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2014: An improvised jazz year in Ottawa-Gatineau

2014 was a year of milestones – some worth celebrating, some unfortunate – in Ottawa-Gatineau's jazz scene.

There were several major anniversaries, including's fifth birthday in July! The Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra and the Carleton University Jazz Camp also turned five. It was the JazzWorks Jazz Camp's 21st anniversary, and the Apex Jazz Band's 40th.

Roddy Ellias was a strong influence in Ottawa's jazz scene in 2014, with a well-received trio album and new musical initiatives, and as the curator of the ZenKitchen jazz series and the organizer of the Ottawa Kenny Wheeler benefit. ©Brett Delmage, 2014The National Arts Centre – still the most prestigious jazz location in Ottawa – announced a major renovation over the next two years, to be finished for Canada's sesquicentennial (and the centre's 48th birthday) in 2017. It will substantially improve the centre's acoustics and facilities, but – as revealed – will mean closing the Fourth Stage (where most NAC jazz shows are staged) for several months; the exact timing and impact of that closure have not yet been determined.

This spring, initiated its Jazz Favourites Poll, which allowed local fans to identify and celebrate the successes in Ottawa-Gatineau's jazz scene. We were delighted at the warm response. More than 350 jazz fans voted on their favourites in nine categories covering many aspects of the local jazz and improvised music scene, from venues to CDs. But even more importantly, they told us why, in some fascinating comments which said a lot more. In some cases, the results were closely contested. In almost all cases, they were diverse, reflecting the many different types of music under the jazz umbrella, and the many ways to enjoy it.

Read more: 2014: An improvised jazz year in Ottawa-Gatineau


JazzWorks Sunday jazz jams looking for a broader audience

The JazzWorks Sunday afternoon jazz jams are moving to a new space with a new vibe this weekend, and hoping to attract a new, broader audience.

They'll be held at Festival House (the Bluesfest School of Music and Art) in Westboro, a more family-friendly, quiet location – and will feature coaching from a series of highly experienced local jazz teachers.

JazzWorks Artistic Director and double bassist John Geggie in teaching mode at the 2008 JazzWorks jazz camp. ©Brett Delmage, 2008

“The primary goal of the Sunday sessions is to get people out playing music. People who have never had a chance, people who love to play and want to play on a Sunday,” said JazzWorks board member Peggy Cameron, who has been involved in planning the sessions.

She said the Sunday jams would be “much more relaxed, much less pressure” than JazzWorks' long-running evening jams.

“People who might have been intimidated by the Thursday night jams – the number of people and the quality of the music – might think, 'Well if I go Sunday afternoon, maybe I can play'. People who have been a little bit fearful maybe in the past, young people [for whom] Thursday night is too late for them. [We want to] get a different bunch of people involved.”

This Sunday's jam, which will run from 2 to 5 p.m., will be mentored by JazzWorks' Artistic Director and double bassist John Geggie. In a posting on the JazzWorks website, Geggie said that this first jam would be “concentrating on the basics”, starting with two easy tunes which work for singers and instrumentalists of all descriptions: a blues, “Bag's Groove”, and George Gershwin's “I Got Rhythm”.

Read more: JazzWorks Sunday jazz jams looking for a broader audience


Doug Martin takes Canadian jazz to The Havana Jazz Festival

Doug Martin at Merrickville's Jazz Fest ©Brett Delmage, 2014

This week, Ottawa saxophonist Doug Martin is having an adventure at the Havana Jazz Festival – one that may provide inspiration for a new album.

He has been invited to perform three shows in theatres in the Cuban capital, as part of the festival. But he'll be playing with musicians he's never even met before.

“The only one whose name I know is Miguel de Armas, jr ,” Martin told shortly before he departed for Havana last week.

Yes, the son of Ottawa-based Cuban pianist Miguel de Armas, who began playing here in the spring of 2012, and has quickly made a splash in the Ottawa and Montreal jazz scenes.

“When I finally realized I wasn't going to be taking any musicians from here, and that I wanted to use Cuban musicians, I approached Miguel and asked if his son would be willing to play for me. And so the son, Miguel junior, is picking the other two musicians and I'm not sure who they are.”

The band will be de Armas jr. on piano, plus bass and drums, and possibly one or more conga players. They'll be playing primarily Martin's compositions, plus a few standards. He's looking forward to hearing an Afro-Cuban take on his music, which is mainstream modern jazz.

“I'm sure they'll have their own ideas, their own style, their own way of doing things. A lot of my tunes have never had a conga player in them, so it will be interesting to hear what that turns out to be.”

He's already sent his charts to Cuba and was hoping to rehearse for a few days before the group's first show at on Wednesday, December 17, at the Jardines del Teatro Mella theatre. They will also perform on Friday at Café Miramar, and on Saturday at Pabellón Cuba.

But he expected a fair amount of improvisation – not only in the music, but also in the arrangements. “Definitely it's going to be one minute to the next. I don't know what's going to happen. It will be an adventure for sure.”

The adventure first started in October, 2012, when Martin visited Cuba, and brought a few copies of his most recent CD, Odyssey, with him. “I never thought anything would happen, but just by chance I happened to meet a guy who had a jazz show on Radio Taino in Havana. And I gave him a couple CDs and he checked them out and he really liked them, so they started playing them on the radio down there.”

Read more: Doug Martin takes Canadian jazz to The Havana Jazz Festival


Sneak peek at the 2015 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival line-up

Update December 19: The Ottawa Jazz Festival finally confirmed part of its Winter Jazz Festival lineup, just a few hours before its office closed for the Christmas holidays. See the updated listing here.

In the program for Requiem for Fourteen Roses was an advertisement for the 2015 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, which provides a not-completely-confirmed peek at the Winter Jazz Festival's line-up. This information has not been yet published on the Ottawa Jazz Festival's website or Twitter feed or Facebook page.

Here's your first notice:

  • Oliver Mtukudzi & the Black Spirits
  • Megan Jerome, Fred Guignon, and Mike Essoudry
  • The Matt Wilson Quartet
  • The Nancy Walker Quintet
  • The Roddy Ellias Septet plays the Music of Kenny Wheeler
  • The Tigran Trio
    and more

Read more: Sneak peek at the 2015 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival line-up


Major NAC renovation will shutter Ottawa's favourite jazz hall for months in 2016

The National Arts Centre (NAC) announced an extensive renovation today – one that may disrupt jazz shows and the jazz festival in Ottawa in 2016.

The renovation will surround the current building with new glass wings on three sides, move the centre's primary entrance to Elgin Street, and upgrade the performance spaces, washrooms, and lobbies. It is scheduled to be ready in 2017, in time for Canada's 150th birthday.

Design concept for the renovated National Arts Centre, Elgin Street view, with the front windows of the updated Fourth Stage (Diamond Schmitt Architects)But its construction will require the closure of the Fourth Stage (which fronts on Elgin Street) for an indeterminate period in 2016. The NAC's Director of Communications, Rosemary Thompson, said “we don't actually know exactly how long it will take to reconstruct that portion of the building. The entire construction phase is 12 to 18 months. But that face of the building I don't exactly know yet.”

In the Jazz Favourites Poll this spring, the Fourth Stage was voted as local jazz fans' Favourite Jazz Concert Venue. The stage is heavily used by the NAC Presents series and by local musicians to present jazz and other shows.

The Ottawa Jazz Festival, which runs in late June, has regularly held its Improv Invitational series in the Fourth Stage, with two or three shows every night. The jazz festival is already facing the loss of its main outdoor venue in 2016, with Confederation Park undergoing major renovations, and has not yet found a substitute outdoor space.

Thompson said NAC Presents programming would not be affected for 2015, and she expected the Fourth Stage will continue to be open for the next 12 months. “It's 2016 that's the issue, and we'll have more clarity in the next weeks and months to come.”

Read more: Major NAC renovation will shutter Ottawa's favourite jazz hall for months in 2016


Requiem for Fourteen Roses inspires standing ovations for its emotion-laden music

Conductor Rachel Beausoleil does a final rehearsal with the choir ©Brett Delmage, 2014Requiem for 14 Roses
Saturday, December 6, 2014
Knox Presbyterian Church, Ottawa

It began with 14 ringing notes on a gong, the sound of each note rising and falling throughout Knox Presbyterian Church.

Then long lines of flickering candlelights slowly moved down the church's nave. They were held by 40 female and male choristers, there to sing the premiere of Elise Letourneau's Requiem for 14 Roses, and to remember the women killed in the École Polytechnique Massacre, exactly 25 years before.

As the music continued, first the men and then the women singers moved to the front of the church, singing the emotion-filled and deeply solemn music.

Letourneau combined choral passages, eloquent soloists (including jazz vocalist Sienna Dahlen and local cantor Jeremy Burko), and instrumental sections in her requiem. While remaining within the standard requiem form, she interposed 14 short instrumental passages throughout, featuring two trombones and two flugelhorns, to commemorate each of the women murdered, the melodies emphasizing the promise and loss of lives cut short.

Read more: Requiem for Fourteen Roses inspires standing ovations for its emotion-laden music


Audacious vocalist Phil Minton inspires IMOO improvisers

Phil Minton ©Alayne McGregor, 2014

Concert #111: Phil Minton
Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO)
Raw Sugar Café
Sunday, December 7, 2014

British vocalist Phil Minton has taken the human voice to completely unexpected places and possibilities in the last 40-odd years. His improvisations don't use words – nor even word-like sounds. Instead, through extended vocal techniques, Minton creates a huge variety of sounds with different textures and timbres and rhythms.

His voice produces snake-like hisses, bird whistles, and guttural lion growls, and he fits them together into coherent sonic landscapes that range from barely audible whispering to crack-the-whip shrieks to what sounds remarkably like static. He turns the voice into a percussive instrument, but also a sibilant and even a tuneful one, and adds considerable emotional depth as well. To listen to Minton is to be constantly – and happily – surprised.

Ottawa's A B Series, which presents musical and literary events, brought Minton back to Ottawa for a long weekend starting last Friday. Over the weekend, he taught Ottawa volunteers how to sing in his Feral Choir, teaching them that anyone who can breathe can create beautiful or interesting sounds – outside of standard cultural references.

Tonight (Monday, December 8), he will conduct the Feral Choir in a free concert at St John's Anglican Church at Somerset and Elgin downtown at 7:30 p.m., and then perform solo there in a ticketed concert at 9 p.m.

Minton also collaborated with a wide collection of Ottawa's most dedicated improvisers at an IMOO concert Sunday evening – a concert which broke down the barriers between vocal and instrumental music.

Read more: Audacious vocalist Phil Minton inspires IMOO improvisers


Requiem for Fourteen Roses: hope and remembrance after 25 years

In the midst of a nation-wide discussion about violence against women, an Ottawa jazz vocalist and choral composer is presenting a musical memorial to the 14 women murdered in the Montreal Massacre.

"Right from the start I knew that I wanted a musical tribute to focus on each of the young women, because we need to. We need to remember them, we need to say their names. So I wrote a piece for each of them." - Elise Letourneau ©Brett Delmage, 2014This Saturday – 25 years to the day after that tragedy – Elise Letourneau will unveil her Requiem for Fourteen Roses at Knox Presbyterian Church. It's a major, concert-length production involving 40 choristers, five soloists, and an eight-piece instrumental ensemble.

Its message is hope and remembrance.

“It's about making sure that we stay open to talking to each other about it. Because it's been 25 years and so many of the same things are still happening. And we can't forget. We have to keep talking about it,” Letourneau said.

But both the music and poetry included in the concert look beyond anger to finding solutions, she said. “I don't want to leave people with a sense of hopelessness. It's not about going to hell in a handbasket or anything. Personally I would rather hope that one way or another it can be figured out – and I hope I live to see it.”

"Somebody's got to write a requiem"

It's a project that's consumed most of a year (in fact, she's still making minor changes to the music) – and almost got derailed by a life-threatening medical emergency along the way.

Read more: Requiem for Fourteen Roses: hope and remembrance after 25 years


New jazz jam has a popular opening set

January, 2015: The jam moved to the Georgetown Pub in Ottawa South because Christopher's couldn't get a lease renewal from its landlord.

A new band, a new location, new organizers – everything came together for a new jazz jam in Ottawa last month.

Betty Ann Bryanton (l) and Jacquie Dixon (r) organized the first jazz jam at Christopher's ©Alayne McGregor, 2014And it's returning for its second set this Friday.

On November 7, arrived at Christopher's, a cozy Greek restaurant near Mooney's Bay. It was shortly before the jam was scheduled to start at 7 p.m. – and the front parking lot was already completely full.

Inside were many people eating heaping platters of Greek food, and chatting animatedly in two different sections of the dining room. Lots of guitar and horn cases were piled near tables and sitting in corners. The sign-up sheet for the jam was being passed from table to table, and getting carefully filled in.

The host band, MMAD-Men, was also new. This was the group's first public appearance, but the group (Michael Lechasseur on bass, Marc Salsbury on guitar, Andre Ferraton on drums, and Dmitry Egunov on alto sax) opened the jam smoothly and competently. Beginning with the Miles Davis classic, “All Blues”, they played a set of classic jazz instrumentals featuring strong bass lines and an overall swinging feel.

It was easy to hear the band (aside from an annoying and frequent door chime), and there was a happy, generally listening vibe in the audience.

Read more: New jazz jam has a popular opening set


CYJO's sixth season commences with eight decades of big band music

Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra
Kailash Mital Theatre, Carleton University
Sunday, November 30, 2014 – 7 p.m.

Halfway through Sunday's show by the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra, director Nick Dyson told the audience “you've just heard 75 to 80 years of big band music”.

CYJO director Nicholas Dyson presented '75 to 80 years of big band music', in a concert that featured an evocative flugelhorn solo by Eric Littlewood ©Brett Delmage, 2014This was the first concert of the season for CYJO, now in its sixth year. Dyson deliberately programmed a wide range of big band styles for the band – and avoided the standard chestnuts. The upbeat “Jumpin' Punkins”, from Duke Ellington's Orchestra, was followed by the Coltrane-esque “Yes or No” by Wayne Shorter, and then by the funky “Get in Line” from Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band.

A highlight was “Blue” by trumpeter Bobby Shew, a moody piece whose lead solo was played evocatively by Eric Littlewood on flugelhorn.

The concert opened and closed with numbers from Canadians, which Dyson always enthusiastically features in his concerts. The first number, “Just Friends”, was arranged by Toronto Boss Brass leader Rob McConnell; Dyson said they wanted to get the hardest tune of the night out of the way first. The final piece, “Cruisin' For A Bluesin'” was by Canadian-raised trumpeter and bandleader Maynard Ferguson, and featured an energetic and multifaceted drum solo by Andrew Ferderber.

Read more: CYJO's sixth season commences with eight decades of big band music


A Super Awesome Fusion

Super Awesome Club / Carleton University Jazz Fusion Ensembles
Kailash Mital Theatre, Carleton University
Thursday, November 27, 2014 – 7 p.m.

In the late 60s, jazz musicians started picking up electric instruments and incorporating musical ideas from rock, funk, and R&B – and jazz fusion was born. And it's stayed vibrant ever since, as a concert last Thursday at Carleton University showed.

The Super Awesome Club played highly listenable, fast-moving music at their Carleton University concert, with a definite fusion feel. ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Headlining was a long-time Ottawa groove/jazz band, the Super Awesome Club – torn out of its usual haunt of Irene's Pub in the Glebe. They were preceded by three student ensembles, directed by Carleton jazz instructor – and Super Awesome Club member – Wayne Eagles.

Why the “Super Awesome Club”? Because, unlike some jazz musicians, these ones don't take themselves at all seriously.

“We're awesome and we're super and bingo! We added two and three together and got the Super Awesome Club,” says drummer Matt Ouimet. “And everyone's a member who comes to see it because everyone's welcome in our club! But we're very important in that club. We might be the leaders.”

Three of the group's members – Ouimet, Steve Boudreau on keyboards, and Jake von Wurden on electric bass – met in Ottawa and formed the group close to a decade ago; Eagles (electric guitar) joined three to four years ago.

But because one or another was almost always touring or working elsewhere, they'd only really get together during the holidays – particularly Christmas – for a blow-out show at Irene's, with lots of laughter. Von Wurden moved back to Ottawa about a year ago, which has allowed the group to get together more regularly and possibly record.

Read more: A Super Awesome Fusion


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