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Ottawa jazz focuses on Canada in March, leading up to the Junos

Updated with new events added on March 15, 2017
At the end of March, many Canadians will look to Ottawa for the Juno Awards and all its associated concerts here. But that's only the climax of a month of fine Canadian jazz in Ottawa-Gatineau.

The Stretch Orchestra return to Ottawa with genre-bending music March 3&4 ©Brett Delmage, 2015With music ranging from big bands and swing, to tributes to vocalists like Nat King Cole and Joni Mitchell, to improvisation that pushes the boundaries, it's a diverse month – with a bit of extra push due to Juno concert microgrants. And to top it off, there's a CD release from David Renaud, a companion to his first duo record with Brian Browne.


We would like to thank GigSpace Performance Studio, Alrick Huebener, Marie Fleming, and Record Runner Rehearsal Studios whose donations made this unique March jazz highlights report possible.

OttawaJazzScene.ca’s reporting is made possible by reader donations. By becoming a donor you can help OttawaJazzScene.ca shine a spotlight on the scene every month of the year.


March begins with a blast – of horns, as Ed Lister premieres his new Prime Rib big band at Irene's on March 1. Lister has gathered together ten other well-known local jazz musicians to play mainly his own original material with a few covers thrown in. While Lister is better known for the funkier music of ERU-ERA or the Chocolate Hot Pockets, he's also a big fan of the swing classics (read our review of his Ellington tribute concert). He says that the style of this new band is “very much rooted in big band swing in the style of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk”.


Ed Lister premieres his Prime Rib Big Band at Irene's on March 1 ©Brett Delmage, 2016If this show is successful and attracts an audience, the Prime Rib big band will be back at Irene's on the first Wednesday of every month.

On March 2, the Ottawa Jazz Festival presents Cuban-born, but now B.C.-resident, guitarist and vocalist Alex Cuba. In April, Cuba will release his sixth studio album, Lo Único Constante. He describes it as a sonic return to his island roots, influenced by Cuban music ranging from the 1940's to the 1970s and 1980s.

That same evening, the National Arts Centre is holding its annual general meeting, which is free and open to all, in its Salon. Now's your chance to ask about the NAC's current major reconstruction and their plans for 2017-18 – and you will hear more about the Canada Scene festival this July.

On Friday, March 3, the Stretch Orchestra is back in Ottawa after a two-year absence. It's not only a stretch to look up at these three musicians – their heights range from 6'3” to 6'7” – but their music also stretches musical boundaries, both in genres and style. Ottawa percussionist Jesse Stewart is a notable improviser and musical innovator and is likely to have at least one unusual instrument with him (handpan? waterphone? palette?) to sonically augment his drumset. Matt Brubeck has played the cello in everything from pop groups to chamber music to straight jazz, but can go well beyond any of that in coaxing out extraordinary sounds in unexpectedly beautiful combinations. And Kevin Breit is the front man, telling stories, playing killer guitar and mandolin, and matching his trio-mates in range: from blues to jazz to highly avant-garde.

Their two shows at GigSpace will be taped for a live album, a successor to their Juno-winning debut album. Stewart says they'll be performing a mixture of old and new compositions.

Last year when Stewart brought the Sonoluminescence Trio to GigSpace, American artist Jeff Schlanger was there to document the show in paint. During the month of March, the GigSpace Art Gallery will display Schlanger's art, which is produced in real time during concerts, including all the musicWitness paintings he has done of the Sonoluminescence Trio.

The Stretch Orchestra will also perform a shorter, informal set at the Record Centre in the afternoon on Saturday, March 4.

Each year, the National Arts Centre presents concerts by the winners of the Radio-Canada Révélations program, which supports and promotes up-and-coming Québec musicians. The 2016/17 Révélations jazz discovery is pianist Simon Denizart, originally from France and now living in Montreal. His trio, with Jeanne Corpataux on bass and Simon Bellemare on drums, will appear at the NAC Back Stage on Saturday, March 4.

The trio won the people's choice award at the influential Rimouski Jazz Festival in 2014, and followed that with two CDs: Between Two Worlds [2015] and Beautiful People [2016]. They say their music is influenced by European jazz and world music, and describe it as “soft and melodic while always driving, due to the energy the trio establishes every time they hit the band stand”. OttawaJazzScene.ca heard the trio last fall at Brookstreet and was impressed with their intuitive communication and vigor.

The Nicole Ratté Quintet with violinist William Lamoureux plays in Fête INDÉO March 5 ©Brett Delmage, 2016Also on March 4, emerging Ottawa jazz pianist Cynthia Tauro brings her quartet, with guitarist Alex Moxon, bassist Alex Bilodeau, and drummer Jamie Holmes for a show at The Brookfield, playing her jazz, Latin, and pop original music as well as standards. They're opening for another Ottawa group, PreDestined, whose heavy, modern jazz sound is defined by pianist Clayton Connell, saxophonists Brady Leafloor and Brian Asselin, bassist Stephen Adubofuor, and drummer Matt Welsh.

On Saturday, March 4, the Juliet Singers present their interpretation of Joni Mitchell's iconic 1971 album, Blue. The vocal harmony trio – Elise Letourneau, Rachel Beausoleil, and new member Lindsey Sikora – will be accompanied only by Joan Harrison on cello, reflecting the spare instrumentation of the original, which put so much emphasis on the haunting words and melodies and how they were sung. Many of the songs on Blue have previously been interpreted by jazz musicians, ranging from Tierney Sutton to Herbie Hancock.

Can't make it that evening? The Juliet Singers will also perform at the Wednesday noon-hour series at Southminster United Church on March 8. They'll revive an older show which previously attracted sell-out audiences at GigSpace: their interpretation of Carol King's influential Tapestry album, with Mark Ferguson accompanying them on piano.

Fête de la musique indépendante en Outaouais (INDÉO) is a new festival of independent music, being held on March 3 to 5 at Les Brasseurs du Temps in downtown Gatineau. Sunday, March 5, is its jazz day, with three local vocalists performing in the afternoon. At 1 p.m., Nicole Ratté will reprise her quintet show from last year's jazz festival, adding some new tunes and again showcasing talented Humber College violinist William Lamoureux (read a review and an interview including Lamoureux). They'll perform songs in many styles, from gypsy jazz to funk to French songs to jazz classics.

At 3 p.m., Rebecca Noelle will perform music from her recently-released album, Soulstice: original songs by her which are "derived from jazz, but given a neo-soul, funk treatment with the brass and vocal harmonies". And at 5 p.m., Rachelle Behrens will perform songs ranging from jazz to blues, Latin, and soul.

Late that Sunday afternoon, the Rakestar Arkestra will play an hour-long set at the Record Centre. Rakestar is a constellation of eight excellent and adventurous Ottawa jazz musicians who pay tribute to the music of the unique American composer and bandleader Sun Ra – but in their own voices and with considerable fun and verve. In January, they received several standing ovations from a packed house for their “Sung Ra” concert extravaganza; this will be a smaller effort but performed with comparable energy.

Want to hear more Rakestar or can’t make it Sunday afternoon? They're back on Sunday, March 26 for a full evening show at Bar Robo in Chinatown.

Sound of the Mountain performs nuanced and mostly quiet music ©Brett Delmage, 2016Also on Sunday, March 5: IMOO (the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais) present the Montreal duo, Sound of the Mountain, with Craig Pedersen on trumpet and Elizabeth Millar on clarinet (or part of one). The duo performs nuanced and mostly quiet music that benefits from careful listening; they use improv,extended performance techniques and a touch of electronics to generate beautiful and unexpected sounds from their instruments.

Also on March 5, saxophonist/United Church minister Peter Woods and master pianist Brian Browne continue their long-term musical partnership at Jazz Vespers at All Saints-First United Church in Westboro. On Wednesday, March 8, you can hear Browne with vocalist Steve Berndt, as they celebrate jazz standards at the Options Jazz Lounge at the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata. Berndt and Browne released two CDs together showing their love of and intuitive mastery of the jazz canon, each containing one memorable original by Berndt in the same style.

Since it opened in 1939, the Tropicana has been the most famous nightclub in Cuba. In its heyday before Castro's revolution, it was known for its size (1700 seats), its bevy of showgirls, its 40+-member jazz house bands, and the many famous guest musicians (Tito Puente, Xavier Cugat, Paul Robeson, Carmen Miranda, Nat King Cole, and Josephine Baker) and Hollywood stars it attracted. On March 9, the annual fundraiser for St. Patrick's Home will evoke some of that glamour. “A Night at the Tropicana” will be held at the Ottawa Conference and Event Centre on Coventry Road (beside the baseball stadium). Afro-Cuban pianist Miguel de Armas and his band will invoke the Tropicana musical experience.

Claudia Salguero pomises an intimate evening of Latin jazz March 11 ©Brett Delmage, 2016On March 10-12, it's Ottawa's biggest swing dance event of the year: the O-Town Showdown, a weekend of competitions, classes, and evening dances. Glenn Crytzer's New Yorkers jazz band will perform at both evening dances: Friday at St-Joseph's Parish in Sandy Hill, and Saturday in Scotton Hall at the Glebe Community Centre. According to his website, Crytzer is a NYC-based band leader who performs the music of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s as well as new songs and arrangements in that vintage style. He specializes in authentic swing music for Lindy Hoppers – avoiding modern musical language in his playing and arranging – and has become a staple in the New York vintage jazz scene. His groups also avoid modern "live sound" techniques such as individually miced instruments, monitor speakers, bass amps, and direct inputs. “The result is bands that sound like new, original groups from a bygone era.”

Last month, pianist Steve Boudreau and his trio with John Geggie and Michel Delage honoured Canada's 150th birthday with jazz arrangements of Canadian music at a house concert in Almonte. They're reprising that show in Ottawa with a Saturday evening concert on March 11, as part of Southminster United Church's Concerts by the Canal series. They promise jazz versions of Canadian folk and art songs, classics by Oscar Peterson, Kenny Wheeler and Feist, and originals by the trio.

Claudia Salguero is both a prominent visual artist, and a vocal interpreter of boleros and other Latin American love songs, many from her native Colombia. Her annual large-scale Latin jazz shows at the National Arts Centre have consistently sold out. With the NAC under construction right now, she's trying a new location, the Mercury Lounge, for an “unplugged” show on Saturday, March 11. She promises an intimate evening of Latin jazz and Latin folk melodies.

The IMOO Orchestra will play music in the moment on March 12 ©Brett Delmage, 2014On Sunday, March 12, the IMOO Orchestra rides again! The show at the House of Common will be a rare chance to hear a large-scale improvising ensemble – in this case, nine musicians playing everything from percussion to electronics to violin to guitar to saxophones – making music in the moment. In the second set, the music will be inspired by visuals being shown at the same time. This will be the first time the orchestra has appeared since 2013; the show was made possible by a microgrant from the JUNO Host Committee and the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition. Organizer Linsey Wellman says it's an “exciting chance to gather together some of the musicians who have been involved with IMOO over the years, and without whom this series couldn't happen.”

The francophone Concerts Intimes series at La Nouvelle Scène is offering a concert sure to be understood by all, on Sunday, March 12. Benoit Duchesne and Maxime Boivin will present “Chansons sans paroles”/“Songs without words”, a selection of instrumental guitar duo pieces. Their repertoire will include romantic standards, an intimate samba by Antonio Carlos Jobim, and cool jazz classics like “Blue in Green” – as well as original compositions by Duchesne inspired by blues, Latin, and European jazz. They'll also include completely improvised pieces.

On the third Wednesday of each month, from September to May, Knox Presbyterian Church downtown hosts an evening Jazz Vespers with fine local musicians. On March 15, the modern jazz group Modasaurus (pianist James McGowan, guitarist Alex Moxon, bassist J.P. Lapensée, and drummer Jamie Holmes) will perform their full-bodied and multi-layered original jazz.

On Thursday, March 16 at 11 a.m., the Record Centre lays on the 80th birthday wishes for Ottawa piano master Brian Browne. Browne and long-time collaborator Peter Woods on saxophones will play an hour-long concert, with some numbers from their upcoming Record Centre Records release.

Antoine L Collins is an American lawyer turned Canadian jazz vocalist. He released his debut jazz album, Somewhere Along The Way, in 2016, and is now working on his second, a tribute to the music of Nat King Cole. At the Mercury Lounge on Friday, March 17, he'll perform an all-Nat King Cole show in honour of Cole's 98th birthday. He says that he particularly moved by “Nat's masterful storytelling, which addresses universal themes, as well as deeply personal struggles, hopes, loves, regrets, and fears that Antoine is certain will resonate deeply today among a new generation.”

On March 17 and 18, master guitarist Roddy Ellias and pianist Peter Hum will perform originals and standards at the Options Jazz Lounge, together with two out-of-town musicians: bassist Alec Walkington from Montreal, and drummer Tim Shia (of the Worst Pop Band Ever) from Toronto.

That weekend, you can hear several Montreal singers who walk the line between pop, world music, and jazz. On March 17, Alejandra Ribera plays from her new, stripped-down album, This Island, at the NAC Studio. On March 17 and 18: Mamselle Ruiz appears at Cabaret La Basoche in Aylmer with songs from Miel de cactus, her new second album “tinted with Latin American rhythms and traditional Mexican folklore”.

Not a big jig fan? Loathe Celtic music and the colour green? You can celebrate an anti-St. Patrick's Day on March 17 with a Funk Party with ERU-ERA at Irene's Pub.

Betty Ann Bryanton and her trio play all-Canadian jazz March 18 ©Brett Delmage, 2016Vocalist Betty Ann Bryanton is taking her own individual approach to celebrating Canada's 150th birthday in 2017. In January, she and her trio played a sold-out all-Canadian jazz tribute at a house concert in Almonte. She's now bringing the same show to Ottawa on Saturday, March 18 – at Pressed in Centretown. The trio and special guest Peter Woods will cover a variety of styles: swing, bossa, waltz, blues, samba, rumba, and ballad. The music will be by composers who include Mark Ferguson, Renée Yoxon, Fawn Fritzen, Steven Hardy, Lisa Lindo, and Bryanton herself and her pianist David Miller. Bryanton will also include jazz versions of songs by Leonard Cohen, Sam Masich, and Shirley Eikhard.

On March 18, vocalist Diane Nalini will take centre stage with eight members of the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra for their “From Rio to Paris” show at the NAC Back Stage. They'll perform “joyful and intimate songs from Brazil and France, alongside some new original material composed and arranged by Diane”.

The Bangers and Mash Festival on Saturday, March 18, celebrates nine local soul-influenced groups, some of which would be classified as jazz (The Chocolate Hot Pockets), and many of which include local jazz musicians (The Hornettes, Mack and Ben, Blast from the Sun). It will be held in two locations in Ottawa South – Black Squirrel Books and the House of Targ.

The tabla is an Indian percussion instrument which has steadily been crossing over into jazz and improvised music. On Saturday, March 18, tabla player Shawn Mativetsky will play a duo concert with flutist Marie–Hélène Breault at Bar Robo, in which he will explore the rich world of contemporary music for tabla and flute. The show is also a CD release show for his new album, Rivers. The concert is presented by the Ottawa New Music Creators.

You can hear some fine playing, and even a few original compositions, when the students in Carleton University's music program present their end-of-term ensemble concerts. On Thursday, March 23, the student Jazz ensemble (led by Mark Ferguson) and Jazz Vocal ensemble (led by Elise Letourneau) will perform together at the university's Kailash Mital Theatre. Their program will include selections from Oscar Peterson's Canadiana Suite. On Saturday, March 25, you can hear saxes in unusual combinations as the Saxophone Quartet Ensemble (led by Mike Tremblay) performs in the Patrick Cardy Studio (A900 Loeb).

Peter Liu and the Pollcats at the Barney Danson Theatre (Shaughnessy Photography, used by permission of Peter Liu)On Saturday, March 25, swing dancers will be out in force at the Canadian War Museum for Ottawa SwingFest. The museum is turning the Barney Danson Theatre into a Second World War-era dance hall, with the upbeat music provided by popular jazz band Peter Liu and the Pollcats. The museum promises the reminiscent strains of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”, “Jumpin Jive”, and “Chattanooga Choo Choo”: music which gave “servicemen and women, factory workers, and homemakers a temporary but welcome escape from life’s hardships”.

Saxophonist Petr Cancura has a new band, Petr Cancura and the Rambles, with his frequent collaborator, Ottawa guitarist Roddy Ellias, along with two Montrealers: bassist Adrian Vedady and drummer Evan Tighe. Their music tells stories, in songs "inspired by jazz, improvising, folk music and the blues".

You can hear them at a house concert in Appleton in the Ottawa Valley on Saturday, March 25. They'll be in Ottawa the following evening, March 26, at the Dominion City Brewery on Canotek Road in Ottawa's far east end (near the Montreal Road exit on the Queensway). The Sunday show will be "filmed as a special event where the audience is integrated into the show".

Drummer Ken Harper and guitarist Tony D unveil their new band, The Jetset, in a Saturday evening concert at Southminster United Church on March 25. Supported by percussionist Rob Graves (read our review of their earlier collaboration), and bassist Dan Grewal, the quartet will play “rhythmically-explorative compositions” from the 1960s and 70s by jazz/bop guitarists Grant Green and Kenny Burrell, and drummer Johnny Lytle, and others, as well as original compositions.

The Grey Jazz Big Band includes Ottawa-area jazz musicians with many decades of experience – who still thoroughly enjoy performing swing hits and classic standards for dances and concerts. The band, now in its 30th year, is a labour of love dedicated to capturing and preserving the music of a timeless era. As they say, "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."

This year, they've started a big band dance series at Dovercourt Recreation Centre on the last Sunday evening of the month (March 26 this month). Admission is free, but donations to the Parkinson’s Society are greatly appreciated.

Jesse Stewart has an extensive collection of turntables, and he'll bring them to the Carleton University Art Gallery on Monday, March 27 – along with his portable dome – for an interactive dome performance. Then, on Tuesday, March 28, he'll perform solo at the opening of a new exhibit at the art gallery at the Czech Embassy (251 Cooper Street). The exhibit features visual art by Stewart and by Czech painter Josef Duchan.

David Renaud releases his second CD with pianist Brian Browne on March 31 ©Brett Delmage, 2008Also on March 28, you can hear a consistently award-winning local student big band, and a prominent university big band on the same stage. The 17-member Nepean All-City Jazz Band (NACJB) will welcome the 18-piece University of Toronto Jazz Orchestra, led by saxophonist Gordon Foote, for a joint show at Hillcrest High School in Alta Vista. The UTJO recently released two CD’s: one with saxophonist Mike Murley in 2013, and the second in 2016 featuring the music of Kenny Wheeler with vocalist Norma Winstone and saxophonist Dave Liebman. Two years ago, NACJB played a similar, and well-received, show with the Humber College Studio Jazz Ensemble. [Read the OttawaJazzScene.ca story about that show.]

For clarinetist David Renaud, his 2016 CD First Love was truly a labour of love – and took him months to complete to his exacting standards. The CD of jazz standards and gospel numbers featured him on clarinets and master pianist Brian Browne on Bösendorfer grand piano. Its theme was passion and love – both romantic and spiritual.

Renaud has taken live recordings from the release concert for First Love, and several session recordings done shortly thereafter, to create a companion CD, Encore. It will have a slightly different sound, with four numbers featuring him on bass clarinet. On Friday, March 31, he and Browne will officially release the new CD in a concert at Southminster United Church.

Also on Friday, March 31, Montreal drummer Mark Nelson brings his adventurous Sympathetic Frequencies group to Brookstreet's Options Jazz Lounge. The members of this group each come from a different part of North American, but "unify their voices as they venture into the unknown".

The Juno Awards will be announced in Ottawa on April 1 and 2. For jazz lovers, Saturday, April 1 is the important date, because all the lower-profile awards (including jazz and related categories) are given out then. That event isn't public, but will be tweeted and live-streamed out.

But you will also be able to hear many of the nominated artists live in showcases across the city on March 31 and April 1 and possibly on other dates as well. The schedules will be announced shortly: the organizers say they will feature more than 100 bands (including, of course, more than jazz) at more than 15 venues. Live! on Elgin will be the main jazz venue, with a few jazz-related acts at Irene's in the Glebe, the Rainbow Bistro in the ByWard Market, and St. Alban's Church in Sandy Hill. Watch OttawaJazzScene.ca for details.

Looking forward into April, Toronto jazz guitarist James Brown plays a duo show with bassist Jim Vivian at GigSpace on April 1 (a rare chance to see either musician); and the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra presents its spring concert with Ottawa's Latin big band Los Gringos as special guests on April 2.

Richard Page's Night on the Town Band is inspired by New Orleans ©Brett Delmage, 2015Throughout March, Richard Page's Night on the Town Band will perform every Sunday evening at Irene's Pub in the Glebe. The band plays Richard's original music, in styles ranging from swing to Country & Western, but consistently accessible and fun with a strong horn section over a driving rhythm section. Richard describes their sound as influenced by “New Orleans music and the jazz, and blues music that has developed in that area”, and says to expect to hear a variety of grooves with this band. Read our review of their show at Merrickville's Jazzfest, which inspired an immediate standing ovation.

The late-night jazz crowd regularly gathers on Mondays at Le Petit Chicago in downtown Gatineau, to hear the monthly house band and take part in the second set jam. In March, bassist Dave Schroeder is running the show with different host trios each week.

Of course, there's lots more jazz happening in Ottawa-Gatineau, with weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly jazz jams in locations from Kanata to Vanier, regular big band and swing dances, and many restaurants and bars which offer jazz weekly or even daily. See OttawaJazzScene.ca’s weekly jazz bulletins for all the details including musician lineups, show times, and venue addresses.

    – Alayne McGregor

Update February 28: added Live! on Elgin to the list of Juno venues
Update March 15: Added Mark Nelson's Sympathetic Frequencies on March 31. Added Brian Browne's birthday show on March 16. Updated the Juno descriptions. Updated the name and description of The Jetset at Southminster on March 25. Updated the name and description of Petr Cancura and the Rambles, and added their March 26 concert in Ottawa. Added the Shawn Mativetsky tabla show on March 18.