You don't have to be stuck in a Christmas carol jail this month. There's lots of non-seasonal jazz to keep you happy.
From big bands to jazz vocals, from creative exploration to jazz influenced by Gershwin or Shostakovich, there's a variety of interesting music available in December in Ottawa-Gatineau – as well as Christmas cheer!
The month opens with a holiday classic, with the Jerry Granelli Trio performing their annual Tales of a Charlie Brown Christmas at Dominion Chalmers United Church. Drummer Granelli is the only remaining musician who played on that iconic recording of Vince Guaraldi's music, and he's teamed up with two Canadian musicians – Chris Gestrin on piano and Simon Fisk on bass – to recreate it, this year with the The Cross Town Youth Chorus providing the vocals. You want comfort music – you've got it!
Also on December 1: the local jazz band Stay Tuned plays “accessible jazz” to raise money for refugees at a show at the Sheba's Cove restaurant in Westboro. There's no cover or minimum, but donations to assist refugees getting settled here in Ottawa will be welcomed. Or, if you like swinging across the dance floor, the Starlighters big band will be playing a Christmas-themed dance at the Ron Kolbus Centre on December 1.
Guitarists take note: there's an exceptional masterclass at Carleton university at noon on Friday, December 2 with John Stowell from Portland, Oregon and Mike Rud from Montreal. In his four-decade career playing with many jazz greats, Stowell has developed a “sound all his own, and a lyrical, contrapuntal approach that is ahead of its time.” Unfortunately, he won't be performing in Ottawa, although he and Rud will have a joint show in Montreal on Saturday. The masterclass will be held in the Patrick Cardy Studio, Room A900 in the Loeb Building.
On Friday, December 2, Montreal jazz vocalist Ranee Lee makes a rare appearance in Ottawa at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans. Lee has been a consistent award-winner and innovator, starring in several ground-breaking jazz musicals paying tribute to renowned jazz vocalists like Billie Holiday. She's also responsible for mentoring several generations of jazz vocalists, after three decades teaching jazz at McGill University.
For Friday's concert, she'll be primarily singing music from her latest album, What's Going On, accompanied not only by her regular band but also a string quartet featuring Montreal violinist Kate Bevan-Baker. The album contains a wide range of songs: some classic jazz like Thelonious Monk, some soul ballads like the title number, but all given a indubitably jazzy and nuanced arrangement. Read our interview with Lee, about her music and why she chose to make her career in Canada.
That same evening is the inaugural show of a new concert venue: the Record Runner Rehearsal Studios on Colonnade Road in central Nepean. And it's a rare chance to hear a young local graduate before he departs again.
Growing up in Ottawa, saxophonist Daniel Ko was a notable presence on the scene, holding his own with musicians much older than him. Then he won a full scholarship to the Berklee College of Music and has only rarely been here for the last four years. Now graduated, he's been popping into local jams for the last few weeks: OttawaJazzScene.ca's editors heard him recently as a surprise guest at the Ottawa Swing Dance Society's Battle of the Bands, and were impressed by his fiery solos and intense explorations there. At the Record Runner show, he'll be accompanied by veteran bassist Tom Denison, and Montreal percussionist Vovo Saramanda.
One saxophonist not enough? How about two? Also on December 2, you can hear a two-tenor show at GigSpace. Up-and-coming saxophonist Chris Maskell (now studying for his Masters at McGill) will play with jazz/roots composer Petr Cancura, in a quintet with pianist Peter Hum, bassist Alex Bilodeau, and drummer Michel Delage. They'll perform originals by the band members plus tunes by jazz greats like Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons. Maskell has performed this project several times at The Record Centre, but with a different tenor partner: Vince Rimbach.
If you're looking for a big brass sound on December 2, get yourself down to Irene's in the Glebe, where Mike Essoudry's Bank Street Bonbons will fill the club with bold and dynamic music. A worthy successor to Essoudry's Mash Potato Mashers, the Bonbons are seven brass players (two trombones, two saxes, two trumpets, and even a sousaphone) plus drums. They play Essoudry's originals, including a few Mashers tunes, plus unexpected pop tunes.
And if you prefer Afro-Cuban energy and flare, Miguel de Armas' Latin Jazz Quartet plays its monthly showcase at the Brookstreet Hotel's Options Jazz Lounge on December 2.
On December 2 and 3, jazz/flamenco guitar virtuoso Pedro Navarro returns for a show of “guitar that vibrates in no man’s land”, at the Mercury Lounge. His original compositions merge flamenco, jazz, Latin, and classical music, and he sold out his previous appearances here.
On Saturday afternoon, December 3, the Wild Cards big band will perform seasonal and big band favourites in “A Sentimental Christmas Journey” at Grace-St Andrews United Church in Arnprior. The Wild Cards are only recently formed, but they include many veterans of the Ottawa jazz scene and are directed by accomplished trumpeter and composer/arranger Rick Rangno. Rangno has worked for many years with the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra, as well as with Canadian Forces big bands.
That evening, Canada's “Sweetheart of Swing”, Alex Pangman, makes a rare appearance in Ottawa, performing for Bytown swing dancers in Sandy Hill. She'll be accompanied by her long-time band, who really swing – and even if you're not a big vocals fan, come out to hear John MacLeod make amazing music on cornet. [Read our interview with Pangman, and our review of their standing ovation at Merrickville's Jazz Fest.]
On Sunday afternoon, December 4, Ottawa vocalist Geri Childs presents her annual seasonal concert and fundraiser at GigSpace. It features a silent auction of baked goods and crafts donated by the local jazz community to raise money for Harmony House, a local home for women in need of refuge. With vocalist Dominique Forest and harpist Carolyne Solberg as guests, Childs and pianist Mark Ferguson will provide hopeful music for December. Evelyn Voigt will read a holiday story, "Christmas in Africa".
Continuing the holiday mood, Yves Laroche, Charley Gordon, Peter Turner, and Tom Denison will “spread a little sweetness and light in the bleak midwinter” at Jazz Vespers at All Saints Anglican Westboro/First United Church on Sunday afternoon.
That evening, the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra (CYJO) presents its most ambitious concert ever – the music from The Bob Curnow LA Big Band's album The Music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays in its entirety. With many returning members, the orchestra is particularly strong this year, allowing director Nick Dyson to expand on the Metheny music they've previously played [watch our video]. If you like Metheny's soaring melodies and intricate, multi-layered music – or are curious to hear how a big band might reinterpret them – it would be well worth getting to the Kailash Mital Theatre at Carleton University.
Also on December 4, the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) present the Brooklyn/Toronto quartet Rallidae at House of Common. Led by composer and saxophonist Angela Morris, the quartet features singer Alex Samaras (most recently heard locally at the Prince Edward County Jazz Festival) – although in fact all four members contribute vocals. Their music combines songs and improvisation, and is somewhere between “avant-indie and avant-jazz”. Interested in adventurous jazz vocals? Or chamber jazz? This would be the show for you.
And if you need some deep grooves to carry you into the next week, Bumpin' Binary performs Sunday evening, December 4, at Irene's. With Mike Essoudry on drums and Don Cummings on Hammond A organ, this group can swing, play funk, and evoke the great jazz organ music of the 60s and 70s. They'll play one more Sunday, December 11, at Irene's as well.
This week, the Carleton University Music Department presents its last two student ensemble concerts. On Monday, December 5, it's the debut concert (“Chapter One”) of the new Vocal Jazz Ensemble led by Elise Letourneau. In their free show at the Patrick Cardy Studio (Room A900 Loeb), they'll be accompanied by pianist James McGowan and guitarist Tim Bedner.
On Friday, December 9, it's the turn of the university's saxophonists, led by Mike Tremblay, in the same studio. You can hear three saxophone quartets, a saxophone choir, and the Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School Quartet.
On Wednesday, December 7, Southminster United Church in Ottawa South presents its final noon-hour jazz concert this fall. “Classic Blue” features trumpeter Peter Crouch and pianist Nick Rodgerson combining classical music and jazz. They will focus on the music of George Gershwin, including arrangements of “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Three Preludes”.
That evening, you can hear another classically-influenced jazz group – but with very different origins. The Daniel Arthur Trio from Montreal will appear as Pressed in Centretown West. Arthur's music is inspired by 20th century composers including Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Messiaen, as well as from contemporary jazz musicians such as Vijay Iyer, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Tigran Hamasyan, and Ethan Iverson. It's complex music, but with a tangible groove.
– Alayne McGregor