Since jazz guitarist Amy Brandon left Ottawa in 2007, she has only appeared briefly here – until she returned last fall to study for a Masters in composition at the University of Ottawa.

Amy Brandon ©2015 Brett Delmage
Amy Brandon ©2015 Brett Delmage
She's leaving again in a few weeks, but before then, jazz fans can hear her play several of her new compositions, including duos with notable guitarists Roddy Ellias and Mike Rud.

On Tuesday, March 31, she will be featured, along with two other graduate composition students, in a concert at university's Tabaret Hall. “It's going to be quite an evening. We're going from solo guitar all the way up to a very large chamber ensemble with timpanis and everything.”

Brandon will provide some of the quieter moments. She will play two guitar duets, one with Ellias and the other with Rud, in the first half of the concert, followed by four solo guitar pieces in the second half.

She described them as “sonic landscapes. Both my mother and my grandmother were visual artists. My grandmother was a sculptor and my mom is a painter. She recently retired as curator at the War Museum. So I've always grown up around a great deal of visual art, and I think that's influenced a lot in my music, or influenced me in my music a great deal. Because I like to think of colour, and theme, when I'm writing.”

The music is “basically drawn from jazz, classical, and improvised music. My background, of course, is in jazz – that's what I did my degree at Carleton [University] in. And then after I left Carleton, I started trying to teach myself classical guitar and so it's really a mix of the two.”

Brandon was a regular participant in Ottawa's jazz scene while she studied at Carleton from 2002-6. But the following year, she moved to Nova Scotia with her husband and has been primarily seen since around the Maritimes – except when she returned for family holidays at Christmas. She performed at the 2007 Ottawa International Jazz Festival and at Guitar Now in 2013, and played her original compositions at a “Winter's Flight” benefit concert here in December, 2011.

Every guitarist has their own unique style and so to mix your playing with another person's playing is always an interesting adventure.
– Amy Brandon

In 2014, she toured with Ellias in the Maritimes, and with Rud in Quebec and Ontario. “I'm really looking forward to playing with them again. They're both incredibly talented guitarists. I feel very privileged to be able to play with both of them.”

She said she really enjoyed playing with other guitarists. “I think it's because every guitarist has their own unique style and so to mix your playing with another person's playing is always an interesting adventure.”

Brandon has been working for the last year on these pieces, which she said “has taken a lot of work”.

She said she undertook the degree because “I really wanted to push myself. I really like challenges and to do this degree seemed like a really interesting challenge. And also I just love writing, and so the idea of expanding my writing to include orchestral writings seemed really interesting.”

She also composed a choral piece this year which was accepted by Interplay, the workshop of the Vancouver Chamber Choir.

Beyond virtuosity in improvisation

And she's “very excited” that an academic paper she wrote has been accepted by the International Society for Improvised Music conference in Switzerland this summer.

The paper is titled “Beyond Perfection”, and it explores “virtuosity in free improvisation”, referring to musicians like Derek Bailey and John Zorn.

“Basically, it's about how when you get to the extremes of your instrument, of your virtuosity. Virtuosity is not creativity, and neither is technique – and creativity is, of course, of the utmost importance for free improvisers. And so the paper is dealing with, in their own words, how they have dealt with getting beyond perfection, getting beyond their own virtuosity so that they can continually renew their own creativity.”

The Masters program is two years long, but Brandon said she crammed “a great deal of coursework into one year, so that I'll be able to go home this coming year, and do the rest of the degree from home. The reason for that is that my husband is still in Nova Scotia – and I'd like to go back!”

To finish her degree, she'll be writing larger, more elaborate compositions: for string quintet, chamber groups, and orchestras.

Brandon will leave Ottawa in the next few weeks. She will, however, return briefly to perform June 4 at the Canadian University Music Society Annual Conference here.

And she'll be keeping up the Ottawa connection in May when she tours Nova Scotia with three other women guitarists, one of whom, Emily Shaw, is a classical guitarist from the University of Ottawa.

    – Alayne McGregor

updated 2015-04-02 to add photo

Amy Brandon, Elissar Hanna, and Jason Young will present new compositions at the Graduate Composers Concert at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 31. The concert will be held in Tabaret Hall at the University of Ottawa, 550 Cumberland Street. There is no admission charge, but voluntary contributions are encouraged. You can also hear Amy Brandon perform at Cafe Nostalgica the following evening (April 1), from 9 to 11 p.m.