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Our personal favourite stories from 2014

OttawaJazzScene.ca would like to share a few personal favourites with you from the stories we published in 2014. We would not have been able to allocate the time or had the resources to undertake these stories without donations from our readers and followers.

The OttawaJazzScene.ca Jazz Favourites Poll

“Why not celebrate our local jazz successes?” I asked myself. And that was the start of the OttawaJazzScene.ca Jazz Favourites Poll, which we ran this spring for the first time. More than 350 jazz fans participated, which we really appreciated. In a series of articles about the findings, our poll recognized those making the greatest contributions to jazz in Ottawa-Gatineau in nine categories, and helpfully informed everyone about new venues that they could listen to live jazz in, CDs they could purchase, and new festivals they could explore. This was a unique project, which we were proud to pioneer. Sometimes you take a chance, put 80 hours of work into it (between Alayne and myself) and it pays off. - Brett

In-depth coverage of Merrickville's Jazz Fest

In our Jazz Favourites Poll, Merrickville's Jazz Fest was a strong runner-up, behind the much larger Ottawa Jazz Festival. We decided to investigate why it was such a fan favourite, both in the Ottawa Valley town and further afield, by going there this fall. We heard lots of spirited and well-presented mainstream jazz, from Ottawa-Gatineau and imported musicians, and saw a huge amount of community involvement and interest – and a lot of friendliness. Our only problem: balancing the time to hear the music with the time needed to write stories and edit photos during the weekend! You can read about the music and the experience in our daily reviews from the festival. - Alayne

The challenges of making music and video outdoors at -25C

Remember the bone-chillingly cold winter of 2013-14? Remember the nights that went down to -25C, the frost-bitten fingers, the layers on layers of coats and scarves? Last February, we went out in those temperatures to make a video doc about Jesse Stewart's outdoor shows at Winterlude – featuring a cool new instrument, the Reactable, and lots of improvisation and unexpected mixtures of percussion and recorded musical and vocal clips. The resulting video not only showed off the music – it also showed how it connected with all ages in the crowds, with children laughing and dancing and adults stomping to the beat as well. And, yes, you could see people's breath freezing in the air! - Alayne

We were the first to report the secretive loss of 50% of local jazz performances at the Ottawa Jazz Festival

Since we started five years ago, OttawaJazzScene.ca has proudly published extensive previews, reviews and photographs of Ottawa-Gatineau musicians on Ottawa Jazz Festival local stages. Our reporting has been unmatched by other media. This year, while preparing our annual story about the local performances, I realized that the Rideau Centre Stage was not being mentioned. Further investigation showed that it would not exist this year and the festival was losing 50% of its performances by local jazz musicians – and had not informed the applicants or anyone else. OttawaJazzScene.ca told the community about this massively declining presentation of local jazz musicians at the festival – one that the festival wasn't talking about. Similarly, in 2011 we interviewed the festival's programming manager about the loss of another local stage that has not been replaced.

We've consistently monitored and reported on support for local jazz by taxpayer-funded institutions and about how the jazz festival is run – and will continue to do so. Because we specifically operate on donations from our newsletter subscribers and website visitors, we have the editorial independence that allows us to report the whole story, fairly and comprehensively. - Brett

Marianne Trudel

I've been enjoying the music of Montreal jazz composer and pianist Marianne Trudel for almost a decade now – and been impressed by her range. She composes for big bands and for trios, and is equally at home with free improv as with through-composed music. But I'd never had a chance to interview her until this fall, when she released a new CD of her compositions, performed by a quintet including NYC/Canadian trumpeter Ingrid Jensen. In person, she was thoughtful, funny, and eloquent about how she approaches music – a complete immersion – and the challenges involved in creating the CD. Her Ottawa CD release concert at the NAC in October was energetic yet subtle, beautifully-presented with fine contributions by all the musicians: it was a delight to review and photograph. - Alayne

An international nomination

In 2013, OttawaJazzScene.ca released our Inside the Scene video “Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra – In the making”. It was uplifting to interview the student musicians in CYJO and share their enthusiasm for jazz, how much they appreciated director Nicholas Dyson, and the musical outcome of their hard work. Our video was one of five nominated for the 2014 Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) video award in 2014 – perfect timing, for CYJO's 5th anniversary this year. The video clearly showed that jazz continues to be greatly appreciated – and enthusiastically made – by all ages. - Brett

Featuring up-and-coming musicians like Jérôme Beaulieu

In an interview, Montreal pianist Jérôme Beaulieu unleashes a torrent of words, articulate and intense. Impassioned about his music, the musicians he plays with, and Quebec culture from which he draws much of his inspiration, he was a joy to interview last winter. OttawaJazzScene.ca had the only preview story about his his NAC concert in March – his trio's debut outside Quebec. In our interview, Beaulieu emphasized connecting with audiences. That, I think, along with with his music's melodicism and its adventurous textures on bass and drums, earned the trio three standing ovations, as I noted in my review. - Alayne

The ZenKitchen roller-coaster

Even though ZenKitchen ultimately closed forever this fall, we can't regret the stories we wrote about that jazz venue. In June, after the restaurant's first closure, we worked until 4 a.m. to publish our story and photos about its successful fundraiser to clear previous debts, with performances by many local jazz musicians. ZenKitchen reopened in July and immediately resumed its Sunday jazz nights – and then expanded them into a Wednesday night jazz series in September, with an impressive lineup which we made sure jazz fans knew about. We were there on the first Wednesday night when Bernie Senensky and Roddy Ellias performed a lovely intimate show, and with great care brought the experience of a new live jazz series to you via video, without blocking anyone's view or enjoyment of the show, even in such a tight space. -Alayne

Jacques Émond's jazz recordings play on, at Carleton University

Many jazz fans, including Alayne and I, knew and loved Jacques Émond for his decades of work both as a jazz radio show host and as programming manager of the Ottawa Jazz Festival. I welcomed this opportunity to discover and report for the first time about his amazing collection of jazz CDs and vinyl records that was recently donated to Carleton University. I also reported that Carleton U recently received tens of thousands of other jazz recordings as donations – growing its recorded jazz collection into one of the largest in Canada – and a new resource for Ottawa jazz studies. - Brett

Musicians are fascinating people

One thing I really enjoy doing as Editor is interviewing musicians. As I listen to them about their latest projects, I can hear the passion in their voices, and frequently am surprised by what they say. Did you know that local pianist Clayton Connell also plays timpani, tuba, trombone, trumpet, and saxophone? I sure didn't. Marc Decho opened my eyes to links between hip-hop and jazz, and the great jazz in old-time Southern gospel. Ottawa saxophonist Doug Martin not only played three shows at the Havana Jazz Festival: he also ended up performing there with the son of one of Ottawa's premiere Afro-Cuban pianists. Peter Liu, whose Bamboo Groove album includes jazz arrangements of several Chinese songs, explained to me how it's in some ways easier to sing in Mandarin than it is in English – and more difficult to sing in Cantonese.

Bernie Senensky, who played with legendary jazz composer Moe Koffman for two decades, told me how he recently recorded an album with Koffman's grandson, Jake – who plays Moe's alto sax! Denzal Sinclaire surprised me by telling me he recently spent a year in Germany playing in a pop band. Phil Dwyer described his unexpected path into the saxophone production business, which all started from him simply looking for a second tenor. And it was really inspiring to hear Jane Bunnett tell how she was promoting women musicians, in the male-dominated Latin jazz genre, with her vibrant new group Maqueque. In writing these profiles in OttawaJazzScene.ca, I've tried to depict these musicians – and their music – as individuals, and I hope I've made them interesting for you, too. - Alayne

The Kenny Wheeler benefit

As Canadian-born trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler lay ill and battling bureaucracy this autumn, musicians in Europe, the U.S., and Canada organized benefits to help him and his wife. That included Ottawa, where guitarist Roddy Ellias organized a show at Zolas where he and other local jazz musicians showcased Wheeler's compositions and raised donations. We told you about the fundraiser, and then came out to video it, and let you see its success and the beauty of the music that was presented. - Alayne

Opening our eyes to new ways of performing

One of the reasons OttawaJazzScene.ca covers the Guelph Jazz Festival is for the sheer audacity of some of its performances. The closing concert between pianist Lee Pui Ming and percussionist Dong-Won Kim was a good example: you could never be sure what sounds would appear next or how they'd be evoked as the two used their voices and their instruments in highly unconventional, but still very musical, ways. And then there was Ernst Reijseger, who left audiences astounded by both his musicianship and his daring, as he played the cello as I had never heard it before, and as you can see in our photos. - Alayne

Never say never

Ottawa jazz musician Rob Frayne has always been worth covering, as a composer, arranger, and teacher, and we enjoyed doing a video of his Dream Band project a few years ago. But, because of injuries from a motor vehicle collision a decade ago, he hadn't been performing on his preferred instrument, the tenor sax. This year, through a great deal of hard work and experimentation, Rob has returned to playing the sax, and OttawaJazzScene.ca was very happy to write about that process, and to video his first concert playing his tenor again in public again. - Alayne

There were many more stories we could have included in this list. Ottawa-Gatineau's jazz and improvised music scene continues to be vibrant and interesting, and OttawaJazzScene hopes to continue chronicling it in 2015. We hope to see you on the scene!