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Brighten mid-winter with romantic jazz: Ottawa-Gatineau jazz highlights this month

Updated February 14
Jazzed with love? Or in love with jazz? You've got lots of opportunities this month to celebrate romance – or to be cheered up with a touch of swing and groove.

Gerri Trimble is one of many local jazz musicians playing Valentine's Day shows this month - but she's subverting the concept! ©2015 Brett DelmageVisiting musicians this month include guitarist Jordan Officer, pianists Steve Holt and Jean-Michel Blais, vocalists Betty Bonifassi and Nancy Martinez, swing vocalist Alex Pangman, and the deep Chicago groove and mastery of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble.

And local musicians are playing their hearts out as well, with shows by the Back-Talk Organ Sextet, the Bank Street Bonbons, Safe Low Limit, Sabor de Cuba, the Apex Jazz Band, and the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra this month.

February is also Black History month, and several concerts will commemorate the contributions of black musicians to jazz.

But particularly noticeable this month is a whole series of Valentine-themed shows.

Even the NAC Orchestra gets into the romantic jazz act this month. It will perform the evocative score to “Casablanca” as part of a three-evening screening of the classic Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman film on February 9 to 11. Max Steiner's lush score to that film also includes six jazz standards, and in particular “As Time Goes By”, which Steiner refers back to repeatedly in snatches of melody throughout the score. Each evening, Ottawa jazz pianist Steve Boudreau will also play an hour-long solo set of jazz standards in the NAC Foyer before the orchestra takes to the stage in Southam Hall.

Toronto swing vocalist Alex Pangman loves performing at swing dances, singing her favourite vintage tunes that fill the dance floor with bright energy. On Friday, February 10, she's the featured guest of Peter Liu & the Pollcats – also a consistent favourite with Ottawa dancers – for an Ottawa Swing Dance Society Valentine's dance. The music will concentrate on love-themed songs. Listeners are welcomed too.

On Saturday, February 11, master pianist Brian Browne reunites with a long-time jazz vocal partner, Lindsay MacLeod, for a rare duo show of Browne's beloved jazz standards at Festival Japan.

Alex Pangman and pianist Peter Hill join Peter Liu & the Pollcats for a Valentine's swing dance ©2015 Brett Delmage

On Sunday, February 12, vocalist Betty Ann Bryanton is the guest of the Glebop Jazz Trio at the Arrow and Loon Pub in the Glebe, for a show of “heartwarming jazz and some Valentine favourites”.

On Valentine's Day itself, you can choose among the Lee Anne Frederickson Jazz Quartet at the Savoy Brasserie, the Davina Pearl Trio at the Wellington West Royal Oak, and pianist Don Reid and bassist Neil Sealy at The South Branch Bistro in Kemptville.

The most unusual Valentine's Day show of the bunch, though, must be at 10Fourteen in Hintonburg. Vocalist Gerri Trimble and guitarist Garry Elliott have dubbed their February 14 show “Cupid is Stupid” – and as Trimble explains, “we'll be regaling you with songs of disappointment and heartbreak where Nobody ends up with Nobody!”

Finally, for all those who miss the actual day, jazz vocalist Douglas Moyle will present a “Valentine Redo” show on Thursday, February 16 at Live! On Elgin downtown. Moyle promises that the show, which also includes pianist J.P. Allain, jazz vocalist Nadine Banville, and comedian James Laurin, will feature the romance of the Great American Songbook, some sensual jazz, and a dose of humour.

On February 9 and 10, you can hear the jazz musicians of the future at Nepean High School. On Thursday, there's a jamboree of jazz bands from the high schools across Ottawa: A.Y. Jackson, John McCrae, Nepean, and South Carleton, plus the district school board's all-star jazz band. On Friday, the all-star jazz band is back with special guest saxophonist Mike Tremblay, and the Grade 8 All-Star Jazz Band.

From February 9 to 12, the Ottawa Jazz Festival presents its Winter Jazz Festival at La Nouvelle Scène, with two or three groups each evening, with some of the shows overlapping. Read our guide to the festival, with links to stories we've written about these groups.

The Bank Street Bonbons: 7 horns plus drums ©2016 Brett DelmageOn Friday, February 10, Don Cummings brings his Hammond organ, his Lesley speaker, and his Back-Talk Organ Sextet to Irene's in the Glebe. In the first set, the group will revisit its 2012 album, Black Flower, in new arrangements for sextet, and in the second set will get the dance floor moving with the intense organ-drum-guitar-horn grooves it can pump out.

The Bank Street Bonbons consist of seven brass players (two trombones, two saxes, two trumpets, and even a sousaphone) plus leader Mike Essoudry on drums. They play Essoudry's originals, including a few pieces from his former Mash Potato Mashers, plus unexpected pop tunes in jazz arrangements. You can hear them at the Mercury Lounge in the ByWard Market on Saturday, February 11. Read our review of their premiere at Irene's.

Thursday, February 16, is a busy night for jazz on both sides of the river. At Jean-Despréz Hall at Gatineau City Hall, Montreal jazz vocalist Betty Bonifassi debuts her Lomax album – her second work based on the slave songs collected by anthropologist Alan Lomax at the beginning of the 20th century. The album is a tribute to the strength, resilience, dignity and beauty of African slaves taken to work in America.

At Scene Galeries in Aylmer, Montreal vocalist Nancy Martinez will sing jazz classics on February 16. Martinez began in disco and pop, but has migrated to jazz, and recently recorded a live album at The House of Jazz including jazz classics such as “The Lady is a Tramp” and “My Funny Valentine”.

Jordan Officer releases "Blue Skies" in concerts at the NAC and in Aylmer this month (image provided by the artist)The Mercury Lounge is again presenting a series of concerts this month to celebrate Black History, and on February 16, the lounge brings back a perennial favourite: The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble. Led by percussionist Kahil El Zabar, this year's line-up for the Chicago trio includes Corey Wilkes on trumpet and Alex Harding on baritone sax. Expect blues and groove, informed by the jazz explorations of the avant-garde AACM, of which El Zabar is a long-time member.

At the National Arts Centre Studio on February 16, Montreal guitarist Jordan Officer unveils his new album, Blue Skies. Officer is best known for his extensive collaboration with jazz vocalist Susie Arioli, but in his more recent solo career, he's combined “the jazz of my roots” with blues, country music, and rock’n’roll. Can't make that date? Officer will also perform at Cabaret La Basoche in Aylmer on February 24.

On February 17, sound engineer John Rosefield – well known for presenting both big bands including CYJO, small ensembles, and ice instruments – gives a free afternoon masterclass at Kailash Mital Theatre in Carleton University. Want to know how to make your band sound great in live performance or recording? Rosefield is an expert.

On Friday nights, pianist Miguel de Armas turns The Marshes golf clubhouse in Kanata into an outpost of Cuban warmth, with different guest musicians each week. On February 17, he welcomes Brazilian singer Regina Teixeira for a tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim’s music. On February 24, de Armas is joined by vocalist Karen Oxorn for their first collaboration.

Safe Low Limit is pitched strictly in the bass clef. They're at the Record Centre February 18 ©2016 Brett DelmageThe veteran Ontario-based jazz pianist Steve Holt is back at the Options Jazz Lounge on February 17 and 18 – this time with New Zealand trumpeter Lex French. French was “the leading voice on trumpet” in New Zealand, but recently relocated to Montreal. He has performed with a long list of musical greats including Bennie Maupin and Diana Krall. The quartet also includes double bassist John Geggie and drummer Tom Denison. Expect standards and some of Holt's originals.

Missed the deep resonances of Safe Low Limit when they premiered in November? On Saturday, February 18, at 2 p.m., you can catch the innovative Ottawa jazz group at The Record Centre in Hintonburg. Their instruments – drums, tuba, cello and trombone – are pitched strictly in the bass clef, and they play an “eclectic repertoire of somewhat obscure standards, funk hits and original compositions”. Curious? Watch OttawaJazzScene.ca's video of the group performing at Jazz Mondays.

February is Black History month, and Ottawa pianist John Kofi Dapaah will celebrate it with two jazz shows at Ottawa Pianos on Bank Street south. On February 12, he and bassist/vocalist Angelique Francis will play spirituals and original music by Francis. On February 18, he'll join with J.P. Lapenseé on bass, and Jamie Holmes on drums to perform spirituals, jazz standards, and Oscar Peterson's "Hymn to Freedom".

Also to commemorate Black History, Odyssey Showcase will present its show “The Gift of Jazz” at Algonquin Commons Theatre on February 18. It's a musical celebration of jazz from its African and gospel roots to the modern day; the performers include many Ottawa jazz musicians.

In the Wolfgang series at the Mercury Lounge, musicians from the NAC Orchestra play new music and contemporary classical compositions in a nightclub – often to packed houses! On February 18, their eighth concert in the occasional series will feature violin, viola, cello, and harp, and the set list will include a piece for string quartet by jazz composer Vijay Iyer: “Dig the Say”.

Keith Hartshorn-Walton leads a tuba-based quartet February 24 in the Live @ Record Runner series ©2016 Brett DelmageOn Friday, February 24, vocalist Gerri Trimble teams up with two musicians who are consistently favourite collaborators with vocalists: pianist and trombonist Mark Ferguson and Toronto bassist George Koller. At their show at GigSpace, the trio will play “great jazz tunes and some of Gerri’s original compositions”.

Keith Hartshorn-Walton has a doctorate in tuba from McGill University, and since he moved to Ottawa in 2015, he's been deploying that instrument to create memorable sounds in several different jazz configurations. On February 24, the Record Runner Rehearsal Studios in Nepean presents his first group as a leader. Besides Hartshorn-Walton on tuba, the group includes Peter Hum on piano, John Geggie on bass, and Michel Delage on drums. They're promising a “warm, intimate evening of jazz”.

Jean-Michel Blais is an improviser, but coming primarily from the classical rather than the jazz idiom. The 31-year-old Montreal pianist creates compositions which “pair the melodic pop sensibilities of Amélie-era Yann Tiersen and Chilly Gonzales with the breathtaking technical skill of classical minimalists like Philip Glass and Erik Satie.” He'll appear at the NAC Back Stage on February 24.

Last year, Southminster United Church initiated a new Saturday evening Concerts by the Canal series, featuring both jazz and classical music. On February 25, Ottawa vocalist Geri Childs and her quartet will reprise her “The Music that Makes Me Dance” show, performing beautiful jazz standards from Childs' accumulated repertoire. Melodic compositions from Gershwin, Ellington, Monk, Michel Legrand, Ivan Lins, and more will be featured, in arrangements by pianist Mark Ferguson. Childs will be accompanied by Ferguson, saxophonist René Lavoie, and bassist Normand Glaude.

The Steve Boudreau Trio will honour Canada's 150th birthday this year with several concerts of Canadian music. Boudreau on piano, John Geggie on double bass, and Michel Delage on drums will play “all kinds of Canadian content - from jazz artists like Oscar Peterson and Kenny Wheeler to folk and art songs, as well as some Ottawa-inspired original music.” Their first opportunity will be at a JazzN house concert in Almonte on February 25.

On Saturday, February 25, Fourth Avenue Baptist Church in the Glebe will host a photo exhibit of the black experience in Ottawa in the afternoon, and a concert in the evening. The performers include jazz vocalist Michael Curtis Hanna, pianist John Dapaah, and percussionist/steel drum master Bertram Boldon.

Every month, there's a tribute show to one of the greats of jazz history at the Options Jazz Lounge. This month, on Saturday, February 25, saxophonist Richard Page is coordinating the show, together with Alex Moxon on guitar, Don Cummings on Hammond organ, and Valeriy Nehovora on drums. Instead of a single artist, they'll evoke the defining soul and organ-jazz sound of the 1960s.

Pianist Miguel de Armas and vocalist Caridad Cruz play authentic Cuban music in Sabor de Cuba ©2016 Brett DelmageLast month's tribute show at Options celebrated alto saxophonist and bebop innovator Charlie Parker. At 2 p.m. on February 25, you can hear a reprise of that show at the Record Centre in Hintonburg, with drummer Michel Delage, guitarist Alex Moxon, bassist Alex Bilodeau, and saxophonist Zakari Frantz evoking Parker.

Also on February 25: the Apex Jazz Band, a 42-year mainstay of Ottawa's jazz scene, will perform its New Orleans-style trad jazz at a five-course Mardi Gras dinner at Christ Church Cathedral as part of the Cathedral Arts series. Apex will play well-known Dixie tunes and lesser-known numbers from the vintage jazz library, reproducing the sound of the original music and adding original jazz improvisation and a sense of fun.

Last summer, pianist Miguel de Armas and vocalist Caridad Cruz got together with some of Ottawa-Gatineau's best Afro-Cuban musicians to form Sabor de Cuba. They perform the classics of Cuban music, including salsa, cha cha cha, mambo, and son – and they'll ignite the Mercury Lounge on February 25 with a Fiesta Latina.

The Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra (CYJO) is a big band composed of university-age and late high school-age jazz musicians, directed by trumpeter Nick Dyson. This year, the orchestra has many experienced performers and has undertaken several challenging concerts. On Sunday, February 26, CYJO will share the stage with The Convertibles, a little big band also led by Dyson, for a show at Kailash Mital Theatre at Carleton University.

The PSC Trio from Montreal is a piano-bass-drums group which plays a combination of original compositions and arrangements of jazz/pop/rock tunes. Their music is jazz-influenced (they credit Brad Mehldau, The Bad Plus, Phronesis, and Joshua Redman as influences), but “closer to acoustic jazz fusion than swing”. They'll make their Ottawa debut at Bar Robo on February 26.

Richard Page plays bari sax and clarinet in the host trio at Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago in February ©2015 Brett DelmageVeteran local jazz pianist Peter Brown met singer Julie Kevan through theatre productions in Lanark County. Kevan is “equally at home singing jazz standards and show tunes, blues and oldtime country”, and they've been playing house concerts in the Ottawa Valley for a couple years. On February 26, they're featured in the jazz concert series at the Church of the Ascension in Ottawa East, performing arrangements of several standards, a few Broadway show tunes, and some of Brown's own compositions.

Looking forward into the next month, Ed Lister unveils his Prime Rib Big Band (and we mean big, with 11 well-known Ottawa jazz musicians) at Irene's Pub on March 1. Better go early to get a seat! The Ottawa Jazz Festival presents BC vocalist and guitarist Alex Cuba on March 2 at Library and Archives Canada. And on March 3, the Juno-winning Stretch Orchestra appears at GigSpace.

In weekly performances, Richard Page - on baritone sax and clarinet - will play with bassist Alex Bilodeau and drummer Michel Delage at the late-night Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago in February. Expect originals and some of Page's favourite hard bop classics.

The Beeched Wailers' popular Tuesday night jam and performance recently moved to Bar Robo in Chinatown. It's now running bi-weekly, on February 7 and 21 this month.

And the Sunday sessions at Irene's Pub will feature vocalist Megan Jerome and her Together Ensemble to end each week, with three well-known Ottawa musicians providing a rich instrumental backing for Jerome's incisive observations on life and love and people.

Of course, there's lots more jazz happening in Ottawa-Gatineau, with weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly jazz jams, and restaurants and bars which offer jazz every day or every week. See OttawaJazzScene.ca’s weekly newsletters for all the details.

    – Alayne McGregor

Update February 14: Regina Teixeira will now join Miguel de Armas for the tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim on February 17.