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A concert honouring and explaining Duke Ellington. Cuban jazz in collaboration with strings. A musical meditation with improvised bass clarinet. A new, partly-improvised score to a Buster Keaton movie. Those are some of the jazz-related highlights of the 2019 Ottawa Chamberfest, primarily in its late-night Chamberfringe series.
The festival, which will run from July 25 to August 8, released the first part of its 2019 schedule Tuesday. The full lineup will be made public by May 1.
Chamberfest artistic director Roman Borys told OttawaJazzScene.ca that concerts crossing over into jazz and world music fit well into a chamber music festival. Borys performs in the JUNO-winning Gryphon Trio chamber music group, whose repertoire covers both classical composers like Beethoven, and collaborations with jazz and world musicians. He's taken the same approach to programming Chamberfest – looking for similarities and linkages in other traditions to chamber music.
“[Jazz groups] are small ensembles and they rely on each other as musicians to create amazing music that can engage audiences the way a chamber group would. So for me that's always been a very natural place for chamber musicians to turn to – a direction for them to turn to and look to, to expand their voice and their artistic experience. Because people are doing that I feel very legitimately that that kind of programming absolutely needs to be part of the Chamberfest experience.”
The jazz-related concerts at the 2019 Chamberfest range from the jazz mainstream to improvised music to crossover concerts including jazz traditions or musicians.
Pianist and composer Duke Ellington is one of the greats of the jazz canon. On Monday, July 29, American musicologist and composer Rob Kapilow will focus on Ellington in a “What Makes It Great?” talk-and-play show together with the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra (OJO), at Dominion Chalmers. It's one of his most popular presentations with big bands, which he recently presented at the University of Toronto.
When it comes to making music, Montreal jazz pianist Gentiane MG is happy to think small.
While she has enjoyed playing with larger groups, she cherishes the more intimate groups like duos and trios – for example, like her long-time trio, which she'll bring to the National Arts Centre on March 28.
In the last year, following this intimate approach has worked well for her. She was recently chosen as the prestigious Révélations jazz choice by Radio Canada for 2018-19, and she played three concerts (two with the trio, one in a star-studded tribute to Carla Bley) at last year's Montreal Jazz Festival. This spring, her trio releases its second album, and she'll record a duo record in June.
Five years ago, she formed the Gentiane MG Trio (MG stands for her surname, Michaud-Gagnon) with bassist Levi Dover and drummer Louis-Vincent Hamel. It's a young group: Michaud-Gagnon is 27, Dover is 28, and Hamel 30. They released their first album of original music, Eternal Cycle, in 2017, and will release its follow-up in May.
She remains enthusiastic about the trio, both to play with and to compose for.
The 2019 JUNO Awards served up three first-time winners and one repeat in the jazz-related categories announced tonight: Toronto vocalist and CBC broadcaster Laila Biali, Vancouver improviser Gordon Grdina, improvising group Andy Milne & Dapp Theory, and Toronto pianist Robi Botos.
They beat out many previous, highly-touted JUNO winners, in albums that split between mainstream and the improvised avant-garde.
Biali won in the Vocal Jazz album of the Year category for her self-titled album, which includes primarily her own compositions plus songs by Randy Newman and David Bowie. She was also featured on vocals on another album in this JUNO category, by Vancouver bassist Jodi Proznick, and called out to Proznick in her acceptance speech: "I share this award with you. You are my soul sister!".
Biali additionally beat out albums by previous JUNO-winners Diana Krall, Holly Cole, and Diana Panton. This was Biali's first win, although she was previously nominated in 2011. In her speech, Biali recounted how, when she first started playing jazz in high school, she covered Diana Krall's music in a talent competition: "I can't tell you what it means to be nominated in the same category as Diana Krall, who really introduced me to jazz, and Holly Cole, I fell in love with your music when I was 15!"
Gord Grdina is well known as an important part of Vancouver's avant-garde/free jazz/world-music scene, playing guitar and oud in many different groups. But he won in the Instrumental Album of the Year category for his first solo album, China Cloud. It was recorded during a number of intimate and completely-improvised solo performances at the Vancouver underground art space China Cloud. It features him playing both acoustic and electric guitar and oud, as well as improvising with tape loops, effects, and percussion, and even singing on one number.
Updated March 20, 2019 The Ottawa Jazz Festival announced Friday that it will focus more on women artists and on jazz in 2019 – but is presenting them in noticeably fewer total concerts.
The festival will showcase women jazz stars including Norah Jones, Omara Portuondo, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Patricia Barber, Ranee Lee, Terri Lyne Carrington, Melissa Aldana, and Christine Jensen – as well as perennial festival favourites Brad Mehldau, Donny McCaslin, Gilad Hekselman, Joey Baron, and The Shuffle Demons.
In a press release, the festival said it was “making deliberate curatorial choices that focus and highlight the contributions of women in music. You will find them on every stage, playing every instrument, as leaders, composers, arrangers, improvisers, collaborators and more.” Of the ticketed concerts so far announced, one-half (26 of 51) present groups that are led or co-led by women. In 2018, by comparison, one-third (22 of the 67) were led or co-led by women.
This year's festival will run for nine days from June 21 to July 1 – but with a substantially slimmer schedule. It will present only 55 (51 confirmed, 4 to be announced) ticketed shows, a reduction of almost one in five concerts compared to last year. In 2018, it scheduled 67 ticketed shows; 72 in 2017; 63 in 2016; 82 in 2015; and 86 in 2014.
For the first time, the festival will have no programming on one day (Monday, June 24). It will program fewer indoor shows: 14 in seven days in the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage, and six during five days in the NAC Studio. On the festival's final weekend, there will only be two indoor concerts.
The Beeched Wailers celebrated their 5th anniversary, as a group and of presenting open jazz jams, at Irene's Pub on March 5.
They presented their first show at the Rochester Pub in 2014, moved to the Wellington Eatery in 2015 when the Rochester closed, then went to Bar Robo – and finally ended up at Irene's Pub almost two years ago, where they've been happily playing ever since. As saxophonist Tyler Harris says in our podcast interview, "it's been a bit of a travelling circus".
The Wailers released their first album, The Johnson Lake Sessions, in 2015. They also regularly perform music by other local jazz composers.
Listen to the interview with Nicholas Dyson (Beeched Wailers leader / founder / trumpeter) and founding member / saxophonist Tyler Harris about their experiences in the past five years. Thgere may be a delay while the audio loads. Download
The Beeched Wailers open jazz jams continue every Tuesday at Irene's Pub from 9 p.m. to midnight. The band plays one opening set then opens the floor to jammers. All are welcome. Donations are appreciated.
On Wednesday, the Prime Rib Big Band filled every seat at Irene's Pub for a long set (100+ minutes) of dynamic big band music. All but one song was a meaty original, but they were very much in the tradition. The show marked their second anniversary as a band: two years in which they've played 30 concerts, including monthly shows at Irene's, festival dates, and special concerts.
The band is the creation of Ottawa trumpeter Ed Lister, who invited ten of his favourite jazz musicians to join in. They began with seven of his compositions and three classic big band numbers – and the promise of a continuing monthly gig if they could draw the crowds at Irene's in the Glebe.
Since then, Lister has continued writing tunes for the band, more than tripling its repertoire. For this show, he included one of the band's first tunes, and one he only debuted in February – plus a tune by Richard Page which he added to the band's book this month. Irene's now offers a full prime rib dinner on band nights. And judging from the reaction to this show, they've developed quite an audience for their big band music.