Monday, May 29, 2017
   
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Keen listeners share their 2015 Ottawa Jazz Festival favs, and opinions

Overlapping concerts, long line-ups, people who won't shut up, and not enough jazz – those are the main frustrations to expect at the 2015 Ottawa Jazz Festival, according to respondents to OttawaJazzScene.ca's listeners poll.

On the other hand, many listeners love the festival's atmosphere, and highlighted jazz groups on the schedule which they were eagerly looking forward to.

The poll was open to subscribers of OttawaJazzScene.ca's weekly jazz events newsletter, in the week leading up the festival's start. Because it was not a randomly sampled poll, the results can only be considered indicative, not statistically significant.

A little more than one-half (55%) of those who responded aren't happy with the amount of jazz they'll be hearing at the Ottawa Jazz Festival this year, and several complained that the festival was moving its focus away from jazz and improvised music.

But they still were enthusiastic about some of the musicians and groups appearing at the festival, including Kneebody, Robi Botos and Seamus Blake, the Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra, Snarky Puppy, The Stanley Clarke Band and Branford Marsalis.

Interestingly enough, 50% of those who responded were not buying a pass for this festival, but instead were buying individual tickets to shows. 17% were buying an all-access Gold Pass, and 15% a Bronze Pass.

The prevalence of non-jazz in the Concert Under the Stars and other series was the most consistent criticism, although some people praised several non-jazz artists, including Tower of Power and Huey Lewis.

“I understand that non jazz acts are part of paying for the festival, but this year's main stage shows are the weakest ever. The headliners are b list at best,” said one. “There's so much non-jazz crapola in this category, it's like shooting fish in a barrel to diss it,” said another.

“It's better than in the worst years, but really - no serious jazz on the main stage, and a few evenings with only 1 or no real jazz artists,” said a third.


Not enough seats at indoor shows

What particularly annoyed those who responded was not being able to hear those groups they were particularly interested in – even if they bought a pass.

Unlike Confederation Park, which has almost never filled up, pass holders have been turned away from the indoor Studio and Improv Invitational concerts at the National Arts Centre (NAC). “As a bronze pass holder, I suspect I won't be able to get in to many of the interior jazz shows due to space and demand” was one comment. “The NAC venues for these groups are too small for everyone to attend,” another said.

“The biggest pain is that, for a couple years now, they program all the awesome jazz acts in the smallest venues which also happen to be inside. Not only do the true jazz fans not get to enjoy the Jazz Festival in the park (as it was originally intended) but we often don't even get into the shows because the venues are so small. It's really sucky,” said a third.

To get into those indoor venues often requires standing in a line-up, for up to half an hour, and those lineups elicited complaints as well. At indoor shows, ticket-holders are admitted first, then Gold Pass holders (space permitting), then Bronze and Youth pass-holders (space permitting), and finally festival volunteers (space permitting).

One respondent asked why these indoor performers weren't playing the larger Main Stage, as several of them had done at previous festivals. “Many of the performers I would like to see are indoors. I would greatly prefer to see them outside both for the pleasure of being there and to avoid lining up inside (and possibly not being able to get in).”

On the other hand, one respondent noted that “Jazz in the smaller venues out of the weather is better than unappreciative crowds at the main stage.” And the risk of getting rained on outdoors was mentioned by several respondents.

Overlapping concert times an irritation

Listeners also didn't like the fact that the Studio series directly overlaps both the Great Canadian Jazz and the Improv Invitational series, meaning one couldn't see both a Studio show and another concert in an evening without missing part of one. One listener suggested the 8 p.m. Improv shows be moved to 9 p.m. to allow this.

Other complaints included having one's bags opened and examined (for liquor), sometimes several times a night, and the location of the late-night jams at Kent & Queen, which is a longer walk from the park than in recent years.

Several listeners griped about talkers: “people that pay for a ticket to see live music and then yap throughout the performance with no regard or respect for the musicians or other audience members. These artists didn't just wake up one morning with a new found ability to perform on stage. The lack of appreciation and understanding of the years of work that it takes for musicians of this caliber to get to this level of performance is disheartening.”

Most of those who responded (83%) said they were attending. The primary reason for not attending were schedule conflicts, the cost, and not enough jazz in the schedule. If they are going to jazz shows elsewhere, the shows or festivals are in another city.

“Too expensive. I know of many jazz musicians who choose to spend their money elsewhere. I hope to attend a couple of the free concerts of local musicians,” said one respondent.

The festival experience is magical

And what did people like? The entire festival experience, for one thing: “Regardless of the acts, I always enjoy the entire festival - being introduced to new favourites, buying CDs on site, the international food trucks, bumping into people I know. It's all good.”

“The atmosphere - people and live music is just magical,” said another. “As always the great music and seeing everyone enjoying themselves. A good chance to unwind,” said a third. “Meeting people that I only see at Jazz events,” said a fourth.

The variety of music, and the chance to discover something new, were consistent pluses. “There's lots of variety this year and a good selection of vocalists whom I already know and enjoy or am looking forward to discovering either for the first time or in different combinations,” said one respondent.

Another praised the “chance to hear some amazing live music that will never be heard again. It's JAZZ after all.” Another said they particularly appreciated “discovering acts I like and have not seen or heard before.”

“The Fourth Stage shows are always interesting to attend, you never know when you will hear something truly great. Last year it was Colin Stetson and Hamid Drake,” said a fourth.

Not surprisingly, there were many choices for favourite artist at the festival, but popular choices included Kenny Werner, Cyrille Aimée, Abdullah Ibrahim, Snarky Puppy, Branford Marsalis, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Huey Lewis, and Tower of Power.

For favourite series, the Studio and the Concert Under the Stars (main stage) series tied for first choice (each with 28% of the votes), with Improv Invitational and Great Canadian Jazz tying for second place with 16%.

Shows you may want to arrive early for to ensure you get in

The following shows received noticeably more interest, based on “I won't miss this” or “More likely than not” responses from listeners. You may wish to show up early to get into these shows, or buy tickets to ensure a seat.

In the Great Canadian Jazz series, the top picks were Robi Botos with Seamus Blake (June 23) and Afro-Cuban Jazz & Beyond (June 28). Each received more than half of the “I won't miss this” or “More likely than not” responses from listeners.

The Great Canadian series includes all but a few of the Canadian jazz groups performing at the festival. One respondent said he wished there were more Canadian artists, for example Toronto musicians like Reg Schwager and Don Thompson, or Vancouver musicians like Jesse Cahill.

In the Concert Under the Stars series, Snarky Puppy (June 27) was a strong favourite, followed by Tower of Power (June 22). Snarky Puppy received three times the votes of Joel Plaskett and Emergency. The least-popular artists in this series (based on “I'll never go” responses) were Beirut, and again Tower of Power, clearly a controversial choice.

In the Studio series, the favourite shows were by The Stanley Clarke Band (June 24), Branford Marsalis (June 23), and Antonio Sánchez & Migration (June 26).

In the Improv Invitational series, Kneebody (June 29) gained a substantial following, followed by Maria João and Mário Laginha (June 22), and Swedish AZZ (June 22).

In the Tartan Homes series, the jazz fans selected jazz. The Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra with Ingrid Jensen (June 28) was a strong favourite, with almost twice the number of votes of the runner-ups. Also popular were Ranee Lee (June 22), and then Tanya Tagaq (June 30). Interestingly enough, Tagaq inspired both strongly positive and strongly negative comments.

One respondent said he picked the Jensen Orchestra because both Christine and Ingrid are strong players. “I generally prefer small group jazz but it is interesting to hear what innovators, such as Maria Schneider, with whom Ingrid has played, can do with a larger group of players. Looking forward to hear what Christine's orchestra sounds like.”

In the OLG Late-Night series, Jaga Jazzist (June 30) was picked most frequently, followed by Moon Hooch (June 23).

The late-night jam sessions at Spin Kitchen & Bar were highly popular, although there was a substantial “too late for me” response. Given the limited seating near the stage at its new location this year, you might want to show up earlier than the 10:30 p.m. start

Your choice

And now it's up to you, to decide what you'd like to hear!

Our poll gives an indication of what could be popular at this year's Ottawa Jazz Festival, but in the end it's your money and time. Have fun, whatever you decide.

   – Alayne McGregor and Brett Delmage

See the 2015 Ottawa Jazz Festival Lineup