Tuesday, March 28, 2017
   
Text Size

Almonte's JazzN announces new house concerts, reflects on successful first year

On June 22, the JazzNhouse series held its last concert of the year in Almonte, and announced its 2013-14 lineup.

The series brings jazz, generally musicians from the Ottawa-Gatineau scene, to listeners in the west end of Ottawa. The concerts are held in private homes in the Almonte/Carleton Place area. 

The 2013-14 series is:

  • September 21, 2013: Zakari Frantz Trio
  • October 26, 2013: Adrian Cho and Diane Nalini
  • November 30, 2013: Rimbombante
  • January 11, 2014: Peter Liu Trio
  • February 22, 2014: Craig Pedersen Quartet
  • April 5, 2014: Christine Fagan Trio
  • May 17, 2014: Patrick Smith Trio
  • June 28, 2014: Peter Woods and Brian Browne

A few days before the announcement, OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor talked to JazzNhouse organizer Arnie Francis about why he started the series and where it's going.The following is an edited version of our conversation.

It all started in July, 2012, when Francis organized a jazz concert in his own house in his hometown of Almonte, about 40 minutes from downtown Ottawa. It was so successful that he and his fiancée, Ingrid, decided to create a series, inviting in local jazz groups to play.

Almonte is a musical town, but jazz wasn't heard there regularly, so Francis wanted to give a chance for local listeners to hear that music without going all the way into Ottawa. Using his own home (with piano), and local resources – they borrow extra chairs from the local funeral home – he created a space for jazz.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: What's your day gig? What do you actually do when you're not doing jazz?

Francis: Well, I'm a consultant and as you see I wear a suit and tie. I work mostly with the federal government doing management consulting work. Kind of boring but, you know, pays the bills. [laughs]

OttawaJazzScene.ca: How long have you been a jazz fan?

Francis: Well, I've been a jazz fan for a long, long time, but really I've only started to explore that in the last five years or so because I just enjoy listening to jazz. I'm not a player. I'm not an aficionado of jazz. I just love listening to the music.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: How did the JazzNHouse series get started?

Francis: Well, that's kind of an interesting little story. Almonte's a small, rural community just west of Ottawa. We have lots of live music in Almonte, but no jazz. I was bemoaning that concept about a year and a half ago. My significant other, Ingrid, says to me, 'Why don't we host a house concert? It would be something we could do.' That's really how it came to be. We just said, 'There's room for more live music in this town and we'd love to host jazz'. That's what started it off.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: What happened when you hosted your first jazz concert? What was it like? What was the response?

Francis: The response was fabulous, of course. But really, it took some work to get the first house concert going because we had no experience. I still have no experience in the business as such as anybody who books artists.

Jazz people are so great. They refer you to their networks. They're very generous with their resources.

The first concert we had in July last year was with Renée Yoxon, Mark Ferguson, and Joel Kerr. It was just a fabulous concert. It was exactly what we were looking for to get the series kicked off because it was warm, it was intimate. Renée brought people in, just engaged them. We just love the back-and-forth that there was among the artists and between the artists and the people who were attending. That was the kickoff really.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: That encouraged you then to book some more over the winter and spring?

Francis: Exactly. We weren't really that knowledgeable about how to do that. Renée of course gave us her contacts and we were calling around and phoning people. We were doing this kind of on a bit of a wing and a prayer. We really did not have a plan. We were booking dates and we were putting artists saying, 'Well, can you play on this date?'

It was initially a seven-concert series. It became an eight-concert series. Basically, we just phoned people up, asked them if they could come. They said 'Yes' and that's how the initial year panned out essentially.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: Where does your audience come from? Do you ask them? Do you know where they come from?

Francis: We're trying to get better at that right now. I have to say that most of the audience in the beginning was coming from the Almonte, Mississippi Mills area. That is primarily where they're from. Today I would have to say that probably 50% to 60% percent of the people that we're getting right now are travelling in. They're coming in from Kanata; we've had people come in from all parts of Ottawa. We're getting people from Perth, Smiths Falls, Renfrew. So it's a wider catchment area now than it was when we first started, for sure.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: Do you think these are people that might not want to go downtown? Is there something that's attracting them, rather than going to a jazz club in central Ottawa?

Francis: That sure is the reason. The thing about a house concert is that it's a very intimate environment. You're invited, you come into somebody's home, you put your bottle of wine on the counter. There's snacks. You get to meet the artists. You're up close and personal with the artists. There's not a lot of room so when we set up chairs we're real close to the artist. You get to see them and talk about the songs they're going to play, start the count. The audiences love that. There's this rapport that happens almost instantly in a house concert. It's a very warm and welcoming environment, both for the artists and also for the guests.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: Are all the concerts at your own house and is that the way they're going to be staying?

Francis: Well, yes. it has been that way. That's a great question because my house just happened to be available last year. It was a great location. It's right in Almonte. We weren't using it for very much, so it was a natural place to have house concerts. We had a great-sounding upright piano.

Next year things will change a little bit. We've decided to take this on the road. I guess because house concerts have become such a thing. At least jazz house concerts in Almonte, have become a huge draw now. We have been invited to take these concerts to homes all along in the Mississippi River area. We're going to have a couple of concerts in the beautiful little village of Appleton [near Carleton Place] next year, beautiful homes by the river. We have other lovely homes lined up to host the concerts. It says something that people want to open up their homes and they want to have the concert in their homes. So I'm very happy about that. I can say that.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: How many are still going to be at your house?

Francis: None. Basically, my situation is changing. The house is getting probably sold or it's not going to be available. That's part of the reason why we've had to do this. We've got great locations right next door to me and right across the street from me. There are people who want to host this so we won't be going far.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: How many people do you generally get to your house concerts?

Francis: It varies, but we've been averaging about 30 to date on house concerts. We're hoping to boost that up to about 40. Of course houses have natural capacity limits. We have had 50 people for the Miguel de Armas concert, which was just a sellout. We had to say, 'No more, no more. Sorry.' It was a fabulous concert.

We're hoping that more and more artists will come out and we'll get that enthusiasm that it takes to bring people out and sustain that audience. Because, I think that's what they're looking for, interesting music, diverse music, about musicians who can tell a story.

Next year we've got musicians coming in from our local community, but musicians with a background. Not that Ottawa is too bad a place, but they come from a lot of different and interesting communities all over the world. They happen to be in Ottawa but they bring their world influences. I think that's what we're going to see in the 2013-14 JazzNHouse series.

I'm not a player. I'm not an aficionado of jazz. I just love listening to the music. – Arnie Francis

OttawaJazzScene.ca: How do people generally hear about the series?

Francis: Well, it's pretty much been through word of mouth. We do have a very active website. We use the website, JazzN.ca, for people to contact us to ask for invitations. Since these are held in private homes, we use the website to get people to contact us. We also have a Twitter account, @JazzNInfo. We do a lot of emailing to people who get themselves on our list. They want to be on the list, we let them know ahead of time what the concert is, where it's going to be, all the details they need. We also just advertise. OttawaJazzScene.ca has been great for us. We have had a lot of feedback from who are listening to, or who get the newsletters. It's basically, I would have to say, word of mouth and electronic means.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: Do you get a lot of repeats? Do you get people who come to one concert, then come back and come back?

Francis: We have a super core of really dedicated people who come out and come out. If they can't come out because they have a conflict, they call other people and they tell other people about it. They encourage other people to come out. That's the thing, the type of thing that we're trying to do in terms of building a community of listeners. People who really want to experience the intimacy, the warmth, the closeness of a house concert as opposed to . . .

It's great to go to festivals and many, many other things. What happens is you sometimes get distracted from the music. There's so many other interesting things going on. It's great. I love going to festivals, too, but the house concert is a different type of venue. It's very intimate. People get to talk to the artist. They get to see them play. They get to hear them play. They get to hear them talk. They talk about their instruments. They talk about their songs, how they generate the lyrics and the music. It's a very, very intimate thing so word of mouth is huge.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: Have those people gone on, have you heard from them that they've gone on to hear other jazz events, say at Brookstreet?

Francis: We have a wide cross-section of people. We have a lot of people who just simply like live music and this is a big appeal. Almonte has lots of live music. We have Folkus concerts. We have the Almonte in Concert classical series. Mississippi Blues Society up in Carleton Place has music. We have lots of live music, but jazz is kind of unique.

People often come to jazz concerts, they're brought along and they're not sure that they want to be there. They're not convinced that jazz is their type of music. After they sit through a concert, they're just absolutely blown away by the sound and the engagement that they feel as part of the concert, not just as an audience. Definitely there's a lot of people coming back, there's a lot of people spreading the word.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: In the last year, year and half, what's been your favorite concert?

Francis: That's a loaded question. Favorite concert? You know, there have been many. But I have to say that the concert that really engaged people, brought people in was Miguel de Armas. I think he brought so much energy and so much music, so much rhythm to the music, it just blew people away. It had to be the most well-received concert. I certainly enjoyed it.

For me, which was the best concert is a bit of a toss-up. I have to be politically correct here. I'm just looking forward to our next series.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: Which is what I wanted to get into. Tell me about what's coming up for next year?

Francis: It's an eight concert series. Now, not many people do eight concert series in small rural communities, at least. We think we're having a bit of a success in that regard. We're going from September 21st to June 28th 2014.

We're going to start off with Zakari Frantz Trio. Zak, as a lot of people know, is a member of Souljazz Orchestra. We're very excited about his concert kicking off the series. It will be held in a beautiful home down the river. It's going to just be a wonderful venue.

After that, we have Adrian Cho and Diane Nalini coming along. This is also going to be a wonderful duo, Adrian on bass and Diane is such a wonderful vocalist. It's going to be a very, very special concert.

November 30th, Rimbombante. So, Dean Pallen is bringing along his pals for a quartet. I think that is going to just shake people up with the sounds, the Latin sounds, and ballads. I think it's going to be wonderful.

In the new year, Peter Liu Trio. We wanted to start the new year off with kind of a little vocal trio. I think that Peter is going to be a wonderful voice to start off 2014 with.

Then, I guess we shake things up in February with Craig Pedersen. He's bringing the quartet out. Craig is an inventive, adventurous trumpet player. I know that he just engages, gets people really excited. I'm very happy that Craig is coming out.

On April the 5th, we have Christine Fagan coming out. She's going to put together a trio. We know that John Geggie is coming to back her up. Can't say for sure who is going to be the third person. I'm very excited about having Christine and certainly John Geggie. That is just a super, super combo.

Now, we have a great commitment to supporting emerging talent, emerging artists. May the 17th, we've asked Patrick Smith, who's a young lad. He's going to be [finishing] first year university. He plays in a trio of young lads. We are very excited to hear [them] and to give them a bit of a spotlight because really, you know, jazz is not about the past. We've had some great masters in the past, but it is about the people coming up in the future. We want to try whenever possible to highlight emerging talent. We're looking forward to Patrick Smith and his trio coming out.

We're going to close the year in our own small rendition of Jazz Fest with Peter Woods and Brian Browne. These are two wonderful people. Peter is a saxophone player and Brian, well, he's well known is this area as a leading jazz pianist. I can't think of a better duo to close out the 2013-2014 JazzNHouse series with. So there you have it. [laughs]

Part of jazz is improvisation. Part of jazz is taking risk. I think that's what we need to do more so. – Arnie Francis

OttawaJazzScene.ca: That's pretty impressive. Have you actually heard all these people live yourself?

Francis: I haven't heard all of them live. I've heard some of them live. I can't possibly get out to all the concerts. But I do listen. I do try to do as much research as I can beforehand.

Sometimes I think part of jazz is improvisation. Part of jazz is taking risk. I think that's what we need to do more so. There are the great masters that will always be great masters. I think we have to sponsor and we have to give audiences an option, give them more different types of jazz, people who have stories to tell. Even if they're young, they still have stories to tell. I think that's what this series wants to try to do, wants to carve a little niche in that regard for it.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: How has this series built on what happened in your series last year?

Francis: I can't say it's built a lot other than the fact that artists have been calling us and asking for a date in the calendar. Unfortunately, we've just not been able to do that.

What I have tried to do this year is build a bit more variety in terms of the instrumental, the vocalists, the type of jazz, the world jazz, Latin jazz, duos, quartets. We didn't have any quartets last year so we have two this year and very excited about that. Duos, we have two of them this year, too. That's also very exciting. So, I think it's a good mix.

We're going to see as the year progresses. Of course there can be changes. We're not saying there won't be changes. Artists sometimes have better offers. But, we're open to this. I think it's going to be a fabulous, fabulous series.

The series is really about bringing audiences together so I guess I have a little concept in my mind about how JazzNHouse features, how it stimulates an interest in jazz. I probably have to draw it for you, but anyway, I was thinking about this beforehand. I'll give this to you anyway.

For me, JazzNHouse is kind of in the middle of the circle. What we're trying to do is we're trying to build audiences that are appreciative, that are willing to listen, that want to encourage artists. On the other side we have artists that we want to indulge. We want them to come and enjoy what they do. In the middle of that, they create a learning and a teaching about jazz, an interest about jazz. Not from an academic sense, but from a hearing, listening, enjoyment sense. That, in turn, builds the audience. When you build the audience, you build the venues. We're hoping that what we will have is more and better venues for jazz artists to play at. When you build a better venue, you go back to the start of the circle again and you have impassioned artists who want to play.

One of the things we're very much hoping for this coming year is, in addition to the house concerts, is actually to have a, I guess, a more formal venue at the Almonte Old Town Hall. We're hoping to have one of the great artists of Ottawa perform. We're not going to announce that quite yet because we're not ready. We're still in the planning [stage]. It will probably be in the February, 2014 period of time.

We're hoping to engage the community, get some youth artists coming out, too, from a local high school. That looks like it could be a very, very important step in hosting jazz in a wonderful, rural community like Almonte where artists want to be. They want to come out there. They want to be indulged. They want to be loved and listened to, and appreciated and the audiences really enjoy doing that too. So, looking forward to that.