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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


Jazz all over Ottawa-Gatineau in June: a guide to what you can hear this month

Updated June 17, 2015

To many people, June and the Ottawa Jazz Festival are synonymous.

June 4: Jesse Stewart (l) will play his Reactable in the Diefenbunker's Bank of Canada vault ©2015 Brett DelmageBut, in fact, the festival only runs for the last 12 days of June – and even when it's running, there are still jazz shows going on elsewhere that may very well be closer to you, or less expensive, or match your musical preferences better.

Starting with this very first week, you can choose among cutting-edge improv, jazz vocals, and piano jazz – and that diversity continues throughout the month

Composer and improviser Jesse Stewart is the artist-in-residence at the Diefenbunker this summer, and is using the Cold-War history of the museum as an inspiration for several musical performances. Last month, he performed in its blast tunnel entrance; on Thursday, June 4, he'll be in the Bank of Canada vault where the country's gold reserves would have been stored in the event of a nuclear war.

He'll be playing his Reactable, a virtual modular synthesizer and digital sampler, which looks like an illuminated game surface atop a pedestal that looks like a very large tom drum. Stewart first worked with this instrument at his outdoor shows at the 2014 Winterlude, and is one of very few musicians in the world to perform regularly on it. He has stored recordings relating to the bunker's history in the Reactable, and will create an improvised performance by placing and manipulating blocks on its display – essentially sampling and combining the recordings in unexpected ways.

On Saturday, June 6, the American jazz guitar-vocals duo Tuck and Patti will play an intimate show at Cabaret La Basoche in Aylmer. They've been performing love songs together for almost 40 years now (including a show many years ago at the Ottawa Jazz Festival); their latest album, I Remember You, is a collection of their favourites from the Great American Songbook.

The same evening, Ottawa pianist Steve Boudreau will play a rare show with NYC vocalist Aubrey Johnson at GigSpace. They'll perform their own compositions, jazz standards, Brazilian numbers, and improvised music – even a bit of Björk. Johnson specializes in “jazz, Brazilian, and creative contemporary music with and without words”, and has performed and/or recorded with musicians including Bobby McFerrin (on his CD VoCAbuLaries), Lyle Mays, Steve Rodby, Lee Fish, and Fred Hersch.

Read more: Jazz all over Ottawa-Gatineau in June: a guide to what you can hear this month


Celebrating Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's rich legacy at Brookstreet (review)

Roddy Ellias and Nancy Walker collaborated beautifully ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Tribute to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn
with Nancy Walker, Roddy Ellias, Kieran Overs, and Michel Delage
Brookstreet Hotel Options Jazz Lounge
Friday, May 29, 2015

Jazz composers Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn wrote such a huge range and number of compositions that a tribute to them doesn't have to stick to the obvious. And on the first evening of a two-night run at Brookstreet, Toronto pianist Nancy Walker and Ottawa guitarist Roddy Ellias chose some less well-known numbers like “My Little Brown Book”, “Day Dream”, and “Rain Check” to complement the classics like “Prelude to a Kiss” and “Upper Manhattan Medical Group”.

Walker and Ellias hadn't played a full show together before this, but, with occasional quick conferring between songs, they collaborated beautifully, easily switching roles between lead and accompaniment or both working to display the melody in different ways. Almost all these pieces were originally performed by Ellington's big band, and in several songs such as “Purple Gazelle”, Ellias' archtop electric had a similar flowing feel to a tenor saxophone solo.

This was the third show in the monthly jazz tribute series at Brookstreet organized by Ottawa drummer Michel Delage, and Delage and veteran Toronto bassist Kieran Overs provided swinging and nuanced rhythms behind Walker and Ellias, occasionally stepping out for short solos reflecting the melody and feel of the songs, and trading fours with the guitar or piano.

Read more: Celebrating Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's rich legacy at Brookstreet (review)


Nancy Walker explores Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn's rich, timeless music this weekend

Nancy Walker knows the appeal of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. When she played in the John Geggie Trio anchoring the Ottawa Jazz Festival's late-night jams for more than a decade, Ellington and Strayhorn's compositions and arrangements were regularly performed.

Nancy Walker (photo by Chris Hutcheson)“Those tunes are great tunes for players to cut their teeth on because they're quite complex, really. And so interesting to play, and very beautiful. Depending on who would get up and sit in, it might have been one of the more well-traveled tunes like 'Caravan' or it might have been something a little deeper into the archives: 'Chelsea Bridge' or tunes along that line.”

And, while she's not returning for the festival jam sessions this year, the Toronto-area jazz pianist will be back in Ottawa this weekend. Together with her husband, bassist Kieran Overs, she'll be at Brookstreet Hotel's Options Jazz Lounge on Friday and Saturday night, celebrating Ellington and Strayhorn.

Although Walker is better known as a composer of her own music, she says she enjoys playing Ellington's and Strayhorn's tunes because “for one thing, there's very little cliché in there. In both cases, when they write together and individually, Ellington compositions and Strayhorn compositions, the melodies are so interesting. Like interesting intervallically.

“And the mood that's created: there's such a sense of mood, and that mood can of course vary. The tunes almost play themselves: the mood is such a big part of the music. And these amazing melodies and just interesting harmony/melody combinations and so on – they're challenging and they're rich. They're really rich. It always feels new, their material. Very timeless.”

No horns?

The shows are part of drummer Michel Delage's monthly tribute series at Brookstreet to well-known composers in the jazz canon. Walker, Overs, and Delage will be joined by Ottawa master guitarist Roddy Ellias – producing a very different line-up than the usual Ellington tribute.

Duke Ellington was one of the great big band leaders and jazz composers of the 20th century. Both he and Billy Strayhorn (his fellow composer and arranger whom Ellington described as “my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine”) played piano, but they primarily wrote for a full big band and showcased many great jazz horn players, such as Johnny Hodges and Clark Terry

So most tributes to Ellington include at least a saxophonist or trumpeter – or many. Will not having a horn player limit what this quartet can play?

Read more: Nancy Walker explores Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn's rich, timeless music this weekend


Bamboo Groove - Asian-infused jazz and love songs (video)

May is Asian Heritage Month. This year Bamboo Groove celebrates their fifth anniversary of playing their unique, Asian-infused jazz.'s Inside the Scene was at leader and vocalist Peter Liu's launch of his first CD, Bamboo Groove, about the journey of love.. Our video story includes an interview with him about the CD – and excerpts from a jazz performance that he sung in four different languages!

    – Brett Delmage

Also, read our full interview with Peter Liu about the making of his CD, Peter Liu: love songs and jazz cross cultural boundaries in Bamboo Groove

Watch our video story


Garry Elliott and Bumpin' Binary make the organ trio fresh and compelling (review)

Don Cummings, Mike Essoudry, Garry Elliott ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Garry Elliott and Bumpin' Binary
GigSpace Performance Studio
Saturday, May 23, 2015

Just a few days after Mad Men ended its TV recollections of the 1960s, three Ottawa musicians brought some of that decade's music back – and made it fresh and compelling.

It was an evening of organ trio music, with guitarist Garry Elliott performing for the first time with the Bumpin' Binary duo: Don Cummings on Hammond organ and Mike Essoudry on drums. And their inspiration came from the giants of that genre, including organist Jimmy Smith and guitarist Grant Green.

There was groove – lots of it. There were sharp contrasts between bright guitar licks and light cymbal taps, and the full organ chords. And there was melody and feeling expressed in the slower numbers.

The organ trio, with Hammond B3, drums and either electric guitar or saxophone, flourished in the 60s with artists like Smith, Jimmy McGriff, and Jack McDuff on organ teaming up with guitarists like Green, Kenny Burrell, George Benson, and Wes Montgomery. After a partial eclipse over the next few decades, it's been revived more recently by musicians like Joey DeFrancesco and Larry Goldings.

Read more: Garry Elliott and Bumpin' Binary make the organ trio fresh and compelling (review)


The young and the experienced collaborate in a fast-moving show

Ben Heard was double-bassed all evening ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Roddy Ellias / Ben Heard / Keagan Eskritt (set 1)
The Chris Maskell Quartet (set 2)
Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Three talented young jazz musicians teamed up with three experienced musicians on Tuesday to perform two sets, each with a very different vibe.

Common to both was young bassist Ben Heard, who arranged the first set with fellow student drummer Keagan Eskritt and master guitarist Roddy Ellias. The three met at the JazzEd sessions which Ellias had taught with local high school musicians in 2013, and kept playing together even after the last JazzEd concert.

Although the trio's set had lots of swing, it was on the quiet, thoughtful side, opening with a flowing version of Henry Mancini's “Days of Wine and Roses”. Ellias contributed a new composition, “Postcard”, a wistful, melodic piece which included exploratory passages; Heard's original, “Spindle”, moved from stately and a bit melancholy to almost flamenco in style, before ending with delicate harmonic notes on the guitar.

They closed in a more emphatic vein with Eskritt's “Smash”, which began with a deep bass riff and hard drumming and then added strongly-accented guitar lines, to produce intense music where notes were held and played before and after the beat. It ended abruptly, and was greeted with appreciative applause from the audience, which filled almost every seat in the café.

For the second set, Ottawa tenor saxophonist Chris Maskell, who will enter his final year studying jazz performance at McGill University this fall, teamed up with Heard and two well-known players on the local scene: drummer Mike Essoudry and guitarist Alex Moxon. They played originals by all members of the group and a good mixture of less-common jazz classics, such as “Punjab” by Joe Henderson and “Take the Coltrane” by Duke Ellington.

Read more: The young and the experienced collaborate in a fast-moving show


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