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Some praise, some sorrow at jazz festival programming

Jazz fans have decided what they liked most about jazz in Ottawa-Gatineau in 2013, in The OttawaJazzScene.ca Jazz Favourites Poll. These poll results are part of the complete report that OttawaJazzScene.ca is publishing this week.
Find out more about this poll and view all the results.

Favourite local jazz/improvised music festival: Ottawa Jazz Festival (June)

Runner-up: Merrickville's Jazzfest (October)

How the poll defined this category: “Nominees include festivals within 100 km of Parliament Hill, OttawaJazzScene.ca's listing area.”

The summer Ottawa Jazz Festival was the overwhelming favourite festival. It wasn't the leader without controversy, however.

Unlike any other favourite in this poll, there were a number of negative or more-in-sorrow-than-anger comments about the festival, and in particular its non-jazz programming.

No photo available. The Ottawa Jazz Festival did not permit OttawaJazzScene.ca's photojournalist to report their festivals from 2011-2014. So we can't bring you the full picture.

When it showcased jazz, respondents loved it. “Nothing beats the jazz festival! Low prices for students, incredible lineups year after year but this year was very special with Wayne Shorter, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Peter Bernstein, and a wealth of Canadian jazz artists."

“2013 marked somewhat of a refocus on jazz from the previous year. Thoroughly enjoyed the performances. Volunteers are terrific.”

“Biggest budget, so we hear lots of international jazz artists.”

“Jazzfest is spectacular. It's an extremely well-run festival with a diverse lineup. The shows I saw there last year were some of the best I have ever seen.”

“Great names. Brings a wider audience into the jazz world.”

“The lineup is amazing and the atmosphere is great for listening to music,” said one. Another praised the festival's “outdoors atmosphere”.

Since 2011, however, the headliners on the festival's outdoor main stage and related promotion of the festival have increasingly moved to non-jazz, with performers including Robert Plant, Elvis Costello, Steve Martin, Willie Nelson, Daryl Hall, David Byrne, and The Doobie Brothers. Similarly, the OLG late-night stage has featured an increased percentage of non-jazz artists, as have the free concerts by local musicians on prime weekends spots.

One listener was so annoyed that he/she couldn't even wait for the festivals question at the end of the poll, but included this comment under Concert Venues: “Confed Park is no longer hosting jazz. The 'jazz' festival is no longer. Mostly rock and forms of music not even remotely connected to jazz. Let's get back to basics. A Somalian folksinger or a famous comedian playing a banjo is not jazz. Back to basics, please.”

Other comments: “Still some 'true jazz' available but that seems to be declining with each passing year!” “Seems that a lot of Blues and Rock bands are infiltrating the Jazz Scene. What's happening here?”

In a back-handed compliment, one listener praised the Ottawa Jazz Festival's winter festival: it “actually had jazz artists.”

Another said: “This is clearly the main event of jazz in Ottawa. We can only hope that the festival will maintain its jazz focus in the years to come. In the last few years, it seems that the festival is adding more and more non-jazz performances. While it is important to remain open-minded about the range of performances that should be offered, we can only hope that the jazz festival will not become like the blues Festival, which is essentially a festival of music more than a festival of blues.”

One listener said he/she now referred to the Ottawa Jazz Festival as the World Music Festival “which also focuses on, um, nothing: pop, country, rock, R&B, nothing's beneath the OIJH.”

While one listener appreciated the 2013 Studio Series performers, he/she “got uninspired by the main stage.”

The indoor series at the National Arts Centre and at Dominion Chalmers United Church have concentrated more on jazz and improvised music – but those locations can't accommodate the thousands which can crowd into Confederation Park, and force listeners to line up to get into concerts. The NAC Fourth Stage only seats 160 listeners; the Studio about 400.

As one respondent pointed out, “some Jazz Festival tickets are oversubscribed, so you have no hope of getting in with only a Bronze pass and have to buy separate tickets. I probably won't buy a pass this year for that reason.”

On the other hand, another listener preferred indoor concerts: “working with Dominion Chalmers and NAC is much better for some musicians – some jazz just sounds better indoors than outdoors.”

Merrickville's Jazzfest: great selection of jazz

The runner-up favourite was Merrickville's Jazzfest, a community effort in a town 77 km south of Ottawa. The festival, which marked its third year in 2013, features primarily Ottawa-Gatineau performers (with a few Ontario/Quebec imports) in an extended weekend of music in October. The funds it raises go to support local community projects.

It's “a nice area that's outside of the city for people to hear great music,” said one listener. Another praised the “local artists at good venues.”

“I enjoyed their programming – great selection of jazz, more mainstream than the direction now taken by the [Ottawa Jazz Festival],” said another.

IMOOfest: world-class players

IMOOfest, the November festival of improvised music held this year at GigSpace, also had its outspoken fans: “A highly concentrated coming together of improvised musics (some non-idiomatic, some noise, some techno, some lowercase, some freejazz) all in the same night on the same stage!”

“I very much like that kind of music and we have in Ottawa some world-class players.” “Great venue and lineup. Appreciative audience.”

Chamberfest's Chamberfringe: unique performances in an intimate space

The Chamberfringe late-night concerts at the Ottawa ChamberFest featured an interesting selection of jazz and improvised music in 2013, ranging from mainstream to an improvised music installation at City Hall. One respondent singled out the duo of veteran Canadian performers Phil Dwyer and Don Thompson playing jazz standards: “one of the best shows.”

“Some unique performances in an intimate space,” said one comment. “It's always a big surprise. Who knew that "Chamberfest" could bring such high-quality artists that lean towards jazz? 'New Music' is VERY interesting,” said another. “In 2013 I was able to attend more Chamberfest concerts than Ottawa Jazz Festival. I like the scope of the Chamberfest including some non-classical ensembles,” said a third.

One listener noted that St. Brigid's, where most of the Chamberfringe concerts are held, has sound issues: “the reverb is pretty bad, in there, and the sound engineer has many challenges to deal with, but that's something I can live with when I see a show on a nice stage within the walls of the majestic Saint Brigid.”

And another compared it to the Jazz Festival.

“Isn't it funny how Chamberfringe seems to offer more and more jazz, year after year, while the Jazzfest seems to have shamelessly decided to woo what one would think are the combined audiences of the Bluesfest and the Folkfest?”

The Favourite local jazz/improvised music festival nominees

   – Alayne McGregor and Brett Delmage

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