Alex Bilodeau is starting a new era at Le Petit Chicago © Brett Delmage, 2014
Alex Bilodeau is starting a new era at Le Petit Chicago © Brett Delmage, 2014
Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago are moving into new hands as of February 9. Ottawa bassist Alex Bilodeau will curate the long-standing late-night jazz showcase and jam, taking over from saxophonist Zakari Frantz.

Frantz is moving on to a new series he's created: Jazz Thursdays at the Lunenburg Pub, which started January 29. The shows at the Rideau-Street-area bar will highlight local jazz musicians and their projects.

The changeover at Le Petit Chicago is friendly: Bilodeau has been a regular participant in the late-night jams at the Gatineau bar. On Facebook, Frantz welcomed Bilodeau as the new curator. “A graduate of McGill University, Alex is one of the region's freshest talents & definitely no stranger to the LPC stage. Expect him to raise the bar with some new jazz/hip hop inspirations and a new sound to welcome in the spring!”

Bilodeau told that he planned to have the host bands – from the Ottawa/Gatineau region – rotate monthly. “You will definitely see some of my own projects performing for the monthly residencies but the plan is to bring in other exciting jazz groups as well.”

For the remainder of February, the host band will be Bilodeau on bass, Richard Page on saxophone, and Michel Delage on drums, performing jazz classics by Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, as well as band members' original music.

In March, the Ed Lister Quartet, with Lister on trumpet, Marc Decho on bass, Pierre Chrétien on keyboards, and Mike Essoudry on drums, will perform, with “more of an electric aesthetic”, Bilodeau said. On March 23, that quartet will be joined by special guests Richard Page and Lee Hollingsworth.

The Jazz Monday format won't change: “The band hosting that month will perform during the first set and the second set will be an open jam.”

Beyond March, the line-up is still open, but Bilodeau was excited at the varied possibilities: projects with influences from hip-hop music or electronic music or Brazilian music – maybe even free improv, since “to me half of jazz is really just the improvisational aspect.”

“When I think of different styles of music, different people come to mind. It's just a good opportunity to bring out lots of great musicians and play different kinds of music. Especially since, for me, jazz is such a broad style of music.”

“That way it will give a chance for a lot of people to develop their projects and just play there week after week for a month, and really develop their own music. [For] people who come down for the jam it gives them the opportunity to play with a bunch of musicians, since the house band will be changing. So that's something that I thought would be good for people that are trying to get out and play with musicians and meet as many musicians as possible.”

He hoped the jams would be a way of giving back to the local jazz scene, in particular by giving younger musicians a chance to play and jam and “know that they're welcome to come play. And also get a chance to hang out and talk with musicians who play a lot in the Ottawa-Gatineau region.”

Jazz at Le Petit Chicago has been a Monday night tradition in Ottawa/Gatineau for almost a decade, with many jazz musicians (local and visiting) dropping in and playing until early in the morning. Brian and Jeff Asselin, and later their group Search Engine with Eric Disero and Alex Mastronardi, started the series, and hosted it for about five years, before handing it off to Frantz. The Le Petit Chicago shows have always been important for local listeners because they historically have often been the first place to hear new musicians and new sounds.

Bilodeau has the definite advantage for a series curator of having played with many different Ottawa jazz musicians in the last few years – for example, in the fundraiser for Kenny Wheeler last fall – as well leading his own groups and playing in those led by his brother Steve.

And because he's a bilingual francophone, he said, he also can easily connect with the substantial francophone audience at Le Petit Chicago: being able to “communicate with the audience no matter what language they speak.”

Frantz said he decided in late January “to step down as curator of LPC's Monday jazz series, a position I've proudly held since 2012. Over the past three years, Petit Chic has served as a laboratory for some of my most insane musical experiments, and it was there that nearly all of my current projects transformed from dream to reality.”

His new Thursday series is beginning with his own trio, with Delage on drums and Dave Schroeder on bass. He emphasized it will not be a jam, but rather will “highlight various projects and feature some of the city's brightest and tightest jazz musicians”. It will start slightly earlier than at Le Petit Chicago (9 p.m. instead of 10 p.m.), and there will be three sets each night.

Unfortunately, many high school musicians still won't be able to attend either series: Jazz Mondays are limited to entrants 18 and older, and participants at Jazz Thursdays must be 19 or older.

Le Petit Chicago is at 50 Promenade du Portage, Gatineau — cater-corner from Les Terasses de la Chaudière, and only five minutes over the Chaudière Bridge from Ottawa. [map] The Lunenburg Pub is on Waller Street, just east of the Rideau Centre, and half a block south of Rideau Street.

    – Alayne McGregor

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