Updated March 5, 2017
GigSpace will celebrate International Jazz Day in April with a new three-day festival promoting Ottawa's jazz musicians.
The GigSpace Jazz MicroFest will debut on April 28 to 30, with performances by 38 local musicians in 15 shows. The music will range from well-known and not-so-standard jazz standards, to groove based compositions, to folk and roots-inspired cabaret music, to lyrical modern jazz originals. The musicians will be familiar to readers of OttawaJazzScene.ca: many are popular names with long jazz careers here.
“It's a community-building effort,” said Marilee Townsend-Alcorn, the artistic director of the 45-seat concert venue. “It's raising the profile of the musicians in Ottawa. It's showing that we do have stellar musicians in our midst, playing at a very high level.”
The festival is a project that the GigSpace organizers have been wanting to undertake ever since they opened. “Probably every time there's a jazz festival, someone says, 'Wouldn't it be nice to just have Ottawa-only musicians? A festival for just the Ottawa people.' And we've all said that for five years,” she said.
GigSpace director and guitarist Tim Bedner in particular has been driving the project. With Canada's 150th birthday this year, “He really put the push on. 'Let's make it happen!'”
They picked the end of April because International Jazz Day falls on Sunday, April 30. While that day is marked by a huge international concert each year and events in other cities around the globe, Ottawa has only occasionally hosted special concerts for International Jazz Day.
Despite being called a MicroFest, it will be the largest event GigSpace has hosted so far, Townsend-Alcorn said. She said they gave it the “micro” name because it was small in comparison to the Ottawa Jazz Festival (“It's not all day and all night”) – and, in fact, much smaller than their first conception of what they might do.
“We started with a big festival and then started thinking about reality: who was going to run it and do this stuff? And we started scaling back. So the all-day Friday, all-day Saturday, all-day Sunday with the late-night jams two out of three nights was scaled way back when we thought, who wants to be here all day? And get up the next day? So we said, we'll start with this, and see how it goes.”
The festival will present four shows Friday evening, and five shows Saturday evening. Sunday will be the busiest day, with six concerts running from 3 to 9 p.m.
The shows are scheduled every hour in GigSpace, with the each set lasting about 45 minutes. Listeners can buy $10 tickets for individual shows or a discounted pass for an entire day. Unlike the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, listeners will be able to keep the same seats if they have tickets for successive concerts, and won't have to line up again, Townsend-Alcorn said. The stage will be arranged so that musicians can quickly change over from set to set, “to sit down and play”.
She said they picked this every-hour format “because we wanted to get a whole lot of players in. We realized that if we just did two-hour sets, we wouldn't have very many people.”
She said the format was probably inspired by the 24-hour Jazz Ramble last June at the Record Centre, because “they had the shorter sets, in and out, in and out. We liked that, and no one's beholden to play a long set.”
The first Jazz Ramble, held last June, attracted a steady stream of listeners to hear different groups perform 1-hour sets during the round-the-clock event.
It's a community-building effort. It's raising the profile of the musicians in Ottawa. It's showing that we do have stellar musicians in our midst, playing at a very high level.
– Marilee Townsend-Alcorn
Picking the performers was a difficult process, she said. “Just even putting together the list of players, and then saying Omigod, we forgot so-and-so. And Omigod, don't forget about them! And what about that person?”
“We started with a huge list of musicians in the city. We started with people who have played GigSpace and who we know are strong supporters of GigSpace. And then we started looking at what kind of a cross-section could we get, so we have it well-represented as much as possible across the board of players in the city. Adam Saikaley, the Chocolate Hot Pockets, Ed Lister, some of those guys who don't play GigSpace very often because they play so frequently around town they just wouldn't be able to attract people for a $20 show at GigSpace.”
“We wanted to get a really good mix or as much as we could. And it was really, really hard to whittle down the list, to who we would have this year. For people who asked, Tim [Bedner] just tells them it was really difficult for us to make any kind of choice, and if we did it again, then we would be getting in next time the people who weren't there, or people who couldn't make it because they had other shows or gigs.”
Another factor was ensuring ticket sales. “Are people going to come in and see these people? That was part of it. We wanted it to be successful.”
The final line-up includes many well-known mainstream jazz artists from Ottawa-Gatineau. Vocalists include Karen Oxorn, the Juliet Singers, Doreen Smith, Martine Courage, Megan Jerome, Steve Berndt, and Caroline Gibson and Marcie Campbell. Instrumentalists include pianists Brian Browne, Mark Ferguson, J.P. Allain, and Steve Boudreau, saxophonists Rob Frayne and Vince Rimbach, guitarists Roddy Ellias, Garry Elliott, and Tim Bedner, violinist Laura Nerenberg, and bassists John Geggie and Normand Glaude. The groups Modasaurus, the Chocolate Hot Pockets, the Adam Saikaley Trio, and the Crooked Jazz Trio will also perform, and Rachel Beausoleil will reprise her quartet's tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim.
However, the inaugural line-up does not include local Latin/Afro-Cuban musicians nor Ottawa's avant-garde jazz community. The Improvising Musicians of Ottawa/Outaouais (IMOO) held their own similar 3-day festival in GigSpace in 2013, declaring it “a big success... a really great chance to get some people in the community all together, in one place.”
Townsend-Alcorn said that Bedner made the final choice of the musicians, putting some of them together in duos or trios, and arranging each evening's shows to pick good opening and closing acts.
All of the musicians will be paid – in contrast to the Jazz Ramble, where the musicians received jazz festival day passes as honorariums. Listeners will also be able to buy albums by the performers at a CD table.
The non-profit, charitable venue applied in January for a grant from the City of Ottawa to support the festival and several other concerts in 2017 featuring Ottawa musicians, but will not learn whether they received the grant until June.
GigSpace is located within Alcorn Music Studios in Hintonburg [map]. It currently presents two to six concerts a month, primarily jazz but occasionally folk or chamber music.
Townsend-Alcorn said that it is continuing to attract new listeners. “Every time we have a concert, we get new people coming in who've just discovered us and so word's continuing to spread, which is what we wanted.”
She said she hoped the festival would increase GigSpace's visibility as well as that of the musicians – “and show that we really are trying to be a community-driven [venue]. We want to be an essential part of helping jazz to grow in Ottawa.”
– Alayne McGregor
Update March 5: The Rachel Beausoleil Quartet will replace the Peter Hum and Garry Elliott Duo on March 28.