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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


Brian Browne and Peter Woods fill the Record Centre with standards

Brian Browne and Peter Woods discuss their encore song, at their well-received Record Centre performance ©Brett Delmage, 2016It was Take 2 for pianist Brian Browne and saxophonist Peter Woods at the Record Centre on Saturday afternoon, a reprise of their first intimate and successful show there a few months ago. They performed many of their favourite standards and the occasional hymn like "The Water is Wide". In their second set, they were also joined by vocalist Betty Ann Bryanton for evocative and extended versions of songs like "God Bless the Child". Woods and Browne have had a long-standing musical partnership, including a CD, Honest Company, released in 2013.

This afternoon at 2 p.m., guitarist Steve Bilodeau and bassist Alex Bilodeau – brothers and long-time musical companions – will perform an hour-long set at the Record Centre of mostly originals. It's free but donations are encouraged.

It's also your last chance to see publisher Brett Delmage's photo exhibit, Jazz Scene: Jazz Heard, which is currently on display at the Record Centre. Today is the exhibit's last day.

   – Alayne McGregor


Ottawa's jazz fans discover new groups and new sounds in the 24 hours of the Jazz Ramble

Adam Saikaley looked slightly bemused after his set at the Record Centre Tuesday morning. It was about the earliest he'd ever performed jazz piano, he told

5:11 a.m.: Record Centre owner John Thompson (seated, center-right) was not alone, joined by other listeners who were at the Jazz Ramble to listen to alto sax and poetry by The Julian Calendars: Julian Selody & JM Francheteau. The duo received an enthusiastic response. ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Saikaley's 10 a.m. set opened the Ottawa Jazz Festival's Jazz Ramble event at the record store. It was a quiet and graceful evocation of mostly 60s jazz classics, including pieces by Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock, and ending with “Body and Soul” – and a fine start to 24 hours of music, celebrating the strength of Ottawa's jazz scene.

The free event, the first ever by the festival, showcased Ottawa-area jazz musicians, performing everything from standards to funk to free improv to poetry. Fans could hear both well-tried and brand-new groups, but not necessarily playing in their comfort zones, or at times of the day they were used to.

It was a cornucopia of interesting music – something for almost all tastes.

View photos by photojournalist Brett Delmage of all 24 Jazz Ramble performances

The ramble attracted a constantly-changing group of listeners. There was a noticeable shift in the audience after every set, with listeners leaving and new ones entering, but there was always at least a dozen listeners even in the early hours of the morning.

In the late afternoon and evening, the place was packed with jazz fans, many spilling out onto the sidewalk. Toddlers danced to the music with their parents smiling beside them; a few of the older seniors really appreciated the chairs and stools set out by the store. Many people were recognizable from local jazz jams, but there were also many new faces.

Read more: Ottawa's jazz fans discover new groups and new sounds in the 24 hours of the Jazz Ramble


Two CDs by Nick Fraser create beautiful moments through collaborative improvisation

The Nick Fraser Quartet with Tony Malaby, Andrew Downing, and Rob Clutton
Independent, 2016

Too Many Continents
Nick Fraser / Tony Malaby / Kris Davis
Clean Feed, 2015

Toronto drummer Nick Fraser has had a productive and innovative partnership with NYC saxophonist Tony Malaby over the past few years, including multiple tours together in Canada and the U.S. In 2013, Fraser released his first album with Malaby, Towns and Villages. He's now followed that up with two more joint albums.

Nick Fraser/Too Many Continents CD coverToo Many Continents, with Malaby and Canadian-born pianist Kris Davis, was released late last fall with a U.S. tour. It received its Canadian release with a mini-tour in May which included Ottawa. That tour also was the official release of Starer, in which Fraser and Malaby work with two of Fraser's most frequent musical collaborators: cellist Andrew Downing and bassist Rob Clutton.

In their live shows, Fraser and Malaby consistently push the edges, in intense improvisations. They don't do straight ballads or bebop; the pieces they play don't have defined heads or specific places for solos. Instead they take compositional sketches, and use those sketches as points of departure for group improvisation.

It's an approach they excel in, and they've followed it in both these albums. The result is about as near as you get in a studio album to completely free jazz, with opportunities to go in many different directions.

Which doesn't mean these two albums sound alike, despite being recorded relatively close together. With different collaborators, they have very different sounds.

Too Many Continents is very much informed by Kris Davis, whose intricate and percussive piano lines both anchor and energize this music. For example, on “I Needed It Yesterday”, she opens with fast intricate piano lines vibrating in place, and later builds up the tension in the piece with strong piano chords underneath Malaby's coruscating sax lines. Throughout the CD, she uses the piano as much or more as a rhythmic instrument than as a melodic one.

Read more: Two CDs by Nick Fraser create beautiful moments through collaborative improvisation


The Amos Hoffman Quartet adds classical and Mid-East motifs to mainstream jazz

Amos Hoffman Quartet
Black Squirrel Books, Ottawa
Friday, June 3, 2016 – 9:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The word had got out that this was going to be an interesting show. Black Squirrel Books had brought out every sofa, seat, folding chair, and step stool it had – and there were still listeners sitting on the floor at the front or leaning against the coffee bar. The bookstore was full, with well over 50 people concentrating on the music.

The packed audience in Black Squirrel Books sounded enthusiastic about the Amos Hofffman Quartet continuing ther collaboration ©Brett Delmage, 2016

They had come to hear Israeli jazz guitarist and oud player Amos Hoffman and three Toronto jazz musicians: pianist Noam Lemish, bassist Justin Gray, and drummer Derek Gray. And their anticipation was well justified, as the quartet performed a dynamic and consistently engaging 85-minute-long set.

It was an evening of all originals, plus a jazz arrangement of a traditional Jewish prayer – alternating between pieces by Hoffman and by Lemish. The sound initially harked back to the classic mid-60s jazz of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, but Hoffman in particular added Middle Eastern motifs, as well as the commanding tone of his oud.

The quartet was surrounded by tall bookcases, which had been pushed into a rough backdrop. There wasn't a great deal of room – Derek Gray's drumset in particular was crowded into a corner and he had to sit on his cajon. He had barely enough room for his elbows when he really got going with his brushes and sticks – but the tight corners also added intimacy. The quartet played warmly and with considerable ease, modulating their volume to the space; you could clearly hear every note.

Read more: The Amos Hoffman Quartet adds classical and Mid-East motifs to mainstream jazz


A rural county excited by jazz: what Prince Edward County Jazz Festival does differently

The Prince Edward County Jazz Festival is, in many ways, the exact opposite of the Ottawa Jazz Festival. Instead of a few blocks of downtown, it covers a large part of a 1000 km² rural county in eastern Ontario. Unlike Ottawa, the Prince Edward County festival receives no government grants. And it's a pure jazz festival – no rock or pop artists.

Brian Barlow, the festival's creative director for the last 13 years, explained to how the festival has been successful by doing things differently. The interview has been lightly edited and some sections rearranged. How has the Prince Edward County Jazz Festival evolved over the last 16 years?

'I actually was involved at the very, very beginning in a strange way' - Prince Edward County Jazz Festival's 's Creative Director Brian Barlow ©Brett Delmage, 2015Brian Barlow: I think it's spread throughout the county. One of the things that makes it unique as a festival is the large area that it covers. Prince Edward County is fairly large [1,048.3 km²]. When I first got involved, the festival took place mostly in the town of Picton, but now it's all over the county, which is great, including wineries. When we first started, there wasn't a wine industry in the county and now as you may know it's quite a highly-respected wine area.

So we have events at a number of wineries, and in some of the small little villages, and on church steps – It's great. There's music everywhere. So I think that's part of the way it's evolved.

Read about the Prince Edward County Jazz Festival's 2016 line-up, and about its innovative student jazz programs.

I actually was involved at the very, very beginning in a strange way. I just happened to be shopping in a bookstore in Picton, and a woman found out I was a musician. My daughters were looking for books and that takes forever, so we were talking. And she said, we're thinking of starting a jazz festival. So I did a little bit of consulting the very first year, but I came on board the third year as creative director. I performed I think the second year with my band. What's your role as creative director?

Barlow: I would like to know that [laughs]. I think they called me that, rather than artistic director, because I think they wanted me more involved in other things other than just booking the musicians.

I take a fairly active role in working with sponsors. We receive no government grants, this festival, and I think that's another thing that makes us unique. We run it like a business. We pay our artists really well.

And so I'm involved in almost all aspects of the festival – sponsors, advertising. There's a committee I work with that chooses the musicians every year. I don't think it's something I would want to do totally on my own, and we get terrific input from that committee, in terms of musicians to chose.

Read more: A rural county excited by jazz: what Prince Edward County Jazz Festival does differently


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