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Geri Childs puts her life into her second CD

In her new CD, Ottawa jazz vocalist Geri Childs is looking back – and maybe even getting a bit sentimental.

Geri Childs: More than MagicMore Than Magic has its official release concert this Friday at the NAC Fourth Stage. It contains “the songs that have influenced me not only as a singer, but as the woman I am today,” Childs said.

The CD is filled with ballads – but not the jazz standards she's best known for singing. Instead it contains some of her favourite songs from the movies and the folk and pop worlds, rearranged in a quiet jazz style by Ottawa composer/arranger Mark Ferguson.

“There's not one song in the CD that is what you would consider to be the Great American classic standard. Not because I don't like that music – I love that music! I just wanted to go in a different direction. I thought this is an opportunity to do songs that I've always wanted to do, and I grabbed it.”

Which gives it an interesting duality. “The CD has a sentimental feel to it. The lyrics are very sentimental. But the arrangements aren't necessarily. They're quite up in a way. It's a bit of a juxtaposition.”

It also reflects her own journey as a vocalist, where she only started singing jazz well into her 20s, after singing folk and pop professionally – and has kept singing despite many years abroad.

Ottawa audiences are probably most recently familiar with Childs from the sold-out concerts she's put on at the NAC Fourth Stage; the most recent (October 2013) was 'Torch', which celebrated torch songs, those jazzy, highly emotional, and sometimes risqué numbers. Her two previous shows, also with a specific theme, were 'Winter Songs and Stories' in 2006 and 'Nightfall' in 2012. She's also presented 'Homage' at Les Brasseurs du Temps and two Christmas shows at GigSpace, and sung at many jazz clubs around Ottawa-Gatineau.

But More Than Magic will only be her second CD, after a gap of 17 years. Credit Mark Ferguson, who also produced Childs' first CD, Intimate State of Mind, back in 1997.

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Lara Solnicki chose jazz, but added a classical twist

When Lara Solnicki abandoned opera and chose jazz, she went all out – and succeeded.

The Toronto vocalist, who will make her first Ottawa appearance on Saturday at GigSpace with guitarist Roddy Ellias, is a classically-trained singer with a four-octave range. She originally intended a career in opera, but in 2008, radically changed her direction – to jazz and creative music.

“I totally changed my technique and my voice. If you do it properly you're not supposed to be on the fence about it.”

She's now reached the point where Radio-Canada's primary jazz radio host, Stanley Péan, offered to write the liner notes for her just-released second CD. He praised Solnicki's “striking sense of nuance that characterizes her style as an interpreter, a lyricist and a composer,” and said that the new album reaffirmed “without doubt, her sure position in Canadian contemporary jazz.”

At the time she changed direction, Solnicki had been listening to jazz (for example, Dianne Reeves and Cassandra Wilson) for years, and had taken some jazz vocal lessons a decade before in New York City. “When I came back to Toronto, I didn't stay with jazz for some reason”, and instead took a degree in classical voice from the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory of Music. “I listened to jazz all through my classical degree, too, but I never thought of singing it at that point.”

However, she realized she wanted more opportunities to compose, to combine her poetry with music, to be more creative, which she couldn't get with classical voice. “I started writing poetry when I finished my degree. I decided that it would be interesting to get into new music and do some collaborative stuff, and then I really did make a conscious decision, that if I wanted to be more of a creator type, that it would be better for me to move into jazz and creative music.”

“I wasn't at that point really that glued to singing Italian opera any more. So I gave it about a solid year, or year and a half, when I started trying out jazz and taking a few lessons, to make a decision whether or not I was going to go all the way with it.”

And the jazz choice worked: she started singing jazz regularly in restaurants around Toronto; she collaborated with well-known jazz musicians like guitarist Ted Quinlan and bassist George Koller; she released a well-reviewed album of jazz standards in 2010.

Read more: Lara Solnicki chose jazz, but added a classical twist

 

Marianne Trudel: the joy of being surprised, in the moment, by music

Montreal pianist Marianne Trudel's new jazz CD – which she releases October 19, and debuts in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre on October 25 – is about paying attention to life, about being in the moment.

Marianne Trudel and Ingrid Jensen  (Photo by Andre Chevrier)Entitled La Vie Commence Ici (Life Begins Here), it's her reaction to a life in which “we're constantly stimulated by so many things. We're often doing two, three things at the same time, talking on the phone, checking email, doing this and that. It's hard to get a feeling of full presence and attention to one thing and attend at the same time, to be fully present in the moment and at peace.”

Looking at the people around her on Montreal's Metro, “everybody's on their iPhone doing stuff. Nobody looks at each other. Nobody is even aware of what's going on around them, and it frightens me. I don't like it , and I'm guilty of it, too.”

“So La Vie Commence Ici means in this specific moment, right now, there is La Vie happening. Life is there and we need to be aware and thankful and respectful.”

For Trudel, music is her way to “be present, open, in real relation with my band.” It's how she's related to music – a full immersion – since she was six years old and first put her hands on the keys of a piano.

So it's not surprising that the music on her new CD is rich, multi-threaded, and melodic, with intricate compositions leavened by improvisation. It's not music you only give half your attention to.

Read more: Marianne Trudel: the joy of being surprised, in the moment, by music

 

Merrickville's Jazz Fest Day 3: polished vocals and joyful instrumentals

Merrickville's Jazz Fest closed on Sunday, October 19, with a celebration of polished jazz vocals, complementing the afternoon's instrumental concerts from Brian Browne and Peter Woods, and Norman Marshall Villeneuve's Jazz Message.

A Tribute to Blossom Dearie

Marcie Campbell would have done Dearie proud with her dead-on rendition of “Bruce” ©Brett Delmage, 2014

The main evening event was a tribute to Blossom Dearie, in a revival of the show featuring three local vocalists – Karen Oxorn, Caroline Gibson, and Marcie Campbell – which debuted in 2010 at the National Arts Centre. All three were in good voice and again easily conveyed their love of the iconic American vocalist/pianist and her repertoire. It was a fresh performance that was a little shorter and had a smaller band than the original.

Blossom Dearie knew how to deliver a lyric so that it made people laugh, or even get a bit uncomfortable. In between more conventional standards, she interspersed witty songs by Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough and herself, which ended up being the pieces she was best remembered for.

And Marcie Campbell would have done Dearie proud with her dead-on rendition of “Bruce”. Her helpful advice to a female impersonator without dress sense had the entire audience chortling. She also scored with Dearie's signature tune, “I'm Hip”, delivered with a bop feel in the music and gentle satire in the lyrics.

Dearie's own “Blossom's Blues” is bluesy in form, and quite blue in content. Caroline Gibson, assisted by Mark Ferguson on trombone and Brian Browne on piano, had lots of fun playing with the risqué lyrics, and got the audience laughing at them, too. Browne also cracked a few smiles, as he underlined lines like “My nightly occupation is stealing other women's men” with strong blues chords, and Gibson paid credit to him by changing “Ray” to “Brian” in “Ray Brown told me that I was built for speed.”

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Merrickville's Jazz Fest Day 2: crowded with music

Vocalist Denielle Bassels with clarinetist/saxophonist Jacob Gorzhaltsan, played a high-energy and swinging show Saturday evening, bringing a ballroom full of listeners to their feet for a standing ovation. ©2014, Brett Delmage

Denielle Bassels Quintet

Probably the biggest surprise at this year's Merrickville's Jazz Fest was Toronto vocalist Denielle Bassels. She was an unknown quantity when she walked onto the stage of the Baldachin Ballroom on Saturday, October 18, but her charisma and her quintet's swinging music quickly grabbed the audience's attention.

Playing to a packed room, the quintet combined swing, jazz, gypsy jazz, and a touch of funk. They took jazz standards, songs made popular by Nina Simone and Edith Piaf, a movie theme, and a pop song, and then added originals by Bassels and guitarist Andy Mac. The jazzified result got several audience members dancing, and then everyone on their feet for a standing ovation, followed by an encore.

They opened with “Gypsy Summer”, the title track of their recently-released EP. You could immediately see this was going to be a high energy show, with Bassels' scatting soaring over Mac's fast Django Reinhardt-influenced guitar, and Jacob Gorzhaltsan's bright clarinet solos curlicuing over and under.

The first jazz singer Bassels heard and loved was Nina Simone. She included several Simone numbers in the show, including some lesser-known ones. “Forbidden Fruit”, the story of Eve and the apple, was introduced with a slinky groove on Gorzhaltsan's tenor sax and Mac's guitar. Bassels sung it in a call-and-response gospel style, clearly dramatizing the story, accented by growls on tenor. The result was very catchy, and the audience responded with strong applause.

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Merrickville's Jazz Fest Day 1: full houses and happy listeners and dancers

OttawaJazzScene.ca's first day at Merrickville's Jazz Fest ended on a high note. In fact a very high note, part of a rousing trumpet line, It was followed by clapping, cheering, and hooting.

The Sun Crescent Barbecue Stompers got the crowd on its feet Friday night at Merrickville's Jazz Fest. ©2014, Brett Delmage

The final act of that Friday, Marc Decho's Sun Crescent Barbecue Stompers, had just played a 100-minute, sold-out show celebrating the music of New Orleans. They were an immediate hit: audience members danced to the music and clapped along to the mixture of old-time gospel and blues, all delivered through a jazz and Dixieland lens.

And very powerfully: the front line of Ed Lister on trumpet and Richard Page on clarinet and baritone sax could really punch out the melodies and swing, strongly supported by Lucas Haneman on guitar, Decho on double bass, and Mike Essoudry on drums. Despite it being an all-acoustic set-up, the music was clear and well-balanced and worked well in the Goose and Gridiron Pub with its low ceilings and snug space.

They'd only played a few bars of their first number, "Just a Closer Walk with Thee", before the floor started to shake as both the audience and the band stomped along with the bluesy trumpet and clarinet lines, and the bright accents on mandolin from Haneman.

Highlights of their set included an extended version of "Jesus on the Mainline", which opened with Decho getting the audience to clap in rhythm, and then featured an intense baritone solo from Page, fast trumpet from Lister and syncopated guitar from Haneman, and an echoing drum solo from Essoudry – all adding to energy that got several listeners up dancing. In "St. James Infirmary", Lister deployed his trumpet mutes to good effect, using them to add to the tragic mood and to give a Dixieland sound. In "Basin Street Blues", Lister and Page seemed to be pushing each other to higher and wilder heights, ending up laughing at their own energy.

The most unusual number was "People Get Ready" by 70s soul/R&B/funk icon Curtis Mayfield – I had initially pegged it as a traditional hymn. It featured an evocative trumpet line over inflected mandolin and bass.

Read more: Merrickville's Jazz Fest Day 1: full houses and happy listeners and dancers

 

Merrickville's Jazz Fest Day 2: Packed with music

Vocalist Denielle Bassels and her quintet, with clarinetist/saxophonist Jacob Gorzhaltsan, played a high-energy and swinging show Saturday evening, bringing a ballroom full of listeners to their feet for a standing ovation. ©2014, Brett DelmageOn Saturday evening, Toronto vocalist Denielle Bassels brought her infectious combination of swing, jazz, gypsy jazz, and a touch of funk to Merrickville's Jazz Fest. Playing to a packed ballroom, she and her quintet delivered a mixture of originals and unexpected jazz and jazzified tunes – which got the audience dancing and then on its feet for a standing ovation followed by an encore.

Near the end of Bassels' show, an announcement warned the Afro-Cuban fans in the audience that vocalist Caridad Cruz and pianist Miguel de Armas would shortly start their show in the pub downstairs. Those who came late to that show found it so overflowing with listeners they couldn't get in. “I'm the organizer and even I can't get in!” said festival co-founder Peggy Holloway, standing in the queue to get in, but glad to witness yet another packed concert.

Sunday's day of programming features the festival's first artist-in residence, the renowned pianist Brian Browne. He will give a masterclass at 10:30 a.m., play a duo with Peter Woods at 4 p.m., and appear in the closing highlight concert, A Tribute to Blossom Dearie. At 2 p.m. Norman Marshall Villeneuve brings his Message to Merrickville.

Read more: Merrickville's Jazz Fest Day 2: Packed with music

 

Norman Marshall Villeneuve brings his Message to Merrickville

In a fifty-year career, Norman Marshall Villeneuve has brought the message of bebop to Canada.

The 76-year-old drummer, who brings his Jazz Message to Merrickville this Sunday afternoon, has been across the border many times, including playing for months in the United States with his cousin, pianist Oliver Jones. And he almost got to go on tour with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Norman Marshall Villeneuve at the Pilot in Toronto (photo by Miguel Mata; provided by the artist)

But, although he tells young jazz musicians to go south to build their careers, Villeneuve has built his just fine staying in Montreal and Toronto, playing with almost every major jazz musician in their scenes, and many international touring stars.

As he reminiscences, the names and stories just pile up: Jackie McLean, Ray Draper, Julius Watkins, Charlie Rouse. Blossom Dearie, Lorenzo Conyers of the Ink Spots, Paul Gonsalves, Cat Anderson. Peter Leitch, Sadiq Hakim, Barry Harris. He was called in to play three nights at the Chicken Deli in Toronto with saxophonist Sonny Stitt when “nothing was happening” with the first night's drummer – and “we just hit it off like good friends right away”.

And the Canadian musicians who built the jazz scenes in Montreal and Ottawa: pianist Oliver Jones, bassist Charlie Biddle, guitarist Nelson Symonds, saxophonist Vernon Isaac.

In Merrickville, listeners will hear the results of that experience – and how it's taught him to keep the music understandable and what “people want to hear.”

"Art Blakey is my hero"

Villeneuve's role model – right from the beginning – has been drummer Art Blakey and his band the Jazz Messengers. “He's my hero, my mentor.”

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Adam Daudrich Trio at MJF: melodic and propulsive with a solid bass

Adam Daudrich is excited to be performing with renowned bass player Ron Seguin for his piano trio show Saturday afternoon at Merrickville's Jazz Fest.

In June, Daudrich started playing with Seguin: “He's a joy to work with. He has a very different beat. He articulates the bass differently, his sustain is longer, his intonation is more modern.”

Adam Daudrich ©2011 Brett DelmageAnd he and Daudrich have something in common: they're both originally from Ottawa, and have spent years playing jazz in Montreal. “I knew that he was a legend. He's very well-respected here and in Ottawa. So when I played the gig with him, I really liked his beat, so I said I'm going to hire him, to see what he brings to the mix.”

Seguin's credits include working with many well-known American musicians including Steve Grossman, Dave Liebman, Tony Scott, Dewey Redman, Ben Monder, and Greg Burk, as well as Canadians Peter Leitch, Pat LaBarbera, Phil Dwyer, Kirk McDonald, and Ben Charest. He recorded two albums with the legendary Montreal guitarist Sonny Greenwich. After many years in the Montreal scene, he moved to Italy in the mid-1990s but has recently returned to Montreal and has been playing there regularly.

Ottawa guitarist Roddy Ellias, who brought Seguin to Ottawa for a show in 2010, described him then as “one of my favourite bass players and musicians. He's a joy and inspiration to play with.”

Read more: Adam Daudrich Trio at MJF: melodic and propulsive with a solid bass

 

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