After 16 months, the monthly Jazz Evolution jazz nights have ended.
Peter Liu, who organized the evenings and played there with the Jazz Mutants and invited local bands, said the end came when the Lookout Bar decided to make every Wednesday night a karaoke night at the bar. "They were nice enough to offer to move us to another day, but it felt like time to wrap things up and move forward."
"Scott [Poll] told me that it's remarkable to keep a series or regular gig going for that long, and I'm very glad we stuck it through our change of venue last year. The Lookout was a great place for us, and I'll always have fond memories of our time there."
The members of the Jazz Mutants (Liu on vocals, Alf Warnock on guitar and Peter MacGibbon on bass, plus others) met at the JazzWorks camp and jam nights. The Jazz Evolution nights started at the New Bayou (where the JazzWorks jams also occurred) and then moved to the first Wednesday of the month at the Lookout Bar when the Bayou closed. Each evening, a different invited band would play an opening set, and then Liu and the Jazz Mutants would play vocal and instrumental standards, with members of the opening band usually sitting in.
Liu was so dedicated to keeping the shows going every month that he scheduled his July 2009 session opposite Wayne Shorter's concert at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. But it was not to be: when the band arrived, they discovered that the doors of the Bayou were locked and the bar operator had forgotten they were playing that night!
Liu said the Mutants "really enjoyed playing with lots of musicians at all levels, ages, and instrumentation, and I can say that the Jazz Mutants have definitely grown tremendously from the experience. It's been a great opportunity for me to cut my teeth both as a jazz vocalist and band leader, and to develop my confidence, clarity of vision, and performance skills. As a group, we got to take lots of risks with changes in band roster, explore different arrangements and styles of songs, and working on expanding (and pruning!) our repertoire. I really believe that there is no substitute for live performance experience, and I'm grateful that there was enough interest in our Jazz Evolution night to keep it going as long as it did."
A different opening band every month "introduced an element of unpredictability in our collaborations....some songs worked and some didn't, but we learned a hell of a lot, and above all, it was just terrific fun!"
The $5 cover charge for the Jazz Evolution nights was donated to the JazzWorks Scholarship fund. Liu said they raised a total of about $850. "I'm really happy that we could give back to the organization that brought us together and does such good work for the jazz community."
Ottawa Jazz Scene editors attended several Jazz Evolution nights, and saw few JazzWorks participants in attendance. Liu said the nights did attract JazzWorks campers both on stage and in the audience, and "we definitely saw some new faces over time".
Liu said the Jazz Mutants will still be playing around Ottawa. "I'm hopeful and have a good feeling about the future for the Jazz Mutants. I love rehearsing regularly and growing as a group, and they are great guys to boot! I'm also looking forward to working with other musicians as well in the coming years."
"Singing jazz is a great passion for me and I look on it as a second career, every bit as important and meaningful to me as my work as a clinical psychologist in private practice. I have come to jazz later in my life than many others, but I have really been astonished at how alive I have felt since I started on this path, and I've never been happier. The music has really given me a place to explore and express emotions and creative experiences that I have never felt before, and I think that this has helped me to be a better clinician, but I also feel my background as a psychologist has also helped my jazz singing in many ways. To keep growing and developing in both areas...it's tremendously exciting and rewarding, and I am really looking forward to the adventures ahead!"
– Alayne McGregor