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Ottawa jazz flourishes at the 2017 Ottawa Jazz Festival

They've developed new projects and combined with new musical partners, and many are showcasing recent or upcoming CDs. They're playing music ranging from jazz classics to Latin to big band to modern mainstream. Get acquainted with the wide variety of Ottawa-area jazz groups performing in the 2017 Ottawa Jazz Festival local line-up.

Guitarist Wayne Eagles deliberately started his jazz trio with  John Geggie on double bass, and Jesse Stewart on percussion 'to make better use of the remarkable players here in town'.    ©2016 Brett DelmageFor decades, Ottawa-area jazz groups have presented a variety of free shows at the daytime stages of the Ottawa Jazz Festival. This year, though, you'll need to see them at different times.

With the Rideau Centre no longer sponsoring a stage, local performances will primarily be held at the festival's stage at Ottawa City Hall. And that's meant a change in times. From Monday to Friday, shows will be held at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. each day, instead of noon. Consider taking an early – or late – lunch in order to hear them (you can eat your sandwiches while you listen). Weekend shows will be at 12 and 2 p.m., as they have been in past years.


Read what your fellow jazz fans are saying about the 2017 Ottawa Jazz Festival in the OttawaJazzScene.ca reader poll.


There's are many interesting musical projects being showcased from Ottawa-Gatineau jazz groups which you won’t want to overlook in the line-up

Steve Boudreau Trio (Friday, June 23, 11 a.m.)

The trio (Boudreau on piano, John Geggie on double bass, and Michel Delage on drums) will play pieces from several of their recent projects, including their celebration of Canada's 150th birthday. But the major focus will be a preview of their new album, Preludes, a creative re-imagining of music written and inspired by George Gershwin. The album is a mixture of well-known and lesser-known Gershwin compositions, plus two pieces by Boudreau, and one by Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys.

Boudreau has been studying Gershwin's music for several years. One nudge was the release of a Gershwin tribute album a few years ago by Wilson, since Wilson has been a strong influence on his music; another was his teacher Ran Blake having him learn Gershwin's “Where's My Bess” when he was studying at the New England Conservatory. But “it was really reading a biography of George Gershwin and discovering his early recordings of his piano Preludes that pushed me towards having a full album plus worth of material by him under my fingers.”

Rakestar Arkestra (Friday, June 23, 1 p.m.)

Rakestar is nine creative and talented musicians from Ottawa, all well-known in the jazz and avant-garde community. Their music is inspired by Sun Ra, an American musician who took jazz up into the cosmos in the 60s and 70s, but the result is very much in their own voices. At the recent micro-Jazz Ramble at the Record Centre, Rakestar was in fine form, producing rich, multi-layered, and fierce music that immersed you in their energy and amazed you with the variety of their sounds, from saxophone to vibraphone to Hammond organ to sound clips.

Michael Hanna and Friends (Monday, June 26, 11 a.m.)

Vocalist Michael Hanna is a recent addition to Ottawa's jazz scene, but his experience in the jazz world is extensive. The son of renowned American jazz pianist Sir Roland Hanna, Hanna grew up in the homes of Sarah Vaughan, Al Hibler, Thad Jones, Nat Adderley and a host of noted musicians around the corner from his New Jersey home.

Hanna has two CDs to his credit and has performed across North America and in Asia. His music carries influences of both jazz and gospel, and a love of vocalese in the style of the great Eddie Jefferson. This will be his first Ottawa Jazz Festival show, and his quintet of well-known Ottawa musicians will perform classic and contemporary jazz and blues.

The Garry Elliott Quartet (Monday, June 26, 1 p.m.)

Guitarist Garry Elliott and pianist Steve Boudreau have had a long collaboration, including a joint CD. Last year, they decided to expand that collaboration into a quartet, adding Montrealers Adrian Vedady on bass and Camil Belisle on drums. It allowed them to have a different take on their material, and stretch it out. You can see the result of their first GigSpace gig in the OttawaJazzScene.ca video. For this show, they'll perform originals by both Elliott and Boudreau.

The Peter Brown Quartet (Tuesday, June 27, 11 a.m.)

These experienced members of Ottawa's jazz scene, led by pianist Peter Brown, have built an enthusiastic following for their monthly shows in Carleton Place and Perth, and released their first album, Beautiful Love, in 2014. They perform standards and jazz classics and originals by Brown, and are continually adding to their repertoire. Their latest additions include: “Dear Old Stockholm” (Miles Davis), “Sandu” (Clifford Brown) and “When Lights Are Low” (Benny Carter). And expect vocals, too, from both Brown and trumpeter Don Paterson.

The Lucas Haneman Express (Tuesday, June 27, 1 p.m.)

Guitarist Lucas Haneman, bassist Martin Newman, and drummer Jeff Asselin are all knowledgeable and intuitive jazz musicians. But what they play in this groupis not jazz, but electric blues and rock, loud and raw, and primarily Haneman's own compositions. It's a winning formula for them: in 2016, they competed in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee, where they reached the semi-finals. They released their second album, Tearing Up The Rails, last fall.

Rômmel Ribeiro (Wednesday Jun 28, 11 a.m.)

Guitarist and singer Rômmel Ribeiro is from from Brazil via Montreal, and graduated from Carleton University's music program this spring. In his original music, he mixes elements of popular Brazilian music with Afro, reggae, funk, and jazz, with lyrics in Portuguese, French, Spanish and English. In 2012-13, he was Radio Canada's Révélation World Music artist.

The MDB Quintet (Wednesday, June 28, 1 p.m.)

Chris Maskell and Claire Devlin will combine their sax talents in the MDB Quintet. ©Brett Delmage, 2015Ottawa exports many of its fine young jazz players to other cities, and this band is a perfect example. If you don't hear them at this show, you won't have a chance again for many months. Saxophonists Chris Maskell and Claire Devlin are now living in Montreal; guitarist Steve Bilodeau is in Boston, and bassist Alex Bilodeau will join him there this fall to attend the New England Conservatory. Michel Delage, thankfully, is staying here and adding his drumming magic to many local groups.

This will be their first show together as a band, although they've all played together in jams over the years. They'll play original music from Maskell, Devlin, and both Bilodeaus.

On Thursday, June 29, the festival presents two non-jazz acts: Slack Bridges (11 a.m.) and Pony Girl (1 p.m.).

The Juliet Singers (Friday, June 30, 11 a.m.)

One of the highlights of the recent Jazz MicroFest was the Juliet Singers' reinterpretation of Joni Mitchell's album, Blue, with only cello as accompaniment. The vocal harmony trio – which includes notable local jazz singers Elise Letourneau and Rachel Beausoleil – took each of the songs on the album and rearranged them, in many cases bringing out the jazz bones underneath the folk melodies. The result was a swirling mix of voices and cello, evoking the songs' beauty and insightfulness. The trio will reprise their “Blue” show at the festival.

The Bank Street Bonbons (Friday, June 30, 1 p.m.)

Seven horn players, and one drummer: Mike Essoudry's new band is all about the power of brass, with music from groups like the Slavic Soul Party, Soul Rebels, and his own originals. You'll hear some pieces resurrected from the Mash Potato Mashers, and even covers of pop songs by Britney Spears and the Jackson 5 – all combined into a fast-moving and upbeat wall of sound. The Bonbons will play material from their upcoming album plus some new material at the show. And since they've been performing at Irene's each Sunday this month, the music should be really tight!

Wayne Eagles with John Geggie and Jesse Stewart (Sunday, July 2, 12 noon)

Eagles deliberately started this jazz trio “to make better use of the remarkable players here in town”. All three – Eagles on guitar, John Geggie on double bass, and Jesse Stewart on percussion – are highly creative and original musicians, with a wide variety of musical experiences. Besides their experience in mainstream jazz, Eagles adds jazz fusion, Stewart free jazz and improv, and Geggie chamber and free jazz.

The group will focus on Eagles' own new compositions, tunes newly composed or not-yet performed/recorded – which he wanted to get Geggie's and Stewart's perspective on. He describes the music as attentive to dynamics and interplay, and hinting at inspirations such as Terje Rypdal, as well as his own mentors including Allan Holdsworth and Ottawa's Jennifer Giles.

The trio recently recorded five of the pieces with renowned engineer/producer Rob Fraboni live-off-the-floor over one evening, and Eagles says he's “really thrilled with sounds and performances”. They're planning to release some of these pieces, perhaps as early as this fall.

Ed Lister’s Prime Rib Big Band (Sunday, July 2, 2 p.m.)

Trumpeter Ed Lister might be best known for his funkier projects like the Chocolate Hot Pockets or ERU-ERA, but he also has a long-standing and profound love of big band music and composers like Duke Ellington. This spring, he gathered together eleven of the city's best horn players into his Prime Rib Big Band; they've been playing monthly at Irene's as well as in other concerts.

The band primarily plays Lister's originals, rooted in big band swing in the style of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk – and he promises a few new compositions for this show!

Don't underestimate the younger musicians

Ottawa has a reputation for developing young jazz talent – and that's primarily because of local school jazz bands which train and foster their abilities. On the festival's first weekend (June 24 and 25), those youth bands – 12 in total – will take over the stage from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m..

Perennial cross-school favourites including the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra, the award-winning Nepean All-City Jazz Band and Ottawa Junior Jazz Band, and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board's two all-star bands (Secondary and Grade 8) will perform highlights from their seasons. They'll be joined by student bands from schools from Alta Vista to Kanata.

The festival's all-star JazzEd band, which has been tutored by jazz professionals Roddy Ellias and Petr Cancura for the past few months, will also show what it's learned.

See the full youth band schedule on our jazz festival guide.

If you love big band music and ensemble playing, these shows are for you. And expect to hear something new – many of these bands play pieces by Canadian composers and excellent but less-known charts. As the jazz orchestra from John McCrae Secondary School in Kanata notes, their band “emphasizes creativity and makes it a priority to perform exciting original music every year.”

Ottawa Jazz Festival Jazz Jams, late and early

Last year, the late-night jazz jams at the Lord Elgin Hotel were consistently full. They're back in the hotel's Grill 41 restaurant, just across the street from Confederation Park, this year. Guitarist Roddy Ellias and bassist John Geggie – both with years of experience running these jams – will again form the host band, along with several drummers.

The music starts at 10:30 p.m. and runs until at least 1 a.m., and could feature anyone, from students to veterans. What aficionados really hope for, though, is for visiting artists to drop in and play a few numbers. Expect a friendly vibe and mainstream jazz, especially standards.

Not into late nights? From 4 to 5 p.m. on several afternoons, the festival will run a open Jibber Jazz Jam by the fountain in Confederation Park. It's a deliberately non-elite event: a chance for anyone who can play an instrument (even something as simple as a tambourine) to jam with local jazz musicians.

Well-known local drummer Mike Essoudry and tuba player Keith Hartshorn-Walton will anchor the jam, along with either trombonist Steve Berndt, pianist Adam Saikaley, or guitarist Alex Tompkins. The first jam will happen on Friday, June 23, followed by June 26, 27, and 29, and finally Sunday, July 2.

Both the the late-night jams and the Jibber Jazz Jam are free and open to all.

Other opportunities to hear local musicians shine at the festival

Three of the festival's evening (ticketed) concerts will include Ottawa favourite jazz sons:

  • pianist Brian Browne in the quartet of veteran Calgary trumpeter Al Muirhead (NAC Back Stage, June 25)
  • guitarist Roddy Ellias in a lyrical trio with American pianist Marc Copland and Montreal bassist Adrian Vedady (La Nouvelle Scène, June 25); and
  • the adventurous improvising Sonoluminescence Trio, with Ottawa percussionist Jesse Stewart, Ontario baritone saxophonist David Mott, and American bassist William Parker (La Nouvelle Scène, June 27).

The 7:30 p.m. Tartan Homes Stage Series (ticketed) also includes several pop bands which include jazz musicians, such as the Hilotrons and the PepTides.

The Novotel Hotel, in conjunction with the Downtown Rideau BIA, is running a Take 5 Before Jazz series in its Albion Rooms during the festival. From June 22 to 24, and from June 27 to July 1, local jazz groups the Chocolate Hot Pockets and The Swift Brown Fox will perform from 5 to 7 p.m. There's no cover charge.

Lastly, there are fewer local shows this year

While your festival experience is about quality (and Ottawa musicians are providing plenty of that this year) and not quantity, the number of shows this year on the free local stages at the 2017 Ottawa Jazz Festival is the lowest it’s been in seven years. Only 14 groups (excluding the youth bands) will perform on those stages – compared to 20 in 2016, 27 in 2015, or 29 in 2010. So you’ll want to catch them while you can.

The loss of the Rideau Centre stage is the biggest factor in this reduction, because it means fewer weekend shows. But there are other reasons as well. The festival is one day shorter this year compared to 2016, and there no local show are launching the festival, as they have in the past.

Before 2011, the festival had three local stages, at the World Exchange Plaza and at the Rideau Centre as well as on its own stage, but has not replaced the other two.

    – Alayne McGregor

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