Jazz new to Ottawa – plus some long-time favourites – will be featured in a series of evening concerts starting tonight at Carleton University.
The Carleton University Jazz Camp has invited several musicians almost never heard in Ottawa to teach here this week. They'll be showcased in its evening concerts Tuesday to Friday, playing everything from atmospheric modern jazz, to a cappella vocals, to fast-paced mainstream jazz, to a full big band.
Tonight (Tuesday) is an all-local night. Long-time Ottawa favourite Brian Browne will perform a solo piano concert, followed by a new vocal group, the Juliet Singers.
Concert organizer Mark Ferguson said he loved hearing Browne play solo piano, “because you just never know what's going to come next, and you know that he's going through the same process. He doesn't have a set list in front of him. He doesn't use set lists.”
“He just sits down and starts playing. And he plays these amazing tunes that have nothing to do with each other, but somehow he makes it all fit. So I can't tell you anything about what he's going to play and neither can he. But what I can tell you is that it's going to be great.”
Also performing will be The Juliet Singers – Rachel Beausoleil, Kathy Eagan, and Elise Letourneau – who explore vocal harmony in a variety of genres. They had previously sung together in Letourneau's Vox Eclectica choir, and started performing as a trio this January. On Tuesday, they'll sing jazz standards and songs from South America, both a cappella and accompanied by Ferguson on piano.
On Wednesday will be a reprise of Roddy Ellias' tribute to the late Canadian jazz composer Kenny Wheeler. Ellias first envisioned this project as a fundraiser last September for Wheeler and his family. That show was an artistic and financial success – raising $900 – and was revived with a slightly different group at this February's Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, to an enthusiastic response.
Wednesday's concert will again feature Ellias on guitar, Ferguson on trombone, Peter Hum on piano, and John Geggie on bass. They'll be joined by two veteran Toronto-area musicians – Kevin Turcotte on trumpet and flugelhorn and Brian Barlow on drums – in playing Wheeler's influential and multi-layered compositions in new arrangements.
Turcotte has occasionally appeared in Ottawa in bands led by Michael Occhipinti, Jayme Stone, and Mike Murley, but Barlow has not been here for many years.
Ottawa guitarist Wayne Eagles will open Thursday's concert, along with Dave Schroeder on electric bass and Mike Essoudry on drums. In June, Eagles released a new CD of mostly his originals with his trio\DEF group; Ferguson expected this Thursday concert would also feature Eagles' compositions, leaning “towards the fusion side of things”.
Then another visiting Toronto musician – alto saxophonist Luis Deniz – will co-lead a one-time quintet with jazz camp director and tenor saxophonist Mike Tremblay.
Deniz was born and grew up in Cuba, graduating from that country's prestigious Escuela Nacional de Musica with high honours, he said. What he studied was classical saxophone, but he picked up the jazz on his own, listening to records by masters like Charlie Parker, and studying with modern masters like Greg Osby.
And so what he primarily plays is not Afro-Cuban, but rather modern mainstream jazz. Since he arrived in Toronto in 2004, Deniz has performed with a wide variety of Toronto jazz musicians, including David Virelles, Kirk MacDonald, Jane Bunnett, Mark Kelso, Hilario Duran, Mark Turner, and Ethan Ardelli. He's almost a complete newcomer to Ottawa, having only appeared here once in a big band about a decade ago.
The quintet will also include Geggie on bass, Tim Bedner on guitar, and Barlow on drums. Deniz said they hadn't determined what the quintet would be performing, but it would probably include modern jazz standards.
The camp has a tradition of showcasing a big band on Friday evenings. In previous years, Canadian composers: John MacLeod, Joe Sullivan, and Paul Tynan have each led a camp big band playing their arrangements. This year, a full big band – with both camp faculty and other prominent local jazz musicians – will play Brian Barlow's charts.
Barlow spent more than 15 years as the percussionist in Rob McConnell's Boss Brass, an internationally-renowned Toronto big band. He's currently the Creative Director of the Prince Edward County Jazz Festival (which runs the week after the jazz camp), and also leads his own Brian Barlow Big Band.
The charts will be ones Barlow plays with his own band, Ferguson said, and will be in a “traditional, swinging” style with the standard big band repertoire. “Brian's a really good writer”, and playing in the Boss Brass is “a pretty good lesson, playing Rob McConnell's charts for all those years”.
“I heard the band live and was really impressed at the Toronto Jazz Festival a few years ago. They seem to be really swinging in the big band tradition.”
On Saturday, the students take over the stage, with both an afternoon and an evening concert featuring the students in small combos and big bands, playing the music they've been learning over the previous week. Ferguson expected some advanced students would also contribute their own compositions as well as standards.
“It's really cool to see them, because some of them come in feeling really lost and not knowing what they're doing and by the end of the week they're really into it, so it's a lot of fun to see the progress,” he said.
Ferguson said he varied this year's concert line-up in order to showcase different types of jazz to the students. With students playing in their own big bands, for example, “it's great for them to hear a professional big band.” He said he also tried to involve as many of the camp faculty as possible, and “really take advantage of the fact that we've got these great people like Kevin Turcotte and Luis Deniz and Brian Barlow coming to town because they don't get to hear those guys very often.”
And although he doesn't want to overwork any one musician, “the playing is the fun part”.
Each concert (except for the Saturday student shows) will run about an hour or just over, in recognition of the fact that both teachers and students will have been at the camp since 8:30 a.m. each morning. On double-bill evenings (Tuesday and Thursday), Ferguson said each group would play 30-35 minutes.
He said he was looking forward to all the concerts, but if he had to name a favourite, it would probably be the Friday big band show. “It's cool. We get together on the Monday night and rehearse and everybody's sight-reading. So it's exciting. And then a big band is like a social event: it's always great to get together with all your buddies on a big band gig.”
This is the sixth year of the jazz camp and its evening concert series, and, looking back, Ferguson said he thought their quality had been “really good”.
“One of the highlights for me was playing with Dave Young and Dave Liebman last year. When I think back to John MacLeod and Brian Dickinson playing together, and Kelly Jefferson was fantastic, and Alex Dean. You know, there were so many really great concerts, it would be really hard to say that they're getting better every year. But I think the consistency has been really good.”
– Alayne McGregor
The Carleton University Jazz Camp evening concerts are open to all: admission at the door is $15 ($10 for students). The Saturday student concerts are free. They will be held at the Kailash Mital Theatre (the former Southam Hall) at Carleton University, starting at 7 p.m. each evening. The university is accessible by bike (with free bike parking next to the theatre), by public transit (the O-Train is the most convenient), or by car.
Read some of OttawaJazzScene.ca's previous coverage of the Carleton University Jazz Camp:
- Carleton University Jazz Camp: a happy first set 
- Carleton University Jazz Camp: from the inside 
- Carleton University Jazz Camp thinks big with its evening concerts this week 
- John MacLeod harnesses the creative energy of a big band with his Rex Hotel Jazz Orchestra 
- An ensemble who enjoyed celebrating Horace Silver's music (review) 
- Paul Tynan sees different big band styles on each side of the border