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Roddy Ellias: a humble Jazz Hero

Tuesday, April 30, was International Jazz Day. As part of the celebrations for this day, Roddy Ellias was officially recognized as a Jazz Hero at a ceremony at Carleton University . You can also see videos of the international Jazz Day celebrations here

A quiet and unpretentious Ottawa guitarist, composer and educator who lets his compositions and performances speak loudest for him has been recognized as a Jazz Hero.

Roddy Ellias emphasizes a point at a Carleton University masterclass. He received a 2013 Jazz Hero Award for his many contributions to the Ottawa jazz scene, including teaching ©Brett Delmage, 2011Roddy Ellias was the only Canadian among the 25 recipients to receive the award from the Jazz Journalists Association on April 1. The award honours “activists, advocates, altruists, aiders and abettors of jazz who have had significant impact in their local communities.”

“I'm very happy to get the award and humbled, very humbled,” Ellias said. That's typical: his regular upcoming performance announcements are notably free of the “greatest” superlatives that burden others' announcements. Ellias often doesn't even mention himself, preferring to focus attention on the other musicians he will play with.

While OttawaJazzScene.ca now lists 1800 performances and events annually including Ellias', it wasn't always that way. Ellias was, by himself, a significant part of the scene in earlier years.

“Imagine Ottawa in the 70's... there wasn't a lot happening,” he said. But Ellias was there, one of the musicians bringing jazz to eager Ottawa listeners before there was a jazz scene on this side of the river. In the early years he entertained many listeners at the Chateau Laurier's Cock and Lion, and he was in demand at Wildflower Café six nights a week.

Most importantly, he's been a steady musical contributer to the Ottawa jazz scene since the 1970s. He hosted his popular “Roddy and Friends” series at the former Café Paradiso, playing with a wide range of musicians, including famed guitarists Vic Juris, Gene Bertoncinoi, Lorne Lofsky, and David Occhipinti, but also moving further afield with an organ quartet featuring saxophonist Kirk MacDonald. Since the fall, he's continued that invitational series at GigSpace.

Ellias has numerous other musical projects on the go right now, including a recording with pianist Marc Copland, Adrian Vedady, and John Fraboni (they played at the Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2012), a planned trio recording with Andrew Downing and Ottawa Jazz Festival Programming Director and multi-instrumentalist Petr Cancura this month, and an intriguing concert of improvisation planned for May, with two of Canada's most talented improvisers: Christine Duncan and Jesse Stewart.

The Ottawa Jazz Festival has also recognized Ellias' teaching skills – his list of students includes Steve Fisk, Justin Haynes, and Steve Raegele, and locals Lucas Haneman, Alex Moxon and James Dickens – by asking him to coordinate its new JazzEd Youth Band. The band consists of nine talented high school students who are rehearsing and learning weekly this spring, culminating with a performance at the festival.

Following that flurry, “I think it's going to be a quiet summer for me,” Ellias said. The summer might be more acoustically quiet, but that does not mean idle. He'll be working on two commissioned compositions: works for Germany’s Meininger Trio and Montreal’s Duo Beija-Flor. The demand for Ellias's musical voice reaches beyond Ottawa.

But before summer arrives, he's going to be very busy bringing the world to Ottawa. This is the first year for the “Guitar Now!” Festival, at Carleton University in early May. Ellias is a very enthusiastic part of the three-person organizing committee.

It's a testament to his performance, compositional and academic credits in the jazz and classical genres – he is a Professor Emeritus at Concordia University where he taught for almost 20 years, and is teaching Carleton University's first jazz improvisation course – that Ellias persuaded renowned guitarists and educators from around the world to participate. The list of guest faculty is long, and includes Ben Monder, Guilherme Vincens (Brazil), and Matt Warnock (UK).

Ellias hopes that the conference will help the local and nearby music scene. “I just think it's a good service for people here and for any guitarist in Montreal or Toronto who want to come here and check it out. A community-building thing and that's why I'm doing it.”

The Jazz Hero Award will be presented to Roddy Ellias at a ceremony at Carleton University on April 30. Watch OttawaJazzScene.ca for details.

     – Brett Delmage

Read the full Jazz Hero Award statement for Roddy Ellias

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