they're doing the things that made them famous 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago. But in Phil's case, he's so special. He actually decided to reinvent himself in his 80s. That's amazing.”
Nimmons is 90 years old in 2013, and the NAC show is one of several celebrating that anniversary and including a Nimmons 'n' Braid duet. The national MusicFest competitions in Toronto featured a special tribute concert in May. As well, the University of Toronto, where Nimmons is Director Emeritus of the jazz studies program, will hold a “Nimmons@90” concert on November 14.
But the NAC show has two extra aspects: it will celebrate the release of the duo's new double CD, and the second half will incorporate the photographs of American artist Nathan Wirth, projected on a screen as the two perform.
The evening started with the first climax, delivered by Craig Pedersen in a solo trumpet performance. Pedersen then descended into quieter notes: much quieter, sculpted, breathy expressions from his trumpet, which turned up everyone's attention. The limitations of Club SAW became more apparent, as his distinct statement descended below the level of the humming ventilation system for a good blow. And then it was over.
The music couldn't descend from there and it didn't try. After a short break, the main act, Ensemble SuperMusique, took the stage and turned it up again. These key improvisers and composers in Montreal's scene and the two vintage drumsets, a turntable, a wind-up toy, vocal cords, two saxophones, and a trombone, brought a completely complementary sound with a lot of variety to the evening. Jean Derome's "Le Fruit du Hasard" started with rolls of the dice prior to the performance; these inputs to pairs of musicians led them to play from two different compositions while finding ways to piece it all together.
The evening of improvised music featuring Ensemble SuperMusique and trumpeter Craig Pedersen was presented by the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) on Sunday, October 20, 2013 as part of their regular concert series. Ensemble SuperMusique included Danielle Palardy Roger (drums, percussion), Pierre Tanguay (drums, percussion), Jean Derome (sax, toys), Joane Hétu (sax, vocals), Martin Tétreault (turntables), Scott Thomson (trombone).
– Brett Delmage
Updated October 25
Dr. Mortimer Katz, an Ottawa physician who proved that playing jazz can be a truly life-long avocation, died on Monday afternoon, according to his long-time friend, saxophonist Bernard Stepien. Katz was 87.
Almost certainly the oldest active jazz musician in the city, “Mort” was well-known in the jazz community. He frequently participated in local jams and jazz camps as well as the occasional professional gig, playing tenor saxophone, clarinet, and piano.
He was one of the featured musicians at the 2010 Ottawa JazzWorks Gala, where he was described as “the last man standing at many a jazz camp jam session”. The Ottawa Citizen report on the gala noted that “The jam session continued well past midnight, with tenor saxman and octogenarian Mortimer Katz one of the last to leave.”
“What I always remember most about Mort is his irrepressible smile, but I believe that he was special and inspirational to many for continuing to be so musically active into his advanced age,” said vocalist and former JazzWorks jam coordinator Peter Liu. “He oozed love and passion for jazz, both as player and listener, and being around him made you feel it more too. He is a role model for me to keep the jazz spirit alive throughout my own life.”
JazzWorks board member John Graham said he last saw Katz at this August's JazzWorks jazz camp at Lake MacDonald, Quebec. Katz looked “pretty frail” this year, and napped through some of the masterclasses, he said, but “he kept going”.
Katz's jazz style was bebop, “the avant-garde of his time. That was his music,” said Stepien.
Stepien and Katz lived only one block apart. For the last 30 years, they had regular Sunday night jam sessions in Katz's basement, playing his Steinway piano. “I play piano, too, and we would take turns: I would be on the piano and him on either the clarinet or tenor sax, and then we would reverse.”
They played bebop and its successors, but not the easy, one-chord tunes which Katz disliked. He preferred more intellectually satisfying material like John Coltrane, Warne Marsh, and Lee Konitz, Stepien said – but not Thelonious Monk, whose compositions he found difficult.
Wadada Leo Smith and the Golden Quartet
Ten Freedom Summers
Main Stage, River Run Centre
Guelph Jazz Festival
Saturday, September 7, 2013 – 8 p.m.
The story of the American civil rights movement is stirring, tragic, and full of hope. All those emotions are reflected in Wadada Leo Smith's massive and eloquent work, Ten Freedom Summers, part of which he performed at the 2013 Guelph Jazz Festival.
And that took 90 very intense minutes. The full work takes three evenings to perform, and has been recorded on a four-CD set.
But even hearing only four of the pieces still gave the Guelph audience a feel for the beauty of this composition, and how potent it was in performance.
Ten Freedom Summers memorializes key moments in the history of civil rights in the United States, from 1954 to 1964. Its subjects range from Rosa Parks to Emmett Till, from President John F. Kennedy's New Frontier to Thurgood Marshall to Martin Luther King, Jr. It's a collection of suites; each stands alone, but they can be played together or in different combinations.
The day before the concert, Smith told an audience at the jazz festival's colloquium that he wrote the first suite in 1977. It was the story of Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist who was a big hero to blacks in Mississippi, where Smith grew up. He composed it in response to a request by jazz violinist Leroy Jenkins for a piece to perform at an Italian jazz festival, and it gave him the opportunity to explore themes which he had been ruminating about for several years.
And then, as he researched those events, he said he found that some of the most important speeches in the history of civil rights were improvised – relating right back to the type of music he had been playing for decades, within and outside the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) to which he and Jenkins both belonged.
It was an ordinary Thursday morning at the Guelph Jazz Festival. Academics, musicians, and listeners were crowded into a small meeting room to listen to talks about Intercultural Musical Exchange, all part of the festival's academic colloquium.
And then several people, new to the colloquium, crowded into the room, taking the most disruptive routes possible to find empty seats and disturbing the crowd. Not much later, the same people started to interrupt speaker Sandy Evans, asking her edged questions and challenging what she was saying. Evans took the interruptions gracefully and answered them as best she could, but after several interruptions, the audience became edgy, and asked the interruptors to stop. This being Canada, it was all smoothed over eventually, but it was odd and unexpected – not the warm and respectful feel normally seen in those sessions.
Fast forward to Friday, mid-morning, to what was supposed to be a “Rapporteur Summary Session and Performance”. Pianist Marianne Trudel and drummer Hamid Drake started playing, and the same people interrupted again, even more in-your-face.
In April, 2013, three Ottawa singers created a tribute concert to two iconic female jazz singers: Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. OttawaJazzScene.ca was at the sold-out concert with our video production team, and we interviewed the singers afterwards.
They used Ella and Billie's appearance at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival – within two days of each other – and the classic recording that renowned producer Norman Granz made of those Newport performances as a jumping-off point for the concert.
Recreating the repertoire of those Newport concerts, Karen Oxorn, Nicole Ratté, and Dominique Forest brought back some of the greatest vocal jazz hits of the era.
Our video features excerpts from the concert, and the singers' explanation of their reaction to the songs and the concert.
The vocalists will perform the show again this Sunday at Merrickville's Jazzfest.
Some of these musicians will appear at the IMOO Ensemble SuperMusique concert at Club SAW on Sunday, October 20.
It isn't every musical performance or workshop where listeners have to get out of their seats not just to dance, but to follow the musicians around the building so they can still hear them play.
Listeners, walls, and ceilings became performing partners in the post-lunch musical performance at Guelph Jazz Festival's academic colloquium on Friday, September 6. The music commenced as it usually does, on the main stage space of the Macdonald Stewart Arts Centre (MSAC). Festival Artistic Director Ajay Heble switched hats (while still retaining his signature black beret), taking position at the piano instead of his usual listening post among the audience.
Before long, one musician investigated the ability of the gallery's drywall to modify the sound of his horn. Another walked among seated listeners with his trombone to create a moving point of sound.
Bassist William Parker – one of the most inventive and expressive avant-garde jazz musicians today – told an audience at the 2013 Guelph Jazz Festival that the core of music cannot be taught.
Jazz musicians – and others – can use the music of their great progenitors, he said, but it will end up being their own sound. “To go into the core of the music involves what we call the self-sound of the musicians playing.”
Parker was giving a keynote talk on September 5 at the festival's colloquium. Entitled “Sound as a Medicinal Herb: Creative Music 61 Years in Transition”, his talk ranged widely over many musical topics. He has had a long and fruitful connection with the Guelph Jazz Festival and performed in several concerts during the five days of the 2013 festival.
In 2012, Parker led a project celebrating the music of Duke Ellington, including dates in the U.S. and Europe. The project's concert in Milano was recorded for a CD, Essence of Ellington [Centering Records, 2012].
“Now when we played that music, we cannot play Ellington's music the way Ellington played it. Maybe we shouldn't have been playing Ellington's music at all, but I did it because my father liked Ellington.”
Guelph Market Square (outdoors)
Guelph Jazz Festival
Saturday, September 7, 2013 – 2:30 p.m.
Montreal trio Bomata plays melodic mainstream jazz – with surprises. Led by Jean Félix Mailloux on double bass, it features a less-usual instrumentation: Guillaume Bourque on clarinet and bass clarinet, and Patrick Graham on drumset and a wide variety of percussion instruments. Ottawa audiences may remember Graham's range of textures from his appearance with Trifolia with Marianne Trudel at the 2013 Ottawa jazz festival, and his earlier collaborations with Jesse Stewart.
Their hour-long concert on the Guelph Jazz Festival's outdoor stage on a Saturday afternoon attracted a reasonably large and quite attentive crowd, who heard eight originals from the trio's two albums. The group showed considerable inventiveness in styles and rhythms, and demonstrated a fine blending of different tonal qualities; the deep notes from Bourque's bass clarinet melded well with Mailloux's full-bodied bass riffs. Graham added an adventurous quality with his frequent shifts among instruments, including an extended solo on kanjira and another on frame drum.
Overall, the trio's warm, all-acoustic sound was a delight to listen to: too interesting to be called mellow, but easily approachable by even peripheral jazz or world music listeners.
Satoko Fujii and Kaze
Cooperators Hall, River Run Centre
Guelph Jazz Festival
Saturday, September 7, 2013 – 10:30 a.m.
What kind of music would you expect at 10:30 on a Saturday morning?
As soon as I saw this ensemble – one pianist, one drummer, and two trumpeters – I figured this was not going to be your typical jazz show, not even your typical free jazz show. But the Japanese-French collaboration within Kaze produced some empathetic and kinetic music, with all the musicians working to support each other.
Which isn't surprising, given the intertwining connections within the group.
The best-known member of the quartet is Japanese pianist/composer Satoko Fujii. She and French drummer Peter Orins flanked two trumpeters: Natsuki Tamura from Japan and Christian Pruvost from France. Fujii and Tamura are not only married to each other; they've also recorded and performed together in ensembles ranging from duos on upwards. Orins and Pruvost also have long-standing ties: they both belong to the French improvisers’ collective Muzzix.
The four have been playing together since 2010, and have released two albums: Rafale (2011) and just recently, Tornado (2013). However, no composition names were announced during this concert, so it was not clear which, if any, of the pieces from those albums were included, or whether the concert was strictly free improv.
This tour (which covered Boston, Portland (Maine), and California, as well as Montreal and Guelph) was also the first time that Orins and Pruvost had played in North America – surprising given the quality of musicianship and originality they displayed in this hour-long concert.
Pianist Steve Boudreau and guitarist Garry Elliott will formally release their first duo CD, Pre-Dawn Skies, at a concert at GigSpace this Saturday. A project almost two years in the making, it's a thoughtful album of quiet, introspective, and highly melodic jazz, containing originals written by each of them.
Pre-Dawn Skies reflects more than 15 years of friendship based on similar musical tastes and the ability to bring out the best in each other's compositions. And given how closely both are tied to this city, perhaps it reflects bit of Ottawa, too.
Elliott has been an important part of Ottawa's jazz and classical scenes for decades. Originally from St. Lambert Quebec, "I came to the University of Ottawa when I was 20 and I just stayed."
Boudreau grew up in Ottawa and took his first music degree at Carleton University. He spent two years studying for his Masters at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, and has been on the road with traveling musicals for a good part of the last few years, but otherwise has lived here, playing both jazz and classical, augmented by the occasional Beach Boys rethink.
Alayne McGregor interviewed Boudreau and Elliott together in September for OttawaJazzScene.ca. It was immediately obvious how comfortable they were with each other. They completed each other's sentences, annotated the other's statements, and easily made each other laugh.
That extends to their music too. They performed a short preview of the album at the Ottawa Jazz Festival this June, along with bassist John Geggie and drummer Jeff Asselin, who will also be with them at GigSpace. The music easily flowed among the four, and kept the attention of a capacity audience in the normally noisy and busy Rideau Centre.
This is an edited version of our conversation. It started at the beginning of their relationship:
- Guelph 2013: Hamid Drake & Jesse Stewart share a creative imagination (review)
- Guelph Jazzfest's community-built concert reaches new heights
- Which Canadian jazz musicians did “NAC Presents” miss? (commentary)
- More Saturday night jazz at AlphaSoul Café
- Guelph 2013: Espousing music of the moment (review)
- NAC Presents instrumental jazz in its 2013-14 program
- Nick Fraser's CD is full of resonances
- Guelph 2013: Matt Brubeck pushes the cello's boundaries in a solo concert (review)
- Guelph 2013: The Indigo Trio soars and leaves the audience exalted (review)
- Steve Boudreau's back, with a new solo CD
- Adam Daudrich celebrates the tradition of the jazz piano trio with his own new music
- William Parker and Ken Aldcroft: subtle textures which filled the room (review)
- L'OFF Festival in Montreal and Le Festival de Jazz de Quebec announce lineups for October
- Guelph 2013: World Percussion Summit breaks the borders of rhythm (review)
- Jesse Stewart's Gnomon Variations a timely arrival for 20th Guelph Jazzfest
- Cool and groovin' - with gelato
- The Montreal Jazz Festival pays an upbeat tribute to Dave Brubeck (review)
- Orchestre national de jazz Montréal scores with Joni Mitchell tribute (review)
- Jayme Stone melds chamber music, jazz, and bit of bluegrass into an intricate whole (review)
- The Lemon Bucket Orkestra: a dancing good time (review)
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