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ZenKitchen to offer jazz every second Sunday

A record crowd came out to hear Tim Bedner play with Bill Coon at ZenKitchen's jazz brunch on December 30  ©Brett Delmage, 2012

ZenKitchen will showcase jazz every second Sunday evening starting March 17.

Jazz duos will play at the vegetarian restaurant from 6 to 9 p.m. The series will be curated by local guitarist Tim Bedner, who will be one-half of each duo initially, although he said he plans to open up the series later to other pairs of musicians.

The shows will feature well-known Ottawa jazz musicians. “We're hoping to have a pretty good variety,” says ZenKitchen co-owner Dave Loan. Bedner expects to stretch his horizons: “There's a lot of great talent here in Ottawa, and I haven't had the chance to play with a lot of them.”

The series will open with Mark Ferguson on trombone playing with Bedner on seven-string guitar. Bedner said he'd played with Ferguson many times before, but really got inspired to try a guitar-trombone duo from their playing together in the Trombone Summit concerts. “I really love the challenge of playing like a piano player, trying to cover all the bases and make it groove and be musical.”

Subsequent shows will include saxophonist Mike Tremblay on March 31, double bassist John Geggie on April 14, and pianist Peter Hum on April 28. For later shows, Bedner hopes to pair other musicians who might not regularly play together, using the ability he's honed at jams and mentoring nights to pick players who might sound well together.

He said the repertoire will include favourite tunes and originals, with the choice depending on what the musicians wanted to explore. Beyond that, jazz is “a large umbrella: I don't want to box myself in.”

If the series is successful, Loan said that ZenKitchen would be happy to expand it to every week.

He said the evening shows will replace the restaurant's monthly jazz brunches, which started last July. The brunches had been “moderately successful, but to be honest, Sunday brunch has always been busy anyway. Why not try it at a time that isn't always as busy?”

The response to the jazz brunches had been growing, with regular attendees, and “I'm hoping that these regulars will now easily shift into a dinner format rather than sticking to daytime. The audience is certainly there, and it's just a matter of finding the right time and the opportunities for them and the right variety of music.”

A less busy, noisy time will also allow listeners to pay more attention to the music, Bedner said.

Bedner had played at two jazz brunches, and said the restaurant's dining room sounds good and works well for listening to music. “When I played the duet with Bill Coon, I thought it was great. Both of our amps were sitting on this wood floor so there was something about the sound of the floor helping project, resonate, and surround us. Elise [Letourneau] and I had done a Sunday brunch there, too, and the amplifier that I have really works well in that room because it has a down-firing woofer in addition to front projection so my amp really sounds good on a hardwood floor.”

Loan said that having Bedner curate the series allowed the restaurant to showcase more music, and takes advantage of his connections within the local jazz scene. “We've always wanted to carry more live music at ZenKitchen, but I found that doing the programming and promotions on top of all of the other tasks in running a restaurant just too much. And talking to Tim Bedner when he did a show at Christmas, he offered to undertake the programming regularly for us. That works out really, really well: he's a fantastic guitarist and he's also really knowledgeable about the scene here in Ottawa.”

Letourneau and Bedner had assisted Café Paradiso owner Alex Demianenko with jazz bookings at that restaurant, and Bedner said that helped them gain a lot of experience in the Canadian and Ottawa scenes. They also played as the house band every Thursday night at Café Paradiso for almost five years.  Bedner also teaches (privately and at Carleton University), is assistant director of GigSpace and runs a monthly jazz and blues jam there, has run many masterclasses and mentoring sessions, and has worked as a musician (in Boston, Pittsburgh, and Ottawa) for more than 30 years.

    – Alayne McGregor

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