When she arrived for her interview with OttawaJazzScene.ca on Monday, Ottawa jazz singer Karen Oxorn was toting a bag of her favourite LPs.
She'd recently bought a new turntable and got back into listening to vinyl, she told editor Alayne McGregor, and she wanted to show off some of the music which had influenced her over the years. She pulled out one of the first records she ever bought – Elton John's first album – as well as an LP by her favourite vocalist Ella Fitzgerald, and the soundtracks to the musicals Funny Girl and My Fair Lady, and talked about the memories they inspired.
The musical journey encompassed by those LPs and more will be reflected in her two concerts this weekend, which will also celebrate her 60th birthday. On Friday, January 29, she'll perform with pianist Steve Boudreau at GigSpace in Ottawa, and Saturday at the Baldachin Inn in Merrickville.
Oxorn has specialized in interpreting the Great American Songbook, but with her own touches and a great deal of care and polish. She's organized and performed in tributes to many of her favourite vocalists of yesteryear – including Blossom Dearie, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday (twice).
But the sources and inspiration for this show are broader, including different interpretations of songs by different jazz vocalists.
OttawaJazzScene.ca recorded our chat with Oxorn. You can listen to the entire interview below. Here are some highlights of what Oxorn said about the two shows and her plans for 2016, 2017, and her next 20 years.
On women being considered invisible after age 45: “[These days], society as a whole is looking for the art of things and less concerned about what somebody looks like, how old somebody is. They want to really see what they have to bring to it and the experience that enriches what they do. So I think for me – and also having started so late in music, I was already in my 40s – I don't think that's been an impediment.
Pauline Oliveros and Friends
Canadian New Music Network Forum 2016
First Baptist Church
Saturday, January 16, 2016 – 8 p.m.
American accordionist, composer, and musical theorist Pauline Oliveros has been rethinking and overturning ideas about avant-garde composition and improvisation for the last five decades. She's influenced many performers, composers, and free jazz improvisers with her ideas on deep listening – including some of those who performed with her in her Ottawa concert on Saturday.
The concert was an extraordinary blending of many voices, with nine musicians collaborating in a completely free improvisation on a wide variety of instruments. And the result was not just ear-opening and often beautiful music; it also exemplified Oliveros' music-making theories.
The dancers came out for Standing Room Only's first tea dance in Ottawa on Sunday afternoon. In fact, there were so many in the audience that the Pantry, which was selling pots of tea and sweets to thirsty dancers, temporarily ran out of china tea cups and had to hurriedly find more.
The big band is in its 10th year of running regular tea dances every winter at the Old Almonte Town Hall, but this was its first foray into Ottawa. Several dancers told OttawaJazzScene.ca that they liked the slightly larger dance floor in Scotton Hall at the Glebe Community Centre, and its good acoustics. Many dancers dressed up for the event, with sparkling dresses and shoes on the women and men in dark suits and blindingly white shirtfronts.
With only 13 members plus veteran singer Pauline Proulx, the band was slightly down from its regular strength. They played their standard big band repertoire, with numbers made famous by Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington plus some Latin numbers and the occasional foray into the 50s.
At the end of this inaugural event, both dancers and musicians said they hoped that SRO would hold another dance at the Glebe Community Centre. The band will hold its next big band dance in Almonte this Sunday, January 24, from 1 to 4 p.m.
– Alayne McGregor
The Ken Harper Trio with guest Rob Graves
Sunday, January 17, 2016 – 9 p.m.
Ottawa jazz drummer Ken Harper is leading his trio in a month of Sundays at Irene's this month – with different guests and a different sound each week.
OttawaJazzScene.ca caught up with Harper on January 17, his third of five evenings, when he played with percussionist Rob Graves and the other members of his trio: Alex Moxon on guitar and effects, and Mark Fraser on double bass.
It was an evening of surprising textures and varied rhythms, as Graves and Harper inspired each other into extra invention and intensity. They opened with an impromptu and extended improvised piece, with drums and congas in deep conversation while Fraser added melodic riffs on bass. It grabbed the audience's attention with its almost hypnotic feel.
Graves played (in Moxon's words) “everything” – two congas, a small double drum, another hand drum, a cow-bell, a triangle, a string of bells, a clave, a small cymbal, various shakers, and possibly a few more instruments which we missed. He constantly switched among instruments, responding to the other musicians.
Most of the show featured jazz classics: Dizzy Gillespie's “Night in Tunisia”, Duke Ellington's “Caravan”, and a soft, sensual version of Horace Silver's “Cape Verdean Blues”, among them. The group added in several blues, and ended with a Stevie Wonder number. A noticeable Afro-Cuban feel informed much of the music, as well as a strong collaborative feel. “Sunny”, for example, featured bright notes on triangle from Graves accenting a grooving melody on guitar from Moxon, followed by an inflected bass solo, and then a strong drums/percussion duet aka duel.
Particularly impressive was a slower number, Bill Frisell's “Strange Meeting”, with thoughtful solos from each band member.
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