Since the early 20th century, Paris has been a crossroads of jazz.
Paris was where black American jazz musicians were fully appreciated for their talent. Paris was where Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli formed the Quintette of the Hot Club of France. Paris was where French composers such as Michel Legrand and musicians such as Maurice Chevalier and Charles Aznavour gave a French twist to jazz.
On Friday, Ottawa vocalist Nicole Ratté and her quartet will explore that legacy in song at GigSpace.
It's a daunting task, given the number of jazz musicians and composers who have links to France: Ratté said her biggest problem has been paring her set list down to size.
“I want to illustrate with my show a bit of the history of the development of jazz in France,” she says, “while featuring songs that are so important in the jazz repertoire today that were born in France, and linking it to the artists that performed in France – a whole pile of jazz artists and lots of jazz vocalists who went to France. And also the French artists who went into jazz or who influenced jazz. And even linking some songs to one of the first singers in the 1920, 1930s [up] to today – who's singing these songs.”
“At the same time, I want the show to be lively, good for the heart, and interesting. Also the pacing is important for me, the balance between the ballads and fast, all sorts of tempos, so I try to balance everything, to be careful about the era – I don't want to stay just in one era. I want to go through the different decades of music.”
Feeling down? Feeling exhausted? Molly Johnson wants to get you back up on your feet and energized and working to make this world better. It's a theme that permeates her latest album, Meaning to Tell Ya.
“You know that you're strong enough / you don't have to wait out in the cold”, the JUNO-winning jazz vocalist sings in one of the album's tunes. In another, “Together we can turn our world around, turn it upside down.”
It's a message she'll be delivering – with a strong groove and infectiously happy melodies – in Ottawa on March 1, her first concert here in three years.
Johnson says that the “main job of an artist is to inspire, provoke, all kinds of stuff”, and it's an approach she says she's been taking since her punk days in the 1980s.
“Writers tend to to do that, I think. I think writers tend to write in themes. My lyrics have always been about hope and change.”
She doesn't pretend that changing things is an easy job – “We've got to talk about love, we've got to talk about age. That's just not easy. Have you ever talked about love with a man who really doesn't want to talk about it? Have you ever talked to a politician?”
And, although she herself has stepped up many times to make a difference, she's not writing about herself on this album. The message in her songs that people can step up and do things is “coming from the people themselves. I'm just reflecting it back at you.”
Updated: The nomination deadline has been extended to February 24, 2019.
The Ottawa Arts Council is now accepting nominations for its annual awards, until February 24.
Guitarist Justin Duhaime received the RBC Emerging Artist Award last year. Listen to our interview Justin Duhaime: an award recipient explains how he moved from metal to jazz manouche
Awards of possible interest to the jazz community include
Updated February 9, 2019
With his new Canadian trio, Florian Hoefner is reaching outside of jazz and into the music he's surrounded with in Newfoundland. Ottawa audiences will get an advance peek at this new material and new trio when they make their NAC debut on February 19.
The German-born jazz pianist, who has lived in Newfoundland for the past five years after a long stint in NYC, is known for collaborations with musicians across the globe. He has repeatedly sold out shows here in Ottawa, most recently last May as part of the German jazz quintet Subtone.
But his own music has begun to become molded by his new home in St. John's. His 2017 solo piano CD, Coldwater Stories, was influenced both by classical composers and by the province's sea-rimmed landscape, with compositions inspired by a local puffin colony, icebergs off the coast, and the north Atlantic Ocean.
For this project, he's been influenced by the musicians he's heard and played with in Newfoundland. In the past few years, Hoefner has been performing with local traditional musicians, who have taught him songs by local and North American folk musicians. For the trio, he's taken some of those songs across genre boundaries into a jazz context.
He's teamed up with two musicians from Toronto, drummer Nick Fraser and bassist Andrew Downing. Both are also known for crossing genre boundaries: Downing plays chamber music, folk, and Turkish classical music as well as jazz. Fraser is a prominent experimental and avant-garde composer and bandleader, and can also swing in mainstream jazz groups.
Jazz fans will recognize many of the names in the 2019 JUNO Award nominees – but also see more than a few surprises.
What you might not have expected: vocalist and CBC broadcaster Laila Biali is featured on two albums nominated in the same category. Jazz pianist David Braid is recognized for a classical choral piece. Vocalist Molly Johnson is deemed Adult Contemporary rather than jazz. Andrew Rathbun's large-scale celebration of Margaret Atwood's poetry gets a nod. A viola d'amore/baritone sax female duo from Montreal is selected for their avant-garde CD.
Less surprising: crooner Michael Bublé is up for Artist of the Year, among other nominations.
In the Vocal Jazz Album of the Year, all the nominees have previously won multiple JUNOs. Diana Krall's collaboration with Tony Bennett will compete against Holly Cole's first studio album in five years, and Diana Panton's celebration of the changing seasons. Each of those albums features primarily jazz standards.
The category wraps up with two albums featuring Laila Biali and original music. The first is Biali's self-titled album of her own material with a jazz edge. The second is an album by Vancouver bassist Jodi Proznick, in which Proznick examines the polarities of life from birth to death in her compositions; the tunes are performed by an accomplished Vancouver quartet with Biali on vocals.
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.
Updated December 21, 2018
You can choose jazz from big glitzy dances to small sit-down dinners, to close out 2018 and welcome in 2019 in Ottawa.
If you enjoy celebrating with up to 600 fellow big band enthusiasts, the National Arts Centre would be your destination. The NAC is again teaming up with Big Band Ottawa for a large-scale party in its lobby. The eight-piece group Tuxedo Junction will play during dinner, and then the 18-member Big Band Ottawa will take over for dancing past midnight. After the champagne toast for the new year, they're planning for the longest conga line in Ottawa.
Vocalists Doreen Smith and Robert Vogelsang will perform with both bands. They promise many new charts for this year's show, for an evening of classic big band jazz spiced with Latin and rock and blues, and featuring popular hits starting at the 1930s right through to modern arrangements. This year's NAC event also offers an 1980s music party upstairs: be sure to specify that you want the Big Band party when you register.
At the Ottawa Conference Centre on Coventry Road in Ottawa's east end, the Steve Berndt Quartet will perform for dinner at the Ottawa Charity Ball. Dancing to a DJ and a live auction will follow. The ball will raise funds for two local charities which help children with developmental difficulties and their families.
Berndt's quartet will have just finished recording his upcoming solo jazz album that week. They will perform his original songs from the album plus jazz standards. At the request of the organizers, they'll also include a few of Michael Bublé's hits. Berndt previously recorded two well-received duo albums with the late jazz master pianist Brian Browne, plus many albums with his jump-swing band The Jivewires.
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.
Updated February 6, 2019
Never-before-heard collaborations will enliven the stages of the 2019 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival.
The festival, which announced the winter line-up today, will highlight three Canadian jazz musicians as its Artists-in-Residence. Half of its 14 winter festival concerts will showcase them in their own groups and in new combinations.
Running from Thursday, February 7 until Saturday, February 9, the winter festival will also feature two American jazz stars – pianist Joey Calderazzo and vocalist Nellie McKay – as well as other Canadian and local jazz groups.
The Artists-in-Residence are Montreal pianist Marianne Trudel, Toronto guitarist Kevin Breit, and NYC saxophonist Michael Blake. They'll play with musicians drawn from across Canada and the U.S.:
Almost all of these musicians have been presented at previous Ottawa jazz festivals. Ward-Bergeman appeared at the 2016 Ottawa Chamberfest.
They will play both in their own groups and in four Artists-in-Residence Collaboration concerts, created just for this festival. OttawaJazzScene.ca reported last month that Cancura, who is also the festival's programming manager, would be trying a new approach for this festival: “a lot more workshopping and combining players together” in shows.
Updated February 10, 2019
GigSpace has just announced its spring 2019 line-up. All the groups so far booked have played in Ottawa before, and most at GigSpace.
The winter-spring season opens with Montreal's PSC Trio playing their arrangements of well-known songs from pop, rock and jazz, re-built into their own jazz voice (January 12).
For vocal jazz fans: the duo of Christine Fagan and guitarist Garry Elliott playing jazz-inspired interpretations of Joni Mitchell (April 6); Toronto vocalist Micah Barnes (May 10); 16-year-old Vancouver vocalist Maya Rae and her quartet with noted west coast pianist Miles Black singing tunes from and inspired by the Great American Songbook (February 9); and the quartet of Ottawa vocalist Nicole Ratté with violinist William Lamoureux paying tribute to jazz and Paris (February 22).
For jazz in the tradition: Toronto bassist Dave Young and his trio of trumpeter Kevin Turcotte and guitarist Tim Bedner (April 26); Montreal guitarist Sam Kirmayer and his quartet (with piano this time instead of organ) (March 2); pianists Mark Ferguson and Steve Boudreau performing a double piano tribute to Bill Evans, similar to their show at the 24-hour Jazz Ramble (March 22 and 23); Tim Bedner and his quartet playing some of his favourite ballads, blues, and original compositions (May 11). Guitarist Garry Elliott will reprise his collaboration with Bumpin' Binary (Don Cummings on Hammond organ and Mike Essoudry on drums) in "an evening of groove featuring music from the canon of great guitar - organ trios" (May 4).
Unveiling personal projects: pianist/vocalist Steve Amirault playing from his recent recording, Hold On, Let Go (January 18); Montreal sax/piano duo Tevet Sela and John Roney with their 2018 album, The River (March 30); Toronto flutist Bill McBirnie with an Ottawa ensemble and new material (April 13).
So far, GigSpace has announced fewer shows for next spring than this fall (14 versus 18), but not all spring slots are yet filled. In addition, percussionist Jesse Stewart has a show scheduled for April 27 whose exact musical shape is not yet defined.