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New Ottawa venue Flamingo wants to showcase jazz musicians

Jozée Devoua's quintet engages the audience at Flamingo. © Brett Delmage, 2011The Flamingo closed on April 14, 2012.

8:45 p.m. on Friday, January 28: It's the opening night for Flamingo, a new lounge that bills itself as a "destination for the gay and fabulous". And on Friday nights, it will also be Ottawa's newest jazz venue.

On a stage near the front, local vocalist Jozée Devoua sings a bright, energetic standard. Behind her, Mark Ferguson plays bluesy keyboards, and Mike Tremblay lays down a cool sax line. And, as the song ends, there is enthusiastic applause from the audience, many of whom who were clearly watching, listening to, and enjoying the music.

Unlike many locations where the music is secondary to food or drink, Flamingo producer Sebastien Provost said the lounge plans to showcase the performers. While the space (at  the corner of Elgin and Gladstone Street downtown) is long and narrow, several videoscreens dotted through the club allow those at the far back to still see the musicians. And the sound system is strong, but not overbearing, right to the back.

"I want a show," he said. "I want people to sit there and watch. It's not just background music."

At the intermission, Devoua said the experience had been great so far: the audience was enjoying the music, and the Flamingo was "a very supportive venue".

Provost said the Friday nights would feature acoustic, unplugged music, frequently but not exclusively jazz. "I want it to be blues, I want it to be jazz, I want it to be  five-piece, I want it to be two-piece."

Upcoming jazz acts include Renée Yoxon and René Gely (February 4), and the Steve Berndt Quartet (February 18).  The music will range from the horns and percussion of Devoua's quintet to the "almost stripped-down" and sultry mood of Yoxon and Gely, he said.

"I might bring in something a little edgier too. I want live music, I want people to still have a conversation, too, while they're doing that."

He said this had never been done in a gay bar here. "There was such a big market of gay people that just didn't go out in Ottawa because they just weren't interested in going  out on Saturday night and hearing house music or techno music. So we needed to have an offering. And I'm one of them – I go to Mercury Lounge because I want to have some relevant kind of content."

As well as from Ottawa, performers will come from Toronto and Montreal, and there won't be a house band. "Whoever works out really good, we'll bring them back more often, but  we really want to tap into the music scene."

While not working 100% on the club's opening night, video screens will enable club-goers to see the performers even at the back of the Flamingo © Brett Delmage, 2011Provost said he wanted the audience to feel engaged by bands who really love the music they play. "I'm pretty sure I pay the best in town. I want to get paid fair and I want to pay them fair. ... The working conditions here are excellent. My contract is about six pages: it outlines everything. I want everything to be very clear. I want them to be very secure that they're not going to be taken advantage of. Therefore they will give me their best. Generally I don't have requests. I say, it's carte-blanche: I want you to wow me! If you've got this self-indulgent song that you just love, do it. Whatever makes you happy, because that comes across."

The cover for Friday nights will range from $6 to $10. On other nights, the club will feature gay-themed entertainment, DJs, and celebrity female impersonators performing cabaret and comedy.

© Brett Delmage, 2011Provost said the Flamingo is now the largest gay bar in Ottawa, with capacity of 300 (340 including the summer patio). But it will also cater to straight music fans. "it's the best of the gays and the best of the straights and they're having a great time together. So we really wanted to do that."

   – Alayne McGregor