The sudden closure of Café Paradiso in July shocked Ottawa-Gatineau jazz listeners and musicians. It was the highest profile closure of a local live jazz performance venue in 2012. But it wasn't the only change of venue, as other locations closed and new live jazz stages opened throughout the year, changing the jazz listening landscape.
Café Paradiso had been in operation for 14 years – a long time in the restaurant business – and had presented jazz for at least three nights a week for the last decade. Many major international jazz musicians – including Sheila Jordan, Dave Liebman, Marc Copland, Steve Kuhn, Ben Monder and Theo Bleckmann – had played there, along with a good selection of locals and many touring Canadian and American musicians, some definitely on the cutting edge.
For several years, guitarist Roddy Ellias presented a series of duet concerts with other notable guitarists at Paradiso, including Vic Juris, Gene Bertoncini, and Lorne Lofsky – as well non-guitar collaborators like Kirk MacDonald. Tim Bedner ran his mentoring series for up-and-coming jazz musicians there on Mondays for two years, and the Ottawa New Music Creators had monthly evenings featuring innovative new music.
But while the music was consistently great at Café Paradiso, the noise from customers and servers, the interrupted sightlines of the stage, and the inconsistent service were not. We also heard from more than a few jazz fans that the high food prices discouraged them from going regularly. Owner Alex Demianenko often asked patrons to "keep the noise to a dull roar" and regrettably, they often complied.
We sometimes personally experienced noise levels so high that we couldn't hear a musician playing from 1 metre away, while spending $80 (without alcoholic drinks) for the evening.
The last jazz performance at Café Paradiso was Toronto pianist Fern Lindzon with bassist Joel Kerr on June 29; Demianenko officially announced the permanent closure on July 17. Financial difficulties were cited.
But that wasn't the only venue closure. Ristorante Molto, on Place du Portage in Vieux Hull, had been offering a selection of local jazz vocalists, usually twice a week, since 2009. It closed in April – at first for renovations and then for good.
Café Paradiso has been replaced by Vetta, an Italian osteria, and Molto by Brut Cantina Sociale, which (according to a recent restaurant review by Peter Hum) offers horse tartare, among other artisanal meat dishes. Neither offers jazz at this time.
There were two temporary closures. Café Nostalgica, owned by the Graduate Students' Association at the University of Ottawa, had run jazz nights every Wednesday for many years. For the past few years, a different local musician or group ran the music each month, and many local jazz musicians would sit in on the later sets. The informal vibe and the music were great and the prices reasonable.
The café closed in the third week of March for not just renovations, but a complete rebuild. The old red-brick house was rubbled, and a completely new and larger Grad House is slowly appearing. It's supposed to reopen in March, with improved acoustics and more room to enjoy shows. The association has said the jazz nights will continue.
The Elmdale House Tavern, which had been offering a wide selection of music (and comedy/improv) seven nights a week for the last few years, was sold to another local restaurant owner effective the end of 2012. The Elmdale only offered occasional jazz shows, but it was an unpretentious, inexpensive venue where a local or touring band could get people dancing. It was one of the few places big enough in Ottawa/Gatineau for the Mash Potato Mashers to parade around in, and it did feature some higher-profile touring artists like Charlie Hunter and Marco Benevuto. The acoustics were good, and we enjoyed listening to musicians like Montreal pianist Adam Daudrich there.
The new owners will renovate the Elmdale over the next few months and then reopen it as a restaurant, with live music still offered but probably only three nights a week. As one of our readers pointed out, this might even be good for jazz, at least some kinds of jazz, if the owners decide to go for a higher-toned dining experience where jazz might be more suitable. We'll know in spring.
The "Edge City" effect
One noticeable trend in OttawaJazzScene.ca jazz listings over the last few years, and accelerating in the last year, is the “Edge City” effect. More listings are from venues well outside central Ottawa or Gatineau: Brookstreet's Options Jazz Lounge in the Kanata North Business Park, La Grange de la Gatineau in rural Quebec, many locations in Aylmer and Chelsea and Buckingham, and events as far away as Merrickville and Kemptville. (We have a policy of not listing events more than an hour's drive away from Ottawa, or there probably would be more yet.) For example, on Saturday, January 12, two of the six events listed are in Ottawa's far western suburbs and the remainder are completely outside Ottawa.
The new venues create more opportunities for musicians to perform and make it easier for residents across the growing city to hear live jazz without travelling downtown. But they may also make it more difficult or impossible for students and residents without cars – or tourists – to hear this music.
And more jazz
On a brighter note, a number of venues have expanded their jazz offerings. In particular, GigSpace, which celebrated its first anniversary in September, has grown to present many events in a listener-friendly environment that might have run at Café Paradiso, including Roddy Ellias' invitational series. Its concert calendar is growing steadily fuller each month. In January, Tim Bedner started what has turned out to be a quite successful monthly blues and jazz jam at GigSpace (listeners are welcome), and the venue has also continued to offer workshops and masterclasses with visiting musicians.
Les Brasseurs du Temps (BDT), in downtown Gatineau, offered an increased number and range of fine jazz shows this year, from Juno winners to local musicians, in its two performance/dining spaces. But it still struggled to fight the mental barrier of the Ottawa River for many listeners. The jazz has been programmed by Jean Pierre Moisan, an enthusiastic jazz fan who is known to many listeners and swing dancers as the leader of the former Big Band Caravane and Soulgrüv.
In our experience, BDT has had a better listening environment than Café Paradiso often did. Meal reservations must be made for one hour before a concert commences, largely eliminating the disruption and noise to music from food service. BDT has also gone to deliberate and clever efforts to acoustically treat and quieten the building. Of course, it doesn't hurt that they are a micro brewery with twelve beers available at any time, and their food is tasty and reasonably priced.
Pressed on Gladstone Avenue near Bronson started offering experimental music coordinated by Adam Saikaley in April. Then Renée Yoxon and Craig Pedersen started their biweekly Saturday afternoon jazz jams at the beginning of May (which attracted a steadily increasing crowd). Over the summer and into the fall, a number of other jazz acts were booked there too.
There was jazz from A to Z
The AlphaSoul Cafe in Hintonburg, which had started Friday jazz nights organized by Adrian Matte in the summer of 2011, expanded to the occasional Saturday night as well, including a successful coordination with Nuit Blanche in September. And vegan restaurant ZenKitchen started offering Sunday jazz brunches in summer, ending the year with a capacity crowd.
Not to be overlooked, many other Ottawa/Gatineau restaurants, cafes, taverns and pubs offered live jazz from a weekly to month basis. Check out our Ottawa Jazz Clubs and Venues page and listings for details of these extensive opportunities to enjoy a variety of more live music in 2013.
– Alayne McGregor
While much entertaining music was heard at restaurants and bars, festivals were also an important and interesting part of the listening experience. Read about OttawaJazzScene.ca's extensive festival coverage in 2012.
Read more about how the Ottawa-Gatineau jazz scene shaped up in 2012: