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Merrickville's Jazz Fest features new artists, and some greatest hits, for its 4th year

This story is about the 2014 edition of Merrickville's Jazz Fest. Read about the 2015 Merrickville's Jazz Fest

Going into its fourth year, Merrickville's Jazz Fest is facing the problems of success.

The festival, which runs from October 16-19 this year, sold out three shows in 2013. It received almost twice as many applications from musicians in 2014 compared to 2013. And it's added one more concert over last year to an already-packed schedule. (continued below)


Read and watch OttawaJazzScene.ca's full coverage of the 2014 Merrickville's Jazz Fest


Marc Decho

Marcie Campbell
Miguel de Armas and Caridad Cruz
Brian Browne
 René Fortier

Adam Daudrich

A few of the musicians you can hear at Merrickville's Jazz Fest this year   all photos ©Brett Delmage, OttawaJazzScene.ca

Its 2014 program features 17 concerts at locations around downtown Merrickville, including:

  • a tribute to unique vocalist Blossom Dearie
  • acclaimed Ottawa pianist Brian Browne
  • the quartet of Montreal bebop drummer Norman Marshall Villeneuve, with long-time Montreal jazz musicians Dave Turner, Eric Lagacé, and Félix Stüssi
  • Toronto swing and gypsy jazz vocalist Denielle Bassels, and
  • the trio of Montreal pianist and composer Adam Daudrich

along with shows by a wide range of Ottawa-Gatineau jazz musicians.

The festival is the personal project, and passion, of co-organizer Peggy Holloway, who was born in Merrickville. She wanted to bring more music – and particularly jazz – to the small historic Ontario town, 76 km south of Ottawa, and to raise funds to benefit culture in the town.

She said the festival has “grown tremendously in the last two years in terms of people hearing about it. Each year we've made some pretty major advances in sophistication – given where we started, which was just with two of us here in Merrickville, deciding that we would invite people who were local that we knew about.”

This spring, the Merrickville festival was runner-up favourite in the local jazz festivals category in OttawaJazzScene.ca's Jazz Favourites Poll, behind the much larger Ottawa Jazz Festival. Holloway said she thought that “contributed in making us better known. People are more interested and people are hearing more about it, too, because of our success last year.”

The festival had a big hit last year with its closing concert: a restaging of the tribute show to Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday featuring well-known Ottawa singers Dominique Forest, Karen Oxorn, and Nicole Ratté. That show sold out the NAC Fourth Stage in Ottawa in the spring. "When people heard that what we had was something that had been at the Arts Centre, and they were able to see it here in Merrickville and at a very reasonable price, we were overwhelmed with the attendance,” Holloway said.

This year, the festival will close with a similar show, premiered at the Fourth Stage in 2010: a tribute to iconoclastic jazz vocalist Blossom Dearie, with Oxorn and two other notable Ottawa jazz singers: Caroline Gibson, and Marcie Campbell.

Holloway said the organizers had several choices for the closing concert, but “when the opportunity came to have a similar show this year, to allow people in Merrickville to see something that wouldn't normally get here, then let's try it again. I know that there's interest in Blossom Dearie – we have quite a few fans locally!”

The concert will also include a performance by local singer Grace Hrabi, who moved to Ottawa in the last year and is making an impression, with guitarist Deyo Rafailovich.

Brian Browne is the festival's new Artist-in-Residence

The festival will introduce a a new position in 2014: renowned Ottawa pianist Brian Browne will be its artist-in-residence. He will offer a jazz piano masterclass on the Sunday morning, which will begin with Browne talking about his career and the art of jazz piano, followed by a brief performance by him, and then include his critique of performances by participants. It will conclude with a Q&A session open to both participants and audience members. Tickets are $5, and advance purchase is recommended.

That afternoon, Browne will perform with long-time collaborator Peter Woods on saxophone. The duo released an album together last year, called Honest Company, and will have recently returned from a tour of the East Coast. That evening, he will participate in the festival's closing concert.

Holloway said the festival made an effort to select local musicians, both to support local music and to stay within their budget. “It just became very evident there was a different range of styles and a huge range of talent in this area alone.”

At the opening night concert on October 16, a Merrickville-area band, Swing Bridge, will play swing music of the 40's and Dixieland. “Two of them are very local – they've been playing here for 30, 40 years. Their experience is longstanding, and we want to provide a place for them to be showcased and honoured,” she said.

Notable shows feature local musicians

The Sun Crescent Barbeque Stompers: bassist Marc Decho's new New-Orleans style project combines the roots of jazz & blues with old-time folk, shouts and gospel.

Vocalist Caridad Cruz and pianist Miguel De Armas: two Cuban musicians combine encyclopedic knowledge of Afro-Cuban music with great energy and verve.

The Peter Brown Trio, four long-time veterans of the local jazz scene, will play from their recently-released CD, Beautiful Love, which is based on the music that regularly draws crowds to their monthly show in Carleton Place.

The full 2014 Merrickville's Jazz Fest lineup is available on their website.

Ticket surcharge added for two popular shows

While its 2014 ticket and pass prices are the same as last year, the festival has instituted a $5 surcharge for two concerts: the closing concert, and Bassels' concert on Saturday evening. The extra charge can be paid at the door or when tickets or passes are ordered. Tickets can be bought on the festival's website, and by phone and in person at locations in Merrickville.

Holloway said ticket sales are starting, and “certainly on par with last year” at this time. The festival is offering a special draw for those who buy a full festival pass by October 10: a chance to win another festival pass.

Some of the funds raised from this year's festival will go to local music programming for young people.

Keeping the festival small enough to be run by volunteers

The festival is run completely by volunteers, Holloway said. She particularly acknowledged Oxorn, whom she said had made “a huge contribution”, working on setting up the artist selection committee, handling media, and many other tasks.

But she was concerned that the festival not get too big that the volunteers get overloaded: “I think we need to start thinking about what we can do to have it continue in a way that is manageable at this level.”

   – Alayne McGregor

Full disclosure: Merrickville's Jazz Fest arranged a billet for Alayne McGregor and Brett Delmage to make it possible for us to report more from the festival during the festival.