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Café Nostalgica is bringing back jazz nights

Wednesday Jazz Nights in the former Café Nostalgica building were often packed with musicians and listeners  © Brett Delmage, 2010

Café Nostalgica, the University of Ottawa restaurant whose Wednesday jazz nights had been an important part of the scene for many years, will again serve jazz with its beer.

Ajà Besler, the Advocacy and Communications Coordinator for the Graduate Student's Association (GSAED), which owns the café, told over email that “Jazz Nights will be making a come-back. We'll post news on our website and Facebook page when it's official.”

The café regained its liquor licence on Tuesday. The loss of that licence last fall had led to all evening programming being canceled, including the jazz nights.

For many years, the Wednesday jazz nights at Café Nostalgica at the University of Ottawa have been an important nurturing place for local jazz artists, giving them a place to experiment with new material and lineups in front of an appreciative audience, if not great pay. The Graduate Students' Association decided to tear down and completely rebuild the old building containing the café to make it larger and more accessible; it closed at the end of March, 2012.

Read more: Café Nostalgica is bringing back jazz nights


Matt Dusk and Molly Johnson to celebrate Christmas with the NAC Orchestra

Molly Johnson at the NAC Studio. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

The National Arts Centre Orchestra will host Canadian crooner Matt Dusk for Christmas.

On December 19, Dusk and the orchestra will present a concert of well-known holiday tunes, including "Silent Night", "Little Drummer Boy", and "Winter Wonderland". They will be joined by Juno-award-winning jazz vocalist Molly Johnson, who was last at NAC in 2013, and by the Ottawa Choral Society.

Dusk is up for a Juno this year for his album, My Funny Valentine – The Chet Baker Songbook, which features an eighty-piece orchestra and special guests Arturo Sandoval, Guido Basso, and Emilie-Claire Barlow. He has released four albums, one of which, Two Shots, went gold in Canada. Dusk is an alumnus of the St. Michael’s Choir School and studied under jazz piano legend Oscar Peterson at York University.

Johnson has released five jazz albums; she was nominated for four Junos for best Vocal Jazz Album, and won for Lucky in 2009, She also received the 2009 National Jazz Award for Best Female Vocalist.

She is an Officer of the Order of Canada, recognized both for her music and her charitable work raising funds for people living with HIV/AIDS. She also hosts the weekend early morning program on CBC Radio 2.

The concert is part of the orchestra's 2014-15 season, which it announced today. This season, the orchestra performed three nights with Canadian jazz vocalist Denzal Sinclaire in a tribute to Nat King Cole. Local jazz singer Kellylee Evans also presented a Christmas show.

The NAC will also continue its Casual Fridays program next season, with three classical concerts being preceded by hour-long sets by local jazz artists. The jazz groups include:

Read more: Matt Dusk and Molly Johnson to celebrate Christmas with the NAC Orchestra


A Jazzy March in Ottawa-Gatineau

In March 2014, jazz listeners will have almost a superfluity of great jazz to hear, including two local CD releases:

William Parker ©Brett Delmage, 2013Starting with the first weekend (February 28 to March 2):

  • soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett returns to Ottawa on Friday to play with guitarist Roddy Ellias, bassist John Geggie, and percussionist Jesse Stewart (think of Jane more in her modern jazz rather than her Cuban jazz persona),

we move on to Saturday with

On Sunday, there's

  • renowned Canadian multi-instrumentalist Phil Dwyer giving an afternoon workshop and evening concert at Les Brasseurs du Temps in Gatineau.
  • the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra's second show of the season with a diverse and upbeat program of big band music, some arranged by local jazz musicians
  • the Keys 2 Drums Trio with Steve Boudreau, Jeff Asselin, and Michel Delage getting into percussive instruments at IMOO, and
  • a new group, 2React, with Marc Decho, Alex Moxon, and Mike Essoudry, playing improvised hip-hop at Stella Luna.

And lastly Montreal guitarist Mike Rud will appear twice, at Brookstreet on Saturday and with Tim Bedner at Zen Kitchen on Sunday.

Starting March 4, The Beeched Wailers, led by trumpeter Nick Dyson, start a new weekly jazz jam at the Rochester Pub.

On the second weekend (March 6-8):

  • Claudia Salguero brings her new show, IDILIO, to the NAC with some of the best local Latin jazz performers
  • The Capital Vox Jazz Choir presents jazz interpretations of 60s music in its Sounds of the 60s concerts at Arts Court
  • The Boilermaker Jazz Band comes up from Pittsburgh to play at two special swing dances
  • There's experimental, improvised chamber music and poetry,with Music in the Barns at the Black Sheep Inn

The third weekend (March 13-14), renowned avant-garde jazz bassist William Parker is in town.

That Saturday (March 15), you again have a difficult choice, this time between two excellent Toronto groups:

  • Lina Allemano Four (with Andrew Downing, Brodie West, and Nick Fraser) at GigSpace
  • Myriad 3 (with Chris Donnelly, Ernesto Cervini, and Daniel Fortin) at Brookstreet Options Jazz Lounge
  • Ottawa's Souljazz Orchestra getting everyone for a second debut of Inner Fire at the Babylon Nightclub

The following Saturday (March 22), there's even more worth hearing:

Read more: A Jazzy March in Ottawa-Gatineau


Jérôme Beaulieu meets his audiences half-way, with melodic and unexpected jazz

See the review and photos of this concert: Three standing ovations for Jérôme Beaulieu Trio's first show outside Québec .

Jérôme Beaulieu thinks jazz musicians can learn from popular musicians – not so much for their musical style, but for their ability to connect with audiences and to incorporate new sounds and new recording techniques into their music.

Trio Jérôme Beaulieu (photo by Simon Pagé)

The 26-year-old Montreal pianist, whose trio will appear at the National Arts Centre on Saturday, plays well within the jazz trio tradition. His musical heroes include modern jazz pianists like Brad Mehldau and Aaron Parks. But when you listen to his trio, you can hear some quite different embellishments on top of the strong melodies.

Within Quebec, his trio has won considerable praise. They're one of a small number of groups chosen by Radio Canada in 2013-14 for its Révélations series. They won the 2011 Montreal-based Jazz en Rafale competition, and Festi-Jazz Rimouski's 2011 Grand Prize, and their first album was a finalist for an Opus prize.

Saturday's Fourth Stage concert will be their first appearance outside Quebec, and Ottawans' first chance to hear this new generation of Quebec jazz musicians. The trio will perform primarily pieces from their latest album, plus a suite from their first album. Most will be originals, but they'll also include a few of the pop songs they've covered on their albums.

Beaulieu said that the trio – himself on piano, Philippe Leduc on bass, and William Côté on drums – have been influenced by popular music in two ways: first, that they've recorded jazz covers of both Quebec and American pop music, but also “in the sense that we try to have a certain melodic approach to jazz.”

“If you don't listen to jazz normally and if you're not into that art form and you're not into the whole improvisational aspect of it that makes it hard to understand sometimes for people who didn't study it, you'll still be able to relate to it because there's a certain melodic quality to it. When you listen to the song two or three times, you can actually hum along to it. In that sense, I think we bring a pop sensibility to it, which makes it easier for people to connect to it and which doesn't necessarily mean that it's simplistic. We try to find a balance between those two.”

Read more: Jérôme Beaulieu meets his audiences half-way, with melodic and unexpected jazz


Jesse Stewart brings Jane Bunnett, one of his favourite musicians, to Ottawa

Percussionist Jesse Stewart vividly remembers the first time he met Toronto jazz musician and composer Jane Bunnett in person.

It was back in 1992 or '93, at the awards ceremony in Toronto for the Jazz Report Canadian jazz awards. Stewart was in high school, and had come with his band teacher. And in among all the jazz luminaries there, he got to sit at the same table as Bunnett, and they both received awards that night.

John Geggie ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Roddy Ellias ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Jane Bunnett ©Brett Delmage, 2013Jesse Stewart ©Brett Delmage, 2011

“The who's-who of Canadian jazz was in this room, and I thought, 'Wow! This is amazing.' I met Jane, and I was wet behind the ears and just 16. I remember it very clearly because I had been such a fan of her work. I remember when Spirits of Havana came out in the early 90s, and just thinking it was a really, really great album all the way around.”

Over more than 20 years, their paths have continued to cross and they've played together occasionally. But this weekend, Bunnett is up in Ottawa for a more sustained interaction with Stewart: a workshop Thursday afternoon, a rehearsal Thursday evening, a masterclass and two performances Friday, and a recording session on Saturday.

Read more: Jesse Stewart brings Jane Bunnett, one of his favourite musicians, to Ottawa


Tonight is the last night for the iconic Cellar Jazz Club in Vancouver

The Cellar Jazz Club in happier times. photo:Doug interviewed Cory Weeds last year about his Cellar Jazz Club in Vancouver and how he kept it successful, both artistically and financially.

We're sad to report that tonight (February 26) is the Cellar's last night: Weeds couldn't reach an agreement with his landlord to extend the lease on the location.

Weeds is, however, staying in jazz in Vancouver. He's presenting a concert series in April, as well as booking a Tuesday night jazz series at a local restaurant. He will continue running his Cellar Live record label, and says he's looking for other things to do.

If you have a Livestream account, you can see Weeds' closing remarks at the club tonight at 7 p.m. PST.


Warm and sincere, Denzal Sinclaire wows the orchestra audience

Jazz vocalist Denzal Sinclaire held the attention of the orchestra audience for both his Nat King Cole repertoire and other songs. ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Denzal Sinclaire Sings the Nat King Cole Songbook and More with the NAC Orchestra
NAC Southam Hall
Thursday, February 20, 2014 – 8 p.m.

View photos of this concert

As a singer, Nat King Cole was known for his personal warmth and sincerity. He wasn't hip, or arch, or trying to appeal to the in-crowd – he sang simply and naturally.

Those same qualities were in the foreground as Canadian jazz vocalist Denzal Sinclaire, together with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, paid tribute to Cole. The Thursday evening concert was the first of a three-night run, and will repeat on Friday and Saturday.

Performing to a mostly-full house, Sinclaire was debonair and cordial, introducing the songs with informality and occasional humor. The first set was all-Nat-King-Cole, showing the late singer's range: from classics like “Nature Boy” to lesser-known ballads like “To the Ends of the Earth”; from up-tempo rousers like “Route 66” to the moving “Mona Lisa”.

And the audience greeted the music enthusiastically. Throughout, they were intently focused on the stage, and occasionally greeted songs with welcoming hand clapping. The applause after each song ranged from strong to very strong to heavy, and the concert ended with a standing ovation.

This was one of the Orchestra's regular Pops concerts, but it was led by guest conductor Jeff Tyzik, who also arranged all the music and selected the songs in conjunction with Sinclaire. Tyzik and Sinclaire have been molding this show for the last year, with three concerts in Western Canada in 2013, and more planned for the United States next year (the 50th anniversary of Cole's untimely death).

Read more: Warm and sincere, Denzal Sinclaire wows the orchestra audience


Denzal Sinclaire pays tribute to his musical hero Nat King Cole - with orchestra

See the review of this concert: Warm and sincere, Denzal Sinclaire wows the orchestra audience

Denzal Sinclaire used to get upset when people compared his singing style to that of jazz vocal legend Nat King Cole.

Juno-nominated vocalist Denzal Sinclaire (photo courtesy of Denzal Sinclaire)

“I would spend a lot of anxious time, saying 'I'm not trying to sound like him. It's just kind of there',” the Juno-nominated jazz vocalist said.

“Then after a while I just accepted it. It's essentially a compliment. And it's also if I were to have been a classically-trained vocalist, and with any sort of appealing-sound voice, [fans] might say that I sounded like Pavarotti – you know what I mean? It's a category. So I got that after a while."

In fact, Sinclaire has often included in his own repertoire songs which Cole made famous, albeit not sung in exactly the same way. And on February 20-22, he will sing those songs in Ottawa together with the National Arts Centre Orchestra.

This will be Sinclaire's first appearance in Ottawa in almost a decade; he was last here in 2005 at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, opening for Diana Krall.

The three evenings are billed as “Denzal Sinclaire Sings the Nat King Cole Songbook and more”. The “more” is an important distinction, because while the first set will be all-Nat King Cole, the second set will be Sinclaire's own choices.

Read more: Denzal Sinclaire pays tribute to his musical hero Nat King Cole - with orchestra


Once a year, Michael Pytura celebrates his favourite big band jazz singers

Michael Pytura sang the Rat Pack repertoire with clear enjoyment and verve at the Make-A-Wish fundraiser. ©Brett Delmage, 2014

View photos.

For one night a year, Michael Pytura is a big band singer, invoking the music of his favourite Rat Pack vocalists like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

By day, he's the owner of an insurance agency. But Pytura says he's always loved vocal jazz, and last Saturday was his fourth year singing in front of a jazz orchestra to raise funds for the charity Make-A-Wish Canada.

Pytura was backed by ten local professional musicians known for their love of and experience with big band music, under the musical direction of saxophonist Mike Mullin. It was a glitzy affair in the theatre at the Casino de Lac Leamy in Gatineau, attracting a full house, most of whom were either listening or dancing to the music.

Partway through the evening, it was announced that the event had raised $30,000: enough to grant the wishes of three children with life-threatening medical conditions.

Pytura grew up in a very musical family: “my dad was an opera singer, my mom a piano teacher for over 60 years, and we always listened to all sorts of music. Even in high school I'd have Bobby Darin albums and Tony Bennett.”

But a particular love was the Rat Pack group of singers and actors – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. – “both from a musical point of view but even just from the type of humour they bring to the table as well. It's the whole package with them.”

But how did that turn into actually singing live with a band? It started at dinner, with a friend who was on the board of directors of Make-A-Wish.

“I had just recorded for fun a small Christmas album, and was excited about it. I remember telling him that night that one of these days I'd like to do a concert for Make-A-Wish, thinking maybe [in] 2018 or 2022. And the next thing I knew, the next week, we're in the boardroom and we're picking dates.”

Pytura was put in touch with Mullin, who hired an orchestra composed of nine of “the best jazz musicians around. And my very first-ever performance was with those guys at the National Gallery in 2011. It went from nothing to a lot very, very quickly. It was a lot of fun.”

Read more: Once a year, Michael Pytura celebrates his favourite big band jazz singers


The Sicilian Jazz Project reached the audience's hearts (and made them dance)

Louis Simão's accordion added intensity and emotion to the music in Michael Occhipinti's Sicilian Jazz Project. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Sicilian Jazz Project
Parc de l'imaginaire
Gatineau (secteur Aylmer), PQ
Festival de Jazz Desjardins
Saturday, July 27, 2013 – 7:30 p.m.

View photos of this concert

The Sicilian Jazz Project, which is back in Ottawa this weekend, demonstrated how well jazz can reach an audience's heart in a performance in an Aylmer park last summer.

Toronto vocalist Dominic Mancuso sang the entire concert in a dialect of Sicilian – but that didn't matter because the songs were about universals like love, work, discrimination, and celebration, and because of the sheer infectiousness, energy, and beauty of the music.

By the end of the show, most of the audience was singing along with Mancuso – and didn't have to stand for the final ovation because they had already got up to dance or sway to the music.

The project is the brainchild of Toronto jazz guitarist/composer Michael Occhipinti, and is based on his own Sicilian family heritage, as well as field recordings made by musicologist Alan Lomax in Sicily in 1954. But as with several of his other projects, Occhipinti used the original folk music only as a starting point, adding his own jazz sensibility, rhythms, arrangements, and improvisation to produce a highly listenable cross-cultural mix.

Read more: The Sicilian Jazz Project reached the audience's hearts (and made them dance)


The Maskell-Cousineau Quintet: serious, accessible, and fun music

Two young Ottawa jazz musicians, who made waves here when they were in high school, have brought their new band back for two shows this weekend.

The Maskell-Cousineau Quintet may have started as a school combo, but they're pushing their music to a much higher level for their two gigs in Ottawa this weekend. (photo courtesy of the quintet)Saxophonists Sam Cousineau and Chris Maskell are now studying at McGill University in Montreal. They've teamed up with three fellow students to push their music to a new level, and they'll show that off at the Brookstreet Options Jazz Lounge on Friday and at GigSpace on Saturday.

The quintet came together as part of their schoolwork. But as they rehearsed and wrote music, they realized they “actually have a message we could deliver as a band musically,” Maskell said. So they decided to try playing outside their comfortable university envelope and book some of their own gigs, he said.

Audiences will hear mainstream jazz with a strong framework of bebop (Cousineau is a big fan of Cannonball Adderley). And they may also hear the influence of the Juno-Award-winning Montreal composer and bandleader Christine Jensen, who guided the group for its first term this year.

We “approach improvisation from a bebop standpoint and we apply that to all of the styles of music that we play. When Sam and I play, mostly bebop language emerges,” Maskell said.

In their music, “there's the pop style, and then there's the standards, and the ECM, but it all has the basic framework of this bebop language. So it's definitely nothing too out there, very much traditional. Sam and I, because we are both influenced by Coltrane, sometimes stretch out to that father-reaching [domain which is] less based upon harmonic language and more upon a feeling. So that is present, too, because when you're really going for it sometimes you tap into that. But it's very much traditional. I feel it's pretty accessible to most people.”

“People always say jazz is so inaccessible and is hard for people to listen to sometimes who don't study jazz or haven't been listening to it for years and years. But we were playing Upstairs once and had an audience member tell us that 'Yes, I really enjoyed that song. It was really fun.'

Read more: The Maskell-Cousineau Quintet: serious, accessible, and fun music


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