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!
“Don't go out” - that was the message Friday on Ottawa weather forecasts and newscasts, with predictions of a flash freeze that evening, combined with a bone-chilling wind chill. Ottawa Public Health issued a frostbite advisory, while the police advised residents to avoid unnecessary travel.
But for the 20-odd people who did make it out to the Orange Art Gallery in Hintonburg, the Chocolate Hot Pockets put on a hot, funky, and enjoyable show that kept them listening throughout the evening.
The art gallery has been running monthly music nights with local groups since August, when it received its liquor license. It's featured pop music by River City Junction, jazz by Constant Black, swing by the Brian Downey Quartet, and New Orleans-inspired music by the Mumbo Jumbo Voodoo Combo.
Each week OttawaJazzScene.ca recommends a live jazz or improvised music performance in Ottawa-Gatineau from our comprehensive Jazz Bulletins. There's a lot of wonderful jazz being presented, so it's often a difficult choice.
Saturday, January 20, 2018: The Bytowne Big Band Presents The Best of Snarky Puppy at Live! on Elgin
Please note that the location of this concert has changed to Live! on Elgin.
The acclaimed American jazz fusion orchestra Snarky Puppy has not only packed its recent concerts at the Ottawa Jazz Festival (2012, 2014, 2015) with enthusiastic listeners. It's also been a consistent inspiration for many younger jazz musicians in Ottawa and Canada, who cite the band as an important influence when we interview them.
Snarky Puppy bassist and leader Michael League describes the band as "music with a pop sensibility that had depth to it". The Grammy-winning band has also been described as encompassing "Jazz + Funk + World + Soul + Pop". Their music moves from funk to exploratory jazz to lush harmonies.
It's also large in scale, with 18 members in the basic Snarky Puppy, and up to 40 depending on the show. So it makes sense that the Ottawa group paying tribute to it is a big band as well.
“So I just hyphenated it,” Lister said. “I thought it would be kind of cool. A bit of a tongue-twister, but...”
On Saturday, ERU-ERA will release its first album, ERA-LUDE, consisting of all his own compositions. The CD release show will be at Irene's Pub in the Glebe, where they recorded the album live last July.
Lister is one of the busiest players in Ottawa's jazz scene. He arrived in Ottawa in April, 2011, and within a few months was teaming up with local players in jazz groups like the Hard Bop Association and the Chocolate Hot Pockets. He runs his own record label, London Gentleman Records, and is a popular on-call trumpet player for many projects and recordings. And he leads or co-leads many local bands – The Chocolate Hot Pockets, ERU-ERA, 33Z, the LGR Band, and the Prime Rib Big Band – writing and/or arranging much of their material.
OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor interviewed Lister this week about ERU-ERA's music and how he developed it, and how Ottawa's music scene helped that development. This is a lightly edited version of the conversation.
An Ottawa student big band has expanded its vision to the entire city this year – and changed its name in the process.
The Nepean All-City Lab Band (NACLB) played its debut concert under its new name December 8 before a full and enthusiastic house. It was formerly the Secondary School All-Star Jazz Band of the Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), and is led by high school music teachers Jean-François Fauteux and Stephen Szabo.
The students “earned the right to have this opportunity by working so hard and playing so well,” Szabo said. “A lot of them are in the band this year who were in our [all-star] band last year.”
He said they decided to leave the district school board because the band had outgrown its original mandate. “The all-star band when it originally started was a seven-rehearsal band. And it was a very small project, but it evolved over time. And it needed a home that we now have.”
Instead, the NACLB has become a sister band of the award-winning Nepean All-City Jazz Band (NACJB), led by Neil Yorke-Slader. The NACJB celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2017.
“With the projects that we wanted to develop with this band, we were thinking about going out of the board and reaching a bigger catchment area for the band,” Fauteux said. “And then Neil called us, and he said, 'Well, you know what, what about joining our family?' And of course when he said that, he's a longtime friend and we were so honoured that he would even consider asking us, so that was a bonus for us for sure.”
Oliver Gannon has been a stalwart of the Vancouver jazz scene since 1970, best known for his long and fruitful collaboration with legendary Canadian tenor saxophonist Fraser MacPherson. Their album of duets, I Didn't Know About You, won a Juno for best jazz album in 1983. In 2002 Gannon was named Guitarist of the Year in the National Jazz Awards.
And Gannon hasn't stopped since: he's released five albums as leader on the Cellar Live label, and played on many more. In early January, he'll be unveiling a new trio at Frankie's Jazz Club in Vancouver, and recording the shows for another album. The Vancouver Coastal Jazz Society says that “Gannon cites Barney Kessell and Wes Montgomery as formative models, of horn players as conceptual influences, and of Art Blakey’s music as a favourite direction. His fluid swinging style is rooted in 50s and 60s bop.”
The Order of Canada awards list recognized Alain Caron for “his contributions as a six-string electric bass virtuoso and for his role in mentoring musicians in Canada and abroad”.
Guitarist Steve Bilodeau has deep roots in Ottawa and in jazz. He started out playing in the Ottawa Junior Jazz Band and then with the Nepean All-City Jazz Band. He took a degree in jazz performance at McGill University, and returned to Ottawa, performing in a number of different jazz groups and teaching full-time. After saving his pennies for several years, he moved to Boston in 2013 to take a two-year Master's degree in jazz at the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC) – and has stayed there ever since. In 2016, he was a semi-finalist in the Montreux Jazz Festival's renowned international guitar competition.
But he has another side – as a producer of hip-hop beats, composing the instrumental tracks over which hip-hop vocalists rap. And that's what Ottawa audiences can hear Friday, in a Canadian incarnation of Bilodeau's hip-hop group Billa Joints. The show at Pressed will include his brother, bassist Alex Bilodeau (a regular member of the group in Boston), plus two emerging Canadian jazz musicians: Deniz Lim-Sersan on drums, and Chris Maskell on tenor sax and effects.
OttawaJazzScene.ca caught up with Bilodeau on Christmas Eve, when he and Alex Bilodeau performed standards at the Options Jazz Lounge at the Brookstreet Hotel. It was an evening of time-honoured jazz, from Thelonious Monk to “Darn That Dream”, with both musicians exploring and extending each tune in a classic improvisatory style – before a surprisingly full and appreciative audience for what it is not normally considered a jazz evening.
Between sets, we talked about Billa Joints, and how Bilodeau's jazz and hip-hop sides fit together – and how he keeps them separate. This is a lightly-edited version of the interview.
Have Yourself A Jazzy Little Christmas with The John Dapaah Trio, with Michael Curtis Hanna and Roxanne Goodman Doors Open for Music at Southminster Southminster United Church Wednesday, December 20, 2017 – 12 noon
We all joke about Christmas music and how there's too much of it at this time of year – but that's partly because it's important to us. At home, at school, at church, on the radio, with our friends, we all grew up with these songs and carols, and that tradition evokes strong emotions in us.
Ottawa pianist John Dapaah stayed true to the tradition in his pre-Christmas concert at Southminster – but gave it extra zest with his interpretations. Performing with his long-time jazz trio of J.P. Lapensée on electric bass and Jamie Holmes on drums, he enlivened the show with two local singers with strong jazz and gospel roots: Roxanne Goodman and Michael Curtis Hanna.
Performing before a nearly-full church, the musicians were dressed up for the occasion: the men in suits, Dapaah wearing a bright red bow tie, and Goodman in a glamorous black dress and a glittering necklace. They spent equal care on the music.
The trio opened with an instrumental version of the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas theme, “Christmas time is here”, with Dapaah's inviting piano outlining the melody. Goodman and Hanna entered partway through, their voices joining in warmly and expressively.