The Beeched Wailers will celebrate Ottawa's jazz scene at their CD release show on Sunday.
The Wailers – five well-known Ottawa jazz musicians – have hosted a regular Tuesday night jazz jam for almost two years, currently at the Wellington Eatery in Hintonburg. And during their own sets each Tuesday, they've regularly featured many originals by both band members and other local musicians.
“We really feel like we're a piece of the Ottawa jazz scene,” says band founder and trumpeter Nick Dyson. “Being a part of the community is important to us. Playing the music of people that mentored or influenced us or we think contribute great things to making the Ottawa jazz scene what it is, I really feel like that's an important thing.”
In August, the quintet recorded their first CD, The Johnson Lake Sessions. It includes two originals by Dyson and two by Wailers saxophonist Tyler Harris – and five by other Ottawa jazz composers. The album opens with “You are the One” by Mark Ferguson, and closes with “Ventana Abierta” by Steve Boudreau.
To celebrate the jam's first anniversary this spring, the group had invited guest musicians to sit in once a month, and have their music played by the group. Many of those compositions were then added to the Wailers' regular repertoire, Dyson said. When they picked 12 songs to record, they included pieces from guest collaborators who included Ferguson, Garry Elliott, and Mike Essoudry.
“And then the last one is a tune by Peter Hum, who had subbed in on a few gigs. He brought a tune in for us to play [“Sojourner's Truth”], and we like it a lot. We keep playing it over and over and over again. It was quite hilarious, because Peter doesn't come down to the jam very often, but it seemed like every time he did, we were playing his song!”
Dyson describes the album as “overall pretty straight-ahead”, but including a variety of styles. “There's a few slow-ish, moody, straight-8-feel modern jazz kind of things, and a couple of swingers, and some odd-meter stuff thrown in there. And there's some Latin music.”
The group is releasing the CD at a concert on Sunday, December 13, at the Gladstone Theatre in Little Italy. They'll be playing all or almost all of the nine songs on the CD. The three songs that were recorded but weren't included on the CD because of lack of space will also likely make an appearance. The show will be one long set, starting at 7:30 p.m. and ending by 9 p.m.
Dyson said he picked the 229-seat Gladstone because “it's still part of that community, that area that we [play in]. It's only a few blocks away from Beech Street that contributes to the name of the band, and it's a great-sounding room and it hasn't been available to rent for quite a while. Now it is, so I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. I think it's going to sound great in there.”
The Wailers were formed as the host band for the Tuesday night jams, which began in March, 2014 at the Rochester Pub. The pub's nearest cross street was Beech Street, inspiring the first part of the band's name. They played there until last July, when the pub unexpectedly closed, and then moved to the Wellington Eatery in September.
The band includes Dyson on trumpet and flugelhorn, Harris on alto and tenor sax. Dave Schroeder on bass, Michel Delage on drums, and Alex Tompkins on guitar. A year ago, Tompkins replaced original member Steve Boudreau, who left because he had become too busy with other projects, Dyson said.
Dyson said he looked for musicians who weren't hosting or playing regularly at other jams, “to create something a little bit different”. He also wanted to include musicians who could help less experienced musicians. “So my intent was to gather a group of people that would be great mentors at the jams, because that's what it's supposed to be all about.”
He had known each of the musicians through different projects: for example, he'd played with Harris in several groups including Mike Essoudry's Mash Potato Mashers. He described Harris as “a player I've respected ever since I first heard him. He's an amazing human being that really wants to play and is a pleasure to hang out with. He's a monster [player], he writes great songs, he's a wonderful guy to have in the band.”
Schroeder had recently returned from completing his doctorate at the University of Miami. “And the opportunity to play with a guy like that – I don't know if it's still true, but at one point he was the only Canadian that held a doctoral degree in electric jazz bass. He's an incredibly knowledgeable and unbelievably facile bass player and musician in general. I've learned an awful lot from him.”
Delage plays in a wide variety of Ottawa groups, both jazz and indie. “Michel Delage is the drummer that everyone loves to love. Everyone wants to play with Michel. He's extremely flexible and interested in a huge variety of music. What he brings to the band is all his, creative and different every time. That kind of behaviour stokes a lot of creativity from all the other members of the band.”
Dyson first met Tompkins 3 to 4 years ago when he was part of Dyson's youth band, the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra (CYJO). When Boudreau could no longer play with the Wailers on a regular basis, “we looked to who was coming to the jams regularly and Alex had a very close to perfect attendance record. He was there every week, calling tunes. And I knew him to be a great player and extremely flexible and, of course, easy to work with. Alex is the youngest member of the band. He's written tunes for us but he writes hard songs, so we haven't actually recorded any of his tunes. We need a little bit more practice on them yet!”
Dyson himself is actually a relative newcomer to Ottawa, having arrived here eight years ago. Born in Montreal, he studied trumpet in the jazz program at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho. In 2007/2008, he was considering moving to Toronto.
“I phoned up a buddy of mine from university who had moved up here – [Souljazz Orchestra saxophonist] Zak Frantz. Zak and I went to university together in Boise, and he married a woman from Kanata so he moved up to Ottawa. And so when it was time to decide what I was doing, I phoned Zak, and I said, 'Hey I'm moving to Toronto. That's just down the road from you'. And he says, 'Oh, I dunno. There's an awful lot of work not being done in Ottawa and I really feel that you could do well here.' And it turned out he was right! So I took his advice and moved to Ottawa.”
Since then, he said, he's worked with many long-time players in Ottawa's jazz scene, and heard “a great deal of their stories about various people who were on the scene before. So I really feel like I've been well-educated. Ottawa has put out a lot of great players, and I think Ottawans are proud of that. Nobody's been short on things to say about great players that have either come up or are still here in Ottawa.”
Dyson said he didn't have a particular sound in mind when the Wailers started: “it was more along the lines of getting that particular group of people together and see what the noise was”. But, after playing together for almost two years, he said, “from a musical standpoint, we have really got to know each other extremely well. I really feel like that communication aspect of things has really changed the sound of the band for the better. It just makes us play more tight, brings everything together with a particular cohesion that you don't find playing with strangers.”
The album was recorded over two days in early August, in an isolated cabin on a lake in Northern Quebec – with little or no cellphone coverage. Dyson said they wanted to be “relaxed and not distracted”, not going back to “the hustle and bustle of society” at the end of a session. They did some test recordings on the first day, and then four sessions on the second – and still had time to go fishing as well.
It was a live-off-the-floor recording, with some of the same feel as their jam sets. Sound engineer John Rosefield recorded the music. Dyson described him as “one of the most easy to work with, fantastic human beings around. We knew that from experience playing shows at Carleton University's Kailash Mital Theatre [including with CYJO], that John was fantastic and figured that going away for a weekend that he would be an incredibly good hang.”
The end result was a learning experience – “we learned some things this time that we'd do a little different the next time, but as far as there being a document of where we are as a band, I think it's quite good.”
And that's really why they're releasing a CD now. “I think everybody in the band feels there's something special happening. And so you want to take a snapshot to document where we are now, because every song on the album represents memories, whether it was the time that we first played that tune, or remembering the person that brought the tune to the thing in the first place, or how hard the song is itself, or a fun memory from the actual recording.”
“The album is not even out yet, and in my mind, it's already a huge success just because it's a document of what we're doing. Anything above and beyond that is gravy.”
– Alayne McGregor
The Beeched Wailers release their first CD, The Johnson Lake Sessions, in a concert at the Gladstone Theatre, 910 Gladstone Avenue, on Sunday, December 13, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 ($10 for students), and include a copy of the CD.
The Beeched Wailers play each Tuesday evening at The Wellington Eatery, 1008 Wellington Street West, in Hintonburg. The jam schedule recently changed: the open jam is now from 8 to 10 p.m., and the Wailers perform from 10 to 11 p.m.