Updated February 23
February is Black History Month, and traditionally features concerts with black musicians in the jazz tradition. You can certainly hear that this month in Ottawa-Gatineau – but also much else in a busy jazz month with a wide variety of shows by local musicians and impressive touring artists. And there's a jazz festival as well.
Local musicians will be performing singly up to big bands. They'll hark back to the tradition, cross over into other genres, and try things which are quite new. Look for everything from tributes to Cannonball Adderley or Charlie Parker or Grant Green, to vocal harmony interpretations of Carol King, to jazz standards, to music from giant 1m and 1.5m diameter gongs reverberating through City Hall.
From visiting musicians, you'll get Chicago jazz grooves, original music for solo drumset, Senegalese percussion, songs inspired by the city of Montreal, a piano/percussion duet inspired by ritual folk music from Cuba, a “total sensory experience” with drums and two pianos, jazz guitar in many genres – and more.
Jazz names to look for this month include Jeri Brown, Harley Card, Nick Fraser, Mike Rud and Sienna Dahlen, The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Laila Biali, Fraser Hollins, Joel Miller, Brian Blade and Jon Cowherd, Mike Murley, Carol Welsman, John Geggie, David Virelles and Roman Diaz, the Montréal Guitare Trio, and Petr Cancura. However, for some of the more popular shows, if you have not already bought your tickets, you may be hoping for a repeat performance.
February opened with lots of brass, from the 17-piece Stan Clark Orchestra. The orchestra has moved to a new location, the downtown Metropolitan Brasserie, after the closure of Maxwell's last month. They played big band classics there on February 1 with guest vocalist Johnny Vegas.
At noon on Wednesday, February 3, drummer Ken Harper, who made a splash with his Sunday shows at Irene's in January, premieres his new group, Sidewinder, with blues guitarist Tony D, bassist Dan Grewal, and percussionist Rob Graves, in a concert at Southminster United Church. The band mixes blues, New Orleans grooves, Afro-Cuban, and soul, and draws on the music of Kenny Burrell, Grant Green and Jimi Hendrix.
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That evening is the first show in a Black Music concert series at the NAC Fourth Stage presented by Yasmina Proveyer. It features powerhouse Ottawa vocalist Ferline Regis; she'll be singing jazz standards like "Fly me to the moon", New Orleans jazz pieces, and Negro spirituals with a choir.
On Thursday, February 4, saxophonist Petr Cancura presents the second in his Crossroads jazz-folk series at the NAC Fourth Stage, this time with Ottawa singer-songwriter Lynn Miles. The first concert in the series had folksinger Ian Tamblyn collaborating with a jazz quartet led by Cancura, stretching the music while remaining true to Tamblyn's sound. It was warmly received by a full house of both jazz and folk fans. However, Cancura told us he's approaching each of the concerts in the series from the ground up, so this show could take a different approach to combining jazz and folk.
That NAC Presents concert is also the introduction to the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, running until Sunday, February 7. The festival is being staged at the NAC Fourth Stage, with the except of Florquestra's Forró party at the Mercury Lounge, and late-night jams at ARC the Hotel. Read about its concerts in our story.
On Friday, February 5, Ottawa percussionist and improviser Jesse Stewart and Montreal vocalist Jeri Brown will perform together for the first time, in two shows at GigSpace. Stewart is a highly flexible and melodic percussionist, while Brown (who has also collaborated with Ottawa guitarist Roddy Ellias) is an adventurous singer whose voice can soar over strong rhythms. Brown has been nominated four times for Juno Awards, while Stewart has won once (for his work with the Stretch Orchestra). Expect lots of improvisation, and possibly a few jazz standards – music that's “focused, ambitious, daring and well conceived and honest”.
Guitarist Lucas Haneman, bassist Martin Newman, and drummer Jeff Asselin are all well-known local jazz musicians, but what they play in Lucas Haneman's Express trio is blues with a touch of R&B. They've just returned from the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee, where they reached the semi-finals. They'll play twice here in February: on the 6th at the Rainbow, and on the 27th at Live! on Elgin (with the Chocolate Hot Pockets).
On Saturday, February 6, the Mercury Lounge adds its first contribution to Black History Month, with a musical feature on the “Origins of Beat”, exploring how fundamental components of music such as drums, vocals, and chants have been a very significant part of musical history, and including Afro, Latin, Brazilian and house roots music from all across the world.
Drummer Nick Fraser may have lived in Toronto for the last two decades, but he still keeps many links to hometown Ottawa. He's back on Sunday, February 7, firstly to lead the JazzWorks Sunday afternoon jazz jam at Bluesfest House. That evening, he'll present “the absurd and wonderful solo drumset music” of Toronto guitarist and composer Justin Haynes in an IMOO (Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais) concert at Black Squirrel Books in Ottawa South.
On Wednesday, February 10 and 24, you can hear the second installment in a bi-weekly series of artist showcases at Café Nostalgica, with vocalist Jordan Zalis and the Feelin' Nostalgic quintet of Carleton University students led by trumpeter Andrew Knox.
On Thursday, February 11, the centre of Ottawa City Hall will deeply reverberate, as percussionists Jesse Stewart and Johannes Welsch play a free, noon-hour concert in Jean Pigott Hall, as part of Chamberfest's City Series, reprising their Dynergetics duet. Welsch has hired movers to bring in two one-metre metal gongs and one 1.5-meter metal gong from his Sonic Gym in Dunrobin, and Stewart will also bring his drumset. They'll “explore rich textures of sound and rhythm” in an in-the-moment show.
On Friday, February 12, the Juliet Singers (jazz vocalists Elise Letourneau, Rachel Beausoleil, and Kathy Eagan) will again meld their vocal harmonies to reprise their concert of Carole King's Tapestry album at GigSpace. Last time, the show quickly sold out. At Cabaret La Basoche in Aylmer, Senegalese percussionist and singer Elage Mbaye will fill that intimate room with West African rhythms.
Jazz guitarist Mike Rud won a Juno Award in 2013 for his highly personal and individual tribute to the city of Montreal, and the literature that's shaped our perceptions of that city. Together with vocalist Sienna Dahlen, he presented those Notes on Montreal songs at an NAC concert last year and enthralled the audience. They're back in this area at a JazzN.ca house concert on Saturday, February 13 – and will have more time to present more of the album, and perhaps even a few of Rud's new solo guitar and voice pieces as well.
Also on Saturday evening, the Latin-influenced group Mango Upstart will perform at a dance party and silent auction at First Unitarian Church to raise money for the Stephen Lewis Foundation. The 3 Rivers a cappella choir will also be featured.
Other events for February 13: the Stripped Down Soul duo (vocalist Megan Jerome and guitarist Alex Moxon) bring their minimalist version of soul classics to the Royal Oak Canal (near the Pretoria Bridge). Francophone poet and singer Yao combines slam poetry, jazz, and blues in a show at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans. And there's a Mardi Gras celebration at Irene's Pub in the Glebe.
Also that evening, two long-time musical partners reunite to celebrate Valentine's Day in song at Zolas in Bells Corners: master pianist Brian Browne and vocalist Lindsay MacLeod. Browne will also perform a few days later with another frequent collaborator, trumpeter Kelly Craig, at a show on Wednesday, February 17, at the Brookstreet Hotel Options Jazz Lounge.
On Sunday, February 14, the theatrical group Canadian Musical Odyssey (which put on the revue Satin Dolls a few years ago) will present “The Gift of Jazz” at the NAC Fourth Stage. The show celebrates “the courage, determination, grace and unrelenting spirit of men and women who overcame incredible challenges (such as breaking down the colour barrier) and reflects the history, impact and contributions of these performers on the world of Jazz.”
On Thursday, February 18, you can hear the deep Chicago groove – but with an AACM edge – of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, as they make their 2016 appearance in Ottawa at the Mercury Lounge. Leader and percussionist Kahil El'Zabar has again reformed the band and is now performing with legendary baritone saxophonist and clarinetist Hamiet Bluiett, and Craig Harris on trombone and didgerideoo. The EHE is a perennial favourite in Ottawa, reaching outside the jazz audience but remaining true to the modern jazz idiom.
On Saturday, February 20, the Ottawa Jazz Collective – last heard at Merrickville's Jazz Fest – returns to GigSpace. The collective includes five well-known Ottawa jazz musicians: Vince Rimbach (saxophones), Peter Hum (piano), Alex Bilodeau (upright bass), Mike Essoudry (drums), and Tim Bedner (guitar). The concert will include original compositions by each, arranged for the collaboration. The musicians “strive for melodic lyricism, harmonic and rhythmic sophistication and high energy and all original material."
Guitarist Garry Elliott and pianist Steve Boudreau are long-time musical compatriots, and released an album of originals, Pre-Dawn Skies, together in 2013. They've been friends for more than 15 years, based on similar musical tastes and the ability to bring out the best in each other's compositions. They'll present their introspective and highly melodic jazz compositions (and maybe the occasional standard) in their annual concert at St. Luke's Church in Chinatown on Sunday, February 21.
On Tuesday, February 23, Cinq Gars Une Fille returns to Les Brasseurs du Temps in downtown Gatineau, playing Latin jazz rhythms mixed with classic French songs on accordion, guitar, violin, and percussion.
On Wednesday, February 24, students from Hopewell Public School will perform a noon-hour concert at Southminster United Church, including the school's jazz band. In the evening, at Irene's Pub a few blocks northwards, you can hear jazz musicians including Christine Fagan, Megan Jerome, Steve Berndt, Ken Kanwisher, and Mike Essoudry celebrate “the bourbon wonder that is Tom Waits. This eclectic revue runs through many of the songs and varied styles of Tom’s long and influential career.”
That evening is also the second in the Black Music series at NAC Fourth Stage, this time with Ottawa pianist Abel Maxwell performing jazz standards including "Georgia on my mind" and "Windows".
The last weekend in February is going to require some hard choices: it's practically gridlocked with jazz shows, including a CD release.
On Friday, February 26, the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra celebrates important albums by two jazz artists. The first set features music by saxophonist Oliver Nelson: the entire contents of his 1961 album, The Blues and the Abstract Truth, played by four horns and a rhythm section. It's followed by the two Charlie Parker with Strings albums which were recorded in 1949 and 1950, featuring Sandy Gordon on alto sax. Gordon's rendition of Parker's soaring sax solos will be backed by a small orchestra of strings, woodwinds, and a rhythm section. “The programme will even include a number of charts that were written for the original recording sessions but were never actually recorded!"
On a more modern note, Toronto jazz guitarist Harley Card will be at Brookstreet's Options Jazz Lounge on both the Friday and Saturday, playing with Ottawans Petr Cancura (tenor sax) and Alex Bilodeau (double bass). As part of the Toronto scene for the last decade, Card plays everything from free jazz to chamber jazz to mainstream. He released Hedgerow, his most recent CD of originals (in a mainstream vein) in 2013.
Saturday, February 27, is even busier. Besides Card, you can hear vocalist and pianist Laila Biali at the NAC Fourth Stage. Her first presentation of the music on her latest CD, House of Many Rooms, quickly sold out at GigSpace last May. This show will be more intimate, with just her trio of bassist Ross MacIntyre and drummer Larnell Lewis, and will primarily showcase new material she's still working on, for a CD she hopes to record in March and release in June. For the CD she's collaborating with several prominent pop/jazz songwriters. Read the OttawaJazzScene.ca interview with Biali about this show.
Two essential musicians in Ottawa's jazz scene – pianist Brian Browne and clarinetist/saxophonist David Renaud – have teamed up on a piano/clarinet CD called First Love. Are you guessing there might be more than a few of Browne's favourite jazz standards on the album? You'd be correct, along with a few gospel numbers, too. They'll release the CD in a concert on February 27 – and with Browne being a Steinway artist, and Renaud a well-known piano tuner, the location is not surprising: the Steinway Piano Gallery on Innes Road near Cyrville in Ottawa's east end.
At GigSpace on February 27, Ottawa saxophonist and flutist René Lavoie presents a 40th anniversary tribute to the iconic saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. While best known for playing on the essential Miles Davis records Milestones and Kind of Blue, Adderley is also remembered for bringing forward jazz standards like "This Here", "The Jive Samba", "Work Song", and "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy". The group – including J.P. Allain on piano, Normand Glaude on bass, and Megan Jerome on vocals – will primarily perform music from two albums which highly influenced Lavoie’s saxophone/flute playing: Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley  and Cannonball Adderley and the Bossa Rio Sextet with Sergio Mendes .
That same evening, the Horizon Quintet, an Ottawa group which specializes in jazz/bop music from the 60s and 70s with more than a touch of funk and soul, will be at Irene's Pub in the Glebe, along with Cloud City. The quintet was a big hit at Merrickville's Jazz Fest for its energetic and full-out music.
Also on February 27, the Chocolate Hot Pockets and The Lucas Haneman Express will set Live! on Elgin to grooving. And at the Mercury Lounge, the Juno-nominated Mexican/Canadian vocalist Boogat will combine Latin rhythms like cumbia and salsa with reggae and hi-hop.
On Sunday, February 28, you can hear Brian Browne twice. At 4 p.m., he performs with long-time musical friend Peter Woods on saxophone, in Jazz for a Winter's Day, a fundraising concert at Woodroffe United Church for two refugee families. They'll be playing the the classical jazz repertoire, and Jim Baldwin, minister at Britannia United Church, will add his mellow voice to selected numbers.
That evening, Browne will return for a solo piano session at Das Lokal in the ByWard Market, as part of Alex Moxon's Nachtmusik series.
That same evening, IMOO reprises its “Double Space” show, with four local musicians each playing two (or more) instruments in a highly improvised free jazz concert. Rory Magill is on drums and xylophone; Linsey Wellman on alto sax and bass clarinet; David Broscoe on different woodwinds (Broscoe plays everything from baritone sax to bassoon and lots in between, so he has many choices); and Scott Warren on drums and electronics. The location hasn't yet been finalized.
February closes with more big band music, with the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra (CYJO) led by Nicholas Dyson. On February 28, they present a tribute to the legendary Canadian big band, Rob McConnell & the Boss Brass, which defined the Canadian sound for big band music for decades. The Boss Brass played around the globe, and won three Grammys (with 17 nominations) and three Juno awards. Besides the Boss Brass arrangements, CYJO will add one tune each by local composers Mark Ferguson and Rob Frayne. For this concert only, the orchestra is not at Carleton University, although it's not far away: Trinity Anglican Church, in Old Ottawa South.
Continuing series provide a backbone to the local jazz scene
Saxophonist Zakari Frantz ran Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago in downtown Gatineau for several years, before handing it off to bassist Alex Bilodeau last year. Frantz is back at LPC in this month's host band, a trio with Bilodeau and drummer Michel Delage (ironically called the Long Straw Trio). Expect a good mixture of originals and jazz classics, with jamming in the second set.
The HML Trio (drummer Jamie Holmes, guitarist Alex Moxon, and bassist J.P. Lapensée) celebrate a notable milestone this month: their third anniversary on February 11 of hosting jazz jams every Thursday night at the Options Jazz Lounge at the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata. Expect some groove, lots of standards, and the occasional original from Moxon. More centrally, the Beeched Wailers continue their Tuesday night jams at the Wellington Eatery in Hintonburg, with jamming for the first two hours, and the Wailers closing out the evening.
Alex Moxon has another continuing series this month: he's bringing his talented Alive! Ensemble (with Linsey Wellman, Clayton Connell, Marc Decho, and Michel Delage) to Irene's each Sunday evening. They're paying tribute to 60s/70s jazz-soul guitarist Grant Green and his classic albums Alive! and Live at The Lighthouse, continuing a show that Moxon had only presented once before.
Two well-known Ottawa guitarists have long-standing series featuring regular guests: Garry Elliott with vocalists at Santé in the ByWard Market on Wednesday evenings, and Tim Bedner with instrumentalists at La Roma in Little Italy on Thursdays.
Now they're joined by a third: starting on February 13, guitarist Roddy Ellias will play every Saturday evening at Caveau Mediterranean in Alta Vista. These will be duet shows with “four of my very favourite musical friends”, starting with trombonist Mark Ferguson.
And into March
Spilling over into next month, the Jivewires will appear at Live! on Elgin on Friday, March 4. They'll encourage you to put on your dancin' shoes for a high energy show of original songs inspired by "jump blues" and wild swing from the 40s and 50s.
On Saturday, March 5, world-travelling Ottawa vocalist Diane White will be featured in the final concert of the Black Music series at the NAC. While her program isn't yet set, she expects to include some of the 1960s pop classics she featured at Merrickville's Jazzfest, as well as a composition by pianist Miguel de Armas for which she wrote lyrics. [cancelled]
That same evening, you can hear Canadian-Cuban guitarist and vocalist Alex Cuba at the NAC Studio, playing from his latest and Juno-nominated album, Healer. Want more choices for March 5? Guitarist Lucas Haneman will play a show at the Branch in Kemptville, and the trio of Ottawa vocalist Nicole Ratté performs the Colours of Brazil at GigSpace.
– Alayne McGregor
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February 18: Updated the description of Laila Biali's show at the NAC on February 27. Added the Brian Browne/ Peter Woods fundraising concert at Woodroffe United Church on February 28.
February 23: Updated the description of Nicole Ratté's trio show on March 5.
February 25: Updated Diane White's concert as canceled