OttawaJazzScene.ca turned 10 on July 3. Time flies when you’re busy reporting about even a fraction of the 20,000 live jazz events that have been detailed in our live jazz guides since we started in 2009.
After 10 years, I wanted to share how we've made this journey - from our perspective.
I launched OttawaJazzScene.ca during the 2009 Ottawa Jazz Festival to inform jazz listeners about all the jazz beyond the festival, so that they might join me on the other 355 days a year. Back then, there were performances throughout the year where I was the only listener at what I thought was an excellent performance. I realized that wasn’t going to continue. Now there’s a wealth of live jazz performances every week, frequently to sold-out audiences, and I stand while I listen and work. We recently detailed 88 jazz events in our weekly Live Jazz Guide!
Looking back to our first details of jazz events 10 years ago, I can see that today’s all-year local jazz scene is busier, more diverse, and more exciting than ever. I believe that OttawaJazzScene.ca’s visible, inclusive, consistent, enthusiastic and publicly accessible reporting has helped contribute to growing the jazz scene, to the benefit of all those who love to perform and listen to live jazz.
During OttawaJazzScene.ca’s first 10 years we openly published for everyone to enjoy and learn from:
- 922 news stories and in-depth musician interviews
- 454 jazz performance reviews
- 69 Inside the Scene video stories
- 43 podcasts and audio interviews
- 504 weekly jazz newsletters and Jazz Bulletins
- 217 detailed Jazz Picks of the Week (just since Jan. 2015)
- 11,000 edited and tagged photos of jazz being made and enjoyed
OttawaJazzScene.ca looked everywhere and reported inclusively about
- the latest jazz news and newest jazz venues
- jazz masters and emerging talent
- jazz heroes of all kinds including listeners and lifelong players
- the award-winning and the overlooked
- Ottawa-Gatineau neighbours and fellow Canadians
- men and women, both straight and LGBTQ+
- music at local and Canadian festivals featuring jazz
- jazz worth checking out every week!
including everything your ears might call jazz and improvised music.
For us it’s mostly been interesting, revelatory, ear-expanding, joyful, and energizing - and also exhausting, stressful and worrying too: sometimes before or at a performance, but mostly behind our computer screens.
We deliberately don’t put “I”, “us”, or “we” into our news reports and interviews (except for reviews, which are a personal point-of-view). So on the special occasion of our 10th anniversary, please join me for a few personal memories of our past decade.
The highs and the lows: We reviewed a 2018 outdoor concert when it was 35C (47C humidex) and it was unclear which was wetter: our faces or the water bottles. We reported two video stories of Winterlude performances at -25C (which was perfect – the ice fog from listeners’ breath showed that it was really cold, and the ice instruments sounded fantastic). I’ve photographed a concert from up above the stage, and we interviewed a musician in a below-ground swimming pool (with just a bit of water!)
Pianississimo to fortississimo: We attended one concert which was so quiet I didn’t dare click my camera shutter once to make a photo - except at the end as everyone applauded. We sat in another concert where the big band in a relatively small hall was amplified - and we were frantically looking for some tissue to plug our ears with to stop the pain. There were a restaurant performance where I couldn't hear the guitarist 1m from my table, and the concert in a café where it was so quiet that I was worried my chair would squeak and become part of the performance.
Hello? Hello? I politely asked a few important questions of the Ottawa Jazz Festival's executive producer about the loss of the festival’s Rideau Centre stage in 2014 and 2017. She hung up on me both times before the end of the interview.
We almost slept together: We tried to review all of Nuit Blanche at the Guelph Jazz Festival, struggling desperately to stay awake while listening to the hourly performance that began at 3 a.m. (Our day had started at 8 a.m. with the improvisers' colloquium.) When talking with the Montreal musicians at their Ottawa performance a few years later, we learned that they were struggling to remain conscious at 3:32 a.m. too!
Double double: When compiling our Live Jazz Guide, Alayne discovered that a musician was double-booked before they realized it, as she did for another musician. Did I mention Alayne carefully researched details of about 2,000 jazz events every year for the past ten years?
Her and his jazz: Alayne and I sometimes attended different jazz events to try to cover two of the eight exciting performances on at the same time. We recently included 88 events in our Live Jazz Guide.
A sign of the times? OttawaJazzScene.ca was the only news outlet that reported Ottawa Jazz Festival's Catherine O’Grady received a Women of Distinction Award in 2011 (and many people read the article). In our photo of O’Grady, a volunteer is holding a sign with the word “ROCK” in the photo of her. Coincidentally that’s the year that the festival started headlining rock and pop acts on its Main stage. (An obscured sign says “Volunteers” to the left of “ROCK”.)
Dead men tell no tales: I can’t begin to estimate (nor want to remember!) the number of hours we spent transcribing hundreds of really interesting interviews over ten years. We have specifically almost always done interviews by telephone or in-person because it’s more of an interactive conversation which leads to a more interesting story (and yes, it is a lot more work). In a few interviews I had to insist that the party I was interviewing pull over after I discovered they were driving a motor vehicle. I wanted them to pay attention to my questions and their answers, not traffic. I mean, the other way.
Lawyering up: Being a legitimate news publisher means not only publishing interesting interviews about cool, new jazz projects, rave reviews, and colourful photos – but also news in the public interest that some may not want reported. Last fall we were asked by the Ottawa Jazz Festival to unpublish a page of their public financial document which showed the hundreds of thousands of dollars of public funds the festival received and spent. Our careful editorial response to their take-down request required consultation with two lawyers. Thankfully, both offered their advice for free - we had $0 to pay them. We published an even more informative statement as a result.
The long and the short of it: The longest performance we attended, by far, was the first year of the Carleton University Jazz Camp, where sets by different student groups on the final night went on collectively for more than 4 hours in total. (They were all pretty polished and interesting!) The shortest performances were, coincidently also by students, at MusicFest Nationals in Ottawa this May. Each school ensemble had only 30 minutes to get on stage, tune up, perform their maximum of 2 or 3 songs before the judges, receive any awards, and clear the stage.
Here, there and everywhere: Readers have always wanted to know about live jazz in their own neighbourhoods. We responded to that interest – and tried to support more live jazz throughout the region - by reporting about jazz duos in an Orleans Vietnamese restaurant, award-winning youth big bands regularly performing in Barrhaven, a house concert of improvised music in Kanata North, big-name jazz in northeast Gatineau, and a mini-festival in west Aylmer by the Ottawa River – among many others. And even beyond that, we reported about top-notch jazz by Canadians at the Montreal Jazz Festival, Guelph Jazz Festival, and Merrickvilles’ Jazzfest.
Two solitudes? Gatineau may as well be Mars, from the few Ottawa listeners we recognize at jazz concerts just across the river. (If you live in Ottawa and attend Gatineau shows, please say hi if you see us there so we can change our perception!)
Behind the Scene: We’ve worked a surprising number of 12-hour days (and even two, 24-hour days), and even 80-hour weeks trying to keep up with the scene and publish stories. We still fell behind. Sorry.
With so much wonderful, new jazz being created and performed (did I mention 20,000 detailed performances?) reporting about it has been mostly fun. Except for critically important fundraising. I’m not sure why that word includes “fun”. It is not. As someone recently said to me: “Personally, I prefer crushing pop cans and taking them to the scrap metal merchants to asking for money.” You may have seen my business card or job title: “Publisher and dishwasher”. As I’ve joked blackly with readers sometimes, one is about losing money and the other is about making it.
Five years ago I suspended publication in July 2014 after our June reader funding campaign received virtually no donations in its first two weeks, which were badly needed to pay expenses. We had published OttawaJazzScene.ca since September, believing that readers would support our campaign for the season of extensive stories and live jazz guide we had just published for the 10 past months.
OttawaJazzScene.ca almost did not return in the fall of 2014.
We’re therefore very grateful to those readers who have shared sustaining words of encouragement and a donation year after year, or this year for their first time.
Some readers have also enthusiastically and frequently made a real effort to inform friends and others about OttawaJazzScene.ca and our Live Jazz Guide to help them learn more about live jazz opportunities. This has been very helpful. Perhaps you first learned about us from Riek or Tim or John, or another reader?
I’d like to call your attention to a first, important inspiration. Mark Miller was Globe and Mail writer / jazz reviewer from 1978 to 2005, and is author of 11 gripping and well-researched books about Canadian jazz musicians. Mark’s jazz books were wonderful stories about Canadian jazz and already on my shelf. And he was the very first donor in our first funding campaign. This was a huge honour, and boost from an unequaled Canadian jazz writer and photographer. One or more of his books would be perfect summer reading (from SmashWords; from Lulu.com). Seriously. If you liked reading OttawaJazzScene.ca’s stories and are not aware of Mark’s books about Canadian jazz, you’re missing a great deal. Read our stories about two of Miller’s books, about Claude Ranger, and Lonnie Johnson.
What we did differently
In our first 10 years I reported in photos, Inside the Scene video stories and audio podcasts (all which I learned how to produce and edit for the first time) to complement and support Alayne’s many excellent written interviews, news stories, and reviews. I greatly enjoyed learning more about and reporting about a diversity of highly personal and interesting, new jazz projects.
The jazz scene includes listeners - and hopefully more in number than people on the stages. I therefore brought readers and listener voices into our stories. Thousands of readers participated in our unique polls and surveys over the years, helping us to successfully report about the ‘pulse of jazz’.
More than 350 jazz fans voted in our unique OttawaJazzScene.ca Jazz Favourites Poll. Readers told us what they thought of the Ottawa Jazz Festival when it turned to rock and pop in 2011, and shared colourful insights and voted for ‘peoples choice’ festival shows in our 2017 daily jazzfest polls.
We published many stories based on readers’ observations and votes, about the whole jazz scene that matters to listeners. I always looked forward to discovering fascinating observations and fresh insights from readers. Brad Evans was interviewed as our first Listener of the Month for almost single-handedly organizing a festival.
OttawaJazzScene.ca could report these kinds of stories legitimately because we didn’t have a conflict of interest: a competing horse in the race.
We’ve upheld a core principle for ten years: that we would be your independent news source by following professional journalism ethics guidelines like these at CAJ. Donations from many, diverse readers have directly supported our fair reporting.
For decades I’ve believed that there’s a great deal of genuinely positive news to report about Canadian and local jazz. Whenever we published an advance story about a musician’s new jazz project, or a positive review, or selected a performance for Jazz Pick of the Week I never wanted any doubt in readers’ minds that it was a favour or IOU for a friend or fellow bandmate or advertiser. That would detract from credit properly earned by those we report about. And when important but unpleasant news, like the Ottawa Jazz Festival losing $420,000 over five years, needed to be reported, I didn’t want to feel I would lose a major advertiser (we don’t have any) for properly informing the public about an inconvenient truth.
There has been a financial cost to the principles of professional journalism. I’ve turned away polite requests from musicians we report about to produce a video, etc. for them for hire. (We have infrequently licensed copies of some of our content that we independently produced for our own publication where this did not compromise our editorial integrity.) We’ve also had to decline friendly, well-intentioned invitations to parties or cottages or the bar after a rehearsal or concert from those we report about, and offers of food or drink from venues we report at. In both 24-Hour Jazz Rambles, I did not accept a festival pass for being awake all 24 hours because I was there to report about the event, not enter a contest. That meant that I could not attend the jazz festival, as there is no money remaining for any passes and show tickets after OttawaJazzScene.ca expenses. (The Ottawa Jazz Festival has denied my media accreditation request every year since 2011.)
We were very happy to learn that the vast majority of readers who responded to our 2018 fall reader survey rated OttawaJazzScene.ca as (very) trustworthy, (very) inclusive of the the diversity of jazz and improvised music, as reporting fairly (i.e. accurately and without bias), and reporting in the public interest, undertaken independently from the people and organizations we report about. These have been core values since we started. It was reassuring that readers felt we were achieving them, and were supportive of these values with associated comments.
Many OttawaJazzScene.ca supporters helped make it easier over the years, and made our work easier by sharing a ride home to or from a concert, or billeting us in their home at an out-of-town festival, or donating a hard drive when ours were full, or buying a cold drink when we were parched. Thank you to every one of you for your support and kindness.
Our next ten years
Jazz is vibrant and continues to evolve while also continuing to celebrate the classics. I look forward to the new music and new interpretations I will hear in the next ten years. With reader support, we will continue to put interesting and trustworthy jazz news on the internet stage as we did in OttawaJazzScene.ca’s first decade. Perhaps we will be informing jazz fans in exciting new formats which haven’t even been discovered yet.
Late night jazz jams keep me awake at night, and I like that! But there are other, darker matters which also keep me up at night, which I have an opportunity to help do something about. I consider it my responsibility to do so as an internet publisher.
All our futures
The majority of our readers in our reader survey indicated they are more concerned now than before about personal privacy (“surveillance capitalism”) when using the internet, including websites, email, and apps. Huge (generally U.S.) corporations are grabbing, saving and increasingly sharing a permanent record of what we say, what is said to us, our personal beliefs, interests, likes, dislikes, financial and personal interactions and relationships, our faces, walking gaits, and heartbeats, and every physical move we make, to manipulate not only our purchases but also our personal beliefs, attitudes and actions. Readers expressed specific concerns about a number of related issues including collection of data without permission or knowledge, the consolidation of personal data from multiple sources (phone use, websites, email, different businesses) into a more detailed profile, and micro-targeting of advertisements based on personal profiles. Read more about Surveillance Capitalism
I can’t do much – but I do what I can. The few third party-trackers and beacons by Facebook and Google were removed from our website and email newsletters seven years ago. Our website, email server, and list server are in Montreal and Ottawa (not the U.S.) with software operated by us, not a “cloud” service (a fancy name for a third party that often controls, owns, shares, and often leaks ‘your’ data). And readers can donate by all-Canadian bank e-transfer - or even by cash if they wish, and not expose their financial transaction to an unrelated U.S. company that would also grab an even larger service fee. We try to operate frugally and in a manner that provides privacy protection.
Climate change is increasingly threatening global survival. We’ve seen nasty effects of climate change in Ottawa, with last summer's scorching heat baking the Ottawa Jazz Festival, last fall’s two tornadoes causing major property damage to one of our fellow jazz fans and readers and also interrupting electric power during a local improvised music festival. More frequent freezing rain and ice has made it more dangerous to simply go out and enjoy live music in winter. I met two of our readers who, sadly, hurt themselves badly on icy sidewalks this winter.
Reducing our carbon footprint while saving money and getting exercise is a major reason Editor Alayne McGregor and I travel to jazz shows by bus or bicycle and very occasionally, Communauto. We’ve shared our personal experience and knowledge by providing specific details on how to get to shows by bus and bicycle in our articles. As publisher, I’ll continue to ensure we give readers the information they need to consider travelling to a live jazz event by greener transportation. (We figure those traveling by car already know how to do so.) Climate change is too critical an issue for any of us to ignore. I can’t do a lot but I can and will do what I can. Your suggestions are most welcome. And if anyone wants to sponsor PV (solar) power for the OttawaJazzScene.ca computers, I’d be thrilled to hear from you!
(If you know of any contract or employment opportunities in these areas I would very much appreciate any tips. In addition to publishing/journalism and policy development and analysis experience, I also have years of experience as a web and embedded software developer and working with my hands from building small electronic systems to placing concrete floors.)
Back there, looking here and to the future
As I launched OttawaJazzScene.ca in July 2009, I certainly couldn’t see as far as 2019. If I had, I might not have even started, given the effort and financial pain. Yet if I hadn’t started, I would have certainly missed a lot of excellent jazz that I heard, saw, and reported about. I would have not learned about many musicians’ personal approaches to creating and performing jazz, and I would not have met and heard from so many wonderful, fellow jazz fans.
Without the wholehearted, enthusiastic, and sustained financial support from a base of our readers (see our 2018-19 donors) OttawaJazzScene.ca would not be celebrating our 10th anniversary this month. Engagement with and financial support, in particular from music professionals, full-time educators, institutions, and jazz presenting venues - many who subscribe to our weekly Jazz Bulletin but do not donate - continues to be discouragingly and surprisingly low, however. After 10 years I wonder what we are doing wrong that we haven't earned the modest, collective support of the $25 per day needed to pay bills - from jazz-related industry, and not mostly jazz listeners.
We've had a good run, absolutely deserving of a celebration this month. But maybe after 10 years it's time to end OttawaJazzScene.ca at the end of this reporting season on August 31? Maybe Facebook is all everyone needs and deserves. (I do not think so nor agree but that's not my decision.) I will be considering our future during August. Please let me know your thoughts sooner than later.
Most importantly, thank you to everyone: our many readers, fellow listeners and jazz fans, our generous donors, the many musicians who shared their projects and time with us for interviews and gave us access to report about their shows, venues who provided hassle-free access, and everyone who has taken an interest in the publication. You all helped OttawaJazzScene.ca deliver ten full years of unique, independent, and Canadian-first jazz reporting.
See you on the scene,
founder, dishwasher, publisher
Read Alayne McGregor's 10th anniversary article: Getting a kick out of 10 years of writing and editing OttawaJazzScene.ca
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