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GigSpace Jazz MicroFest puts the local into International Jazz Day

Updated March 5, 2017
GigSpace will celebrate International Jazz Day in April with a new three-day festival promoting Ottawa's jazz musicians.

GigSpace 2017 MicrFest logoThe GigSpace Jazz MicroFest will debut on April 28 to 30, with performances by 38 local musicians in 15 shows. The music will range from well-known and not-so-standard jazz standards, to groove based compositions, to folk and roots-inspired cabaret music, to lyrical modern jazz originals. The musicians will be familiar to readers of OttawaJazzScene.ca: many are popular names with long jazz careers here.

“It's a community-building effort,” said Marilee Townsend-Alcorn, the artistic director of the 45-seat concert venue. “It's raising the profile of the musicians in Ottawa. It's showing that we do have stellar musicians in our midst, playing at a very high level.”

The festival is a project that the GigSpace organizers have been wanting to undertake ever since they opened. “Probably every time there's a jazz festival, someone says, 'Wouldn't it be nice to just have Ottawa-only musicians? A festival for just the Ottawa people.' And we've all said that for five years,” she said.

GigSpace director and guitarist Tim Bedner in particular has been driving the project. With Canada's 150th birthday this year, “He really put the push on. 'Let's make it happen!'”

Read more: GigSpace Jazz MicroFest puts the local into International Jazz Day

 

The Stretch Orchestra (video)

©2016 Brett DelmageThe Stretch Orchestra is back in Ottawa on Friday, for two shows at GigSpace Performance Studio that may end up as a live recording.

The group, with Kevin Breit on guitars and mandolin, Jesse Stewart on percussion, and Matt Brubeck on cello, creates music that is energetic, complex, and fun, coming out of their joint background as jazz improvisers but drawing from almost every genre imaginable to create their very individual sound.

OttawaJazzScene.ca's Inside the Scene interviewed all three at their last show in Ottawa at Ontario Scene in 2015. It was very difficult to keep a straight face. And you can see what makes their music uniquely theirs in excerpts from their NAC Fourth Stage performance.

– Brett Delmage

Related: The Stretch Orchestra makes jazz bend [interview with Matt Brubeck]

Watch the Inside the Scene video story

 

Jazz tuba advocate Keith Hartshorn-Walton blows his own horn

Keith Hartshorn-Walton is behind the tuba and he'll be out front at his concert on Friday ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Keith Hartshorn-Walton is an advocate for the jazz tuba, but he’ll blow his own horn when he leads a group for the first time in Ottawa this Friday. His unusual quartet will also feature John Geggie on double bass, Michel Delage on drums, and Peter Hum on keyboard.

Ottawa listeners have heard Hartshorn-Walton play front-line tuba in a variety of groups in the past year: in Safe Low Limit, with his wife and vocalist Mélanie Hartshorn-Walton, and in various jams. Some might be surprised that he is a multi-instrumentalist.

“Since moving to Ottawa, it's been my pleasure to just really focus on the tuba,” Hartshorn-Walton said. “But when I was living near Toronto I was playing a piano, tuba, bass, bass trombone, and organ in churches. So that's a lot of different instruments.”

Not to mention the tuba’s cousin, the sousaphone, which he plays in Mike Essoudry's Bank Street Bonbons.

Hartshorn-Walton says he’s always aspired to play the tuba as a front-line instrument.

“It's something I always wanted to do, from the very beginning almost, and having more and more chances to do it. But you have to make those chances happen – you can't wait around. No one's going to call you. You show them it's possible, and then they're interested.”

“That's what I did here. I started going to the jam sessions and playing a bit – and more projects started happening. But you always have to be a bit of an advocate for it. Any other tuba player has done that. They tend to be evangelizing about the tuba all the time,” he said, laughing.

As other musicians have been, he was introduced to his uncommon instrument of choice by an early school experience.

“I started piano at age 6. Then when it came time to start band, they wanted to put me originally on electric bass and drums but I wanted to take an instrument home like everybody else, so I took a tuba home. And I surprised my parents with it one day. That was in Grade 7. And I've never stopped.”

Read more: Jazz tuba advocate Keith Hartshorn-Walton blows his own horn

 

One-third of 2017 Juno jazz nominees don't live in Canada

In a year of national celebrations showing Canadians' pride in and attachment to their country, the national music awards have nominated a surprising number of jazz ex-pats living in the United States.

See the list of 2017 Juno Award nominees in the jazz and related categories

Saxophonist Mike Murley is nominated in the 2017 Juno Awards for Mealwood's long-anticipated album, Twenty, while pianist David Braid is nominated for his chamber jazz album, Flow. Both are Canadian residents, living in Toronto. ©Brett Delmage, 2015The 2017 Juno Award nominations were released this morning. Among those selected in the three Juno jazz categories were NYC residents Darcy James Argue, Bria Skonberg, Brandi Disterheft, Renee Rosnes, and Seamus Blake – as well as Quinsin Nachoff, who divides his time between Toronto and NYC. That's more than one-third of the 15 nominees in the jazz categories.

In 2016, only one of 15 musicians or groups nominated in the jazz categories was based in the U.S. In 2015, two of 15 were American-based.

Most of the remaining 2017 nominated jazz artists are from the greater Toronto area.

To be eligible for a Juno award, musicians must directly submit their albums for judging. For each category, the Junos establishes a 10-person expert judging panel, whose first task is to make a first selection from all the submitted albums (which could be as many as 40 or 50) to five nominees. Each panel member then ranks the nominated albums in a second round of voting, and the album with the most votes wins.

As usual, the jazz categories cover a wide range of styles, from Argue's large-scale orchestrations to samba-flavoured vocal duets to jazz fusion. Notable are Metalwood's reunion twenty years after their Juno award-winning debut and fourteen years since their last release, and the Order of Canada Band, composed of renowned jazz musicians who have been awarded that national honour, paying tribute to Oscar Peterson's compositions.

Almost all the nominees are different from those nominated in 2015 or in 2016.

See the full list of jazz award nominees

 

Beeched Wailers attract keen listeners and players for 1st jam night at Bar Robo

Beeched Wailers' Tuesday Jazz Jam
Bar Robo
Tuesday, January 24, 2017 – 8:30 to 11 p.m.

View photos of the Beeched Wailers' jam on January 24, 2017 by Brett Delmage

Bar Robo was filled with jammers on the stage and waiting to play on the first Tuesday of the bi-weekly Beeched Wailers jam ©2017 Brett DelmageThe Beeched Wailers drew a full and enthusiastic crowd of players and listeners to the first night of their new jazz jam location on January 24. They'll be back for a second night tonight (February 7).

The jam has moved to what Wailers' trumpeter Nick Dyson described as “more comfortable surroundings”: Bar Robo in Chinatown, which is in the same location as the former Raw Sugar Café. It has a sleek vibe and good sight lines, as well as a proper stage and decent acoustics. The beer, coffee, and soft drink prices are reasonable, and the bar also offers an interesting line in exotic meat and veggie hot dogs.

While the jam remains on Tuesday evenings, it will now run every second week rather than weekly.

On the first night, jammers – including high school and university students – were already lining up to play at 8 p.m. The Wailers played one song and then relinquished the stage until 10:15 p.m., when they performed their traditional closing set.

Read more: Beeched Wailers attract keen listeners and players for 1st jam night at Bar Robo

 

"Let's play!" Jane Bunnett and Miguel de Armas combine their jazz and Afro-Cuban energy

When Ottawa pianist Miguel de Armas and Toronto saxophonist Jane Bunnett got together to play for the first time a few years ago, they didn't want to stop.

Miguel de Armas is celebrating 5 years of composing and performing in Canada with this show  ©Brett Delmage, 2015Bunnett still remembers their after-dinner jam at her house in Toronto. “We just kept doing tune and tune after tune. It was like, Omigod, as I was winding down, Miguel was winding up! He was this incredible atomic energy. It's why we love Cubans. This is why they're just amazing. They're so full of energy and creative spirit and collaboration, and let's go for it. We played and played, probably for a couple of hours, to my neighbours' chagrin, and definitely after midnight.”

At their Ottawa concert this Saturday, the music will be limited to 75 minutes, but the zest for playing will be there as much as ever.

Bunnett is one of the best-known proponents of Afro-Cuban jazz in North America; her ground-breaking and award-winning recording, Spirits of Havana, released in 1991, was the first major collaboration of North American and Cuban musicians. De Armas had an extensive professional jazz career in Cuba before coming to Canada.

Saturday's concert will be their first public performance together.

The show will also mark de Armas' fifth anniversary in Canada. He came here to marry Yasmina Proveyer, a Canadian who now acts as his manager and spokesperson. De Armas quickly found a musical niche in Ottawa, performing at festivals and clubs here and in Montreal and southern Ontario. He's made a point of playing with a wide variety of musicians, both inside and outside the Latin community.

Read more: "Let's play!" Jane Bunnett and Miguel de Armas combine their jazz and Afro-Cuban energy

 

Brighten mid-winter with romantic jazz: Ottawa-Gatineau jazz highlights this month

Updated February 14
Jazzed with love? Or in love with jazz? You've got lots of opportunities this month to celebrate romance – or to be cheered up with a touch of swing and groove.

Gerri Trimble is one of many local jazz musicians playing Valentine's Day shows this month - but she's subverting the concept! ©2015 Brett DelmageVisiting musicians this month include guitarist Jordan Officer, pianists Steve Holt and Jean-Michel Blais, vocalists Betty Bonifassi and Nancy Martinez, swing vocalist Alex Pangman, and the deep Chicago groove and mastery of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble.

And local musicians are playing their hearts out as well, with shows by the Back-Talk Organ Sextet, the Bank Street Bonbons, Safe Low Limit, Sabor de Cuba, the Apex Jazz Band, and the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra this month.

February is also Black History month, and several concerts will commemorate the contributions of black musicians to jazz.

But particularly noticeable this month is a whole series of Valentine-themed shows.

Even the NAC Orchestra gets into the romantic jazz act this month. It will perform the evocative score to “Casablanca” as part of a three-evening screening of the classic Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman film on February 9 to 11. Max Steiner's lush score to that film also includes six jazz standards, and in particular “As Time Goes By”, which Steiner refers back to repeatedly in snatches of melody throughout the score. Each evening, Ottawa jazz pianist Steve Boudreau will also play an hour-long solo set of jazz standards in the NAC Foyer before the orchestra takes to the stage in Southam Hall.

Toronto swing vocalist Alex Pangman loves performing at swing dances, singing her favourite vintage tunes that fill the dance floor with bright energy. On Friday, February 10, she's the featured guest of Peter Liu & the Pollcats – also a consistent favourite with Ottawa dancers – for an Ottawa Swing Dance Society Valentine's dance. The music will concentrate on love-themed songs. Listeners are welcomed too.

Read more: Brighten mid-winter with romantic jazz: Ottawa-Gatineau jazz highlights this month

 

Gentiane MG: "stretching to explore the unknown"

On Friday, Montreal jazz pianist Gentiane MG (short for Michaud-Gagnon) makes her Ottawa debut in a duo concert at the Record Runner Rehearsal Studios. She's performing with Ottawa-born tenor saxophonist Chris Maskell; both are currently in the master's program in jazz performance at McGill University. They'll be playing standards and some of their own compositions.

Montreal pianist Gentiane MG recently paid tribute to Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock and Thelonious Monk, the three pianists she thinks have contributed the most to the evolution of jazz piano playing and composition (photo by Jean-François Hayeur)Gentiane is from Saguenay, Quebec, and discovered the piano at five years old. She originally studied classical piano, winning two Quebec competitions and reaching the finals in the Canadian Music Competition – but then moved into studying jazz and improvisation. She studied jazz performance at McGill University with a $15,000 Schulich Scholarship, finishing her undergrad degree in 2014. She received a Graduate Excellence Fellowship Award to work on her master's, and study with renowned French pianist Jean-Michel Pilc.

For several years, she's been playing with bassist Levi Dover (who has also performed with Maskell) and drummer Louis-Vincent Hamel in her trio, and performing regularly on the Montreal jazz scene. This month, she's playing at Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill every Tuesday with different musicians and a different repertoire each week.

Friday's concert is the second in the Live @ Record Runner series at the new Record Runner Rehearsal Studios in mid-west Ottawa.

Read the interview with Gentiane MG

 

Doug Martin gets in the groove in his second Havana Jazz Festival appearance

When Ottawa saxophonist and composer Doug Martin stepped out before several hundred listeners in Havana, Cuba, in December, he realized he had to pick up his game. It was his second time playing the Havana Jazz Festival – but it was in much bigger halls than his first time in 2014.

Doug Martin (second from right) was impressed with the Cuban musicians he performed with at the Havana Jazz Festival: (l-r) Miguel de Armas jr,  Alain Ledrón,  Arturo Cruz - photo by Roberto Proveyer, 2016“I thought, OK, I've got to take a step upward here because I don't usually get to play venues like that. So I had to come up to the mark and I think we did very well at that. I felt very relaxed and in the groove, in the zone.”

And he'll be using that experience in Ottawa this Friday, playing the same material in a show at the 80-seat Live! on Elgin hall.

In Havana, Martin teamed up with three Cuban musicians: bassist Arturo Cruz, drummer Alain Ledrón, and pianist Miguel de Armas jr., who is the son of Ottawa-based jazz pianist Miguel de Armas. Martin had played with de Armas jr. and Cruz in 2014 as well.

“I think we did two better shows this time than we did last time.”

They performed Martin's original music inspired by his first two trips to Cuba, which he released as a CD, Spirit of Survival, last summer. The pieces on that CD are a tribute to the Cuban people and their “admirable” optimistic approach to life in spite of hardship, but are not Afro-Cuban in style.

Martin said he was reminded again how good the Cuban musicians were, and in particular de Armas jr. “He's a marvelous player!”

Read more: Doug Martin gets in the groove in his second Havana Jazz Festival appearance

 

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