Love jazz? So do we! OttawaJazzScene.ca connects you with live jazz and improvised music every day of the year. Discover the latest jazz news, learn more about upcoming shows in our musician interviews, revisit concerts in our reviews, see shows in photos and videos, and go out with our jazz club and venue listings and comprehensive jazz event listings. It's all made possible by reader donations. Jazz is something you feel - and it feels great. See you on the scene!
Pete Woods had a smile on his face as he recounted how he recorded his final album with the late jazz pianist Brian Browne. It was in The Record Centre store in Hintonburg in December, 2016, in the evening after the store closed, with Browne playing on the small piano by the store's window. It was all analog; Robert Chapman recorded the session live off the floor on a reel to reel tape machine.
On Sunday, The Record Centre released the album – The Light of Common Day – on vinyl, and marked the occasion with an hour-long concert by Woods and bassist Normand Glaude. Both were long-time friends of Browne. Woods and Browne released three albums together (Testimony, Honest Company, and The Light of Common Day).
“I'm here missing Brian now, but I wanted to remember the fun of it and the intimacy of that project. It was a labour of love,” Woods told the audience.
The vinyl release concert was held at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, in the CD/merchandise tent being run there by The Record Centre. Immediately before the concert, The Record Centre played the album for listeners, allowing them to hear Browne's meticulous and affectionate piano interpretations.
Christine Jensen is looking forward to working with noticeably different musical voices in the jazz orchestra she'll lead at the 2019 Ottawa Jazz Festival.
The saxophonist and composer has generally looked to a familiar group of Montreal musicians for her JUNO-winning jazz orchestra. But the orchestra she'll unveil next Tuesday in the NAC Studio contains musicians from Toronto and Ottawa as well, with many more women players, and will showcase the music of five women jazz composers besides herself.
It's a an 18-piece big band Jensen has brought together especially for the festival. It's billed as the “= Jazz Orchestra & Christine Jensen” – a name Jensen is not altogether happy with. The '=' refers to the festival's focus this year on women in music; the orchestra has eight female and ten male musicians, a much higher ratio than average in big bands.
“I wish I could rename it. But at the same time, it was all about trying to get an equal balance of gender diversity or gender balance between the band on the stage in a large ensemble. So that was the equal part and I’m the artistic director of it.”
Prominent in the orchestra are noted Canadian jazz musicians: pianist Marianne Trudel on piano, saxophonists Tara Davidson, Anna Webber, and Allison Au, and trumpeter Rebecca Hennessy – plus younger musicians Emily Denison on trumpet and Claire Devlin on sax. Jensen said having more women in the orchestra creates “a really strong, balanced community in the music.”
Every Sunday OttawaJazzScene.ca highlights a live jazz or improvised music performance in Ottawa-Gatineau in our comprehensive Live Jazz Guide. There's a great deal of interesting, new jazz to choose from every week, so it's often a difficult choice!
June 26 to 30: Free shows at the Ottawa Jazz Festival
The Ottawa Jazz Festival is showcasing some local jazz groups performing free noon and afternoon shows. Check them out for free, then you’ll know that you’ll enjoy their evening club and concert shows throughout the year.
The festival offers free concerts from 12 noon to 1 p.m. in the large tent in Confederation Park. As well, the Queen Street Fare food hall (Queen Street between Bank and O'Connor) is presenting free shows in conjunction with the festival at 4 p.m. each day. (And in case you're wondering, the musicians are paid for these shows.)
Not all of these are jazz, however. Here are several we can recommend:
Wednesday, June 26, 12 noon: CYJO 10th Anniversary Alumni Band (Confederation Park) For many years, concerts by Nick Dyson's Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra were the place to hear classic and modern big band music, including by Canadian composers, played with energy and attention by talented Ottawa students and informed by Dyson's encyclopedic knowledge and love of big band music. Now musicians who played in that band will return for a 10th anniversary concert, playing 100% Canadian music. Read our story about CYJO's Rob McConnell tribute.
Wednesday, June 26, 4 p.m.: Pimienta Blanca (Queen Street Fare) Pimienta Blanca ("white pepper") perform a spicy blend of Latin jazz and music from Cuba, the Caribbean, and Brazil – including by the Buena Vista Social Club, Rubén González, Chucho Valdés, Cal Tjader, Joe Henderson, and Antônio Carlos Jobim.
On Sunday, Ottawa audiences can hear music by one of the best-heard – but least-known – jazz composers in Canada.
Over a prolific 75-year career, Eldon Rathburn wrote more than 250 film scores, including for many well-known National Film Board (NFB) animated and short films, plus many concert works. He wrote for the first generation of IMAX films, scored one of Buster Keaton's last films, and provided the music for the Labyrinth pavilion at Expo ’67. One of the films he scored was nominated for an Academy Award and won the Short Film Palme d'Or at Cannes. His music brightened up the most mundane subjects: for example, a film on how to keep fish from spoiling!
Now several of his film scores have been expanded into a jazz album from Justin Time Records, The Romance of Improvisation in Canada. It features five of Canada's finest jazz musicians: pianist Marianne Trudel, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, saxophonist Petr Cancura, bassist Adrian Vedady, and drummer Jim Doxas.
The music is classic, appealing mid-century jazz – from lively bebop and Latin to an evocative ballad. Listeners can hear it played live at the NAC Fourth Stage on Sunday at 8 p.m. as part of the Ottawa Jazz Festival.
It's also a project with many Ottawa connections. Rathburn lived in Ottawa for much of his life, and composed much of the music on which the album is based while working at the NFB's Unit B offices in Ottawa. The music was rediscovered when Dr. James Wright, a music professor at Carleton University, decided to write an in-depth biography of Rathburn, They Shot, He Scored, which was released in May.
Wright brought in Ottawa academic and jazz drummer Allyson Rogers (now completing her PhD at McGill University on the musical aesthetics and social milieu of the National Film Board) to research Rathburn's NFB career. She discovered Rathburn’s jazz-inspired animated film scores of the 1950s, for films such as The Romance of Transportation in Canada (1952), Structure of Unions (1955), Fish Spoilage Control(1956), and Norman McLaren’s Short and Suite (1959).
Rogers discussed the music with fellow Ottawa jazz saxophonist Adrian Matte, and they realized that the scores could be unspooled and expanded and rearranged into longer jazz pieces. They created 12 pieces, each based and expanded upon jazz themes Rathburn wrote for film scores. Matte also ended up developing his Masters thesis on Rathburn's jazz music.
The album was recorded in February 2018 at the NFB’s historic Chester Beachell Studio in north Montreal – the same studio where Rathburn had frequently worked during his NFB career, and released last year.
OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor spoke to Rogers and Matte last fall, shortly after the launch of the book and the CD at Carleton University.
Baritone Madness Ottawa Jazz Festival Friday, June 21, 2019 – 7:30 p.m.
The baritone saxophone is a remarkably versatile instrument. Capable of covering the same mid-range as a tenor, it can also create deep plangent and growling tones – and both play sweetly and groove.
Just one bari in a group is noticeable. Hearing the three baritones, plus bass and drums, in the Calgary jazz band Baritone Madness was downright impressive.
The group had released its first album in May and was on a festival tour including Ottawa, Edmonton, and Montreal. Its name is a riff on Sonny Rollins' “Tenor Madness”, and it includes baritone saxophonists Pat Belliveau, Keith O'Rourke, and Gareth Bane – plus the top-notch rhythm section of bassist Kodi Hutchinson and drummer Tyler Hornby.
They began with a tribute to the legendary bari player Pepper Adams and his unmistakable opening to Charles Mingus' version of “Moanin'”. With a serious groove and a bit of a raucous feel, it was an attention-getting start.
The three saxophonists took turns introducing songs and telling well-rehearsed stories that connected well with the audience. They played six of their own compositions from the new CD, ranging from Latin to blues to ballads to New Orleans groove.
One reviewer noted that “She darkens, renews and completely takes possession of [songs], probing and questioning the inferences implicit in every word.”
The pianist, vocalist, and songwriter has just released a new album, Higher, her first in six years. It's a collection of originals and standards, including an art song cycle which she debuted with soprano Renée Fleming.
Saturday, June 22: Ranee Lee (Confederation Park Stage)
Ranee Lee is a triple threat as a vocalist, actress, and teacher and role model to generations of Montreal musicians. Her concert a few years ago in Ottawa was generous, expressive, and swinging, and well deserved the two standing ovations from the delighted audience.