2014 was a year of milestones – some worth celebrating, some unfortunate – in Ottawa-Gatineau's jazz scene.
There were several major anniversaries, including OttawaJazzScene.ca's fifth birthday in July! The Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra and the Carleton University Jazz Camp also turned five. It was the JazzWorks Jazz Camp's 21st anniversary, and the Apex Jazz Band's 40th.
The National Arts Centre – still the most prestigious jazz location in Ottawa – announced a major renovation over the next two years, to be finished for Canada's sesquicentennial (and the centre's 48th birthday) in 2017. It will substantially improve the centre's acoustics and facilities, but – as OttawaJazzScene.ca revealed – will mean closing the Fourth Stage (where most NAC jazz shows are staged) for several months; the exact timing and impact of that closure have not yet been determined.
This spring, OttawaJazzScene.ca initiated its Jazz Favourites Poll, which allowed local fans to identify and celebrate the successes in Ottawa-Gatineau's jazz scene. We were delighted at the warm response. More than 350 jazz fans voted on their favourites in nine categories covering many aspects of the local jazz and improvised music scene, from venues to CDs. But even more importantly, they told us why, in some fascinating comments which said a lot more. In some cases, the results were closely contested. In almost all cases, they were diverse, reflecting the many different types of music under the jazz umbrella, and the many ways to enjoy it.
Jazz venues come, jazz venues go
Local jazz musicians continued to bring their creativity to the scene, with a wide variety of new projects, new CDs, and new groups. New jazz jams appeared and stayed.
But there was also considerable churn in local venues offering jazz. Whether it was Ottawa's strained economy in general, or tough times in the restaurant business in particular, a surprising number of locations closed in 2014 which had been regularly offering jazz.
At the same time, several others turned into regular jazz spots – if not replacing those which closed, at least providing other options.
In February, Knox Fine Dining in Moose Creek, which had been offering jazz on Saturday nights for five years, shut down. In late August, the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) went to confirm their fifth season at the Umi Café in Chinatown – and found it papered up and inaccessible. They were luckily able to move their Sunday shows to the Raw Sugar Café a few blocks away, with no interruption.
This summer, after many years serving the best rotis and fried plantain in the city, Groovy sold his Roti Hut and moved to Grenada in the Caribbean – meaning the end of the hot Sunday evening jazz jams there.
In November, Juniper Kitchen and Wine Bar closed after 17 years in business and seven years of Brian Browne playing solo piano there every Thursday evening. In November, Mooney's Bay Bistro, which had regularly offered jazz several weekend evenings a month for at least five years, closed for renovations and then just closed. In December, Christopher's Greek to Go, which had been hosting a new monthly jazz jam, was not able to renew its lease.
But perhaps the saddest loss was ZenKitchen. On May 22, the gourmet vegan restaurant abruptly closed after the Canadian Revenue Agency seized its bank account for HST arrears. A fundraiser featuring many local jazz musicians and vegan chefs on June 10 raised about $10,000 to help pay past staff salaries and other debts, assisted by another $7,000 from on-line fundraising. And angel investor Michaël Gazier bought the restaurant and arranged to reopen it with previous owner Dave Loan as manager.
ZenKitchen had run popular Sunday jazz shows, first brunches then dinners, for two years, and they resumed in early August. In September, a weekly jazz series began on Wednesday nights, curated by Ottawa musician Roddy Ellias and featuring a star-studded line-up of Canadian jazz musicians. Ellias opened the series with Toronto pianist Bernie Senensky; other performers included Montreal vocalist Jeri Brown and the Joel Miller Trio. ZenKitchen closed for good in early November, due to “financial challenges in the current operating model” – although Gazier stated these were not related to the jazz series.
Ottawa's jazz scene was hardly the only one affected by closures, however. The iconic Cellar Jazz Club in Vancouver shut its doors in February, after not being able to negotiate a lease renewal. Several notable, long-time restaurants in Ottawa which did not offer jazz were also shuttered.
On the positive side, in April Café Nostalgica at the University of Ottawa restarted its Wednesday jazz nights, which had been an important part of the scene for many years. The evenings have continued with local bands of various jazz styles alternating Wednesdays. The completely-rebuilt café has a central location, good acoustics and sightlines, and much larger space than in its old building, but it unfortunately so far lacks the intimacy and character of the old location.
A new Wednesday evening “vocal-centric” jazz series at Santé Restaurant launched in September – after a successful series of shows during the Jazz Festival. The first show attracted a full room of listeners for vocalist Karen Oxorn and guitarist Tim Bedner, and the series has continued with a lineup of both male and female local vocalists in duet with Bedner.
Jazz at Festival Japan moved from monthly to two Saturdays a month this year, with duos performing standards.
The Adam Saikaley Quartet began performing monthly at Mugshots, a down-to-earth bar located on the ground floor of of Ottawa's former jail (now a hostel) in November, 2013. They were joined in March by a new group, Bumpin' Binary – a minimalist configuration of just Mike Essoudry on drums and Don Cummings on Hammond A organ, with occasional guests such as saxophonist Petr Cancura. Both have continued to attract enthusiastic crowds each month. Other local bands like The Four Heavies, The Chocolate Hot Pockets, and The Super Awesome Club have also performed at Mugshots.
The Manx, a cozy downtown bar, has featured occasional jazz shows over the past five years, but began offering late-night jazz on a more regular basis on Sundays and Mondays in the last 18 months, particularly with groups led by Adam Saikaley, Alex Moxon, and Alex Bilodeau.
Festivals: jazzy and not
The Ottawa Jazz Festival continued featuring non-jazz over jazz in its headliners. This year's summer festival opened with a decidedly-odd tribute to Bollywood and the Indian subcontinent which did not attract a large audience. Of the festival's 11 “Concerts Under the Stars” headliners, only two – Dianne Reeves and Bobby McFerrin – could be termed jazz artists; the remainder played blues, bluegrass, R&B, soul, and Celtic music.
Indoor shows at the National Arts Centre and Dominion Chalmers United Church featured mostly jazz in many genres, with stand-out performances from artists including Jon Ballantyne, Christian McBride, Norma Winstone, and Colin Stetson. But because of the smaller size of those venues, not all jazz fans who wanted to attend could always get in to hear these artists.
The late-night shows outside Ottawa City Hall featured fine performances by cutting-edge jazz artists including Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, Snarky Puppy, and Bill Frisell, combined with a number of non-jazz shows.
The “Great Canadian Jazz” series in Confederation Park continued to feature many excellent Canadian musicians, but because the times of these concerts conflicted with other indoor jazz concerts, and because individual tickets to these concerts were bundled with the later and expensive non-jazz shows in the park, audience numbers were not as high as one might expect.
The festival highly promoted its new early evening series at the City Hall stage which was kickstarted with government funding. A mere two of the ten shows were jazz; the remainder were indie-pop or folk.
OttawaJazzScene.ca informed jazz fans and musicians for the first time that the festival's Rideau Centre Stage would be lost for 2014, because of major renovations (now finished) at the shopping centre. This meant a loss of almost half of the free local jazz shows at the festival – which was exacerbated by the fact that almost all the weekend slots for local groups were allocated to indie-pop groups, not jazz groups. Similarly, the number of shows by local student bands was decreased by almost one-half, as they were bumped from their previous outdoor slots by indie-pop groups.
Despite excellent weather and a small increase in attendance, the festival actually lost money in 2014. It attributed the loss to a sharp drop in the Canadian dollar after it had booked many of its non-Canadian acts. The Canadian dollar has not rebounded since, but it is not yet clear whether this might encourage the festival to book more Canadians or local jazz acts next year.
The festival will celebrate its 35th anniversary in 2015 – but it's 2016 that it's probably more worried about. That year, both Confederation Park and the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage will be closed for months for major upgrades. The festival definitely needs to find a replacement outdoor park location, and has not yet announced any.
Merrickville's Jazz Fest – the runner-up for favourite local jazz festival in OttawaJazzScene.ca's Jazz Favourites poll, after the Ottawa Jazz Festival – celebrated a fourth successful year in October. OttawaJazzScene.ca covered the full festival with articles, reviews, and photos and videos, and was impressed with how MJF celebrated local and Canadian jazz, and its community spirit.
OttawaJazzScene.ca also wrote about other nearby festivals with jazz offerings, including the Prince Edward County Jazz Festival, the Festival de Jazz Desjardins in Aylmer, Chamberfest (with adventurous shows by Don Byron, Jesse Stewart, and Michael and Roberto Occhipinti), and Music and Beyond, which opened with a jazz/classical crossover concert featuring Branford Marsalis.
- Composer, arranger, teacher, and instrumentalist: Rob Frayne has been a major voice in Ottawa's and Canada's jazz scene for decades. This fall, he overcame the lingering effects of an auto collision a decade ago and, after considerable work, was able to play his tenor saxophone in concert again – to a sold-out audience.
- Talk to almost any Canadian jazz composer, and the name of composer and trumpeter “Kenny Wheeler” is likely to appear as a major influence. This fall, as Wheeler was ailing in England, musicians in Canada, the U.S., and Europe arranged benefit concerts to help him and his wife. Guitarist Roddy Ellias and pianist Peter Hum brought together four other Ottawa musicians for an Ottawa benefit. They performed Wheeler's compositions with deep intensity and feeling before a packed house at Zolas Restaurant and raised $900 for Wheeler's family.
- On December 6, composer Elise Letourneau honoured the memory of the 14 women killed at Ecole Polytechnique with her Requiem for 14 Roses, premiered on the 25th anniversary of the massacre. The composition combined both classical and jazz elements within the requiem structure, and involved 40 choristers, five soloists, and an eight-piece instrumental ensemble. The sorrow and remembrance attracted an audience which almost completely filled the large church and its upstairs balcony; they listened intently and nearly silently throughout, and then leaped to their feet at the end in an immediate and extended ovation.
- Irreverent, infectiously fun, and with a unique sound, Mike Essoudry's Mash Potato Mashers spent the last four years never standing still. But Essoudry decided that managing an eight-piece marching band had become too difficult, and the Mashers paraded for their final time on April 4, at their perennially favourite location of Irene's Pub.
- For those who miss the Mashers' Balkan-inspired music, saxophonist and ex-Masher Linsey Wellman debuted his Wedding and Funeral Trio (including Essoudry) at the end of 2013. It had a somewhat similar sound (but different repertoire), and played occasionally around Ottawa to excellent reviews in 2014.
- With very little fanfare, the federal government announced on June 23 that it would no longer charge extra fees for international musicians playing in bars and restaurants. This had caused a huge controversy in 2013, when a fee of $275 per musician was imposed for a “Labour Market Opinion” for international artists playing at a venue with a primary business other than music.
- The Apex Jazz Band celebrated its 40th anniversary on April 27, with a show at its long-time home base, the Kanata Royal Oak. Apex has entertained local Dixieland and Trad jazz fans since 1974; three of its original six members are still playing with the band today. There was a crush load in the pub for the afternoon show, with lots of clapping and smiles. Many former members and those who played occasionally with the group as substitutes or sit-ins brought their instruments and joined in, with a constantly shifting lineup on stage.
- The Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) held their third weekend festival of improvised music in early October, featuring notable Canadian improvisers Jean Derome and Joane Hétu from Montreal, and Lina Allemano’s Titanium Riot from Toronto, as well as many local musicians. This was the final IMOOfest, and the last direct involvement in IMOO from trumpeter Craig Pedersen, who moved to Montreal more than a year ago. IMOO organizers Linsey Wellman and David Jackson told OttawaJazzScene.ca that IMOO will be concentrating on its biweekly series and occasional special concerts instead.
- JazzWorks held its second “Originals” concert in May, to showcase compositions by local jazz musicians which were developed and refined at JazzWorks' 2013 jazz camp. The songs ranged from modern mainstream instrumentals to Latin numbers to Great American Songbook-style vocal numbers. They were performed by the JazzWorks camp faculty from Montreal and Toronto – drummer Nick Fraser, pianist Nancy Walker, and saxophonist Rémi Bolduc – who had originally mentored the composers as they worked on their pieces, plus local musicians. The show attracted an enthusiastic audience (many of whom had attended the camp).
- It's been two years since Ottawa jazz festival programming manager and CKCU radio host Jacques Émond died, but his thousands of jazz recordings play on, collected at Carleton University. In our exclusive story, OttawaJazzScene.ca told you how Carleton has become a repository for many rare recordings both from private bequests like Émond's, and as the final destination for CBC Ottawa's music collection.
- Once a year, vocalist Michael Pytura combines his love of big band singing with his support for the Make-A-Wish Canada charity. Last year was his fourth year singing in front of a jazz orchestra composed of some of Ottawa-Gatineau's best jazz musicians, and OttawaJazzScene.ca was there to capture the joy and glitz of the event.
- Pianist Clayton Connell graduated from Carleton University in January and almost immediately headed off to Europe, after winning a major scholarship and entrance to a renowned Austrian university. OttawaJazzScene.ca interviewed him about how he got this opportunity.
- Bassist Marc Decho continued to spice up the local jazz scene with two very different and innovative projects this year. This spring he unveiled his trio 2React, which found the jazz roots in hip-hop, and used samplers, guitar, and drums to interpret that music. The project crossed over into many different audiences, and Decho will even play a version of this music in a noon-hour concert in a local church in February. This summer, he got such a great response to a one-time show of New Orleans-style music that he created the Sun Crescent Barbecue Stompers, which has been energizing audiences ever since.
- Percussionist and academic Jesse Stewart was recognized for his musical and other achievements by the City of Ottawa by being named to the city's Order of Ottawa this fall. 2014 was a very busy year for Stewart, starting with his 'Memories of Ice' Winterlude shows in February, his work with disabled adults in H'Art of Ottawa and with disabled children in Kidsability in Guelph, and his courses on improvisation at the Ottawa Mission's Discovery University – each of which culminated in one or more public concerts. He released two CDs, brought renowned bassist and composer William Parker and dancer Patricia Nicholson to Ottawa in March for a series of fascinating concerts and lectures, and performed in a wide variety of public performances.
- In November, local vocalist Nicole Ratté was awarded the Performing Arts Award from the Outaouais Art Council Foundation, for her 2013 show Le jazz d’une génération à l’autre (Jazz Across Generations), which featured 40 artists from 5 to 75 years old.
- Ottawa saxophonist and composer Doug Martin was invited to perform three shows of his own music at the Havana Jazz Festival in December. After he returned, he told OttawaJazzScene.ca that his music was very well-received by audiences at the festival, and the Cuban musicians he played with (for the first time) were “truly excellent”.
- For International Jazz Day on April 30, the Canada Council opened its new headquarters on Elgin Street for a noon-hour concert by the Roddy Ellias Trio, which celebrated jazz music from around the world – and sounded beautiful,
- The Ottawa Fringe Festival, best known for its theatre shows, extended itself into jazz this year, by programming a series of jazz and jazz-crossover shows for the first time at its free outdoor stage. We interviewed the festival's music programmer about why it was “love at first listen” for these groups.
- The Juno Awards extensively changed its award categories for Canadian jazz albums this year for 2015. It replaced “Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year” and “Traditional Jazz Album of the Year” with “Jazz Album of the Year: Solo” and “Jazz Album of the Year: Group”. It should be interesting distinguishing the categories: if an album is by “Oliver Jones”, it's in the 'solo' category, but if it's by “The Oliver Jones Trio”, it's in the 'group' category. The “Vocal Jazz Album of the Year” and “Instrumental Album of the Year” categories remained the same.
- We were saddened to note the death of Ottawa jazz guitarist Gabe Bianchini, who played regularly at Cafe Paradiso, of Ottawa jazz festival founder Don Lahey, and of long-time jazz festival volunteer Gary Clay.
- CKCU-FM's fall fundraising campaign met its $130,000 goal for its 2014 funding drive just a few days after the official end date of the campaign. The hosts of the Sunday jazz show Swing is in the Air encouraged their listeners to donate more than double the show's official target in pledges. The avant-garde Wednesday jazz show Rabble Without a Cause also doubled its donations over 2013.
Jazz jams increase
2014 was a banner year for local jazz jams. In March, trumpeter Nick Dyson started a regular Tuesday night jam at the Rochester Pub in Little Italy, hosted by his new band, The Beeched Wailers. The all-ages jam has attracted a mix of students and professionals and stayed consistently lively.
In November, Jacquie Dixon and Betty Ann Bryanton started a new monthly jam in a Greek restaurant in the Mooney's Bay area. They had two popular Friday night outings, and then the restaurant closed. They've moved the jam to the Georgetown Pub in Ottawa South, which we hope will have the same vibrant vibe.
JazzWorks ended its Sunday jams at the Carleton Tavern in May due to low attendance. However, in December it announced it was trying a new location (the more family-friendly Bluesfest School of Music and Art in Westboro), with a new format including mentoring from experienced musicians. The new Sunday afternoon jams will run monthly from January until March and their popularity will then be evaluated.
The regular monthly JazzWorks evening jams continued at the Carleton Tavern in Hintonburg, as did the weekly jams at the Brookstreet Options Jazz Lounge in Kanata and at Le Petit Chicago in Gatineau. Unfortunately, Tim Bedner's monthly blues and jazz jam at GigSpace – which also featured considerable mentoring – ended in May, and has not restarted.
Paying tribute to the masters
Jazz is a genre in touch and in conversation with its history. This year, several groups of local musicians demonstrated this through recreating notable jazz CDs in live concert:
- In February and March, the Adam Saikaley Quintet brought the landmark Miles Davis album, Filles de Kilimanjaro, to vivid life at two shows. OttawaJazzScene.ca heard their second, more extensive, show at the Manx, and saw how the quintet's reinterpretation really connected with their audience.
- In June, saxophonist Patrick Smith, along with bassist Ben Heard and drummer Keagan Eskritt, paid homage to one of his favourite albums, Sonny Rollins Live at the Village Vanguard, by playing the tracks off the album front to back in two sets. OttawaJazzScene.ca published a video showing excerpts of their performance and an interview with the trio.
- In October, guitarist Alex Moxon, saxophonist Richard Page, bassist Joe Hincke, and drummer Mike Essoudry recreated Hank Mobley's classic album, Soul Station, again at the Manx.
None of the shows was a note-for-note recreation – the two Manx shows in particular changed instrumentation and arrangements – but all tried to capture the feel of the albums and share the musicians' joy in that music.
In addition, Karen Oxorn, Marcie Campbell, and Caroline Gibson revived their tribute show to iconic jazz vocalist Blossom Dearie at this fall's Merrickville's Jazz Fest, with a well-received show which closed the festival.
A wide variety of visiting jazz musicians
While the loss of ZenKitchen meant a lot fewer visiting jazz artists, there was still a wide variety of interesting Canadian and international musicians here throughout the year, from Pat Metheny to Emilie-Claire Barlow to Dave Liebman.
Among our favourite concerts were:
- Phil Minton at IMOO
- Scott Thomson & Susanna Hood interpreting P.K. Page at IMOO
- Marianne Trudel's Quintet at NAC Presents
- The Jerome Beaulieu Trio at in NAC Presents and at the Ottawa Jazz Festival
- The Kirk MacDonald Quartet at the Ottawa Jazz Festival
- Tcha Limberger and Denis Chang at NECTAR
- Bernie Senensky at ZenKitchen, and with Organic at Zolas
- Jane Bunnett & Maqueque at GigSpace
- Cordâme at Festival Desjardins in Aylmer
- Phil Dwyer at Les Brasseurs du Temps
- The Alex Goodman Trio at the Brookstreet Hotel Options Jazz Lounge
- Jesse Stewart with William Parker & Patricia Nicholson at Carleton University, and with William Parker and David Mott at GigSpace
- Jesse Stewart and David Mott playing Chinese-influenced music, including on giant gongs and stone instruments, at the Chinese Cultural Centre
Local jazz artists released a wide variety of CDs in 2014. In order of release, they were:
- The Souljazz Orchestra - Inner Fire
- Jesse Stewart/David Mott - Anagrams
- The Roddy Ellias Trio - Monday's Dream
- Steve Berndt and Brian Browne - All Over Again
- Steve Groves Trio - Notes from the Underground
- Peter Brown Quartet - Beautiful Love
- Adesso - Magnetic Problems
- Deep Listening Band (with Jesse Stewart) - Dunrobin Sonic Gems (recorded in Dunrobin, just outside Ottawa)
- IMOO Volume 4: 100 (recorded live at IMOO concert #100 and featuring Ottawa-area jazz improvisers)
- Peter Liu - Bamboo Groove
- Geri Childs - More than Magic
- Elise Letourneau & Brian Browne - The Long and Winding Road (recorded live at GigSpace)
The Roddy Ellias Trio CD was favourably reviewed in Downbeat, and listed among their top albums of the year. The Souljazz Orchestra's CD was among Allmusic's Favourite Jazz Albums of 2014, and it got the "#1 International Album of 2014" position and the "#2 Jazz Album of 2014" spot on the !earshot radio charts covering Canadian campus and community radio stations.
The Jivewires, The Craig Pedersen Quartet, and Peter Hum had also promised CDs for 2014, but these are now scheduled for 2015.
OttawaJazzScene.ca was delighted to be nominated for Short Form Jazz Video of the Year in the Jazz Journalists Association 2014 Jazz Awards, for our video Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra - in the making, which we hoped captured some of the dedication and excitement of those involved in that student band. It was, without a doubt, in stark contrast to the winning video, which was about jazz musicians and drug use.
In 2014, we released nine videos, ranging from music played outdoors in the deep freeze of Winterlude, to intimate concerts at GigSpace, to the joy of the successful Kenny Wheeler benefit, to an NAC Fourth Stage tribute to Blossom Dearie, to a concert at ZenKitchen where we had to capture the very quiet vibe of a duo show without getting in the way of the audience.
We offered our newsletter subscribers special contests to win free tickets to 16 concerts plus one festival pass. We repeatedly heard from those listeners how much they had enjoyed the shows and how they were glad to have been introduced to venues and musicians new to them.
We published 99 interviews and news articles, 35 reviews, and 300 photos. We even published our very first movie review – of the fascinating (if unfortunately flawed) new indie movie, Whiplash, a psychological study of a twisted jazz student-teacher interaction.
And it was our fifth anniversary this summer! To celebrate it, Brett Delmage presented his Jazz Scene: Jazz Heard! photographic print exhibit at GigSpace in June and July.
And just before our 5th anniversary on July 3, we coincidently published our 10,000th article/event listing on the website.
And about you
What were Ottawa-Gatineau jazz fans most interested in our content published on the website last year?
Definitely our first Jazz Favourites Poll engendered a great deal of interest, both from voters and even more from those reading the results. Our story about the Beeched Wailers' new Tuesday night jazz jam was a consistent favourite. Our interview with Elise Letourneau about her Requiem for 14 Roses, and with Clayton Connell about his jazz sojourn in Austria were very well-read. Other popular topics included Merrickville's Jazzfest, ZenKitchen, Kellylee Evans, Michael Pytura, and our review of the Jerome Beaulieu Trio's first show outside Quebec.
And then there are the stories we didn't expect: our January, 2013 interview with Cory Weeds about his Cellar Jazz Club in Vancouver just kept getting reads – and so did the story we published in March about saxophonist Phil Dwyer going to law school this fall after 30 years playing jazz. While we were proud of both stories, we didn't expect them to have that kind of legs. Sometimes you never know what people are going to be interested in.