At the end of an intense weekend of jazz and other music, Folkrum organizer Kim Lymburner was already looking ahead, buoyed by the community support the group's preview showcase had received.
He and his volunteers had taken a former martial arts studio in Vanier, and with the aid of plywood, nails, balloons, posters, and a large stack of donated carpet tiles, had turned it into a credible listening space – in only three days of work.
Over the weekend of November 27 to 29, he said, they attracted 600 to 700 people to the space in the back of the Eastview Plaza, which they were previewing to see if it would work as a community music hub. They presented three evenings of concerts, complemented by a variety of daytime shows and family activities, and bar and fresh food service. The weekend closed with a vibrant jazz evening featuring well-known local musicians.
The Sunday jazz evening attracted the smallest audience of the weekend, with only about 20 ticket-holders in the 100-seat room. However, audience members consistently applauded loudly and enthusiastically and gave standing ovations to two of the three groups, responding with the energy of a larger audience.
Lymburner attributed the low attendance to two factors: not enough time to fully publicize the shows, and the fact the jazz evening was in direct competition with the Grey Cup game –and not just any Grey Cup, but the first time that an Ottawa team was in the Canadian football finals since 1981.
“But like I said to the audience, we're going for quality right now, not for quantity. We want to prove the concept. We want to prove the community feel and make it all real for people in a real facility, so that they can get it. And I think people really got it, judging from the reaction.”
“With more preparation time, more lead time, six months to 12 months of booking time to make sure everything is in place and promotion is in place, I don't really see a problem.”
The jazz evening on Sunday, November 29, featured three 45-minute sets by Ottawa jazz groups: the duo of double-bassist John Geggie and guitarist Roddy Ellias, followed by saxophonist René Lavoie with Afro-Cuban pianist Miguel de Armas, and finally The Four Heavies (guitarist Alex Moxon, saxophonist Vince Rimbach, bassist J.P. Lapensée, and drummer Michel Delage).
Geggie and Ellias opened with a fluid and swinging “Time After Time”, demonstrating their easy simpatico and long musical acquaintance. They continued with a series of standards, including a intense and inflected version of “Solar” by Miles Davis, and ended with a conversational Ellias original, "Stronger than Dirt”. The audience responded with strong and extended applause and cheers.
The sound during Ellias and Geggie's show was consistently clean and clear, showcasing their intimate music well – and continued to sound great for the second act, the duo of Miguel de Armas and René Lavoie.
Their Latin-tinged set opened with the standard “You Don't Know What Love is”, given an assertive and punctuated treatment. Lavoie switched from tenor sax to flute for “Monk's Dream”, his shining melodies dancing over the bright, angular piano rhythms. “Mambo Inn” received a joyous rendition; the 60s pop song “Sunny” showed how comfortable the two were together, playing around with the melody. The two musicians, who had only played together a few times before and never before as a duo, closed with the lovely ballad, “Afternoon in Paris”, and the audience immediately gave them a standing ovation.
The final jazz act was The Four Heavies, playing grooving and jazzy versions of Stevie Wonder songs, some well-known, some not. Although considerably louder than the previous two acts, their sound was undistorted in the room. Their numbers ranged from soulful with lots of forward momentum on “Isn't She Lovely”, to harder-edged with adventurous guitar on “Pastime Paradise”, to beat-heavy and intense on “Higher Ground”to evocative and melancholy sax lines on “Visions”. They closed with the infectious reggae groove of “Master Blaster”, and received the final standing ovation of Folkrum's three-day evaluation.
Folkrum was lent the Vanier location in the back of the Eastview Plaza for free by Osgoode Properties, so that they could try it out as a concert space. Lymburner said he was surprised and delighted at how well it worked.
“I thought it sounded fantastic! I'm really surprised what the tech crew was able to do with this space in so little time. And it bodes well for what could happen in the future if we really overhaul the room and really focus on it.”
“The techies did such a nice job – makeshift, you know. We just used the materials we had at hand. We were donated all these carpet tiles at no cost, so we just said, 'OK, we've got all these heavy-duty acoustic tiles, let's use them on the walls! Let's use them on the floor!' And, all of the sudden, the room reflection was cut in half. We measured it – it was cut in half, from when we came in here, which was like a gymnasium. So it just made a manageable enough and it's great!”
The sound was very good: lively but not excessively so, to both OttawaJazzScene.ca reporters in attendance, who listened carefully, checking out different locations in the room.
Lymburner said the Folkrum organizing committee would decide by early in 2016 if it could develop the community hub, either in the Vanier location or in other locations they have been looking at. They'll evaluate how the showcase weekend went, he said, “and we'll think about the future and we'll work on seeing if we can develop the kinds of partnerships and sponsorships we need. If that all looks good, it will be a green light.”
Folkrum will decide on whether to go with the Vanier location by next February, he said. If they do decide to go ahead, it would take four months to properly fit up the space, he said. “There's no rush for this. The key is: do it right. If you do it right, then you'll succeed. Otherwise, what's the point?”
Despite Folkrum only announcing the weekend showcase two weeks before, he said it had attracted considerable community interest: the number of Folkrum subscribers quadrupled, and the number of hits on their website “is way over the top”.
“So I think that's a pretty darn good indication that things are going in the right direction. There's no guarantees in this business – crowds are fickle and they're not fickle because they want to be, it's just life. And what you need to do is build a solid venue, a solid reputation, and solid relationships with artists and the community, and it will all work out."
– Alayne McGregor
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