For its fourth season in 2015-16, JazzN.ca's house concert series will be showcasing many types of jazz, from vocalists to modern jazz quartets, from groups looking back to the 60s to those fusing their jazz with the sounds of today.
The series opens on September 19, with world-travelling vocalist Diane White, a musician whom organizer Arnie Francis is particularly delighted he's finally been able to book. While White is based in Ottawa, she mostly performs overseas, particularly in Thailand and Japan.
“I had seen Diane years and years ago at the Chateau [Laurier], and I thought that she would be a really interesting start to a series. And I asked her but she was busy travelling on her tours. A couple of years [later], I asked her again and she was also off in another tour. This year I said, 'I want to have Diane.' ”
“I think opening up a series with Diane White is going to be a mark for us to go forward, and to engage people in something which is ... I think she does world-class jazz. And she is joyous, you know. As we've said on our website, she has a joyous sense of innovation. She brings a personality to her music.
Next up on October 24 is the Robert Fontaine Quartet. Fontaine – who both is a jazz drummer and CBC Ottawa's film critic – perfectly fit Francis' goal of making concerts interesting to audiences on several levels.
“I want to provide people with different personalities. Not just different musicianship, but different personalities. So that they can go away after the eight-concert series and they can say, 'Wow, I really enjoyed that one. That person was really interesting.'
“Robert Fontaine, he's so interesting when he talks about jazz at the movies, when he interprets the music, the soundtracks. That makes it. That informs the audience about something. That's the type of teach to learn dynamic we would like to have in this series.”
Vocalist Doreen Smith brings her quartet on November 28. Smith contacted him, Francis said, and “I thought, well, there's a lot of artists that do the American Songbook. So she pitched me on her particular approach to it, and I haven't really heard Doreen sing, but Tim Bedner I have a lot of respect for and when she told me that Tim and Normand [Glaude] and Marilee [Townsend-Alcorn] were going to back her up, I felt very confident this was going to be a really interesting concert.”
On January 9, the Herbie's Hill quintet will pay tribute to two highly regarded but lesser-known jazz masters from the 1960s, pianists Herbie Nichols and Andrew Hill. Nichols wrote the jazz standard "Lady Sings the Blues" but most of his work was only recognized after his early death, while Hill's originality was only recognized in the last decade of his life when he received the Danish JazzPar Award, the biggest international honor in jazz. Francis said he hoped that the quintet, which includes drummer Michel Delage and saxophonists Richard Page and Vince Rimbach, would expose listeners to composers that are not as well-known.
On February 13, guitarist Mike Rud and vocalist Sienna Dahlen, who collaborated on Rud's Notes on Montreal project, will appear.
“I was just blown away that he would say yes, for a kind of insignificant little concert series out here,” Francis said. “I just listened to the CD [of Notes on Montreal] over again, and I'm going 'Yes, I really understand the warmth and depth of not just her voice but the depth of the lyrics and the connectedness'. Because we have people here who have lived in Montreal, and I know this will really tug on people's heartstrings. I'm very thrilled that they're coming.”
On April 2, vocalist Grace Hrabi, who now lives in Ottawa, will bring her trio with two musicians she regularly played with in her former home of Winnipeg: guitarist Jesse Popeski and bassist Quintin Bart. The trio, which appeared at the 2014 Winnipeg Jazz Festival and played on Hrabi's debut CD, will combine this date with a larger tour, Francis said, and he was excited to hear how their music had developed, and what had engaged them initially into their jazz projects.
Drummer Ken Harper will bring in two Toronto musicians, bassist Artie Roth and saxophonist Bob Brough, for his jazz trio date on May 7. “Ken came over and visited with me and we talked about his passion, his transition from what used to be to jazz. And I thought it was a fascinating story, and it would be interesting to have somebody like Bob Brough and Artie Roth who are well-known in the Toronto scene coming out and again reconstituting that Toronto trio that Ken had back there. And the topic of the 50 and 60s jazz really appealed to me because that was a time when I and a lot of us were just totally long hair and into rock and roll, right? And who knew that jazz was burgeoning at that time? All sorts of stuff was happening and Ken was trying to express that to me and I just got engaged in his enthusiasm.”
The final show of the season will be on June 18 with the Toronto jazz-fusion group Snaggle, which is co-led by ex-Ottawa pianist Nick Maclean. An Almonte friend mentioned to Francis that her granddaughter was married to Maclean and that he led this jazz group, so Francis looked them up and listened to their music.
“This was going to be difficult, because it's a six-piece band and we'd never played a six-piece band in a house concert setting. But I asked Nick, and he said, 'You know I've seen some of the bands that have played and your audience and I'm not sure that you want us. We're gritty. We do a fusion thing which not everybody would get into.' And I said, 'Well, for that very reason, I want you guys to come up and do this.' "
The series tries to bring in young and emerging artists each year, Francis said, and he thought that a concert with Snaggle would be “a really great opportunity as being an immersive experience. You've got all this sound coming at you and you've got I think pretty good musicianship behind it with these young fellows.”
Plus an extra outdoor concert in August
Francis is also organizing an extra non-series concert in August – for which he's breaking his normal rule of not booking any group twice, and even avoiding booking supporting players too many times.
JazzNtheTick will be held in Manotick on Sunday, August 16, and will feature saxophonist Chris Maskell's Montreal Quartet, which played a JazzN.ca concert in January. The show, which will start at 3:30 p.m., will be held outdoors in a backyard and will be cancelled in case of bad weather.
“We have friends in Manotick who have been wanting to do something with regards to jazz, but they don't have the facility inside to do a house concert. So they suggested an outside concert. And I said we don't really do outside concerts because there's too many variables. We tried last year and we did Peter Woods and Brian Browne around the pool. The concert was beautiful until 9 o'clock and the bugs came out! Then these guys really showed their professionalism and just kept on going.”
“It's not strictly a JazzNhouse concert, but it's in that vein, and we are certainly sending out smoke signals to say we're interested in house concerts in Manotick.”
The regular series will again be held in private homes in the Almonte/Mississippi Mills area. Francis said he already had six sites confirmed, and would be matching venues to concerts over the summer.
Concert tickets will go on sale towards the end of June, probably about the date of JazzN.ca's last concert of this season, June 20. A limited number of season passes, probably 10, will be available.
– Alayne McGregor
Read related OttawaJazzScene.ca stories: