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Vocalese with Steve Berndt and Christine Fagan: "A jazz adventure" (video)

“You just take words and you sing scat or you sing words to jazz solos, to instrumental jazz pieces that never had words originally to them. There's this wealth, and body, of lyrics that have been written to a Lester Young solo or a Miles Davis song that never had lyrics originally written for it.”

“It's a very creative thing,” Steve Berndt told when we met him and vocalist Christine Fagan on the roof of the NAC over the Fourth Stage, where they'll present “Vocalese with Steve Berndt and Christine Fagan” on April 2.

Watch our video story

“The sky's the limit. You can write your own lyrics to things. You could scat sing a solo, which I am planning to do. And you can do a lot of different things with harmonies. It's great. Christine and I sing well together. It's been a while we've been planning this show so we're looking forward to it.”

Christine Fagan was equally passionate about this music. “When I put out a CD, it was mostly, when I think back on it, vocalese, because it was taking instrumentals by friends of mine and writing words to them. So it's kind of a question of what songs to leave out for this show because there's a lot of stuff we'd like to be able to do.”

Watch the video story for a wonderful sample of them singing together, and talking enthusiastically and knowledgably about the music they love and will perform with a jazz trio that includes Tim Bedner, Norman Glaude, and Jamie Gullikson on April 2.

Their show will be one of the last jazz concerts at the Fourth Stage before it closes for 14 months for an upgrade, so we also asked them about their impressions of this stage which they've both performed in many times.

    – Brett Delmage

Steve Berndt and Christine Fagan will present Vocalese at the NAC Fourth Stage at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 2, 2016. Tickets are $25.

Related story: Christine Fagan: a collaboration with lyrics

Watch video stories about other Ottawa-Gatineau vocalists who brought their personal approach to unique jazz concerts at the Fourth Stage:

Watch our video story


Olivier Babaz shines a world of music on his new jazz album

Bassist Olivier Babaz came to Montreal the long way round – via France, the Netherlands, and Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean – a globe-spanning journey whose influences are reflected in his newly-released fourth album.

Bassist Olivier Babaz explores the full capabilities of his bass in his new CD, Odd Light. He gives it its Ottawa debut this weekend. (photo by Alain Mercier)Babaz will give the album, Odd Light, its Ottawa debut this weekend at the Options Jazz Lounge at the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata. The CD's underpinnings are strictly jazz, but its melodies and rhythms come from a wider palette, including the East African music Babaz learned on Réunion.

It's a guitar trio album – with well-known Montreal jazz musicians François Jalbert on guitar and Mark Nelson on drums complementing Babaz on double bass, electric bass, and kalimba – and the second album the three have recorded together.

Babaz describes the music on the CD as something “fragile, but sophisticated. ... It's really world-music-oriented but with sophisticated structures. There are some tunes that are almost more progressive music than jazz, but with huge improvised parts in them. And of course a lot of different influences. That's the main thing: the styles are very broad.”

It's not surprising given his world travels. Babaz was born and raised in Paris, and then studied music, particularly jazz, in the Netherlands and in several locations in France, including graduating from the Centre des Musiques Didier Lockwood outside Paris and the Music Academy International in Nancy. While in Nancy, he became close friends with people from Réunion Island, which is a large French overseas province on an island located between Madagascar and Mauritius, with almost one million inhabitants.

He moved to Réunion and spent five years there, meeting his wife, and studying classical and jazz bass. He played with local musicians, most notably with pianist Meddy Gerville, who is known for fusing local rhythms with jazz and improvisation. The island's music reflects South Indian Ocean music and East African music tradition and culture, he said, including “all the music from South Africa. Mozambique, Madagascar, especially Mauritius. It was a music I was really lucky to find myself in the middle of that and play with.”

Read more: Olivier Babaz shines a world of music on his new jazz album


Brazilian drumming inspires Rob Frayne's latest percussive project, DrumSwamp

When Rob Frayne heard a performance by his son Charlie's Brazilian drumming class in January, “it just blew me away”. And the reason why was his son's teacher, percussionist Liz Hanson.

Hearing Liz Hanson playing Brazilian rhythms inspired Rob Frayne's latest project, DrumSwamp (photo by Petr Cancura)That inspired the Ottawa composer and saxophonist to start jamming with Hanson, and to create his newest project, DrumSwamp. The quintet, playing “jazz and drum-grounded music”, will have its debut at GigSpace on Saturday.

Hanson is a classically-trained percussionist who has also extensively studied Brazilian music and rhythms, and has spent more than a decade teaching percussion to students in New York City-area schools. Last July, she moved to Ottawa with her husband, Juno-nominated jazz musician Petr Cancura, and their four-year-old daughter.

“I couldn't believe Liz showed up here!” Frayne said. “I'd met her socially, but at my kids' school, she's teaching Charlie in a Brazilian drum club on Friday. And it's amazing what she's doing! I couldn't believe it. And when I heard her play, like they do a call and response in a samba thing, and it was unbelievable! And that just grabbed me so much.”

He had the idea of teaming her up with one of his long-time musical partners, Chilean-born percussionist Alvaro de Minaya, and the three started playing together informally. Then Frayne added pianist Adam Daudrich and bassist Martin Newman to form DrumSwamp.

The group's rhythm-rich format suits his current style of playing saxophone, Frayne said. In 2014, he returned to playing the saxophone in concert after many years of recovery and re-learning technique after a serious automobile collision.

“I'm still trying to find a way to play the saxophone after getting knocked back to zero. So I'm finding the way I'm playing now, I can actually play in a kind of a percussive or rhythmical or drummy format. So this is something I can actually do, as opposed to trying to play a jazz standard with tricky harmony and tricky fast rhythm. This is more like I guess soulful, or rhythmical, or emotional.”

The name “DrumSwamp” came to Frayne as a working title, and “I guess I liked the name right off. I liked the idea of being surrounded by drums in a swamp. A swamp means it's more like there's stuff around you and there's lots of animal life. I just liked the sound.”

He said Saturday's show will be “good clean drum fun”, and “a chance to bask in the joy of grooves, drums and rhythm-music.”

Read more: Brazilian drumming inspires Rob Frayne's latest percussive project, DrumSwamp


Only applause broke the silence as the Sonoluminescence Trio played the Record Centre

Sonoluminescence Trio (David Mott, William Parker, Jesse Stewart) with painter Jeff Schlanger
The Record Centre
Thursday, March 17, 2016 – 7 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

All the members of the Sonoluminescence Trio - plus painter Jeff Schlanger - turned into a surprise waterphone quartet at their well-received show at the Record Centre Thursday. The trio plus Schlanger play GigSpace in Ottawa for two shows in Friday, and continue to Toronto on Saturday, and Guelph and Hamilton on Sunday. ©Brett Delmage, 2016

The audience was sitting crowded against record bins and standing in the aisles, peering over shoulders to catch what the musicians were doing. They tightly filled the narrow store right to the back. And they were utterly silent and intent during the hour-long show – except when they burst into loud applause.

The Sonoluminescence Trio – David Mott on baritone saxophone, William Parker on double bass, and Jesse Stewart on drums – drew a fascinated crowd in their first appearance at the Record Centre.

But it wasn't just the trio's fluid musical interaction that kept the audience's attention. For their Ontario tour this week, they're being accompanied by painter Jeff Schlanger, who sat at a low easel beside the musicians. He drew as they performed, using calligraphy pens and coloured markers on a large sheet of paper.

The trio played for just over an hour, and during that time, Schlanger steadily refined and added to a colourful depiction of what he saw and heard. He frequently switched among pens, and often drew with two pens at once, creating art whose energetic flow reflected the music. Schlanger calls this practice “musicWitness” and has done it for decades, in locations ranging from NYC to Berlin to Finland to Paris to Toronto. editors had previously seen him witness a concert at the Guelph Jazz Festival.

Read more: Only applause broke the silence as the Sonoluminescence Trio played the Record Centre


Ottawa Jazz Festival announces summer line-up, including Chick Corea, Dan Brubeck 4tet, Wynton Marsalis, The SF Jazz Collective, and Colin Stetson

 [Ottawa Jazz Festival ©Brett Delmage, 2010]

Updated March 17
This afternoon, the Ottawa Jazz Festival announced the line-up for its summer festival from Wednesday, June 22 to Sunday, July 3, 2016.

Pass prices are the same as last year, but may increase after March 29.

Among the notable jazz artists announced are:

  • Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
  • SF Jazz Collective: The Music of Michael Jackson and Originals
  • The Chick Corea Trio, with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade
  • The Thing
  • Stacey Kent
  • Dan Brubeck Quartet
  • Iva Bittova and Peggy Lee
  • Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld
  • Kamasi Washington
  • Igor Butman and the Moscow Jazz Orchestra
  • Reis-Demuth-Wiltgen

Read more: Ottawa Jazz Festival announces summer line-up, including Chick Corea, Dan Brubeck 4tet, Wynton Marsalis, The SF Jazz Collective, and Colin Stetson


Rob Frayne recruits for a jazz band on a mega-scale

If there was a Guinness record kept for most musicians in one jazz band in Ottawa, Rob Frayne would be well on his way to beating it – with the help of as many local musicians as he can recruit.

Rob Frayne conducts his 18-piece DreamBand at the Westboro Legion in 2015. He'll be leading an even bigger MegaBand there in April ©Brett Delmage, 2015The local jazz composer and bandleader is creating a MegaBand – which will have a one-time bravura performance on April 17, preceded by a week of rehearsals. 20 musicians have already signed up for this large ensemble, and he's hoping for more than 50.

The musicians will perform arrangements that Frayne will tailor specifically to the group, of both standards and some of his own compositions. It will be partly an educational experience, and partly just fun, he said – and a chance for amateur musicians to play in a very different context than usual, and at a professional level.

“[It's] something they've never, ever done. They've never played with such a large band. So this is unique. And plus there will be coaching. And plus they'll get to experience a big groove and maybe for those who can solo, they get to solo. So it's super-fun that way.”

Read more: Rob Frayne recruits for a jazz band on a mega-scale


David Mott on the Sonoluminescence Trio in performance (video)

Sonoluminescence: Jesse Stewart, William Parker, David Mott at their warmly-received 2014 GigSpace concerts ©Brett Delmage, 2014

The Sonoluminescence Trio returns to Ottawa on March 18, 2016, at GigSpace, this time with painter Jeff Schlanger witnessing their performance. talked with Sonoluminescence Trio member and baritone saxophonist David Mott after the groups's live performance at GigSpace on March 14, 2014. We discovered why he loves the baritone sax, and about the process of making music with fellow members percussionist Jesse Stewart and bassist William Parker. The trio also performs their encore improvisation to an enthusiastic audience in the video.

Be sure to also read our associated story, William Parker, David Mott, and Jesse Stewart have many stories to tell.

   – Brett Delmage

Watch the video


Jazz to head to the NAC's Back Stage during construction

NAC Presents Associate Producer Xavier Forget will have to schedule around the 14-month-long loss of the NAC Fourth Stage, which is also heavily used for community programming and by the jazz festival ©2015 Brett Delmage

The National Arts Centre will have both listeners and concert presenters playing musical chairs starting on May 8. That's the day after the music stops in its popular Fourth Stage, until it reopens in summer 2017.

Some audiences will instead hear concerts in the “Back Stage”, a converted rehearsal hall with 40 fewer seats. And many local musicians will have to find another venue for their show because the NAC won't have a free stage for them to book.

Even the NAC Fourth Stage staff will be playing musical chairs after the final show there on May 7. “We're not even sure how many days we have to get out,” Xavier Forget told after the NAC's Annual General meeting on March 3. As Associate Producer for NAC Presents, and current manager of community programming bookings, Forget has to schedule around the 14-month-long loss of his essential hall.

The Ottawa Jazz Festival was caught by surprise by the May 8 closure of the Fourth Stage. Originally it was scheduled to be closed just after the 2016 festival - before a more realistic construction schedule was developed in order to complete major construction by July 1, 2017. That meant a disruptive construction start that was suddenly before the jazz festival.

In recent years and at the 2016 Winter Jazz Festival, many shows filled the Fourth Stage to capacity. Forget said that the Festival has been offered the use of the interim Back Stage. But with that stage's 140 seats instead of the usual 180 seats, it's quite possible there will be more disappointed listeners this and next year. In past summer festivals, those were the bronze pass holders who were last-in-line to be admitted - if at all.

Read more: Jazz to head to the NAC's Back Stage during construction


James McGowan and Jesse Stewart improvise music from many streams

Ottawa pianist James McGowan has directed choirs, performed classical recitals, composed a musical theatre song cycle, and written for a jazz fusion group.

James McGowan will combine his classical influences with drummer Jesse Stewart's free jazz in an improvised concert at GigSpace on March 11 ©Brett Delmage, 2012

And he'll bring all that compositional experience with him when he performs a freely improvised jazz concert with percussionist Jesse Stewart on Friday at GigSpace.

McGowan and Stewart, both professors of music at Carleton University, have played together at the university a number of times, but Friday's show will be their first more public performance. As before, the music they'll play will be created completely in the moment – nothing written in advance.

“When I perform with Jesse, yes, we groove,” McGowan told “We'll go into a gospel groove, or we'll go into this free jazz thing. We'll do some Stravinsky abstraction, and then we'll do some very atmospheric things.”

“But all those things, they're created in real-time as compositions. And because Jesse has a compositional mindset, and I have a compositional mindset, and we're both performers, we both fundamentally understand that sense of creativity as opposed to simply performing a work. I think that's really why Jesse and I get along so well – because we're composers and that's the level the performance is really connecting at.”

The two started playing together after McGowan started at Carleton in 2010, although they'd met briefly before that. They realized they shared a common interest in improvised music. “It became more and more apparent that there was a pretty strong connection in our playing.”

“The way I really see the two of us working is that Jesse has a way of fully utilizing an instrument. So whether it's a drumset or whether it's a cardboard box, he's able to work within the limitations of the medium, the instrument, and fully find its sonic resources in particular.”

“I think of the same thing as a challenge, and so I focus on one instrument. I've chosen a piano, typically a grand piano, and I don't rely strictly on the notes. I use the instrument as a percussion instrument, I play inside [on the strings]. But I think of my box, my limitations as the instrument itself.”

Read more: James McGowan and Jesse Stewart improvise music from many streams


First impressions: Friday Night Jazz at The Marshes with Miguel de Armas

Miguel de Armas is a hardworking and respected musician who has shared his authentic, high-energy, and original Afro-Cuban music with Ottawa music lovers in special performances and regular, monthly shows. Audiences have consistently responded enthusiastically and in large numbers to his groups' music.

The Marshes Golf Club's Ironstone Grill was a comfy place to enjoy jazz on Feb. 26 ©2016 Brett DelmageOn January 15, de Armas launched his newest series, Friday Night Jazz at The Marshes, at the Ironstone Grill at The Marshes Golf Club. Each week, the pianist collaborates with a different group of local musicians playing jazz standards and Latin music.

For the many jazz listeners who are familiar with the Brookstreet Options Jazz Lounge in the Kanata North Business Park, the Marshes Gold Club is on the opposite (east) side of the golf course from Brookstreet. It's a 15-minute walk between the two on a cold winter night, or a five-minute walk from the route 93 bus which also serves Brookstreet.

The event's promotional message invokes imagery of “your favorite NYC jazz club”. Now, the nineteenth hole at a golf course in a suburban business park - especially in the middle of an Ottawa winter - doesn't really fit that imagery. But on's first visit to Friday Night Jazz at The Marshes on February 26, we were pleasantly surprised. Think “Après-ski” with jazz, in a warm and physically-appealing chalet-style building. Editor Alayne McGregor and I arrived before the musicians did, and we stayed for the first set before we had to leave to hear The Harley Card Trio at Options Jazz Lounge.

What we discovered was a cozy environment that was neither too hot nor cold or drafty. Sight lines to the stage were clear from all tables.

After the musicians started to play, the Ironstone Grill's acoustics immediately appealed to me. The sound was clear throughout the space, and had a natural reverb from the peaked, vaulted ceiling that sounded just right to my ears.

That evening, de Armas had teamed up with Normand Glaude on double bass and René Lavoie on tenor sax and flute. De Armas and Lavoie have played together several times, including at Folkrum last fall and in a GigSpace concert, and you could see how comfortable all three were together, enjoying stretching out and adding Latin flair to standards like “Monk's Dream” The audience particularly liked "I Remember April" – both for its lovely melody and for its promise of warmer temperatures!

Read more: First impressions: Friday Night Jazz at The Marshes with Miguel de Armas


Have your ears stretched in March with jazz from unexpected places

Updated March 6, 2016

Read about the current jazz in Ottawa-Gatineau (April, 2016

Ottawa's avant-garde jazz fans can rejoice in March, with some impressive shows – but there's plenty for mainstream jazz fans as well.

The Sonoluminescence Trio (Jesse Stewart, William Parker, David Mott) will have their 2016 Ottawa concerts witnessed by painter Jeff Schlanger on March 18 ©Brett Delmage, 2014

If you're into more freely improvised side of jazz, you'll be interested in concerts by Lina Allemano's Titanium Riot, the Sonoluminescence Trio (William Parker, David Mott, Jesse Stewart), and Sam Shalabi and Stefan Christoff, plus a duo show between locals Jesse Stewart and James McGowan.

For those who prefer the mainstream, there's the Ottawa-Toronto-NYC quartet Way North, Italian jazz musicians Massimo Farao and Fulvio Albano, the trio of Montreal bassist Olivier Babaz, Misc (aka Trio Jerome Beaulieu), and the swinging Boilermaker Jazz Band.

Perennial local favourites the Jivewires, the Nicole Ratté Trio, Florquestra, the Souljazz Orchestra, and Megan Jerome and the Together Ensemble all have shows this month. Ottawa jazz eminence grise Rob Frayne returns with a new project, his "Drumswamp", with percussionists Liz Hanson and Alvaro de Minaya.

These March jazz highlights are brought to you by James Curtiss, François Dumaine, Chris Fleming, Michaël Gazier, and Karen Oxorn. We greatly appreciate their support!

Quebec jazz singer Betty Bonifassi closes out the month with a concert based on slave songs from the beginning of the 20th century.

After the abundance of shows on the last weekend of February, March begins more quietly.

Read on to discover all the March jazz highlights


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