Updated June 7 to include details of Browne's memorial service on June 15.
One of Ottawa's most distinctive jazz voices, pianist Brian Browne, died Tuesday afternoon. He was 81 years old.
Browne's greatest joy was in playing jazz standards, songs he considered “basically masterpieces that have survived the test of time, and that's why they're still around. They'll be around forever.”. He would perform them both with sensitivity and with considerable relish and élan – and never the same way twice.
“I could play 'Autumn Leaves' every night of my life and it would be different every night. The only thing that's the same is the title and the framework, the actual skeleton of the actual piece of music. I could play it in different keys, for a different feeling once in a while,” he told OttawaJazzScene.ca in 2014.
“And that's the beauty of playing the standards because even if the title is the same and the framework is the same, it's like building a house. The frame is the same but every time you play you have different rooms, different walls, different pictures on the wall, different colour rugs. It's always different. And that's what's fresh about playing jazz!”
His definition of a standard, though, was wider than just the Great American Songbook. It reached from the 1920s into the 1970s and 80s, with songs by the Beatles, Leonard Cohen, and Billy Joel.
Browne had an bluesy piano style that swung strongly but could also slow down, for example in his rendition of Cohen's “Hallelujah”, to become powerfully emotional. His playing was in the tradition of Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson (with whom he studied), Errol Garner and Bill Evans, but was immediately identifiable as his own.
The Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra (CYJO) put the “big” into big band Sunday, with three generations of jazz musicians performing 20 numbers in the final concert of its 9th season.
The Ottawa Junior Jazz Band (Grade 9 and 10 students) opened the show with a highly polished presentation, followed by CYJO (university and high school students) celebrating Duke Ellington, and the Prime Rib Big Band (professional musicians) playing engaging originals written in the big band tradition by leader Ed Lister. Individually and collectively, they performed a mixture of classic and modern big band tunes, with many pieces by local composers.
At the climax of the three-hour series of concerts, about 40 musicians from all three bands crowded on the stage at the Kailash Mital Theatre at Carleton University, double and triple-filling the stage risers.
From ballads to blues, from standards to free improv, from emerging jazz musicians to veterans – listeners heard it all at the second Jazz Ramble on May 25 and 26 at the Record Centre.
And when the Ramble ended on Saturday just before 10 a.m., four of those listeners were still awake, having made it through the entire 24 hours.
This was the second edition of the Ramble (the first was in 2016). From 10 a.m. Friday to 10 a.m. Saturday, it featured 25 local groups, one per hour, plus a drum circle which played between sets on the sidewalk.
The groups were mostly different from two years before, with only three repeating. In addition, more than 25 of the musicians performing this year were not at the previous Ramble.
The event was designed to promote Ottawa's jazz scene and the Ottawa Jazz Festival. The festival awarded a Bronze Pass to each of three fans who stayed to listen to every single act: Tariq Amery, Rob Leger, and Marcia Rodriguez. The fourth was OttawaJazzScene.ca's Brett Delmage, who not only listened throughout but made photos of every group which performed and tweeted every hour.
Friday evening and Saturday morning – hours 8 through 23 – of the 2018 Jazz Ramble continued to demonstrate the diversity and strength of Ottawa's jazz scene.
At 5 p.m., the Lucas Haneman Express – with Haneman on guitar, Megan Laurence on vocals, and Martin Newman on bass, but minus their drummer Jeff Asselin – played a quieter set, more acoustic than their usual electric blues.
They were followed by Jazz Festival programming director Petr Cancura, who again brought a new project to the Ramble, as he did in 2016. This time, he went in a very different direction, writing tunes influenced by singer-songwriter music, instead of his previous jazz and roots music. Cancura later told OttawaJazzScene.ca that he would be leaving for New York City right after the Ramble, in order to record these originals with musicians there. The Ramble show allowed him to workshop the tunes, he said, and the musicians he played with here (guitarist Alex Moxon, bassist J.P. Lapensée, and drummer Michel Delage) “were very gracious to do it.”
With one voice, you have a tune. With four voices, you have harmony, and accompaniment, and interplay, and much more texture and richness.
That's what you can hear on Saturday as The Capital Voices will present its final concert of the season – and its final formal season for a while. The vocal harmony quartet consists of Ottawa jazz vocalists Elise Letourneau and Rachel Beausoleil, plus jazz bassist cum vocalist Normand Glaude, and musical theatre singer Kenny Hayes.
The theme for Saturday's show is “M is for...”. All the tunes, both jazz and pop, have some connection to the letter “M”: for example, the jazz standards “Moonglow” and “Moonlight Serenade”. Also included will be tunes by composers Johnny Mandel, Henry Mancini, and Michel Legrand, and “Well, You Needn't” by Thelonious Monk (with lyrics by Mike Ferro which were made famous by Carmen McRae).
Guitarist Tim Bedner, who will accompany the quartet, will perform an instrumental by Pat Metheny. They're also featuring tunes by popular songwriters Joni Mitchell and Michael McDonald (of the Doobie Brothers), and “In My Life” by Paul McCartney – and even some Motown.
Letourneau said that the idea for the program came as the four were tossing around ideas for tunes. “It was just something that we noticed, how many of them had that common thread with the letter 'M'. And we realized well, we've got a third of a program here, and let's just keep going with it.”
“We're very excited about this program. There's a lot of feel-good music on it, and it's a very, very varied program, all rendered in a way that it feels natural to the four of us.”
Ever since high school, Letourneau said, she's done harmony singing.
May 25, 5 p.m. (Updated June 1 to include podcast interviews with Mark Ferguson and with Raphael Weinroth-Browne)
Like a well-stocked buffet, the first seven hours of the 2018 Jazz Ramble offered a wide and interesting range of music.
The Ramble is running for 24 hours, from 10 a.m. Friday to 10 a.m. Saturday, at the Record Centre, 1099 Wellington Street West in Hintonburg. It has been organized by the Ottawa Jazz Festival together with the record store in order to promote the local jazz scene and this year's festival. There is no admission charge, but donations into the hat are encouraged.
OttawaJazzScene.ca is covering all 24 hours of the Jazz Ramble. Support our Reportathon!
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This morning opened with an appealing set of jazz/pop originals and standards by pianist Cynthia Tauro and her trio with Stephen Adubofuor on drums and Caylan Penny on bass, and in particular, a sultry version of George Gershwin's "Summertime" that matched the humid weather.
They were followed by the sweet and funky sounds of Marc Decho's Nu-Trio with Clayton Connell and Adubofuor, playing a well-mixed group of jazz and blues standards, including a fresh and strongly accented "Monk's Dream", whose dancing rhythms evoked strong cheers and clapping at the end.
Fresh off its success persuading Ottawa City Council to adopt a city music strategy, the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition (OMIC) held a subdued annual general meeting on Monday that concentrated on building the organization.
The coalition's membership has ballooned from 10 to close to 150 members in the three years it's been in operation, and OMIC president Mark Monahan (executive director of Ottawa Bluesfest) told the AGM “sometimes the challenge is figuring out who your members are and what they want.”
“One of the biggest challenges we have I think in the coming year is to keep the organization relevant. We would like to think everybody joins this organization because they have a sense of supporting and wanting to support local music, but also people want to know what's in it for them. And that's a natural tendency when you join organizations like this. One of the things that we've been conscious of is trying to continue to build benefits for all of the members.”
After 15 years playing together in Montreal, clarinetist Lori Freedman and bassist Nicolas Caloia decided it was time to create music together, in a daring new duo they call Mercury.
The music they're creating isn't straight jazz, and it takes improvised music to new places. They say they are “on the brink of finding a new sound aesthetic: unpredictable, untempered, organic, and irregular, but none-the-less, with cadence, consonance, transparency and silence.”
Freedman and Caloia are both prominent in Montreal's “actuelle” music community, performing what could be called freely improvised, or avant-garde, or new music. Caloia, who is originally from Ottawa (he moved to Montreal in 1989), is a composer, improviser, and double bassist. He leads groups ranging from duos, to his Tilting quartet, to Spell (his 10-piece marching band), to his 30-piece Ratchet Orchestra.
Freedman is a virtuoso player on all the clarinets, from the little Eb to the giant contrabass clarinet. She specializes in playing music by living composers – “I don't know when the last time I played music by a dead composer was” – but in contexts ranging from contemporary chamber music (including at Ottawa Chamberfest) to highly avant-garde. In addition to writing her own compositions, she often performs music specifically composed for her. She's a fearless jazz improviser: at the first Ottawa IMOOfest in 2012, every eye was riveted on her solo performance.
Saturday (April 21, 2018) is Record Store Day, a day which celebrates the culture of independent record stores. To mark it, OttawaJazzScene.ca interviewed John Thompson, the owner of The Record Centre in Ottawa. His store's core business is vintage vinyl and audio equipment, but he's expanded beyond that into supporting Ottawa's live music scene.
John Thompson is always on the hunt for great music.
For decades, he's been collecting and selling used vinyl – making a living doing exactly he loves and not having a "real job" – with jazz records a good part of his stock.
But more recently, he's expanded into current music – hosting live shows by local and touring musicians, and running his own record label.
Since 2014, Thompson's Record Centre store in Hintonburg has become a place for local musicians, including many jazz groups, to showcase their projects. The store has hosted more than 300 shows in the last four years. Some live-off-the-floor recordings at the store have been released on the store's own Record Centre record label.
One of the biggest live music events at the store was all jazz: 24 groups in 24 hours at the Jazz Ramble in 2016. Thompson said the store will be repeating that event next month: hosting a second Jazz Ramble in conjunction with the Ottawa Jazz Festival. The 2018 ramble will run from 10 a.m. on Friday, May 25 to 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 26.
The store has a large jazz collection, reflecting Thompson's own love of jazz. On a recent visit, he showed off many recent jazz acquisitions on vinyl – from Dave Brubeck to Roland Raahsan Kirk to Sun Ra, with some highly uncommon treasures.
When Roddy Ellias, Marc Copland, and Adrian Vedady entered the studio last May to record their first album together, they dumped their egos outside the door.
"There was nobody saying, 'Well, I'm playing this'. Everybody's listening to everybody and trying to just find something that fits together nicely. It's a real group dynamic and a group approach, with no ego," Ellias said.
The Ottawa guitarist, NYC pianist, and Montreal bassist debuted as a trio in Ottawa in 2012. They're back this weekend for two shows – Saturday in Montreal and Sunday in Ottawa – which will mark the official release of their first album, Sticks and Stones.
When the three performed at the Ottawa Jazz Festival last June, listeners who responded to OttawaJazzScene.ca's Jazz Festival Favs Poll were delighted. Descriptions of the show ranged from "Superb interactive musicianship and excellent compositions" to "Wonderfully simpatico with each other".
For Ellias, this trio has been a very special experience. "It's rare when you get three people so connected. The group dynamic is fantastic – it's a dream!"
While all three musicians take solos in the music, "none of us are over-extending. We're just trying to stay in the mood of the piece, and play the the piece. It's more about playing together and the group thing and making musical statements."
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