Petr Cancura has laid down a challenge to Ottawa jazz musicians: find a Canadian musician they've always wanted to play with but never have, and arrange a collaboration with them.

Petr Cancura (left) listens to the music made by musicians who don't normally all play together, at the 2015 Ottawa Jazz Festival jam ©Brett Delmage, 2015
Petr Cancura (left) listens to the music made by musicians who don't normally all play together, at the 2015 Ottawa Jazz Festival jam ©Brett Delmage, 2015

And, for one lucky musician or band, the Ottawa Jazz Festival will showcase that collaboration.

The deadline is this Friday, October 16, to apply for this special project funding; musicians who live in the Ottawa/Gatineau region are eligible. If chosen, the collaboration will be presented at the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, from February 4-7, 2016.

Cancura, the festival's programming manager, said the reason for this project was “to stimulate the local music scene. I've personally had many musicians ask me, 'How do I get into the festival circuit, not just the Ottawa [Jazz Festival]. How do I get myself up there? How do I get to the next level?' And I think my answer, if I can generalize, is always ramp things up. Try something different. Put yourself out of your own element and create something that might be a bit scary for you but is exciting!”

And playing with a well-known guest musician can help local musicians boost their careers, he said. “Getting to collaborate, for instance, with Kevin Turcotte or with Brad Turner is going to open up doors for you in playing in Toronto or in Vancouver.”

This is the second year the festival has offered this funding to local groups. The 2015 funding was for “a new project, something you have not done before”, and was awarded to the improvising avant-noise group FET.NAT. In order to keep the program fresh this year, Cancura said, the festival added a new spin: “to work with somebody you haven't worked with before.”

That guest musician can be from anywhere in Canada, he said. There's no restriction on the type of collaboration.

“It could honestly be anything. It depends on the artist or band who applies, what their thing is. It could be I'm a modern jazz quartet and I want to invite a guest trumpet player from Toronto. I've never worked with this person and this would be great for my music.”

“Or I want to work with this legend! This Canadian legend, who's 70 years old and it's always been my dream to work with him, and we're going to play some of my songs and some of their songs. Or it could be a true collaboration. Or you could cross genres: you could say I've always wanted to do something with a Cuban musician and we're going to write some music together. Or I want to do something with a singer-songwriter from a jazz perspective.”

His best advice: “just aim for something that's a strong idea. Put your best strong idea forward. I would invite somebody that makes sense for what you want to do, not just a random person.”

Original music – as opposed to a tribute show or playing standards – is “encouraged, but not required”, he said.

He also strongly recommended contacting the guest musician before applying. “I would say that's ideal. Sometimes you can really go on a whim, but I would say if you're applying for it, it would be great to know that what you're applying with is actually going to happen.”

A festival committee will review the applications, Cancura said, “and try to pick something that is exciting and is strong. The festival certainly is willing to take a risk, as we did last year, but we'll try to use our best judgment on what would be strong as well as creative and exciting.”

Each application should include music samples by the local group and by the guest musician, he said. “Obviously, I'm not expecting a demo of your quartet with this special guest, but just so everybody on the committee has a fair shot at this, we're asking for – if you're applying with, for example, your quartet, we would love a sample of your quartet and a sample of the featured guest and what they do. And then we can certainly use our imaginations.”

He expected a decision about two weeks after the application deadline.

Cancura said that last year's winners, FET.NAT, “went over really well [at the 2015 Winter Jazz Festival]. It's a fantastic band, and we really held true to the idea of the special projects, which was to do something new and exciting from local musicians, There was a good audience. I don't think they've ever played at the Fourth Stage. I think it was great for them to be introduced to a new audience. And likewise for people who might be used to coming to the Fourth Stage to actually get to see something more cutting-edge.”

The Ottawa Jazz Festival has the resources “to be able to support something that might be out of the realm of a working musician's scope. That's something I think we can do,” he said. “We can provide a risk-free platform for inspired and driven ideas of the local musicians, and also, hopefully, help them get outside of the city.”

Cancura himself started as a jazz musician in Ottawa, but spent the last decade living in Boston and NYC. He returned to Ottawa as his primary residence this past summer.

    – Alayne McGregor

For the special project application form and more information, visit The deadline to apply for the project is 11:59 p.m. on October 16, 2015.

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