Ottawa drummer Michel Delage has found a way of playing his favourite jazz composers' music with some of his favourite jazz musicians.

This weekend will be the second in his series of tribute concerts at the Brookstreet Hotel Options Jazz Lounge. Last month, Delage's group honoured Wayne Shorter; this month, it's Thelonious Monk; in late May it will be Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Performances will be on the last Friday and Saturday of each month.

Michel Delage at Stella Luna ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Michel Delage at Stella Luna ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Each month features a different band (except for Delage), with guest musicians from out of town. The March show was supposed to feature saxophonist Petr Cancura, who had to drop out due to a scheduling conflict and was replaced by Vince Rimbach; this weekend's show features pianist Adrean Farrugia from Hamilton.

Read the interview with Farrugia and Delage about this weekend's tribute to Thelonious Monk.

The Ellington/Strayhorn tribute in May will feature the husband and wife duo of pianist Nancy Walker and bassist Kieran Overs from Toronto, plus Ottawa guitarist Roddy Ellias.

Delage is really looking forward to that combination.

“Nancy has been one of my main inspirations as far as listening to jazz, because when I was in high school and after high school attending the jazz festival, I would go to the jazz jams pretty religiously and watch that [house] band play. I always loved Nancy's playing and her compositions. So I'm extremely excited to have her on board – and extremely nervous too, to play with such an accomplished musician!”

Walker and Overs were last here for the 2015 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, in a well-received concert playing selections from her most recent album, ‘Til Now Is Secret.

Delage said he wanted to bring in out-of-town musicians to “do a bit more of a collaboration – just to be able to play with more people and for other Ottawa musicians to play with people from out of town. And also to hopefully get some more audience out, because you know how hard it is for local Ottawa musicians to get audiences out to their shows sometimes. I think by doing this I might have a little bit more of a chance of bringing people out.”

The Wayne Shorter tribute in late March went well, he said, particularly the Saturday night when it appeared many audience members came out specifically to hear the music. “There were at least maybe 25-30 people who were all sitting and listening and clapping after solos and responding to everything. In between tunes, we'd always inform them what tune we were playing, and what the album it was off of, and stuff like that.”

They concentrated on earlier Wayne Shorter, from the 1960s primarily, because the charts were easier to find and the music is easier to play. “And most of those tunes I'd never had a chance to play before, so it was really, really fun to do that.”

“I didn't really want to tackle Wayne Shorter's later quintet stuff just because I don't think it was the vibe that Brookstreet was looking for. It's probably a little bit too out for them. And I wouldn't know how to try and tackle that material anyways. It's so individual for that group, right? We wouldn't be able to do it any justice.”

Starting with the original vibe

The aim for each show is to keep the music “within the vibe of the original recordings, as far as the heads in go. But whatever happens after that evolves depending on who's on the gig and what the players do, right? I didn't say to anybody [on the Wayne Shorter show], 'Listen, we have to really keep it straight-ahead or anything.' They could do whatever they want, but I just wanted to keep the heads.”

Delage said he was very well-acquainted with Wayne Shorter's recordings from the 60s. “There was a point, maybe like two years ago, where there was six months where I just wouldn't listen to anything else other than all those old Blue Note records by Wayne Shorter. So I was very familiar with that material, and everybody else in the band was really familiar with the material, too – as most jazz musicians, I'm pretty sure, are.”

The same is true with Thelonious Monk, whose music he'll play this weekend. “There's a couple CDs that I've listened to constantly – like Monk's Dream and Criss-Cross and Live at the It Club.”

Multiple tributes to musicians with decades-long careers

Delage is taking June off because of the jazz festival. For July and August, Brookstreet will be booked up on the last weekend of each month, but he's looking at “doing a one-nighter, possibly at GigSpace for both of those months, and then continuing at Brookstreet in the fall if they are still interested.”

And he has lots of ideas for other jazz musicians to pay tribute to – or even multiple tributes for those with long careers. He'd like to do tributes to both saxophonist Joe Henderson and pianist Horace Silver, and “they have a long list of recordings that span over decades.”

“I would love to do one night of a Joe Henderson, his earlier stuff like pre-1970, because it's very much in the hard bop style. But then after the 70s he gets a lot more funky and I'd like to make that into a two-nighter thing. The same thing with Horace Silver, too – his earlier recordings, like the trio stuff, is very much in the bop idiom, but later on he gets more into the Latin jazz side of things and the funk side of things. So I'd love to explore those two differently – if I can.”

    – Alayne McGregor

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