Updated 10 June, 2016
It's finally summer this month, with warm blue skies and balmy breezes and chilled drinks on outdoor patios. And there's lots of jazz to hear outside and inside, throughout June and all through Ottawa-Gatineau.
Local Ottawa musicians are busy with tributes (for example, to George Gershwin and to Sun Ra) and new material. Jazz artists are visiting from as far away as Israel, North Carolina, Indiana, New York City, and Los Vegas. Whatever your taste in jazz – vocal standards, mainstream, avant-garde, jazz fusion, big bands – you can hear it this month.
And, even better, you can hear the bands who pop up in the good weather: for example, Souper Jazz and its smaller off-shoot Cuppa Soup. They play traditional Dixieland for love and the donations they collect for the Shepherds of Good Hope – and almost always outside. They'll be performing in June at the Italian Week and Fuse festivals, on the Sparks Street Mall and in the ByWard Market, and even at a grocery store.
These June jazz highlights are brought to you by Greg Klowak, Hélène Knoerr, Bee Rootham, Barry Paulson, Gaby Warren, John & Linda Wilson, Alrick Huebener, Caroline Cook, and John Thompson. We greatly appreciate their financial support that helps OttawaJazzScene.ca to continue serving the jazz community every day of the year.
On Thursday, June 2, American jazz guitarist Frank Vignola brings his trio, with guitarist Vinny Raniolo and bassist Gary Mazzaroppi, to the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, Quebec. A virtuoso on his instrument, Vignola has played with artists ranging from Leon Redbone and Madonna and Donald Fagen, to Wynton Marsalis. He has toured together with Raniolo for nearly four years and hundreds of performances.
A small coffeehouse in Centretown called the Arlington 5 has started offering monthly jazz nights. You can hear pianist Adam Saikaley's quartet there on Friday, July 3, in a infrequent recent performance. Expect some groove and a tip of the hat to later Miles Davis.
Also on Friday, June 3, Israeli jazz musician Amos Hoffman will bring his quartet at Black Squirrel Books in Ottawa South. Hoffman plays both the guitar and the oud, a Middle Eastern stringed instrument similar to the lute, and combines rhythms and melodic themes of that part of the world with modern jazz. He's released five solo albums, the most recent being Back to the City in 2015.
He'll play with three Toronto musicians: pianist Noam Lemish, bassist Justin Gray, and drummer Derek Gray – all known as composers in their own right – in a show of “original compositions as well as fresh arrangements of existing songs that fuse Middle Eastern sonorities with the sounds of jazz and classical music”.
The Westboro Business Improvement Area and its long-running Westfest festival had a nasty divorce last year – with the result that Westfest moved to Laroche Park in Mechanicsville for the first weekend of June, and the BIA created a new festival, Westboro Fuse, running the following weekend. Surprisingly, that's meant a reasonable amount of jazz at both festivals – for the first time in years!
The Ottawa Junior Jazz Band is an 18-piece big band of outstanding young musicians in grades 8, 9, and 10 across Ottawa. It will perform at Westfest at noon on Saturday, June 4. At 5 p.m. that day, jazz and blues singer Rebecca Noelle will bring her original urban jazz delivered with a funk-driven flair. And finally at 9 p.m., the Souljazz Orchestra will headline that evening's Westfest shows with music from its latest, Juno-nominated, CD, Resistance, which blends underground tropical dancefloor styles with Afro, soul, and jazz sounds.
Master pianist Brian Browne has been getting out and about more often recently and playing with long-time musical compatriots, to the delight of his fans. He's playing a duo show with saxophonist Peter Woods at Festival Japan on Saturday, June 4, and collaborating with vocalist Steve Berndt on the Options Jazz Lounge at the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata on June 29. On Sunday, June 26, Browne, Woods, and vocalist Betty Ann Bryanton will perform at a morning worship service at MacKay United Church, where Woods is minister.
On Sunday, June 5, Ottawa saxophonists Chris Maskell and Vince Rimbach present their Two Tenors Project at the Record Centre in Hintonburg, along with Peter Hum on piano, Alex Bilodeau on double bass, and Michel Delage on drums. The mid-afternoon (2:45 p.m.) show is not your typical concert: the audience will be standing by (and looking through) the bins of vintage and new vinyl in the store as they listen to the music. The quintet will perform almost all originals, including the premiere of two pieces.
Now that it's summer, Stella Luna Gelato in Ottawa South has revived its Sunday evening music shows (the music is free, but you may have trouble resisting the custom gelato). On June 5, wide-ranging jazz bassist Marc Decho brings a trio to the store.
Each month, Irene's Pub schedules a different group, almost always jazz, to try out something new on Sunday evenings. In June, it's the turn of ERU-ERA, a heavy-hitting funk-jazz group led by trumpeter Ed Lister, which will play its first show of this month on June 5.
Also on June 5, vocalist Caridad Cruz and pianist Miguel de Armas will heat up Les Brasseurs du Temps in downtown Gatineau, where they're regular favourites, with their exciting brand of Cuban jazz.
On Monday, June 6, the Stan Clark Orchestra, with guest vocalist Johnny Vegas, remembers D-Day at the Metropolitan Bistro downtown. World War II was the heyday of big band jazz, and the orchestra will play swing tunes from that era.
The electric bass isn't well-known as a solo instrument, but American jazz fusion musician Stu Hamm is trying to change all that. On Thursday, June 9, he'll be at the Brass Monkey in Barrhaven as part of his North American tour. He'll introduce his new solo album The Book Of Lies, including a petite suite for solo bass.
Hamm is working in the tradition of Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke in the 1970s in reshaping the contemporary concept of the bass guitar as an unaccompanied instrument. He uses “polyphonic, two-handed tapping, slapping and popping techniques, chords, and harmonics”, and has been at the forefront of using these techniques. He has released seven albums, playing the bass as a lead instrument both solo and various in ensembles covering rock, jazz, fusion, classical, country, and urban sounds.
On Friday, June 10, the jazz-world music quartet, Main Street Market, will give an Ottawa debut to their new CD, On Your Radio, at Pressed, with special guest Ed Lister on trumpet. The quartet, which includes well-known local Latin jazz players Silvio Modolo and Angel Araos, included pieces whose styles ranged from reggae to jazz to folk to Latin to African on the CD – and frequently a blend of these sounds.
On Saturday, June 11, the Westboro Fuse Festival, on Richmond Road in the heart of Westboro, will showcase several big bands on its Dovercourt Community Stage, starting at 11 a.m. Souper Jazz will be first with traditional jazz, followed an hour or so later by Big Band Ottawa playing classic swing and modern big band music. On Sunday morning (June 12), starting at 10 a.m., the festival will showcase several student bands on the same stage, including the Nepean High School Jazz Combo and the Nepean High School Junior Jazz Band.
June 11 will also see the debut of a new local big band: The Bernard Cloutier Big Band. The 17-member group, directed by guitarist Pierre Monfils, will play outdoors from 1:30 to 3 p.m., at the Place de la Cité in Gatineau, at the corner of Boulevard de la Gappe and Boulevard de la Cité. In case of rain, the show will be postponed to the following Monday at 7 p.m.
That evening, Ottawa pianist Steve Boudreau performs a tribute to iconic American jazz composer George Gershwin at GigSpace. He'll be joined by popular Montreal bassist Adrian Vedady and drummer Michel Delage for an exploration of some of the lesser known gems in the Gershwin repertoire, which Boudreau has arranged for this trio.
Boudreau has previously performed tributes to Oscar Peterson and Thelonious Monk, and is also well-known as a composer. The show will also include some of his original music in preparation for a recording session for his first trio album, following on from the solo and duo albums he released in 2013.
Also on June 11, the Horizon Quintet will celebrate under-appreciated jazz and soul from from the 60s and 70s in a show at Live! On Elgin. Their repertoire includes pieces by Rusty Bryant, Grant Green, Freddie Hubbard, and Houston Person, as well as more experimental jams by artists like Medeski, Martin & Wood, given a groove-based treatment accented by guitar, keyboards, and trumpet. Also on the bill is theroyalbrushoff, a rockabilly band with horns, including young trumpeter Eric Littlewood.
Florquestra combines authentic and lively Brazilian rhythms (samba, forró, axé, and more) with the romantic music and poetic style of Georges Brassens. On June 11, they'll celebrate the Forró music of northeastern Brazil at the Mercury Lounge, with accordion, zabumba, triangle, and pandeiro, plus guitar, bass, cavaco, and more. They have two other shows this month: at Flapjack's on Preston Street on June 18; and at Le Petit Chicago in downtown Gatineau on June 25.
On Sunday, June 12, you can hear some of the most accomplished improvisers in Ottawa, as Rake-star appears at Flapjack's on Preston Street. Rake-star is inspired by and plays music by the American jazz original Sun Ra, who combined mystical theories with swing, inventive improvisation, and the cutting edge of new instrumentation. In particular, Sun Ra's Arkestra used dance, costumes, and showmanship to enhance their concerts, and Rake-Star continues that tradition – especially with its hats.
Also on June 12, saxophonist Adrian Matte and guitarist John Yemensky bring their new quartet, The Smokin' Barbies, to Stella Luna, for a show of “rare grooves – done well!” They'll be back at Stella Luna for the second Sunday of the month over the summer.
Pianist, vocalist, and composer Cynthia Tauro recently graduated from Carleton University. She'll make her debut at Brookstreet on June 12. She'll also be featured with the Feelin' Nostalgic sextet at Cafe Nostalgica on Wednesday, June 22.
On June 14, the Ottawa Jazz Festival and The Record Centre are collaborating on a 24-hour local jazz extravaganza at the Hintonburg store. You can hear everything from funky grooves to standards, and vocals to solo saxophone free jazz, as many of Ottawa's best musicians strut their stuff in 45-minute concerts, each starting on the hour. You can get more details about the music – and why the festival and the store are organizing this – in our article and podcast interviews.
On Thursday, June 16, the Ottawa Junior Jazz Band will present its end-of-the-year show, with material the high-schoolers have been learning all year, at their home base of Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School in Barrhaven.
On Tuesday, June 14, the duo of Montreal reed player Ted Crosby and guitarist Jacob Wiens returns to Brookstreet, playing jazz standards and original compositions, some from the band, Nomad, which they both belong to.
From June 17 to 19, Italian Week takes over Preston Street. This year, the festival is bringing in Las Vegas singer Louis Prima Jr., the son of famed Italian-American jive-swing bandleader Louis Prima, to play two evening shows in the festival tent at 301 Preston Street on the Friday and Saturday. On the Sunday, Ottawa lounge and big band singer Johnny Vegas will play an evening show.
The Jivewires will also return to Preston Street that weekend for free outdoor shows featuring their energetic brand of jive and swing, as will Cuppa Soup. Both are guaranteed to attract a happy, dancing crowd.
On June 18, Ottawa jazz vocalists Martine Grenier and Caroline Cook will bring their passion for performing to Les Brasseurs du Temps in downtown Gatineau, supported by Jean-Pierre Allain on piano and Normand Glaude on bass. Both vocalists are singing songs that reflect their own personalities, and which celebrate their 50th birthdays (one last year, one this summer).
On June 18, the Toronto electric-jazz band Snaggle, led by ex-Ottawa pianist Nick MacLean, plays a house concert in Almonte. They last appeared in this area at the 2015 Merrickville's Jazz Fest; their festival show was impressively dynamic, and their original music, mostly in a jazz fusion mode, was both approachable and complex enough to be worth listening to closely.
On Monday, June 20, guitarist Tashi Dorji from North Carolina and percussionist Tyler Damon from Indiana will appear in an IMOO show at Black Squirrel Books, as part of their North American tour. Dorji grew up in Bhutan, on the eastern side of the Himalayas, and has lived in North Carolina since 2000. He has “developed a playing style unbound by tradition, yet with a direct line to intuitive artistry. His recordings feature improvisations that spasmodically grow along tangential, surprising paths.” Damon's work “aims to reveal obscured and untold narratives via drums/percussion & free improvisation.”
Two musicians from New York City – Broadway actress and singer Amanda Sprecher and guitarist and composer Robert Scalici – will appear at the Avant-Garde Bar on Tuesday, June 21. The duo, called Wishing on Stars, performs jazz classics and their own jazz originals.
Also on June 21, jazz vocalist Jill Barber teams up with her singer-songwriter brother Matthew for an intimate, acoustic dinner show at the NAC Studio. Called “Up Close and Unplugged”, it's a fundraiser for the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation and the National Arts Centre Foundation. Tickets start at $1,250 each. The Barbers are on tour; their nearest other dates are in London and Chatham-Kent, Ontario.
On Tuesday, June 28, you can hear two giants of the jazz saxophone, as Kirk MacDonald and Pat LaBarbera play a joint concert at Les Brasseurs du Temps. They'll be accompanied by the well-known Toronto bassist Kieran Overs, and American post-bop drummer Adam Nussbaum. Both MacDonald and LaBarbera have been key members of the Toronto jazz scene for decades. Both Juno-winners, they're also well-known for their collaborations with renowned musicians like Elvin Jones (LaBarbera) and with Tom Harrell and with Harold Mabern (MacDonald).
On Wednesday, June 29, the noon-hour concert series at Southminster United Church in Ottawa South ends with a big band fanfare, with the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra. The highly-regarded student orchestra, led by Nick Dyson, will perform tunes by Rob McConnell, Paul Tynan, Mark Ferguson, Rob Frayne, and Adam Daudrich. While there's no admission charge to this series, donations are encouraged, as they are at many other free concerts.
Of course, there's lots more jazz happening in June in Ottawa-Gatineau. Many local restaurants, bars, and coffeehouses across the city showcase jazz every week (or more often), with a rotating list of performers. Several of Ottawa's best-known jazz artists run weekly invitational series at local restaurants, including Tim Bedner at La Roma, and Miguel de Armas at the Marshes Golf Club in Kanata (both on Fridays).
The heart of Ottawa's jazz scene is in its jazz jams, which run regularly on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and some Fridays. This month, Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago features the Atlantis Jazz Ensemble as host band for the first three Mondays of the month, and the Steve Bilodeau Trio for the last. On Tuesday, June 7, the Beeched Wailers are celebrating pianist Miguel de Armas in their Composers Series as part of their weekly jam at the Wellington Eatery.
Looking into July, there's always lots of free music – even some jazz – performed to celebrate Canada Day on July 1. On Parliament Hill, you can hear Latin jazz-soul musician Alex Cuba perform as one of the artists in both the noon-hour and evening shows. And at 3 p.m., the TD Jazz Youth Summit and Stingray Rising Stars youth jazz bands will perform in Confederation Park.
On Saturday, July 2, two famed guitarists – Peter Bernstein from NYC and Mike Rud from Montreal – will perform together at GigSpace. Rud is a Juno-winning composer, guitarist, and vocalist, whose recordings range from solo guitar to a tribute to Montreal with vocalist and strings. Originally mentored by Jim Hall, Bernstein is known for working with everyone from Sonny Rollins, Bobby Hutcherson, Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, and Lee Konitz. His most recent projects include a solo guitar album recorded live at Smalls, a Thelonious Monk tribute with bassist Doug Weiss and drummer Bill Stewart, and an organ trio with Stewart and organist Larry Goldings.
And lastly, the Ottawa Jazz Festival turns 36 this year, and is again offering its standard mix of free and ticketed concerts in Confederation Park and at the National Arts Centre. Between June 22 and July 3, you can hear bands extolling the tradition or alternatively the avant-garde, with some interesting groups from Canada and Europe too. At its best, the festival lets you relax and listen to jazz under the stars on a warm summer's night, and sample some of the best of Ottawa jazz. At its worst: well, there are those endless line-ups, and all too many concerts with absolutely no connection to jazz. And this year and in 2017, the NAC Fourth Stage will be closed for reconstruction, replaced by the 40-seat smaller “Back Stage”, a shared rehearsal hall.
Interested in who's performing at the festival? Read our easy-to-read, mobile-friendly full guide.
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– Alayne McGregor
June 5: Added the OJJB end-of-year concert on June 16.
June 10: Added the June 14 24-hour jazzfest local jazz extravaganza at The Record Centre. Added the June 28 Kirk MacDonald/Pat Labarbera show at BDT.