John Geggie's Invitational concert on May 25 may be the last in that series at the National Arts Centre.
Simone Deneau, the NAC's producer of Variety and Community Programming, told OttawaJazzScene.ca that, although the NAC has not yet made any final decisions, the Geggie series would not likely return as a formal series in 2013-14.
“I think it's going to be the end of the series as a series of community programming performances, so the one coming up in May is probably the last of the Geggie shows as a series.”
There will not be a subscription series of Geggie under Community Programming at the NAC, she said. “It might come back in another persona.”
When contacted by OttawaJazzScene.ca, Geggie said he thought the decision was “unfortunate”.
The series, now in its twelfth year, brought in a wide range of musicians from Canada, the U.S., and overseas, in innovative combinations which allowed musicians who had never before played together to perform each others' compositions, as well as jazz standards and some free improv. The concerts ranged substantially in style from mainstream to avant-garde to even some vocal jazz, but always involved combining musicians in new ways rather than showcasing established groups.
This season, the series was cut back to only half the number of concerts from the previous year, and featured only Canadians rather than a mixture of Canadian and international musicians.
Ottawa jazz fans who attended the concerts were exposed to a great number of different musicians – some legendary, some very well-established, and some musicians they might never have otherwise heard, Geggie said, including “an astonishing number” of Canadian jazz artists from across the country. Some musicians from outside Canada were sponsored by local embassies: for example, renowned drummer Jon Christensen's appearance in 2007 was supported by the Royal Embassy of Norway.
Each concert was different, with a certain amount of risk involved. As Geggie emphasized, the musicians “weren't just coming in doing their shtick. They were taking part in something bigger that that, which I feel is a much more interesting concept to shoot with.”
And he said he appreciated how Ottawa jazz fans came out to support the series, “that they actually really liked it and respected that concept and went for that.”
“To my mind, that was a successful thing. People were experiencing music on a different level. They were experiencing musicians they'd never seen or heard before. So in terms of value that way, it was great. For me, it was a great experience and it will be a great experience on the 25th just because there's great musicians and as always we come together to make music.”
The National Arts Centre's annual reports from 2001/2 to 2010/11 all mentioned the Geggie series favourably. The 2006/7 report mentioned the “outstanding musical collaboration” between Geggie, Montreal saxophonist Christine Jensen, and NYC pianist Gary Versace. The 2007/8 report noted that he played to sold-out audiences throughout the season. The 2008/9 report said that Geggie season was “particularly successful”, with every one of his concerts playing to full houses and critics increasingly enthusiastic about his music.
Prominent international jazz musicians who played in the series included Jean-Marc Padovani and Jérome Sabbagh from France, and Sigurður Flosason and Sunna Gunnlaugs from Iceland, as well as Americans Marc Copland, Matt Wilson, Ted Nash, Marilyn Crispell, Donny McCaslin, Frank Kimbrough, Susie Ibarra, Vic Juris, Cuong Vu, Joel Frahm, Myra Melford, Mark Dresser, Craig Taborn, Gary Versace, Billy Hart, Ben Mondor, Edward Simon, and Ron Miles. Canadians included Seamus Blake, Phil Dwyer, Christine Jensen, Chet and Jim Doxas, David Braid, Pat LaBarbera, Jean-Nicolas Trottier, Frank Lozano, Joe Sullivan, Lorne Lofsky, Nick Fraser, Min and Josh Rager, David Occhipinti, Kelly Jefferson, Archie Alleyne, Brian Browne, Mike Rud, Nancy Walker, Kevin Breit, Dylan van der Schyff, Kevin Turcotte, Ted Quinlan, Christine Duncan, Jean Martin, and many more.
Geggie said he was told there was a change in programming direction at the NAC, which included a greater focus on singer-songwriters in the NAC Presents series. “Perhaps they're dealing with budget issues. I don't know. It's just that they've decided to go in a different direction.”
The National Arts Centre's federal funding was cut by $1.9 million in 2011-12 and by $1.8 million in 2013-14. According to Treasury Board documents, this is “due to savings identified as part of the Budget 2012 Spending Review”.
Following the launch of the 2012-13 NAC Presents season, OttawaJazzScene.ca analysed the potential revenue from different concerts, including the more instrumental Geggie Series, and singer-songwriters. We concluded that large, popular singer-songwriter concerts could potentially generate far more revenue than the Geggie Series for the NAC with its shrinking government funding.
The NAC was happy with the turnout for the concerts, Geggie said. “They've been well-sold, so that doesn't seem to be an issue.”
OttawaJazzScene.ca reviewed concerts in 2013 and 2012 and while it appeared that the shows were well-attended, not all were sold out.
Deneau said there would likely still be some programming at the NAC featuring Geggie: “For sure, there will be something. It's just that we're not sure how it's going to manifest itself. It's been happening for a long time, and so John and I are in conversations right now about what we might do differently.”
Geggie said it was too early to say what he might do “at the NAC again in some fashion at the Fourth Stage or at the Studio. I'm presently discussing some things with Simone Deneau but we're still sorting out some logistics. So I'm not in a position to say whether I'm going to be playing there next year.”
“I'll be certainly playing in various places in Ottawa as much as I can, but I don't quite know whether I'll be playing at the NAC. We'll have to see what happens. But my main focus right now is simply to prepare for the next concert in a few weeks' time.”
When asked to name some of his favourite concerts in the series over the years, Geggie was initially nonplussed: “It's hard to really figure out which ones are the best ones.” But he then mentioned the most recent concert, in March.
“Curiously enough, the last concert I did with Roddy [Ellias] and David Braid and Pierre Tanguay was one of the highlights of the entire run, because they were all fabulous musicians in their own right and the band cohesion and sound and conception was really, really special for me.”
Ellias told OttawaJazzScene.ca recently that the musicians at that concert hoped to keep playing together in a more formal group.
Geggie agreed: “I'm definitely hoping that that's going to happen. Afterwards we all said, 'OK, let's make sure we do something. Let's just jump on this.' So I think we would like to do something more. It will definitely be a question of just finding the right combination of things to make stuff work and try to find the right places to play.”
Other highlights in the series included concerts with NYC guitarist Vic Juris and with NYC pianist Marc Copland, he said. “I did a trio one years ago with [NYC saxophonist] Donny McCaslin and [Montreal drummer] Jim Doxas that was great.”
One memorable evening was the 2010 release concert for the Geggie Trio CD, Across the Sky, featuring pianist Nancy Walker and drummer Nick Fraser from Toronto, as well as McCaslin, which was “really, really great.”
“I really enjoyed that just because there was a sense of friendship and trust and respect going on. It was just a very open giving kind of approach which I really appreciated.”
– Alayne McGregor
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