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!
Each week 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!
Friday, January 18, 2019: Steve Amirault at GigSpace
Over an 26-year and six-album career, pianist Steve Amirault has produced memorable and lyrical compositions which touched our hearts A laureate of the Montreal International Jazz Festival Competition, he's also been recognized with notable Quebec awards including a Prix OPUS and an ADISQ nomination for his CD Breath. He spent 25 years in Montreal's jazz scene, where he played on JUNO-winning albums by Christine Jensen and François Carrier and performed with legendary musicians Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, Joe Chambers, Mike Clark, Tim Hagans, Sheila Jordan and Eddie Gomez. He moved to Toronto in 2015.
Starting a decade ago, he added his baritone vocals to his repertoire. His most recent album, Hold On, Let Go, released in 2017, includes both. He describes the album: "This is my first recording as a Torontonian, my first solo record, and my first album of mostly standards (with the exception of two originals). It is my second outing as both pianist and vocalist, and for this one I wanted it to be intimate and reflect what I do on my solo performances: just the piano, a microphone and some songs I like."
"I recorded tunes that I felt worked well with my style and ones that I was able to add a little something something to. I recorded the singing and playing at the same time, and we did very little editing because of bleeding between the vocal and piano mics. One, two, three....GO!"
Strings will hold sway as the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra (OJO) recreates classic jazz albums this week.
Instead of its usual big band or jazz ensemble lineup, OJO's “Strings in Focus” concert on Saturday will feature a chamber orchestra: six violinists, three viola players, two cellists, one bassist, and one harpist, plus piano and drums, under the baton of Angus Armstrong.
In the first set, they'll recreate Nelson Riddle's lush arrangements for Ella Fitzgerald's Songbook albums, supporting vocalist Diane Nalini. In the second set, they'll perform all of Stan Getz's 1961 album, Focus, with Ottawa saxophonist Mike Tremblay soloing against the strings.
For both Nalini and Tremblay, this is music close to their hearts. For Nalini, Ella Fitzgerald was a singer whom she grew up listening to and her “first jazz crush”. For Tremblay, it's an album which he was immediately amazed by when he first heard it at age 18.
It's a project which OJO artistic director Adrian Cho had been hoping to bring to the stage for several years.
If you'd ever wondered which is louder, a big band or a fire alarm, the question was conclusively answered last month at a joint concert by the Ottawa Junior Jazz Band (OJJB) and the Nepean All-City Jazz Band (NACJB).
The punctuated snarl of the fire alarm won.
Just after 9 p.m., the NACJB was in full flight playing Tom Kubis' “Grimey Yet Slimey Blues” in the auditorium of Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School in Barrhaven. The alarm went off loudly and with a bright flashing light, the music abruptly stopped, and the entire audience dutifully trooped out of the school. Three firefighters arrived within a few minutes and quickly confirmed there was no fire. Then everyone returned after a 10-minute break – to hear the band resume right where they had broken off, fully immersed again in the energy of the piece.
Each year, the two student bands present a joint concert in December. It's a shaking-in show, the first chance for new band members to perform before a live audience and play the music they had been learning and rehearsing for the past three months. OJJB Director Mandar Gumaste said it was the first time it had ever been interrupted by a fire alarm.
The concert opened with a seven-song set by the OJJB, performing a mix of big band standards and more modern pieces. It was an energetic performance, tight and clear, of innovative and generally upbeat arrangements. The band's performance of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's “Such Sweet Thunder”, with its many strong individual solo sections, garnered particularly strong applause. Gumaste noted that half of the band was new this year, but you wouldn't have known that from their smooth performances in numbers such as “Spain” and “Hot House”.
As OJJB's members were leaving the stage at the end of their set, the trombone section stayed behind and played “Jingle Bells” – an extra fillip of Christmas cheer that was nicely done.
It's been more than 75 years since saxophonist Charlie Parker started shaking up jazz. He took the genre away from swing and danceable music and instead explored advanced harmonies, complex syncopation, altered chords, and chord substitutions.
His music was not easy to play – with fast tempos and difficult eighth-note runs – but it was far more interesting and gave more opportunities to build upon. As Parker said himself, “It's trying to play clean and looking for the pretty notes. The beat in a bop band is with the music, against it, behind it. It pushes it. It helps it. Help is the big thing. It has no continuity of beat, no steady chug-chug. Jazz has, and that's why bop is more flexible.”
The Ottawa Jazz Orchestra paid tribute to Charlie Parker and his compositions in the second show of their 2018-19 season. But it was Parker with a twist – not the versions you might hear in a jam session. Instead, the OJO ensemble primarily played the challenging arrangements of Parker's music written by Los Angeles composer Med Flory for his Supersax group.
It's become a tradition. Every December for the last dozen years, saxophonist Bernard Stepien has given a new spin to familiar Christmas tunes by combining them with compositions by 1960s American avant-garde – and very spiritual – jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler.
Stepien has overcome ice storms, illness, and frequent changes in his orchestra's line-up to present this project each year – and even released a CD of it in 2011. He's continued to find new correspondences between carols and Ayler's music, fitting them together in surprisingly musical ways.
And with the aid of skilled and adventurous Ottawa-area improvising musicians, the combination works. Ayler's music, with its gospel and military overtones, comes from much the same musical sources as many of our carols and other Christmas-themed music; in each combined Ayler/carol piece, the two tunes complement and provide a new viewpoint on each other.
This year, Stepien recruited musicians who have been playing this music from the beginning: saxophonists Linsey Wellman and David Broscoe and bassist Philippe Charbonneau. To that group he added François Gravel on keyboards and electronics, David Jackson on electric guitar and electronics, and Patrick Sénécal on drums.
Queen Street Fare, a food hall which also bills itself as a live music venue, opened in downtown Ottawa this month. It's located on Queen Street near Bank Street, across from CBC and right beside the soon-to-open Parliament LRT station. It has been consistently programming jazz since its opening show December 7 by local jazz groove group Thrust.
Coming up this week is a jazz brunch on Saturday and Sunday with the Jamie Holmes Trio, and a Saturday evening salsa concert with Miguel de Armas' Fiesta Cubana. Almost all the events have no cover charge, but the Fiesta Cubana show will be ticketed ($10 in advance, more at the door).
In the last 18 months, Fiesta Cubana has drawn large crowds to its outdoor shows at Westboro Beach and indoor shows at the Mercury Lounge; the nine-piece ensemble combines Latin hits with their Afro Cuban roots.
The hall replaces the former Hy's Steakhouse, but with a much more open and less formal vibe. The food is more varied as well, from burgers to Vietnamese to Buddha bowls, with all-local vendors offering a higher-end menu than the average food court.
The hall extends most of the width of the block from Queen to Albert, with food vendors interspersed with tables and chairs, and padded booths. At the east end of its space, it has a raised stage with lights and a sound system. An oval-shaped bar surrounded by seats is located at one side of the stage. A large open space in front of the stage would be suitable for dancing, although it seemed to be unnecessarily empty and kept listeners away from the band.