The new Friends series at the Ottawa Jazz Festival is giving four musicians a chance to go outside their comfort zones.

Instead of playing with their normal groups, they can choose whom they'd like to play with – within the constraints of availability and budget, of course

According to Ottawa Jazz Festival executive producer Catherine O'Grady, the festival was thrilled and "very lucky" to get the artists they did.

The lineup will be

  • guitarist Bill Frisell (June 25 and 26)
  • pianist Robert Glasper (June 27)
  • drummer Matt Wilson (June 29 and 30)
  • saxophonist Javon Jackson (July 2)

O'Grady said the series was added to "bring diversity and excitement to the festival" for the benefit of both both the artists and the audience. Musicians have told the festival this configuration works well for them, she said.

The artists suggest the shape of the concert and the musicians they'd like to play with, and the festival does the follow-up, she said. The final lineup depends on availability and cost. "We had to rethink some concerts a couple times; it's all in a day's work."

Bill Frisell will first be playing with his band Beautiful Dreamers, featuring violinist Eyvind Kang and drummer Rudy Royston. On the following night, he will again team up with Kang, but also with violinist Jenny Scheinman and longtime collaborator, cellist Hank Roberts. Frisell played with Roberts in his very first appearance at the Ottawa Jazz Festival in 1989.

Robert Glasper, a pianist who fuses hip-hop with contemporary jazz, will be playing with bassist Alan Hampton and drummer Chris Dave. Dave is in Glasper's regular Trio, which will appear in Montreal July 1 and 3.

Drummer Matt Wilson will first appear with trumpeter Ron Miles, violinist Jenny Scheinman (yes, who had just played a few nights before with Frisell), and bassist Buster Williams. The next night, he will play just with Ron Miles.

And finally, tenor sax player Javon Jackson, together with keyboardist Les McCann, will present a cross-generational tribute to another jazz duo: McCann's collaboration with tenor player Eddie Harris. Harris and McCann's iconic performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1969 resulted in the album Swiss Movement, which became one of the best-selling jazz albums ever, and reached high into the R&B charts. The tribute concert also includes guitarist David Gilmore, bassist Ameen Saleem, and drummer McClenty Hunter.

The Montreal Jazz Festival has had a similar "Invitation" series for more than a decade. O'Grady said that the Friends series wasn't just inspired by that example because many other festivals like Toronto, Halifax, and Vancouver have also had similar series, as have some folk festivals.

In 2010, the Montreal Invitation series will feature Allen Toussaint, Paolo Fresu (3 concerts), Manu Katché (3 concerts), and Robert Glasper (3 concerts). The Glasper concerts will run July 1 to 3: his guests include trumpeter Terence Blanchard and singer Bilal.