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The 2016 Merrickville's Jazz Fest gets funkier and celebrates John Lennon

In 2016, Merrickville's Jazz Fest is getting funkier – and celebrating John Lennon in jazz.

Toronto's Red Hot Ramble will perform New Orleans-style jazz, funk, and blues  photo: Sean Ryan The mid-October festival released its full line-up today, featuring musicians from Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa-Gatineau. Opening with the grooving funk of Ottawa's ERU-ERA, and ending with the 70s-style horn band The Pharoahs, its shows will range from New Orleans-style to modern jazz, but definitely on the harder-hitting side than in previous years.

Highlights include

  • Toronto guitarist Michael Occhipinti presenting his “Shine On: The Universe of John Lennon” jazz project;
  • Red Hot Ramble from Toronto playing New Orleans-style jazz, funk, and blues;
  • the quartet of Ottawa pianist/trombonist Mark Ferguson playing his melodic modern jazz compositions, with touches of classical, Latin, and bebop;
  • and the ten musicians in The Pharoahs bringing back the joy of Tower Of Power, James Brown, and Chaka Khan with their “Soul Sckool” show.

Many of the groups featured have released CDs or EPs in the last year, including Mark Ferguson, Carlos Alberto Santana, and Main Street Market from Ottawa, vocalist Mira Choquette from Montreal, and the award-winning St. Roch Quartet from Quebec City.

The festival, which runs from Thursday, October 13 to to Sunday, October 16, will fill locations around the historic Ottawa Valley town, including three churches, the local ballroom, the Legion hall, and several restaurants. Merrickville is located 76 km south of Ottawa [map].

Trumpeter Ed Lister, a fav or MJF audiences in past years, returns as part of the 'very powerful 7 piece hyper funk collective' ERU-ERA ©Brett Delmage, 2016Those who attended the 2015 festival may remember pianist Carlos Alberto Santana, whose trio performed a well-received afternoon concert of his Latin-influenced compositions; he's back with a quintet this year, adding saxophone and more percussion. Saxophonist Richard Page and trumpeter Ed Lister were the assertive horn players behind Page's Night On The Town Band in 2015 and bassist Marc Decho's Sun Crescent Barbecue Stompers in 2014; both were listener favs. All three return this year in the “very powerful 7 piece hyper funk collective” ERU-ERA.

Vocal jazz is also well-represented, and sometimes in less-obvious places. Ottawa vocalist Rebecca Noelle, who will release her second album this fall, will sing original urban jazz and vintage jazz standards, delivered with a funk-driven flair.

Mira Choquette will collaborate with well-known Montreal musicians André White on drums, Adrian Vedady on bass and Andres Vial on keyboards, singing songs from the Great American Songbook made famous by Betty Carter, Jane Monheit, Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughan, but also including a few contemporary pop songs.

Michael Hanna grew up listening to the jazz masters and the music of his father, famed jazz pianist Sir Roland Hanna. He sings soul-stirring spirituals as well as vocalese in the style of the great Eddie Jefferson, as well as ballads and bebop. He's released two CDs, and performed in Canada, the U.S., and in Asia.

The Main Street Market Band's members come from three continents and sing songs in Portuguese, English, French and many West African languages. photo: Marc-Andre CossetteThe Main Street Market Band, whose members come from three continents, will sing songs in Portuguese, English, French and many West African languages, including Mina, Fon, Yorouba and Dendi.

Expect lots of vocals in Michael Occhipinti's tribute to John Lennon's music. While Occhipinti has been in Ottawa several times with his Sicilian Jazz Project, this will be local audiences' first chance to hear this music, which he premiered in 2010 to mark the 30th anniversary of Lennon's death, and recorded on CD in 2012. He's been touring it regularly across Canada and into the U.S., collaborating with vocalists including Elizabeth Shepherd, Dominic Mancuso, and Denzal Sinclaire.

The show normally features three vocalists along with Mark Kelso (drums/vocals), Roberto Occhipinti (bass), Kevin Turcotte (trumpet), and Michael Occhipinti (guitar/vocals). Michael Occhipinti previously released a Juno-winning jazz tribute to Bruce Cockburn, and has also arranged Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon for his big band NOJO (Neufeld-Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra).

Local audiences will be able to hear Roberto Occhipinti perform in Michael Occhipinti's tribute to John Lennon's music for the first time  ©Brett Delmage, 2014While Lennon's music is well-known to all, Occhipinti says this familiarity is “liberating from an arranger’s point of view. It allows us to alter the songs in imaginative ways that make them new for the audience, but at the same time they still recognize the songs and feel the emotions Lennon wove into the music”.

Drummers take note: Mark Kelso, who plays with Occhipinti, will also give a Saturday afternoon drum clinic at the festival.

Red Hot Ramble will bring lots of cajun heat, second line rhythms, and a fun Mardi Gras feel to the festival. The Toronto quintet explores the diverse world of New Orleans music from their own musical perspective. Its musicians have a strong background in traditional jazz, but have also contributed dozens of original songs to compliment the band's musical focus.

Up-and-coming young jazz groups will also be showcased by MJF. Ottawa-raised saxophonist Chris Maskell will bring his Montreal Trio to the festival, playing nuanced, creative and exciting music with compositions by each member of the group.

The St-Roch Quartet plays accessible instrumental jazz. The original music on their 2015 EP is inspired by the rich cultural scene of Quebec’s St-Roch neighbourhood, and each song represents a distinctive trait of the neighbourhood. The quartet was awarded the first prize in the new talent category of the Festi Jazz International de Rimouski last September.

The full schedule and more information about the performers is now available on Merrickville's Jazz Fest website. Tickets and passes will be on sale at the beginning of September.

– Alayne McGregor

Read's reviews of concerts at the 2015 Merrickville's Jazz Fest, and interviews with musicians appearing at the festival:

Reviews and photos:


Read about the 2014 Merrickville's Jazz Fest in's stories , starting at Merrickville's Jazz Fest Day 1: full houses and happy listeners and dancers (with links in the story to related content)