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Our 2011 recap: jazz and improvisation probe the boundaries in Ottawa

The debate that defined Ottawa jazz and improvised music in 2011 was about musical boundaries.

David Pontello listens to Linsey Wellman play his bass clarinet at IMOO, 2011 Aug 21 ©Brett DelmageIt  was both positive and negative. On the good side was an increasing permeability among Ottawa music genres, where, for example, the members of the Souljazz Orchestra could team up up with singer Slim Moore and create a whole new side project of soul music with a jazz sensibility. Or Mike Essoudry's Mash Potato Mashers could mash up many genres and come up with their second album of danceable, marchable music which could be called jazz or several other genres as well. Or the Capital Vox Jazz Choir and the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra could fill Dominion Chalmers United Church with an audience eager to hear jazz versions of Beatles tunes.

Each of those projects brought new listeners and highly listenable music to the scene, even while each of those groups didn't abandon their jazz roots and their jazz projects.

On the more controversial side, there were the three non-jazz headliners at the 2011 Ottawa Jazz Festival. Because the Festival promoted these acts so heavily, and  because they all played in the first few days, they became the focus and the face of the Festival – and raised questions among fans and in the media about the Jazz Festival's commitment to jazz.

But it wasn't only perception: the statistics showed that the Festival had increased the number of non-jazz acts over previous years, both in the Concerts under the Stars series in Confederation Park, and in the late-night OLG series, although jazz still did predominate (albeit more indoors, which caused even more debate).

The Nicole Ratté Quintet's Mike Tremblay engages listeners at the 2011 Rendez-Vous Rideau Jazz Stage. ©Brett DelmageIt was a debate that started as soon as the name "Robert Plant" was uttered at the Jazz Festival launch, and hasn't yet ended: two recent articles in the Ottawa Citizen, a 2011 retrospective article by Phil Jenkins and another 2012 forecast by Lynn Saxberg, both mentioned the issue, from diametrically opposite perspectives.

As a whole, the Ottawa-Gatineau jazz scene didn't change dramatically in 2011. Retrenchment and difficult economic times affected the scene as much as any other activity, but artists and listeners overcame the difficulties and continued to make and enjoy new music. Whatever your taste in jazz, it continued to be available, from the Great American Songbook to free jazz, and from jazz-funk to big bands.

The diversity of the audience was notable: the Café Paradiso audience rarely overlapped the IMOO crowd; swing dancers frequently hired jazz bands for their own events and danced at the Overkill Bar's and Le Petit Chicago's Swing nights, but were rarely seen at other jazz events; the Geggie crowd didn't have much in common with the Brookstreet Hotel jazz lovers. And with a few exceptions, most of the jazz lovers we saw at Gatineau concerts were not the same as those at Ottawa concerts. continued to explore new facets of and faces in the scene. We particularly enjoyed profiling the Denison family, and their four generations of jazz musicians, for Family Day in February; talking with Emilie-Claire Barlow about her Canadian jazz roots; and running our listener survey this summer to find out what local music fans really thought of the local jazz scene and the jazz festival. We also welcomed a new contributor, Chris Maskell, with his story about the Carleton University Jazz Camp from the inside.

Our site featured interviews, podcasts, and our first videos with a wide variety of musicians, local and from out-of-town, about their Ottawa concerts and CD launches. We had a great time talking to them and learning about them and their music. We also covered the Guelph Jazz Festival, and compared it to the Ottawa festival experience.

Notable events in the local jazz scene in 2011

Ottawa Jazz Festival programming director Petr Cancura checks out a Rendez Vous Rideau Jazz Stage concert.   ©Brett Delmage

  • Petr Cancura was named the new programming director of the Ottawa Jazz Festival in January, bringing a plethora of jazz contacts and experience inside and outside Canada.
  • Ottawa-area vocalist Kellylee Evans won the 2011 Juno Award for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year in March. The album, entitled Nina (Plus Loin Music), is a tribute to jazz great Nina Simone. With that as a springboard, she had a highly successful touring schedule in 2011, including full houses in Ottawa.
  • Souljazz was nominated for the best Instrumental Album Juno for Rising Sun.
  • Ron Sweetman reached his notable 35th anniversary hosting In a Mellow Tone on CKCU-FM, Ottawa's longest-running jazz radio show (by far).
  • While all the major, long-standing jazz radio shows in Ottawa remain, CKCU-FM dropped three jazz-related shows this fall, and the only jazz show on CKJD-FM (Algonquin), also disappeared.
  • saxophonist Nathan Cepelinski, guitarist Lucas Haneman, and vocalist Renée Yoxon each received $1000 artist prizes from Astral Media as the jazz recipients of the My First NAC award for talented alumni of the NAC's young artist training programs. They also performed in a showcase concert in June at the NAC Studio. We interviewed all three to find out what the award meant to them and what their future plans were.
    Daniel Ko plays to the Le Petit Chicago Bar. ©Brett Delmage, 2011
  • In May, young Ottawa saxophonist Daniel Ko won the 2011 Yamaha Kando award, the "premier award" given at the Canadian national MusicFest competition. A few days later, he learned he had won the Slaight Family scholarship, which allowed him to attend the Berklee College of Music jazz programme in Boston starting this fall. A previous Ottawa winner of the same scholarship, Nathan Cepelinski, graduated from Berklee in the spring.
  • percussionist Jesse Stewart was almost as active in art galleries as he was in concert halls in 2011. In January, he curated a series of musical performances which were coordinated with the appearance of a sound installation by David Rokeby called Very Nervous System (VNS), at the Carleton University Art Gallery.  In July, Stewart played in front of the famous painting, "Voice of Fire" by Barnett Newman, at the National Gallery, using the painting as a inspiration for his own solo percussion composition. And then in August/September, he opened his own "Time Pieces" solo art exhibit at the city Karsh-Masson Gallery, and also performed twice in conjunction with the exhibit.
  • Ottawa Jazz Festival executive producer Catherine O'Grady received the St. Joseph Media Arts and Culture award from the Ottawa YWCA in May.

Jesse Stewart plays at his Time Pieces art exhibit. ©Brett Delmage, 2011

  • In September, the National Arts Centre announced its "NAC Presents" program to promote Canadian musicians, which included a large percentage of jazz artists, and substantially increased the number of NAC jazz shows.

Emilie-Claire Barlow gives a jazzy launch to the NAC Presents 2011-12 season. ©Brett Delmage, 2011

  • The Improvising Musicians of Ottawa/Outaouais (IMOO) celebrated their first full year of bi-weekly concerts at the Umi Café. Craig Pedersen and Linsey Wellman produced a diverse series, combining local and visiting avant-garde musicians playing adventurous music. There were solo sessions, there were groups that practically packed the café on their own, and everything in between, but you could be guaranteed to hear something new. And the tea and desserts were delicious, too!Listeners and dancers celebrate the Roda da Samba at Le Petit Chicago on October 22 ©Brett Delmage, 2011

Band leader Richard Page and an Avant-Garde Bar full of listeners enjoy the Franky Rousseau Large Band on December 2  ©Brett Delmage, 2011

  • Two modern big bands – Richard Page's Nonet from Ottawa, and the Franky Rousseau Large Band from New York City/Montreal – literally packed the Avant-Garde Bar in early December, proving that big band music is alive and well in Ottawa.
  • Elise Letourneau, the music director of the Capital Vox jazz choir, had one of her compositions, "Peace Prayer", selected as the winner of the 2011/2012 Association of Canadian Choral Communities Award for Choral Writing. It will be performed in May by the National Youth Choir at Podium 2012, Canada's national choral convention.

Jesse Stewart and Patrick Graham present an improvised concert beside the Ottawa River. ©Brett Delmage, 2011


Jazz lovers gained several and lost a few jazz locations in 2011.

  • In the fall, the Brookstreet Hotel Options Jazz Lounge in Kanata substantially expanded its music program, with jazz now being offered Tuesday to Saturday instead of just on the weekends.
  • Alcorn Music Studios moved to a new location in September and added a new performance space: GigSpace, which is rapidly filling with weekend concerts, courses, masterclasses, and jams.
  • The Bacci Bistro in downtown Gatineau, which closed in 2010, was resurrected in 2011 as the Aura Resto-Lounge, with jazz now on Wednesday nights.
  • La Grange de la Gatineau started offering occasional concerts, some jazz . The first concert, which sold out, featured local jazz artists Renée Yoxon and René Gely.
  • Bistro Bord'eau in Aylmer started regularly showcasing jazz on many Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
  • We had great hopes for the Flamingo Lounge as a new jazz/acoustic venue, but, unfortunately, after its first two months it moved to a different musical format.
  • Molto Kitchen reduced its jazz nights temporarily this fall, but went back to two jazz nights a week in January, 2012.
  • Tim Bedner and Elise Letourneau ended their regular Thursday night gigs at Café Paradiso – an almost-five-year run – this summer, along with Tim's mentorship series.
  • Wednesday jazz nights at Café Nostalgica, which had been an excellent place to hear musicians try out new ideas and groups, did not flourish to the same extent after May, because of a reduction in support for music.
  • There continued to be unconfirmed rumours that the Montreal-based House of Jazz chain might move into Ottawa, but no definite news.

CD releases

The Craig Pedersen Quartet launches its first CD at Club SAW ©Brett Delmage, 2011

Ottawa jazz musicians continued to release a steady stream of CDs in 2011:

  • Craig Pedersen Quartet: Early Winter EP (January)
  • Craig Pedersen/Taylor Brook: Stuart Lake EP (February)
  • Search Engine: I'm Feeling Lucky (April)
  • Lucas Haneman: This is What’s Up (May)
  • Doug Martin: Odyssey (June)
  • Roddy Ellias and Donna Brown: Acts of Light (July) (chamber music)
  • Shaman Rhythms: Shaman Rhythms (July)
  • Angèle Desbois and the Swingin' Devils: Singularity (July)
  • Stretch Orchestra: Stretch Orchestra (Ottawa/Toronto) (August)
  • The Improvising Musicians of Ottawa/Outaouais: IMOO Volume 1 (September)
  • Clear: Never Falling Again (October)
  • Slim Moore and the Mar-Kays: Introducing Slim Moore & the Mar-Kays (October)
  • Mash Potato Mashers: Hooray (#2) (October)
  • Robert Fontaine Quartet: The Quiet Fellow (October)
  • Natalia Cabrera & Montuno: Moving North (November)
  • The Jivewires: Jives do Jordan (November)
  • The Craig Pedersen Quartet: Days Like Today (November)
  • Regals: The Double-Duo Sessions (November)

The Search Engine, Lucas Haneman, Stretch Orchestra, Slim Moore and the Mar-Kays, Robert Fontaine Quartet, and Craig Pedersen Quartet discs were the first by those artists/groups. (Please let us know if we have missed any 2011 Ottawa jazz CDs, and we'll update this list.)

Courses, masterclasses, and jams

The National Arts Centre continued to offer its Manhattan on the Rideau video-conference masterclasses with world-class artists and Canadian students, which Ottawa jazz fans could attend in person or see over live Internet streaming.

The Carleton University jazz camp had a successful second year and announced it will be back for a third. The JazzWorks jazz camp continued its long career and also offered some concerts and fundraising events throughout the year. Instrument-specific camps with jazz components like Trumpet Bootcamp were also offered.

The mentorship program at Café Paradiso had three shows in the spring, with Mike Tremblay, Yves Laroche, and Tim Bedner with the Carleton Guitar Ensemble, but was not continued in the fall.

Carleton University's Music Department continued to regularly feature high-profile visiting jazz artists in its public masterclasses, including saxophonist Dave Liebman, violinist Malcolm Goldstein, guitarist Ken Rosser, Kevin Breit and Matt Brubeck of the Stretch Orchestra, pianist David Braid, and baritone saxophonist David Mott. The University of Ottawa also offered a number of workshops open to the public, including one with guitarist Tim Brady, and a series of day-long workshops (sponsored by Astral Media) on how musicians can avoid occupational injuries.

Alcorn Music Studios arranged very popular masterclasses with musicians in town for concerts, including vocalist Kate Hammett-Vaughan, and guitarists Mike Rud, Charlie Hunter, Vic Juris, and Roddy Ellias. Ottawa double bassist John Geggie also appeared at Tim Bedner's Inside the Music lecture series in December.

JazzWorks monthly jams at the Carleton Tavern continued to be jammed, with many amateur musicians attending this popular event to socialize, listen, and play.

Hundreds of listeners enjoy the Julie Lamontagne Trio's outdoor concert at Le Festival de jazz Desjardins in Aylmer.  ©Brett Delmage, 2011


Aside from the Ottawa Jazz festival, most other Ottawa music festivals featured little or no jazz this year. BluesFest and the FolkFest had, if anything, fewer jazz-related acts in 2011 than in previous years (even considering the broadest definition of jazz). There were, however, several notable exceptions.

The Ottawa Chamber Music Festival continued to feature some excellent concerts with jazz musicians who had classical connections (or vice-versa). This year's standouts were the Asphalt Orchestra, which roamed around downtown Ottawa playing its brass compositions, the Stretch Orchestra, and the mind-stretching concert featuring Phil Nimmons, David Braid, and James Campbell in different combinations and with different levels of improvisation.

Le Festival de jazz Desjardins in Aylmer brought in some excellent Quebec and Ontario jazz groups for free concerts in a lovely park near the waterfront. This year's standouts included the Julie Lamontagne Trio with Chet Doxas, and the Parc-X Trio, as well as the local Souljazz Orchestra. It was a wonderful opportunity for those who missed listening to jazz in an outdoor setting at the Ottawa Jazz Festival.

The Wellington West BIA presented a variety of local jazz artists for its Taste of Wellington event, including a rare performance by veteran Ottawa jazz arranger/saxophonist Bill Jupp and his sextet which utterly packed the Carleton Tavern.

And overall...

And exactly how busy was the Ottawa-Gatineau scene in 2011? published more than 1850 timely and comprehensive event listings last year, up from 1700 in 2010. There was lots going on.

What was probably most notable about the Ottawa-Gatineau scene in 2011 was the energy, enthusiasm, and originality of local musicians and promoters who kept trying new musical ideas, combinations, and hooks. They invigorated the jazz and improvised music scene here, and made it an exciting year to be a listener.

What did you think of the 2011 jazz year?  Please share your thoughts on the Facebook group.

A future jazz fan takes in Beatlemania by the Capital Vox Jazz Choir ©Brett Delmage, 2011

Alayne McGregor's favourite Ottawa concerts in 2011

David Mott in concert with Very Nervous System at Carleton University Art Gallery on Jan 29. ©Brett Delmage, 2011

Brett Delmage's favourite live performances in 2011

As usual, we couldn't get to every concert we would have liked to. Some of the ones we most regretted not seeing:

  • Charlie Hunter at the Elmdale Tavern (April 22)
  • Surprise Me, Mr. Davis (with Marco Benevento) at the Elmdale Tavern (August 24)
  • The John Stetch Trio at Café Paradiso (September 16)
  • Roddy Ellias and Vic Juris at Café Paradiso (November 18)
  • Geggie Series with Susie Ibarra at the NAC 4th Stage (November 12)

If you are presenting a concert in 2012 that you feel we shouldn't miss, please be sure to contact us as far in advance if possible.

    – Alayne McGregor

All photos Copyright ©Brett Delmage, 2011