Updated June 17, 2015
To many people, June and the Ottawa Jazz Festival are synonymous.
But, in fact, the festival only runs for the last 12 days of June – and even when it's running, there are still jazz shows going on elsewhere that may very well be closer to you, or less expensive, or match your musical preferences better.
Starting with this very first week, you can choose among cutting-edge improv, jazz vocals, and piano jazz – and that diversity continues throughout the month
Composer and improviser Jesse Stewart is the artist-in-residence at the Diefenbunker this summer, and is using the Cold-War history of the museum as an inspiration for several musical performances. Last month, he performed in its blast tunnel entrance; on Thursday, June 4, he'll be in the Bank of Canada vault where the country's gold reserves would have been stored in the event of a nuclear war.
He'll be playing his Reactable, a virtual modular synthesizer and digital sampler, which looks like an illuminated game surface atop a pedestal that looks like a very large tom drum. Stewart first worked with this instrument at his outdoor shows at the 2014 Winterlude, and is one of very few musicians in the world to perform regularly on it. He has stored recordings relating to the bunker's history in the Reactable, and will create an improvised performance by placing and manipulating blocks on its display – essentially sampling and combining the recordings in unexpected ways.
On Saturday, June 6, the American jazz guitar-vocals duo Tuck and Patti will play an intimate show at Cabaret La Basoche in Aylmer. They've been performing love songs together for almost 40 years now (including a show many years ago at the Ottawa Jazz Festival); their latest album, I Remember You, is a collection of their favourites from the Great American Songbook.
The same evening, Ottawa pianist Steve Boudreau will play a rare show with NYC vocalist Aubrey Johnson at GigSpace. They'll perform their own compositions, jazz standards, Brazilian numbers, and improvised music – even a bit of Björk. Johnson specializes in “jazz, Brazilian, and creative contemporary music with and without words”, and has performed and/or recorded with musicians including Bobby McFerrin (on his CD VoCAbuLaries), Lyle Mays, Steve Rodby, Lee Fish, and Fred Hersch.
If you enjoy hearing jazz horn players play R&B and soul, the London Gentleman Records tribute to funk/jazz legend Chaka Khan that evening might be right up your alley. Organized by Ottawa trumpeter Ed Lister, the June 6 show will feature vocalist Lisa Gaye Pryce with an 11-piece band, at St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts. Ed has a piercing trumpet - you may not want a front-row seat.
On Sunday evening (June 7), students of Yves Laroche from the Bells Corners Academy of Music will present "The Art Of The Jazz Piano Trio". This free show is part of the celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the Nepean Creative Arts Centre, which will continue over the summer.
That afternoon, Toronto saxophonist Billy Boulet will team up with the Choir of St Barnabas for an extra-large jazz vespers at All Saints Westboro. Expect to hear choral works from the 16th century to the present, some with saxophone improvisation. Boulet will also present one or two solo meditations, which he has often based on Gregorian chants. Update June 4: Billy Boulet has had to bow out because of a family emergency, and will be replaced by saxophonist Richard Page, performing saxophone renditions of traditional hymns.
A new live music venue, Live! On Elgin (downtown, on the second floor above Dunn's on Elgin near Cooper) opens this week. While most of their programming is more indie or singer-songwriter, they will feature the Adam Saikaley Trio on June 10 and 24, playing jazz with influences from other groove-based genres.
Vocalist Renée Yoxon was a major force in Ottawa's jazz scene for a number of years, developing new venues and series and releasing two CDs with local musicians: with René Gely and with Mark Ferguson. For more than four years, her jazz series at the Mercury Lounge was a Monday night staple. Her tribute concert to Dave Frishberg, in collaboration with pianist/arranger J.P. Allain, garnered her praise from Frishberg himself.
Yoxon has been in Montreal since 2013, and for the last year has been studying in the jazz program at McGill University. But she's back in Ottawa on Saturday, June 13, for a concert at GigSpace, together with pianist Chad Linsley, and bassist Adrian Vedady (whom Ottawa audiences have heard in Roddy Ellias' trio). They'll perform “music from and inspired by film adaptations of children’s stories. The music is imaginative, intimate, vulnerable, and reminds the listener of childhood – at once carefree, questioning, and melancholy."
On Sunday, June 14, you can hear the bright, lively, and large sounds of Big Band Ottawa for free at Westfest. They'll be playing at noon at Athlone Avenue and Richmond Road in Westboro.
On Friday, June 19, veteran Ottawa saxophonist Mike Tremblay records his next CD, live in a concert at GigSpace. He'll be performing with guitarist Tim Bedner (a frequent musical partner at the Carleton University Jazz Camp), and up-and-coming young bassist Ben Heard. Tremblay is one of the busiest musicians and educators in Ottawa, playing in everything from the Rob Frayne Dream Band, to intimate duos and trios, to NAC Pops concerts. In 2009, he co-released his first CD, Home, together with his long-time friend and collaborator Mark Ferguson.
Also on Friday, Southminster United Church, which regularly presents jazz in its weekly noon-hour concerts, will bring back the Mark Ferguson Trio for an evening concert. The trio will be performing as part of an concert featuring the Ottawa Folklore Centre's Community Choir – who will also include jazz and gospel standards in its programme, along with pop songs and Jacques Brel/Edith Piaf chanson.
The trio (with Ferguson on piano, John Geggie on double bass, and Scott Latham on vibraphone) performed in March at GigSpace, and a slightly different version (with guitarist Roddy Ellias replacing Geggie) was showcased in April at Southminster. That noon-hour concert, featuring standards and originals, received enthusiastic applause from the audience.
From June 19 to 21, the Jivewires return to the Italian Week Festival, again playing free evening shows in front of Pub Italia on Preston Street. On a sunny June evening, there are few better ways to cheer yourself up than to listen to Steve Berndt belt out jumpin' jive classics, backed up with one of the liveliest horn and rhythm sections in town. The Jives are perennial favourite at Italian Week: expect originals from their just-released CD and music from the 40s and 50s by composers like Cab Calloway and (in honour of the festival) Louis Prima.
On Saturday, June 20, the JazzN.ca house concert series based in Mississippi Mills presents Toronto vocalist Melissa Boyce and her trio, playing “soulful blues, sensual Latin interpretations and warm traditional jazz”. The concert is sold out, but JazzN.ca does have a wait-list.
Also that evening, Guelph-based vocalist Brenda Lewis will appear at Zolas in Bells Corners, with Ottawa guitarist Rob Martin. In 2010, Lewis released her CD, Jazzlike, a collection of cover songs by some of her favourite musicians whose compositions fit within the jazz idiom. Lewis has regularly appeared at local jazz festivals across Ontario, including at Merrickville's Jazz Fest in 2013.
Smooth jazz vocals not your thing? NYC musician Nonoko Yoshida's “alto saxophone can summon unholy sounds of all sorts and the sheer force she displays playing saxophone makes her one of the most interesting musicians to watch out for in the future.” The Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) presents her on June 21, along with IMOO regulars Linsey Wellman (alto sax/bass clarinet) and David Jackson (guitar). Yoshida is active with experimental rock trio Pet Bottle Ningen, as well as performing solo.
Another description says that “Nonoko's sax playing moves from blistering avant shred laced with pops & clicks, to more reserved intricate looping work, at times reminiscent of Pharaoh Sanders, beautiful phrases layered with harsh & emotionally raw passages.”
This is Yoshida's first tour of Canada. She's also appearing in Toronto on June 16 and Montreal on June 19. Expect Black Squirrel Books in Ottawa South to be full of fascinating improvised sounds – and unlike at the Fourth Stage or the Studio at the jazz festival, you likely won't have to stand in line for half an hour while hoping to get in.
On Monday, June 22, drummers Mike Essoudry and Michel Delage bring back their Mirror Duo, to the intimate spaces of the downtown Manx Pub. Their first show in April silenced Mugshots; the audience was fascinated with range and beauty of the collaborative sounds they produced on two, differently-tuned, drumsets plus a variety of hand-held percussion instruments.
On Wednesday, June 24, Chicago-born, NYC-based pianist Jeremy Jordan – who is known for both his classical chops and improvisation – will perform a free show at Café Nostalgica. His most recent music combines gospel and beats.
On Friday, June 26, and Saturday, June 27, Toronto bassist Brad Cheeseman brings his band – Marito Marques (drums/percussion), Robert Chapman (guitars), Nick Maclean (piano/keyboard) and Chelsea McBride (tenor saxophone/bass clarinet) – to the Brookstreet Hotel Options Jazz Lounge. They're on tour to present their debut CD, which features Cheeseman's originals, “and represents the culmination of nearly a decade of musical exploration. By blending the rich language of jazz with elements of progressive rock, R&B, fusion and other styles, Brad was able to marry his many influences into a unique and musical compositional voice.”
On June 28, the regular Nachtmusik series at Das Lokal in the Market presents two musicians who cross between jazz and pop: singer Whitney Delion with pianist Adam Saikaley.
The same evening, Canadian jazz pianist Michael Kaeshammer will play at “North on 29” in Appleton, Ontario (a sister location to Neat Food). Kaeshammer plays “pop tinged jazz that owes as much to Billy Joel and Paul McCartney as to Professor Longhair and Albert Ammons”. A fiery, virtuosic piano player and vocalist, he has released seven albums, and is currently recording a new, crowd-funded and self-produced album of all original compositions.
Every Sunday afternoon this month, you can also hear Megan Jerome's Together Ensemble, with Don Cummings on Hammond organ, at the Elmdale Oyster House and Tavern. The ensemble will play music from her recently-released CD.
Oh, and that Jazz Festival? It starts on Thursday, June 18, with a free late afternoon concert, and then gets fully into multiple concerts each afternoon and evening from June 19 to 30. You can hear free concerts from local jazz artists at noon each day (and also at 2 p.m. on weekends) at the Rideau Centre and in front of City Hall.
One of these free shows will even be a CD release. On June 27, trio \ DEF – bassist Marc-Andre Drouin, guitarist Wayne Eagles, and drummer Ian Froman – will introduce their debut CD, featuring contemporary jazz with a broad range of influences, and a focus on original compositions.
Local student big bands will play for free most of the day in front of City Hall on the weekend of June 20 and 21. Late-night jamming will be held into the wee hours at Spin Kitchen & Bar at the Ottawa Marriott at Kent and Queen Streets.
You can see the full Ottawa Jazz Festival line-up and pass prices in our easy-to-read listing.
– Alayne McGregor
Updates June 17: Added the Ben Monder house concert on June 29.
June 4: Added the Big Band Ottawa concert on June 14 at Westfest. At the June 7 Jazz Vespers, Billy Boulet will be replaced by Richard Page. Updated the line-up for the Brad Cheeseman group with further information from Mr. Cheeseman.
For full descriptions and timely reminders of these concerts, links to our interviews with the musicians, concert reviews, and many new events not listed here - plus wonderful opportunities to win tickets to some of these exciting upcoming performances - be sure to sign up for our weekly jazz events newsletter.