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Jesse Stewart, David Mott & Ernst Reijseger share a passion for invention & improvisation

Jesse Stewart ©Brett Delmage, 2011David Mott ©Brett Delmage, 2013Ernst Reijseger ©Brett Delmage, 2014
(l-r) Jesse Sterwart, David Mott, and Ernst Reijseger
share a common passion for making music
in the moment   photos ©Brett Delmage

When Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger, Toronto baritone saxophonist David Mott, and Ottawa percussionist Jesse Stewart first played together in Toronto in 2014, it was a memorable concert.

“He's a showman,” Stewart recalls. “The concert we did in Toronto, it was actually at David's karate dojo. Towards the end of the concert we knew this was going to be the last piece and Ernst stood up and was playing while he was walking.

“And he left the room, and he was still playing! He was in another room where there was all David's martial arts equipment and while he was still playing cello and walking, he started knocking stuff over with his foot. We could hardly play because we were laughing so hard. It was so, so funny! But, yes, he's a showman, that's for sure. But also incredibly musical and just a wonderful improviser.”

More about Ernst Reijseger
• Ernst Reijseger takes risks to create unpredictable music
• Ernst Reijseger at Chamberfest: reinventing how audiences see and hear the cello

The three will reunite in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 26, for a late-night Chamberfringe concert. It's one of several concerts which Reijseger is performing at the 2016 Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, but, unlike the others, this concert will be leaning much more in the direction of free jazz.

Read more: Jesse Stewart, David Mott & Ernst Reijseger share a passion for invention & improvisation


Ernst Reijseger at Chamberfest: reinventing how audiences see and hear the cello

Cellist Ernst Reijseger has a constant passion for music and for musical invention (seen here with vocalist Mola Sylla at the 2014 Guelph Jazz Festival) ©2014 Brett DelmageErnst Reijseger was exhausted.

The celebrated Dutch cellist and composer had just finished two back-to-back recording sessions for film soundtracks, one for Werner Herzog's latest documentary and the other for an American feature film, when interviewed him on July 15.

More about Ernst Reijseger
Ernst Reijseger takes risks to create unpredictable music
Jesse Stewart, David Mott & Ernst Reijseger share a passion for invention & improvisation

But one thing did energize him – the thought of just playing, in a series of concerts at the 2016 Ottawa Chamber Music Festival from July 23 to 26.

“Just taking my cello and playing – I'm really looking forward to that.”

This week, he's in Ottawa for the very first time, playing four concerts (two free, two ticketed) at the festival. They'll range from a short introductory concert and interview, to a solo show for children, to a celebration of the cello with 11 other cellists, to completely free improvised jazz. But all of them will be informed by Reijseger's iconoclastic approach to the cello and the different sounds he creates with it.

Read more: Ernst Reijseger at Chamberfest: reinventing how audiences see and hear the cello


Will Halifax Jazz Festival's Heather Gibson put jazz on NAC stages as the new NAC Presents producer?

Heather Gibson, the newly appointed producer of NAC Presents and the current executive director of the Halifax Jazz Festival, has a greater familiarity with jazz than her predecessor. But it's unclear if she has the mandate and will take the opportunity to present jazz on Canada's National Arts Centre (NAC) stages which will represent the breadth and quality of Canadian jazz musicians.

Will the appointment of Halifax Jazz Festival's Heather Gibson as the Producer of NAC Presents lead to more real jazz on NAC stages this season? ©Brett Delmage, 2016Citing her extensive and relevant experience, the NAC enthusiastically announced her appointment today. "We are so fortunate to be welcoming Heather Gibson to the National Arts Centre where she will help us deepen our relationship with Canada’s best singer-songwriters,” said Peter Herrndorf, the President and CEO of the National Arts Centre.

Gibson takes her post on September 20, in advance of the formal October 13 launch of NAC Presents.

The series is the only NAC series which can present jazz at the NAC, although a few jazz performances were part of the Orchestra's performances in recent years. NAC Presents announced the first half of its 2016-17 season in May, with relatively few jazz-related performances. More concerts will be announced in October. Based on previous years, the 31 shows listed on July 20 are half of a normal 60-show series.

This fall at the NAC, listeners will be able to hear hear Diana Krall, and a young jazz trio from Montreal, and the return of Petr Cancura's Crossroads series – plus several other jazz crossover shows. But the scheduled concerts nowhere near reflect the diversity of jazz in Canada, both in styles and where musicians are from, or its quality and popularity – or what listeners just heard at Gibson's own Halifax Jazz Festival.

Read more: Will Halifax Jazz Festival's Heather Gibson put jazz on NAC stages as the new NAC Presents producer?


Oliver Jones takes on new challenges in his farewell tour

Canadian jazz pianist Oliver Jones – now 81 years old – is on a extended farewell tour, which is taking him across Canada and into Europe and the Caribbean. He sold out the National Arts Centre Theatre in May, and is back in Ottawa tonight for a concert with a quite different repertoire.

Oliver Jones receives a standing ovation before his concert starts, at the  National Arts Centre in May 2016 ©Brett Delmage, 2016It's part of the Music & Beyond chamber music festival, and appropriately enough, it will demonstrate his classical music origins and his continuing interest in composers which include Bach and Chopin, but not in a standard classical style. He'll also pay tribute to his friend and mentor, Oscar Peterson, in the second half of the show, joined by his long-time trio-mates Éric Lagacé on bass and Jim Doxas on drums.

This afternoon, editor Alayne McGregor interviewed Jones about his tour, his future plans, and how he keeps challenging himself on this tour with different repertoire. I'd like to start by asking you how your farewell tour has been going.

Oliver Jones: So far everything's been excellent. Ten out of the eleven places have been sold out, so we're kind of happy about that. But it's a lot of traveling and going from way out west up to the Yukon and then back down to Toronto and then back up to Edmonton and Victoria and Vancouver. So It's been hectic, as far as that's concerned, but it's been very, very rewarding. What kind of response have you been getting from the audiences?

Read more: Oliver Jones takes on new challenges in his farewell tour


Doug Martin revisits Cuba in music in his new CD, Spirit of Survival

Ottawa saxophonist and composer Doug Martin was deeply impressed with Cuba and its remarkable people on the two trips he's taken there – so much so that he's releasing a CD inspired by them.

Spirit of Survival CD cover

Called Spirit of Survival, the CD will be officially released this Friday and Saturday night, when Martin's quartet performs at the Options Jazz Lounge at the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata.

But Martin emphasizes that the music he's written for the CD is not Cuban in style. Like his previous CD, Odyssey [2011], it's based on his experiences rather than directly reflecting the music he heard there.

“I wrote music as I would write it, not as a Cuban would write it.”

The music was based on “my own feelings and my own impressions of places and people,” he said – inspired by everything from Cuba's troubled history, to locations in Havana, to his favourite Cuban liqueur. The front cover illustration is based on a photo Martin took of the Havana skyline.

After his first trip to Cuba in October, 2012, Martin wrote the CD's title track, “Spirit of Survival”, based on the people he met.

The song is “very happy and upbeat”, he said, because it reflects the attitudes of Cuban people, “their approach to life. They live in a situation which is less than ideal, of course, and in spite of that, they have this approach to life which I find a bit remarkable.”

Read more: Doug Martin revisits Cuba in music in his new CD, Spirit of Survival


Take a Jazz Stay-cation: Ottawa jazz highlights in July

Updated July 13, 2016
July is a great time for jazz stay-cation in Ottawa. On this month are five local music festivals which include at least some jazz shows, a local jazz CD release, and jazz concerts and club shows all over town.

Lorraine Desmarais will be featured in the Festival de Jazz Desjardins at the end of July. ©Brett Delmage, 2012Appearing in July are seasoned jazz pianist Tommy Banks, jive musician Joe Jackson, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, pianist Oliver Jones, drummer Tim Shia, saxophonist Petr Cancura with two Brooklyn musicians, Dutch improvising cellist Ernst Reijseger, percussionist Jesse Stewart, baritone saxophonist David Mott, drummer Dafnis Prieto, guitarist Kevin Breit, saxophonist Jane Bunnett with her Cuban-based group Maqueque, guitarist Mike Rud, violinist Drew Jurecka, clarinetist James Campbell, bassist Dave Young, pianist Gene DiNovi, vocalist Terez Montcalm with pianist Lorraine Desmarais – and a saxophone quartet with the delightful name of Syrène Saxofoonkwartet.

Sign up to our JazzScene newsletter to get a full listing of all the jazz and improvised music events within 100 km of Parliament Hill in your inbox every week. You can also check our list of Ottawa-Gatineau-area jazz clubs, and our daily On The Scene listing on our website's front page (and in your RSS feed) to learn more about what's going on in jazz locally right now.

The month opens with the final three days of the Ottawa Jazz Festival (read the full schedule). Then in short order follow four more festivals: Music & Beyond, Bluesfest, Chamberfest, and Le Festival de Jazz Desjardins. First up are Music & Beyond (for classical music) and the Ottawa Bluesfest (for everything else).

Music & Beyond has often showcased jazz musicians who also have a classical side. This year, it has two – both of whom started playing before many of's readers were born.

Tuesday, July 5: the 79-year-old pianist Tommy Banks will appear with trumpeter Jens Lindemann at Dominion Chalmers United Church. In the first set, they'll perform both classical pieces and compositions by Duke Ellington and Jerome Kern, with the NAC Orchestra. In the second set, Banks and Lindemann will join up with well-known Montreal jazz musicians bassist Éric Lagacé and drummer Dave Laing to perform a tribute to Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.'s  July jazz highlights are brought to you by Barry Cooper, GigSpace, Adrian Matte, James McGowan, Alexander Mommers, Debbie Reinhart, Marcia Rodriguez, Bernard Stepien, and John Upper. We greatly appreciate their financial support that helps to continue serving the jazz community every day of the year.

Read more: Take a Jazz Stay-cation: Ottawa jazz highlights in July


Classical and jazz dance together at the 2016 Ottawa Chamberfest

This article was substantially updated from the first version released April 6, 2016, to reflect further concerts added to the festival.

The Ottawa Chamber Music Festival will showcase Cuban and avant-garde jazz in its 2016 edition, with performances by Jane Bunnett and Maqueque, renowned Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto, bassist Roberto Occhipinti, guitarist Kevin Breit, violinist Drew Jurecka, and cellist Ernst Reijseger – plus a tribute to Duke Ellington.

Jane Bunnett (l) and Maqueque are back in Ottawa in July after two years of steady touring, performing at the 2016 Ottawa Chamberfest ©2014 Brett DelmageThe festival, which will run from July 21 to August 3, 2016, is again complementing its core classical offerings with late-night jazz and improvised music – even combining them in some cases.

Chamberfest will offer its late-night concerts at the recently-reopened La Nouvelle Scène on King Edward Avenue in Lowertown, with that location replacing St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts.

Highlights include:

Saturday, July 23: The Syrène Saxofoonkwartet consists of four women saxophonists from the Netherlands, playing soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone sax. The previous day, they are scheduled to play a classical show, but on Saturday, their repertoire for their free outdoor show in the National Gallery Amphitheatre is ragtime and jazz. At 1 p.m., they'll open with Leonard Bernstein's “Overture to Candide”, and then move to classic rags like “The Maple Leaf Rag” and “Kitten on the Keys”, before ending with George Gershwin's “An American in Paris”.

Saturday, July 23: wunderkind Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger is a featured artist this year at Chamberfest, playing classical music, freely improvised music, and his own compositions. He'll be introduced to the festival at a short, free snapshot concert at 5:45 p.m. at Dominion Chalmers United Church. [Read our interview with Reijseger.]

Saturday, July 23: Jazz composer Claude Bolling mixes “Baroque elegance with modern technique” in his Suite for Violin and Jazz Piano Trio. The eight movements are based on mostly classical dance forms, with mainstream jazz segments (and a few vintage ones) inserted around and under the violin soloist – and with the rhythm section propelling each movement and adding lots of swing. This performance at La Nouvelle Scène features Alexandre DaCosta on violin and Graham Wood on jazz piano, along with Éric Lagacé on double-bass (seen here with Oliver Jones) and Dave Laing (Christine Jensen's drummer) on percussion. The second half of the concert will include pieces by Dizzy Gillespie, Michel Legrand, and Lennon & McCartney.

Read more: Classical and jazz dance together at the 2016 Ottawa Chamberfest


Canadian saxophonist P.J. Perry named to the Order of Canada

P.J. Perry at Katie Malloch's Montreal farewell concert ©Brett Delmage, 2012Veteran Canadian jazz saxophonist P.J. Perry has been made a member of the Order of Canada, according to the list released by the Governor-General's office today.

The 75-year-old Perry, who lives in Edmonton, is still active on the jazz scene, touring and recording. He was featured on trumpeter Al Muirhead's album, It's About Time, which was nominated for a Juno Award in 2016.

Perry won a jazz Juno Award in 1993 for his album My Ideal, and was nominated for his 1999 recording with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. He also played on the Rob McConnell Tentet's Juno-winning album in 2001.

According to his website, he's “shared the stage with countless jazz greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Shaw, Michel LeGrand, Pepper Adams, Kenny Wheeler, Tom Harrell, Rob McConnell, Slide Hampton, Herb Spanier, Bobby Shew, Fraser McPherson, Tommy Banks, Joe LaBarbera, Clarence “Big” Miller, Red Rodney and many more talented artists, to numerous to list here"

"Recently, he was a featured soloist on the hit 2010 Broadway production of Come Fly Away, highlighting the songs of Frank Sinatra.”

The Order of Canada recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. Other jazz musicians who have been awarded this honour include vocalist Molly Johnson, saxophonist Phil Dwyer, drummer Archie Alleyne, pianist Lorraine Desmarais, trombonist Ian McDougall, vocalist Ranee Lee, pianist Oscar Peterson, pianist Oliver Jones, pianist Paul Bley, guitarist Sonny Greenwich, multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson, bassist Michel Donato, and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler.

    – Alayne McGregor

Read more: Canadian saxophonist P.J. Perry named to the Order of Canada


A hard-driving quartet finds new corners of modern jazz

The Kirk MacDonald/Pat LaBarbera Quartet, with Kieran Overs and special guest Adam Nussbaum
Les Brasseurs du Temps, Gatineau
Tuesday, June 28, 2016 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Just before the end of this show, Kirk MacDonald told the audience that they had just heard world premieres – both of this band, and of many of the pieces they played. Two of the compositions he contributed, in fact, were so new that he hadn't yet named them.

Saxophonists Kirk MacDonald (l) and Pat LaBarbera have found a new partnership and new material together with bassist Kieran Overs and drummer Adam Nussbaum. ©Brett Delmage, 2016

But it was also an evening which showed off these musicians' many decades of experience and long-standing friendships. Although this quartet is new, the two saxophonists, MacDonald and Pat LaBarbera, both stalwarts of the Toronto jazz scene, have performed together since the 1990s; LaBarbera and NYC drummer Adam Nussbaum have decades of friendship; and MacDonald and LaBarbera are both in Toronto bassist Kieran Overs' band, Overs’ Eleven.

Unsurprisingly, there was a friendly, happy vibe on stage – and lots of energy.

Their show at Les Brasseurs du Temps in downtown Gatineau was the start of a three-city tour; the quartet would be playing at Dièse Onze in Montreal for the following two evenings, recording a CD for two days when they got back to Toronto, and then playing at The Rex in Toronto on July 6 and 7.

This first show offered them a chance to spread out and try out material, in front of a receptive and interested audience. The quartet ended up playing a 1½-hour first set and a one-hour second set, with only a half-hour break – but the music was so dynamic that one hardly noticed the time.

They opened with a warm, inviting piece by LaBarbera, “Baby Blue”, which was inspired by the standard “Melancholy Baby”. It featured both him and MacDonald on tenor, playing alternately and together, with Nussbaum's vigorous drumming and Overs' emphatic bass lines driving the piece.

Read more: A hard-driving quartet finds new corners of modern jazz


Steve Bilodeau reaches the semi-finals in Montreux Jazz Festival International Guitar Competition

This evening, you can hear what Steve Bilodeau will perform before judges at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland next month.

The spotlight will be on guitarist Steve Bilodeau at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland next month. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

The Ottawa-raised jazz guitarist will play with his trio at Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago starting at 9 p.m. And one of the reasons he'll be there is to preview – and try out – some of the material he's prepared for the Montreux Jazz Festival's International Guitar Competition.

Bilodeau has been chosen as one of the 10 semi-finalists in the 2016 competition, which will run from July 2 to 4. He's the only North American, he said, with others coming from Israel, South Africa, and across Europe.

It's the third time lucky for Bilodeau: he applied twice before but this was the first time he was short-listed for the competition. This time, he said, he took a different approach with the three recordings he submitted with his application – not trying to second-guess the judges.

“This year, I sent the most eclectic combination of recordings that I had sent so far. I really stopped thinking about what I thought they would want to hear, and I just sent what I wanted to send them. And that was the key, I guess!"

“Instead of trying to play the game of what you'll think they'd like, just do your thing. And it worked out. Now I'm going to go over there and see how it goes.”

Bilodeau has two friends who have won the competition: Toronto guitarist Alex Goodman, who was awarded first prize and the Public's Choice Award in 2014, and Brazilian guitarist Leandro Pellegrino, who won in 2013. Goodman was the first Canadian to ever win this competition.

“I talked to both Alex and Leandro about the competition and they said that each year that they've seen it or heard the guys in it, it's been totally different. It changes from year to year – they have different judges and I think maybe they change the emphasis of what they're looking for. So it's not always the same every year; they're not looking for the same type of guitar player.”

Read more: Steve Bilodeau reaches the semi-finals in Montreux Jazz Festival International Guitar Competition


Kirk MacDonald & Pat LaBarbera are back in town, celebrating musical friendships

Read the review of this quartet's first show in Gatineau

More than three decades ago, renowned Canadian saxophonists Pat LaBarbera and Kirk MacDonald played their very first joint concert – in Ottawa.

Kirk MacDonald will team up with Pat LaBarbera for a two-saxophonist show on Tuesday, July 28, at Les Brasseurs du Temps, showcasing their decades of musical friendship. ©Brett Delmage, 2013They're back in town next Tuesday, June 28, co-leading a show at Les Brasseurs du Temps in downtown Gatineau – this time also featuring American post-bop drummer Adam Nussbaum and Canadian bassist Kieran Overs.

It will be something old and something new – an exploration of long-time musical friendships between LaBarbera and MacDonald, and between LaBarbera and Nussbaum – but in a new grouping playing brand-new compositions. It's the start of a multi-city tour (including Montreal and Toronto) which will also take the quartet into the recording studio.

MacDonald said he picked a two-saxophone format with just bass and drums, “because Pat also worked for many years with [famous American jazz drummer] Elvin Jones and oftentimes that was the format, too. So it just seemed like an opportune time to put those elements together.”

Although they play the same instruments – tenor and soprano sax – LaBarbera and MacDonald have collaborated frequently over the years, including in 2014 on MacDonald's Juno-Award-winning album, Vista Obscura. They met when MacDonald first came to Toronto: “Pat was one of the first people that I sought out to study with. He's been very much a mentor to me in many ways over the years.”

“I think we have a very strong connection musically – and that was apparent to me the first time we played together,” MacDonald told “It was just great to play with him! I used to sit in with him when I was really young, in my early 20s, I suppose, the early 1980s.”

The first time they actually worked together was a concert at the Lord Elgin Hotel in Ottawa, organized by Jacques Émond, the former programming director of the Ottawa Jazz Festival. They played a two-tenor concert in one of the hotel's ballrooms “and I believe the year was 1991 or 1990. That's the first we officially did a co-led thing like that. And from that spun the [John] Coltrane tribute which we've been doing ever since.”

Starting in 1991, he said, they've celebrated Coltrane's music for a yearly three-night stand at the Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar in Toronto – the dates picked to be on or close to Coltrane's birthday. They've also taken the tribute elsewhere: this summer to jazz festivals in Huntsville and Port Hope.

For next Tuesday's concert, however, the quartet will be performing almost all originals, some written by LaBarbera and MacDonald specifically for this new quartet. MacDonald said he had also invited Nussbaum and Overs to contribute compositions. “The idea is basically to create a repertoire for this band."

Read more: Kirk MacDonald & Pat LaBarbera are back in town, celebrating musical friendships


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