Amy Brandon ©Brett Delmage, 2016
The 21st century guitar conference in Ottawa, directed by Amy Brandon, will examine how the musical horizons of the guitar are expanding. Brandon is seen here at the launch for her electro-acoustic album Scavenger ©Brett Delmage, 2016

This week, you can get a glimpse into how guitar music is expanding in the 21st century.

An 48-piece orchestra of electric and classical guitars, with an improvised light show playing in sync on the ceiling above them. A free six-hour small-concert showcase of guitar music by dozens of Canadian composers, performed by many different guitarists. Feature concerts by jazz guitar masters Gord Grdina and Miles Okazaki, and lectures by composers Mike Rud, Tim Brady, and Trevor Babb. Jazz, electro-acoustic, new music, and modern classical music, and many points in between.

These are all part of the 21st century guitar conference, running from Thursday to Sunday at the University of Ottawa and the Carleton Dominion Chalmers Centre. The conference will also focus on guitar skill acquisition and guitar pedagogy, using new advances in cognitive science and neuroplasticity.

The interdisciplinary conference is the brainchild of guitarist Amy Brandon, who is currently working on her own PhD, examining “the cognitive aspects of how we navigate the guitar when we're performing”. Although she now lives in Nova Scotia, Brandon was raised here and is a long-time member of Ottawa's jazz scene.

The idea first came to her about three years ago. “I had been to a couple of guitar conferences as part of my PhD and I noticed that a lot of them were focused mostly on music from about a hundred years ago or further back. I thought that was really interesting because I know of so much incredible new music for guitar. I just wanted to have a conference that was focused exclusively on that.”

Robert Wannell is saying goodbye to Ottawa – with jazz standards.

Next week, the young guitarist presents a show at the Art House Cafe featuring the music he's found he loves best: classic jazz from the 1950s to 70s. He'll play with his frequent musical companions – double bassist Chris Pond, and drummer José Monchito Hernández García – plus saxophonist Sam Cousineau, who has recently returned to Ottawa.

“I wasn't planning on going out with a bang or anything. I just wanted to play one last fun show in Ottawa before I head out.”

Wannell promises a set list of lesser-known tunes. “The idea was I didn't want to play songs that have been played a thousand times before, like 'All the Things You Are'. The classic standards that get thrown around at a jazz jam, you know? Not that those are bad songs or anything, but we just wanted to pull from a different pool of music.”

They'll also include some better-known Hank Mobley tunes, but the band wanted to get “a little deeper into the music, to find songs that we all like that aren't necessarily run-of-the-mill jazz standards. Cool, harmonically-interesting songs.”

It's a choice of music which Wannell has been gradually moving towards, in his four years studying at Humber College in Toronto and this last year back in Ottawa.

Nick Dyson ©Brett Delmage, 2015
Nick Dyson has brought together three other trumpeters and a rhythm section to create a new in-your-face jazz fusion group. Point Blank Brass makes its debut August 21 at Irene's. Dyson plays in many jazz groups around Ottawa, including the Beeched Wailers, the Prime Rib Big Band, the Bank Street Bonbons, and Los Gringos. ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Four trumpets, one rhythm section, and a lot of funky jazz fusion. That's the sound which Ottawa trumpeter Nick Dyson is aiming for in his new group, Point Blank Brass.

It will play its first – and so far only – show next Wednesday at Irene's Pub in the Glebe. Dyson promises “rock elements, and jazz elements, and funk elements, and soul music elements – and a whole lot of decibels.”

It's not a lineup you usually hear in either rock or jazz, where that size of trumpet section is reserved for a big band. Dyson is reaching back to the early 70s and a soul/jazz/rock band called Chase for his inspiration.

It was led by trumpeter Bill Chase, who had played for the previous decade in big bands led by Maynard Ferguson, Stan Kenton, and Woody Herman, and combined a front line of four cascading trumpets with a driving rhythm section. The group was immediately successful, with its first single reaching #24 on Billboard, and a GRAMMY nomination for Best New Artist, but ended in 1974 when Chase and several other band members died in a plane crash.

Other groups in the late 60s and 70s, such as Blood, Sweat & Tears, Tower of Power, and Chicago, also included horns, but they combined trumpets with trombone and saxophone. Chase was unique in using only trumpets, and creating fresh arrangements for them.

“If you do a little reading about Bill Chase and the Chase band, you hear about the Chase cascade, where everybody starts high and then only certain people move,” Dyson said. “It creates this really cool effect. I think the idea for a lot of it is to take a four-trumpet approach to an instrumental funk band. Bill Chase knew a lot of trumpet players, a lot of people that liked to do that kind of trumpet playing, so I think he came across a really interesting fusion at that point.”

Saxophonist Sam Cousineau has returned to Ottawa from two years in Texas, with a taste for the food and many new jazz experiences. You can hear the musical results this month as he returns to the local scene.

Samuel Cousineau
Samuel Cousineau (photo provided by Cousineau)

Cousineau graduated in May with a Master of Music in Jazz Studies from the University of North Texas, one of the top jazz schools in the United States. He studied there for two years, and played in and toured with the school's renowned One O'Clock Lab Band.

It was a natural next step for the young alto saxophonist, who has “always wanted to be a professional musician, performing.”

Cousineau has a deep love for straight-ahead jazz. He's been recruited by Ottawa trumpeter Ed Lister to join a new group, The Bow Street Runners, which will be performing each Sunday evening in August at Irene's Pub. The group's music (originals inspired by the Latin / hard bop blends of Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, and Monk, plus standards) is “definitely down my alley”, he said.

As a child, he said, “I remember the first time I heard Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley play – and that music has really stuck with me.” He's always played alto sax: “for me I think there's a special thing in the alto that I don't find in the tenor. It's hard to explain – like this clear beauty in the instrument that I find I might not get from the tenor. I'll be honest – I do find the alto much more difficult to play than the tenor: tuning and I find that it's very finicky, but that's for me to deal with in the practice room. But, in short, I think the alto saxophone is closest to my voice. And if I look at my alto saxophone heroes now like Dick Oatts, David Binney, Jon Gordon, Kenny Garrett, Lee Konitz, they all have their unique approach to the instrument that I find is very captivating.”

Justin Duhaime and Christian Flores ©Alayne McGregor, 2019
Justin Duhaime and Christian Flores in close musical communication at the Westboro Legion. The show was the first in what jazz fan and Legion volunteer Carol Raoult hopes will be a monthly series. ©Alayne McGregor, 2019

View photos by Alayne McGregor of this performance

Sunday evening saw the debut of a new jazz series in Westboro, featuring a rare collaboration between two popular local gypsy jazz guitarists.

At the Westboro branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, about 20 jazz listeners heard two hour-long sets by Justin Duhaime and Christian Flores. Duhaime told the audience that he and Flores, a founding member of local jazz group Django Libre, hadn't played together for a long time – but they fluently navigated favourites in the gypsy jazz repertoire together, before an appreciative audience.

The set list included music by Django Reinhardt and his successors, plus jazz standards, including several less-commonly-played tunes. Duhaime provided enthusiastic introductions and explanations of many tunes. The guitarists comfortably played in unison and traded off the lead, one playing rhythm to the other's lead, and then switching, with each adding his own take on the tune.

Highlights included the two daring each other to take Fats Waller's “Honeysuckle Rose” further and further out, to the delight of the audience; the fast yet expressively melancholy “Bossa Dorado”, with contrasting intricate interpretations; the tender “Seul ce soir”; the energetic and fun “Limehouse Blues”; the spirited and almost funky “Heavy Artillery”; the vibrant swing of “After You've Gone”; the hypnotic vibe of “Made for Wesley”; and the gentle minor key melody of “Clair de Lune”. The vivid “Blues Clair” and the sweet “Troublant Boléro” were less familiar pieces well worth hearing.

The show was organized by local jazz fan Carol Raoult, who's aiming to run a monthly jazz series at the Westboro Legion starting in the fall. She said she has already lined up several local jazz groups interested in performing there.

On Saturday, Huu Bac Quach will add plaintive and haunting sounds from Vietnam, China, and Peru to mainstream jazz, as his Montreal-based quintet closes the 2019 Festival de Jazz du Parc de l'Imaginaire in Aylmer. The free concert in the park will be his Ottawa-Gatineau debut.

Huu Bac Quintet (photo by Nicolas_Larco)
The Huu Bac Quintet, with Huu Bac Quach in front with dan bau (photo by Nicolas_Larco)

The multi-instrumentalist was a finalist for the Grand Jazz Award at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2017. He plays the dan bau, a resonant Vietnamese single-string zither, played with one hand bending a handle to modify pitch; the erhu, a Chinese two-stringed fiddle; the quena, a traditional Andean flute; and jazz guitar.

He incorporated all of these – plus piano, bass, drums, and violin – into the compositions on his first album, which he wrote while on a world tour. The result: approachable and engrossing music which pays tribute to both the jazz tradition and Chinese and Vietnamese musical traditions.

To Quach, it's a natural combination: “For me world music is just everything! When I write music, I just try to include everything in it at some level. Everything is equally world music for me – jazz is the folk music of North America and Bach is the folk music of Europe. I'm just trying to bring all the folk music together.”

The cover of his album, On the Steps of St. Paul's, shows him in front of the ruins of the first Christian church in Macao (now a special administrative region of China). Taken by tourists, the photo shows him playing dan bau on the steps of the 400-year-old church, “and at the left side is a traditional Asian building and in the background very far you see a modern skyscraper.”

“I thought it represented well what I do – a mix of Western and Eastern. The three buildings: the traditional Asian side, the European colonial representing the contrapuntal music I like with its European influences, and then there's the modern skyscraper that represents the new world, North America, and jazz, and the new creative side of things.”

Bill Luxton and Mary Frances Simpson sing in The Grey Jazz Big Band's 2018
Bill Luxton and Mary Frances Simpson sing in The Grey Jazz Big Band's 2018 "A Concert to Remember" ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Updated July 21
Ottawa's jazz scene has lost one of its most gentlemanly stars with the death of vocalist Bill Luxton Sr. CTV Ottawa reported that Luxton drowned in his backyard swimming pool this weekend.

Luxton, 92, had been the MC and male vocalist with the Grey Jazz Big Band for the last 25 years. The 20-member band draws its members from retired amateur and professional musicians, whose ages range up into the 90s. They play big band and swing numbers from the 20s to the modern day – with energy that belies their calendar ages.

“Bill was a gentleman to his fingertips – handsome, urbane, unflappable,” said Mary Frances Simpson, Luxton's vocalist partner in the Grey Jazz Big Band. At the band's concerts, the two would sing separately and together, often smoothly alternating lines in duet performances of songs such as “They Can't Take That Away From Me”.

“He was the consummate professional – punctual, letter perfect, in command of his material, unfailingly courteous, easy to work with. He passionately loved being a performer and those of us who were privileged to work with him benefitted from absorbing his enthusiasm, and his vast knowledge, and his absolute command of his profession.”

That professionalism came out of decades of experience working as a broadcaster at CJOH-TV (now CTV Ottawa), hosting shows such as Morning Magazine, Lunch Party, and The Amazing Kreskin – as well as a comic actor in the long-running syndicated “Willy & Floyd” children's show.

Luxton continued to deploy those announcing skills at Grey Jazz concerts, talking about the songs and their history, cracking jokes that got the audience chuckling, and introducing band members.

“Bill had a marvelous sense of humour, charming audiences with his witty remarks and jokes,” said saxophonist Paul Caron. “He would routinely address the audience without a script and would easily improvise a funny monologue if the band wasn't ready to begin playing.”

Updated July 19
This July in the Parc de L'Imaginaire in Aylmer, world music will overlap with jazz and jazz with world-spanning music.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Parc de l'Imaginaire: a cool place to listen to jazz under the trees, close to the river ©Brett Delmage, 2011

The Festival de Jazz du Parc de L'Imaginaire officially announced its 2019 lineup today. The artists for its 33rd year include Ottawa's Souljazz Orchestra and well-known Quebec jazz artists Jordan Officer and Gentiane MG – plus two jazz groups new here: Sussex and the Huu Bac Quintet.

Music will be presented in the park, located just inland from the Aylmer Marina, on the first three Wednesdays in July and then every day from July 24 to 27. The concerts are again free to all. All concerts start at 7:30 p.m. and finish between 9 and 10 p.m. Picnics and families are welcome. Bring your own lawn chairs or blankets because seating is not provided. Donations are welcomed.

The concerts are offered by the Centre l'Imagier gallery, in conjunction with the City of Gatineau and the Conseil des Artes et des lettres du Québec. The rain location will be Christ Church Aylmer at 101, rue Symmes in Aylmer. It's at Avenue Frank Robinson, about 10 blocks from the park.

The series begins with three “Musique du Monde” show on Wednesdays:

Wednesday, July 3: Briga (a.k.a. Brigitte Dajczer) is a violinist and vocalist from Montreal whose music combines jazz, gypsy jazz, folk, pop, punk, and hip-hop. The JUNO nominee sings in both French and English, and plays her violin in styles “firmly rooted in eastern European and Romani folk sounds learned from the days her father played the piano to put the children to sleep.”

The final Jazz Monday at the current Le Petit Chicago ©Brett Delmage, 2019
The final Jazz Monday at the current Le Petit Chicago was announced on the sidewalk sign; the "le Petit Chicago" sign had already been removed from the front of the bar ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Jazz Mondays went out with a flourish on June 24, with crowds of local jazz musicians and fans coming together to celebrate the long-lasting current jazz jam in Ottawa-Gatineau.

The weekly jams have been hosted at Le Petit Chicago, a bar in downtown Gatineau, for the last 14 years. But the bar must leave its current location, where it's been for more than 15 years: the building at 50 Promenade du Portage is due to be demolished for a new development. The bar was originally scheduled to close in April but the deadline was stretched out to the end of June. This is its final week.

However, both Jazz Mondays and Le Petit Chicago will return, says jam coordinator Michel Delage. The late-night jams will resume on July 8 at le Minotaure, a bar owned by the same management as Petit Chicago. It's located at 3 rue Kent in downtown Gatineau, about 5 blocks east and north of the current location and behind Place du Portage Phase IV. []

A new Petit Chicago will be revived in the Zibi development on the banks of the Ottawa River in Gatineau. Delage expected the jams to stay at le Minotaure for several months, and said that the new Petit Chicago is not likely to be ready before October or November.

©Brett Delmage, 2019
CYJO Director Nick Dyson with Eric Littlewood at the CYJO concert in Nov. 2014. Littlewood is performing in the 10th Anniversary Alumni Band. ©Brett Delmage, 2018

During the past 10 years more than 120 post-secondary and advanced high school musicians developed their skills in and enthusiasm for big band performance in Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra (CYJO). They presented a variety of well-rehearsed and frequently very well-received public concerts. Behind that was CYJO founder and director Nick Dyson, sharing his encyclopedic knowledge and love of big band music with students, including arrangements by Canadian and local composers.

This spring marked the 10th Anniversary of the founding of CYJO, although it was not active this season. The CYJO 10th Anniversary Alumni Band, comprised of former CYJO players - many who are now working, professional musicians - performs a free special concert on Wednesday at noon on the Ottawa Jazz Festival’s Confederation Park Stage. The music selections will be 100% Canadian.

Two CYJO alumni told about their positive experiences in CYJO, including how it helped them develop as musicians, their favourite moments, and what they are looking forward to playing in next.

Saxophonist Brady Leafloor was a founding member of CYJO and played (as he recalls) the first four seasons. CYJO had a maximum age for members, and the most proficient members like Leafloor had to retire to make room for new members.

“It was a really great thing to be a part of building. A small group of us got together with Nick Dyson and talked it out to form the group,” he says.

Clayton Connell was CYJO’s pianist from 2011 to 2013. He received a highly-competed for-scholarship to The Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst (University for Music and the Performing Arts) in 2014.