Read about the jazz coming up this month: Ottawa-Gatineau jazz musicians make a splash in November

September is the beginning of the new 2015-16 jazz season – and here in Ottawa-Gatineau, it's sashaying in with a wealth of music.

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Touring musicians, including American pianist Vijay Iyer, Montreal guitarist Mike Rud, Toronto pianist Bernie Senensky, Toronto vocalist Maureen Kennedy, and Holland-based avant-garde cellist Tristan Honsinger, will bring new sounds (and in Rud's case, a new CD) here.

But, in fact, this month is most notable for all the local jazz projects which are being introduced and updated. You can choose from three CD release concerts from Mark Ferguson, from Peter Hum and from the Souljazz Orchestra, a tribute show to 50s/60s saxophonist Gene Ammons, the newest incarnation of Rob Frayne's Dream Big Band, the joy of standards from Steve Berndt and Brian Browne, upbeat Afro-Cuban and Brazilian shows, and lots of vocal jazz, sung in different styles.

Some weekends – particularly the fourth – are so packed, you'd have to scramble to hear everything.

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The season commences with a concert by Vijay Iyer on September 5 ©Brett Delmage, 2014
The season commences with a concert by Vijay Iyer on September 5 ©Brett Delmage, 2014
The season kicks off this Saturday, September 5, with a joint concert by American pianist Vijay Iyer and south Indian violinist Dr. L. Subramaniam. Iyer is one of the most acclaimed musicians in jazz, whose music ranges from the intensely cerebral to beautiful standards, from piano trio to a poetic tribute to U.S. veterans of colour. Director of the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music for the last three years, he also received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 2013. He has released three duo albums with New York saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, whose music has been influenced by Indian improvisatory techniques.

Subramaniam was trained in the classical Indian Carnatic tradition, which includes both improvisation and composition, but also in Western classical music. In his more-than-50-year career, he has played in both traditions, but he has also created many cross-genre collaborations including with jazz musicians. He has released albums with jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli and jazz fusion guitarist Larry Coryell, as well as performing with Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke, Al Jarreau, Jean Luc Ponty, Ernie Watts, Tony Williams, Billy Cobham, John Surman, Maynard Ferguson, and Ravi Coltrane.

The Ottawa show will be the first time Subramaniam and Iyer have performed together. The concert will be in three sections: a solo piano performance by Iyer; a trio performance of Indian classical music by Subramaniam with his son and a percussionist; and Iyer and Subramaniam together.

Rob Frayne will conduct his Dream Band again on September 11 ©Brett Delmage, 2012
Rob Frayne will conduct his Dream Band again on September 11 ©Brett Delmage, 2012

The following Friday (September 11), composer Rob Frayne will unveil the latest edition of his Dream Big Band at the NAC Fourth Stage. Frayne has been a major force in Ottawa's jazz scene for decades, starting with the pioneering 1990s jazz group Chelsea Bridge, and playing with everyone from Kenny Wheeler to the Gil Evans Orchestra to the Shuffle Demons. His first Dream Band filled the Fourth Stage for two nights in 2012, and paid tribute to Jacques Émond on the closing night of the 2013 Ottawa Jazz Festival, playing intricate arrangements and evoking a wide range of moods.

This time Frayne is playing with an octet, featuring Montreal saxophonist Frank Lozano and many of the Ottawa musicians from his April show. Frayne says the music will include “Brand new Compositions/ Derrangements/ Concept pieces” by himself and Charles Mingus, “songs from the groovy B-3 tradition, and a surprise update of 'The Girl from Ipanema.' ” Expect Don Cummings' Hammond organ to anchor the soaring music, just as it did in April. Enter our contest to win tickets to this concert!

On the following Sunday afternoon (September 13), Ottawa guitarist Roddy Ellias and Toronto pianist Bernie Senensky will perform an intimate and melodic duo show at GigSpace. Senensky is probably best known for the 20 years he spent playing with and writing for jazz legend Moe Koffman, but he's also performed with many renowned jazz guitarists, starting with Lenny Breau, and including Herb Ellis, Sonny Greenwich, and Ed Bickert.

Senensky and Ellias' show last September at ZenKitchen was one of 2014's highlights, as the two intuitively responded to each other and created beautiful elaborations on the music. Expect much the same this year: Ellias says their GigSpace show will be mostly standards with a few originals by each of them.'s video story of last year's show captured their strong connection, good humour and joy of playing together.

Ellias has two more shows this month: on Friday, September 18, he'll play solo and in a duet with new-to-Ottawa jazz pianist Roland Racz at The Waiting Room concert space in Russell, Ontario (40km south-east of Ottawa).

And on Wednesday, September 23, he'll kick off the new season of the popular noon-hour concerts at Southminister United Church. His Something Old, Something New concert will feature music for solo guitar by Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and his own compositions – as well as more venerable works by J. S. Bach and Claude Debussy.

Gerri Trimble returns to GigSpace on September 12 ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Gerri Trimble returns to GigSpace on September 12 ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Jazz vocalists with many different voices

If you like listening to jazz vocalists, you've got lots of choice this month. On Saturday, September 12, Gerri Trimble, who has been steadily expanding her range both in terms of repertoire and geography, will appear at GigSpace with her quartet of pianist Steve Boudreau, double bassist John Geggie, and drummer Scott Warren. She'll sing rarer and well-loved jazz tunes, as well as a few of her own originals, in her direct, personal style.

On Saturday, September 19, Diane White returns from her far-flung travels to open this year's house concert series in Almonte. White has played in Brazil, India, Nepal, Italy, Trinidad, Jamaica, and England; performed for five years in Dubai; had an annual series in Tokyo; and recently toured China and Thailand. While she's still based in Ottawa, she only performs a few times a year here. Don't expect the Great American Songbook: White instead goes for “songs that make a jazz vocalist stretch”.

That same evening, Toronto vocalist Maureen Kennedy will make her first Ottawa appearance, in a GigSpace concert with Frayne, Boudreau, and Geggie. Her second album, Out of the Shadows [2013], features standards, but not ones which have been regularly performed as vocal numbers in the last 25 years – songs like “My Little Brown Book”, “I Know Why (And So Do You)”, “Ship Without a Sail”, and “There's a Lull in My Life”.

Kennedy has an unaffected vocal style. She studied for six years with Canadian flugelhorn and trumpet player Fred Stone, renowned for his work with Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus in the 1960s. She has been on the Toronto scene since the 1980s, with a break to raise her family, and her albums have included major Toronto jazz players like Nancy Walker, Kieran Overs, Reg Schwager, Steve Wallace, and Mike Murley.

Steve Berndt and Brian Browne
Steve Berndt and Brian Browne
Listening to local vocalist Michael Pytura, you can tell he loves the music of Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Dean Martin, and Michael Bublé – and has absorbed its style and joyous swing. On Tuesday, September 22, he'll fill Les Brasseurs du Temps in downtown Gatineau with jazz classics like “I've Got You Under My Skin”, “Georgia on My Mind”, and “Fly Me to the Moon”, well-supported by jazz veterans Mark Ferguson on piano and trombone, Tom McMahon on bass, and Mark Rehder on drums.

The distinguished jazz pianist Brian Browne and the inimitable vocalist Steve Berndt released a pair of albums together, Déjà Vu in 2012 and All Over Again in 2014. The albums celebrated the jazz standards which both of them love, in an intimate style that explored the lyrics and the melody. They're back at the NAC Fourth Stage on Friday, September 25, to play selections from both albums (including Steve's two original songs), with lots of improvisation to keep the material fresh. And given that there were a few songs recorded that didn't make either album, there's a chance they'll include those, too.

Heating up Ottawa with Latin jazz

Since he arrived in Ottawa in 2012, Cuban pianist Miguel de Armas has consistently enlivened the scene with propulsive Afro-Cuban jazz, delivered with flair and lots of audience appeal. On Saturday, September 26, he's organizing a magnífico Afro-Cuban Celebration at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans, covering the music from its folkloric origins, through different popular genres, to the most contemporary Afro Cuban jazz. The two-hour show will combine music, dance, and poetry, and will feature de Armas with his Latin Jazz Quartet, joined by singer Caridad Cruz, and choreographer/dancer Julio Hong and dancers from the Montreal-based Afro Cuban Association.

If you can't attend that show, de Armas' Latin Jazz Quartet will make its monthly appearance at Brookstreet's Options Jazz Lounge on Friday, September 4. And on September 15, de Armas and Cruz will collaborate in one of their high-energy duo shows of Cuban music and jazz at Les Brasseurs du Temps.

Florquestra is a local group which takes the rhythms of Brazil – samba, forro, axé, and more – and adds Balkan rhythms and Parisian harmony and poetry, including the music of Canadian poet Leonard Cohen and of France’s chanson poet, Georges Brassens. They released their first album, Flortografia, in 2013. They'll make one of their uncommon Ottawa appearances on September 11 and 12, at Brookstreet.

Montreal guitarist Mike Rud makes two appearances for new CDs ©Brett Delmage, 2012
Montreal guitarist Mike Rud makes two appearances for new CDs ©Brett Delmage, 2012

Mainstream (and other) jazz on the busiest weekend of the month

On Thursday, September 24, composer and journalist Peter Hum will release his second CD, Alpha Moment, a collection of eight originals including a tribute to CBC jazz champion Katie Malloch. The CD has been a long time in the making – it was originally recorded in December, 2011 – but the NAC Fourth Stage concert will include all but one of the musicians who played on it. It's a geographically-diverse group: saxophonist Kenji Omae from Korea, guitarist Mike Rud and bassist Alec Walkington from Montreal, and drummer Ted Warren from Guelph. Hum will also play the following evening at Brookstreet's Options Jazz Lounge, in a trio with Rud and Walkington.

On the afternoon of Friday, September 25, Mike Rud will showcase his own newly-released CD. Miniatures takes jazz standards, several tunes from Notes on Montreal, and even an Invention by Johann Sebastian Bach, and portrays the melodies in miniature, with just Rud's voice and guitar. In many of the tunes, he'll play one melodic line while singing another, as he described to last spring.

He'll play from the album starting at 3 p.m., in a show at The Record Centre in Hintonburg.

Then the weekend gets even busier. On Friday evening (September 25), saxophonist Zakari Frantz (best known for his work with the Souljazz Orchestra and for hosting Jazz Mondays for several years) brings his trio for a free concert (jazz, but the exact tunes yet to be determined) at the Nepean Creative Arts Centre in Bells Corners, the third in a series celebrating the centre's 25th anniversary.

Mark Ferguson will launch his new CD at GigSpace on September 25,26 ©Brett Delmage, 2011
Mark Ferguson will launch his new CD at GigSpace on September 25,26 ©Brett Delmage, 2011

On Friday, September 25, and Saturday, September 26, pianist/trombonist Mark Ferguson will unveil his new CD in a concert at GigSpace, accompanied by Scott Latham on vibraphone and John Geggie on double bass. The CD is called The Next Chapter, and features all originals by Ferguson.

Ferguson's last two CDs were a collaboration with vocalist Renée Yoxon, and a melodic duo record with saxophonist Mike Tremblay. Expect something different this time: Ferguson says the music on the CD is not mainstream jazz and has many different elements.

On September 26, Michel Delage continues his jazz tribute series at Brookstreet, this month with Ottawa saxophonist Petr Cancura and Montreal bassist Alex Bellegarde. They'll play pieces made famous by American tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons, who performed with many well-known bop and post-bop musicians, including Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, and Art Blakey, from the 50s to the early 70s. Ammons “played a rich, soulful music overlaid with an aggressive attack – a style that moved him towards the outer edges of the bop tradition yet never quite slipped over into fully fledged soul or R&B.”

Wanna dance? Ottawa's jump jive group, The Jivewires, will set the Rainbow to jumping on September 26 with their horn-rich, crowd-pleasing music. This spring, the Jivewires released their fifth CD of original music, Drive Me Sane, inspired by the great R&B artists of the late 40's and early 50's like Louis Jordan and wild swing masters like Cab Calloway, and with an emphasis on groove, improvisation and social satire.

And also that evening, The Souljazz Orchestra will unveil their new CD, Resistance, in their favourite dance club, the Babylon, in downtown Ottawa, before heading out on a European tour,

Peeking a few days into next month, the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra will open October with Works of Art at the NAC Fourth Stage. The October 1 show is a tribute to jazz masters Art Blakey and Art Pepper, with an Ottawa première performance of the hip arrangements from the Art Pepper + Eleven album, with an 11-piece little big band.

Embracing the edges

IMOO starts a new season with a collective improvisation ©Brett Delmage, 2014
IMOO starts a new season with a collective improvisation ©Brett Delmage, 2014

The Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) continue to embrace the edges with avant-garde and free jazz shows, usually every second Sunday. On September 13, the opening concert for their sixth season will feature some of Ottawa's finest improvisers collaborating on “in the moment” music – much like last year's IMOO opener.

Then, on September 27, improvising cellist Tristan Honsinger will appear with two Montrealers: bassist Nicolas Caloia (last here at the 2015 Ottawa Jazz Festival) and violinist Josh Zubot (most recently seen in Ottawa in the Land of Marigold duo). Expect “musical empathy and creative conflict”, with the musicians provoking each other “in ways that are, by turns, subtle, assertive, and irreverent."

Honsinger is originally from the U.S., but he began his career as an improviser in Montreal more than 40 years ago. Then he moved to Europe (he's now based in Holland) and collaborated with major free jazz artists like Derek Bailey and Evan Parker in the UK; Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink in Holland; Peter Brötzmann and Peter Kowald in Germany; and Cecil Taylor in the USA.

Non-musical events

Ever wonder why a prize that's not supposed to consider musical genres never, ever goes near jazz? On September 8, the National Arts Centre is bringing together “some of Ottawa's best and brightest music critics to discuss the 2015 Polaris Music Prize and explain how Canada's best album (without regard to musical genre, professional affiliation, or sales history) gets chosen each year.” The panel discussion in the NAC Fourth Stage is free and open to fans of all genres. Bring your questions for the panel.

And on September 26, percussionist and visual artist Jesse Stewart will end his summer residency at the Diefenbunker, with an artist talk, explaining the musical performances and visual art he installed there to explore the museum's history as a Cold War underground bunker.

Holding the jazz scene together

High-profile concerts aren't the glue that holds a jazz scene together – it's the regular shows week in and week out.

This month, the new downtown music venue Live! on Elgin has introduced jazz nights on Wednesdays. The September band will be jazz-funk-electronica powerhouse Thrust, with Jamie Holmes on drums, Ed Lister on trumpet and synthesizer, and Clayton Connell on keyboards and synthesizer. While each of these musicians has a strong jazz background, don't expect much reverence for the tradition here!

Garry Elliott takes over Wednesday jazz nights at Santé ©Brett Delmage, 2014
Garry Elliott takes over Wednesday jazz nights at Santé ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Also on Wednesdays, guitarist Garry Elliott will take over the Wednesday Night Jazz Club at Santé Restaurant, with the same format as Tim Bedner had last year: mostly duets with a changing roster of vocalists. The first night (September 9) is Elliott's birthday, but you're more likely to hear songs from the Great American songbook that night. The music each night will depend on the guest musician – Rachel Beausoleil on September 23 will be singing Brazilian music. Elliott told that he may also include a few showcase evenings with multiple vocalists or some instrumental music.

On Sundays this month, the Chocolate Hot Pockets will pound Irene's in the Glebe with their original music, which reinterprets fatback funk, jazz, and neo soul. They released their second album, Chocolate Dreamz, in May.

Two churches – Knox Presbyterian downtown and All Saints'/First United in Westboro – hold monthly Jazz Vespers services featuring local jazz musicians. On September 16, clarinetist Scott Poll and his Pollcats will perform at Knox.

Jazz jams are a vibrant part of the scene

Jazz jams are an important way for younger players to learn, new-to-Ottawa musicians to join the scene, veterans to get inspired and enjoy the music, and listeners to be surprised by what unfolds before their ears and eyes. In most jams, the host band plays the first set, and then other musicians are gradually invited to join in the jam. With the new season, several jams are restarting to join the year-round sessions.

On September 8, the Beeched Wailers will revive their popular Tuesday night jams in a new location – the Wellington Eatery in the east end of Hintonburg. Read more about the new space in our interview with band leader Nick Dyson.

JazzWorks is moving its long-running monthly jam sessions out of the Carleton Tavern in Hintonburg and to a new day of the week. They'll now be held at the Georgetown Pub in Ottawa South on the third Friday of each month, and the cover charge is increasing, to $8 from $5. JazzWorks says it will also restart its Sunday afternoon jam sessions.

Local jazz musician Jacquie Dixon has also run jazz jams at the Georgetown since the beginning of 2015. These will continue on the first Friday of each month.

Richard Page and his group will keep Monday nights lively at LPC ©Brett Delmage, 2010
Richard Page and his group will keep Monday nights lively at LPC ©Brett Delmage, 2010

The veteran Ottawa trio, Glebop, always begins its season of monthly shows at the Arrow & Loon in the Glebe with a jazz jam. On September 13, you can celebrate their 11th anniversary with a jam session, starting at 6 p.m. and going as long as musicians want to play (and the restaurant wants to keep serving).

The later-night Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago in downtown Gatineau have been an important hang for local jazz fans and musicians for more than a decade now. Woodwinds artist Richard Page leads the weekly host band this month, and will also feature his Night on the Town Band on September 14.

And the HML Trio is now well into its third year running west-end jazz jams every Thursday night at Brookstreet's Options Jazz Lounge in Kanata.

Whether you want to listen or play– or a bit of both – there's lots of jazz to brighten your spirits this month – and provide an alternative to the federal election campaign!

    – Alayne McGregor

September 9: Added the Souljazz Orchestra's CD release.