Learn what's happening in jazz in May

April is the month when the world officially raises a toast to jazz, ending on the 30th with a gala concert in Washington, D.C. hosted by President Obama. In Ottawa, the month is a little more low-key, but there's still lots of jazz, particularly showing off local and Canadian talent.

'Miles Ahead' is the most controversial of three jazz films being shown in Ottawa this month.
'Miles Ahead' is the most controversial of three jazz films being shown in Ottawa this month.
There's three new jazz films being premiered at the ByTowne Cinema. There's three CD launches – by Toronto vocalist Micah Barnes, by Montreal drummer Mark Nelson, and by the Atlantis Jazz Ensemble. There's a large-scale tribute to the ground-breaking Canadian jazz composer and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, and the third in Petr Cancura's Crossroads jazz/folk series. And there's a giant, one-time-only MegaBand being created and trained by Rob Frayne for a mid-April concert.

These April jazz highlights are brought to you by Robert Godin, Tyler Harris, Jonathan Langsner, Brady Leafloor, Mark Miller, Ron Sweetman, and Geoff Zeiss. We greatly appreciate their support!

Visiting musicians to listen for in April include pianist/vocalist Michael Kaeshammer, Montreal saxophonist Tevet Sela, the Sultans of String, Ontario pianist Steve Holt, and Americans trumpeter Byron Stripling with drummer Bob Breithaupt.

And to top it all off, this is the month local students show off what they've learned in the last year with wide-ranging ensemble concerts and graduation recitals.

As we told you in March, the first three days of April featured several high-profile visiting musicians, including the duo of vocalist Kate McGarry and guitarist Keith Ganz, and the Michael Vlatkovich Quartet. Iconic jazz vocalist Holly Cole made a rare Ottawa appearance, while Ottawa singers Christine Fagan and Steve Berndt exalted the joy of Vocalese. And on the avant-garde end, Ellwood Epps, Keith Hartshorn-Walton, and Jesse Stewart presented a trumpet/tuba/percussion collaboration.

The ByTowne Cinema presents the new biopic of trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker in a limited five-day run from April 1 to 5. As we wrote in our review, the renditions of Baker's music (arranged by David Braid, with Kevin Turcotte on trumpet) are glorious and worth the price of admission on their own. Born To Be Blue itself is compelling and well-acted, but does take liberties with Baker's life story.

The first full week of April opens with multiple big band fanfares. The 17-piece Stan Clark Orchestra brings swing to the Métropolitan Brasserie downtown on Monday, April 4, with special guest vocalist Johnny Vegas.

On Wednesday, April 6, the 17-piece Ottawa Junior Jazz Band headlines a Barrhaven Jazz Summit at John McCrae Secondary School, along with ensembles from the school. The OJJB, which includes students from Grades 8 to 10, will feature special guest Petr Cancura on saxophone and clarinet.

On Saturday, April 9, the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra wraps up its 11th season with Introspection, a tribute to Kenny Wheeler “and the many musical friends he worked with over the years. Expect haunting melodies, undeniable grooves, and surprising rhythms with dialogues of playful and pensive interchange.” The featured soloists at the NAC Fourth Stage concert will include Cancura, vocalist Diane Nalini, and pianist Peter Hum.

And then on the Sunday, April 10, the 16-piece Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra presents its third and final show of the season, this time with Cancura as their special guest (Cancura is also Carleton's musical artist-in-residence this year). The orchestra will perform some of Cancura's compositions as well as music by Canadian and other composers.

But that's by no means the only student ensemble you could hear in the first week. On Monday evening, April 4, there's the Carleton University Guitar Ensemble at the Patrick Cardy Studio (A900, Loeb Building); on Tuesday, April 5, a joint concert featuring the university's Jazz & Roots Ensemble (led by Cancura) and its Improv Class (led by Jesse Stewart), also at the Patrick Cardy Studio.

On Thursday, April 7, two student Jazz Ensembles, directed by Mark Ferguson, will perform at the Kailash Mital Theatre at Carleton University, performing jazz classics by Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Cannonball and Nat Adderley, as well some more modern pieces. The following Friday evening, April 8, two Carleton sax quartets (plus guest saxophone ensembles from local schools) will celebrate the saxophone's capabilities in a show at the Patrick Cardy Studio.

You might have already gathered that Petr Cancura is well booked up this week. But those concerts already mentioned don't even include his highest-profile show: the third and final concert in his NAC Presents Crossroads series. In this series at the Fourth Stage, Cancura and his jazz quartet (with guitarist Roddy Ellias, double bassist John Geggie, and drummer Greg Ritchie) have been collaborating with Ottawa singer-song-writers. On Thursday, April 7, you can hear Jeremy Fisher's songs presented with a jazz twist, in new arrangements by Cancura.

Vocalist Grace Hrabi was a frequent presence in Ottawa's jazz community for several years. She moved back to Winnipeg last year, but is now on an Ontario tour with her group Casati, with Jesse Popeski on guitar and Quintin Bart on bass. On Tuesday, April 5, they'll perform all originals (jazz/folk) at The Rainbow downtown, while on Wednesday, they'll present a jazzier night at the Brookstreet Hotel's Options Jazz Lounge in Kanata.

On Friday, April 8, vocalist Caridad Cruz will bring hot, sensual Cuban rhythms to Aylmer, on the Quebec side of the river. Her Latin Night at Cabaret La Basoche will feature pianist Miguel de Armas and a full, percussion-rich band. Expect the audience to be up and dancing by the end of this show!

On Friday and Saturday (April 8-9), the Ottawa Jazz Collective will present approachable and interactive originals in shows at Brookstreet. The collective consists of five local jazz musicians who collaborate in presenting compositions by each of them.

On Saturday, April 9, guitarist Garry Elliott teams up with his long-time collaborator, pianist Steve Boudreau, and two well-known Montreal musicians for a show at GigSpace. Together with bassist Adrian Vedady (part of Roddy Ellias' trio) and drummer Camil Belisle (who has performed with Lorraine Desmarais for three decades), Elliott and Boudreau will present some of the music they've been writing since they released their joint CD in 2013. Listen for “scintillating grooves, wistful moods and playful interaction”.

Also on April 9, vocalist Karen Oxorn and guitarist Terence Wright will showcase The Greats of Jazz Guitar at Festival Japan, with songs recorded by Joe Pass and Ella Fitzgerald, Barney Kessel and Julie London, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Ed Bickert and Trudy Desmond, Bill Coon and Denzal Sinclaire, Reg Schwager and Diana Panton, as well as nods to Charlie Christian, Jim Hall, and Wes Montgomery.

On Sunday, April 10, the Rake-Star Arkestra makes one of its occasional appearances on Planet Earth, with nine of Ottawa's most adventurous and skilled jazz musicians paying tribute to the godfather of space jazz, Sun Ra – this time at Flapjack's on Preston Street.

On Tuesday, April 12, Montreal saxophonist Tevet Sela makes a rare Ottawa appearance at Brookstreet. Sela was last heard here last fall with pianist Guillaume Martineau at the NAC Fourth Stage. His melodic and soaring alto sax lines added considerably to that show. In 2014, the Israeli-raised musician released his first Canadian CD, whose original music combines jazz with elements of klezmer, African and Middle Eastern music. The CD is called Lying Sun; the title refers to how in Montreal, the sun might be shining brightly but it's not warm out at all.

On Thursday, April 14, the Sultans of String present their combination of Gypsy jazz, Arabic, Cuban, and South Asian rhythms, Celtic reels, and flamenco, at the NAC Fourth Stage. The Sultan's front line of violin and guitar will be enhanced for this concert by sitar master Anwar Khurshid.

On Friday and Saturday, April 15 to 16, Ontario jazz pianist and vocalist Steve Holt will brings his quartet, with Montreal saxophonist Dave Turner and Ottawans John Geggie and Tom Denison, to Brookstreet. Holt has performed with Archie Shepp, Larry Coryell, Eddie Henderson, Pat LaBarbera, and James Moody. He was nominated for a Juno for his debut recording in 1983, and will be performing two pieces from that album at Brookstreet, as well as other originals.

On Saturday, April 16, Toronto vocalist Micah Barnes, formerly of the Nylons, launches his Canadian tour for his new CD with a concert at GigSpace. The CD, New York Stories, is a collection of original songs which commemorate “Manhattan’s musical history including The Cotton Club, The Apollo Theatre, Broadway & late night Jazz Clubs”, and is inspired by the classic songwriting of Fats Waller, George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. Barnes appeared with the NAC Orchestra last fall in its Roaring Twenties festival.

Ottawa master pianist Brian Browne has been performing with some of his favourite long-time musical friends recently. On Saturday, April 16, he's back at Zolas in Bell's Corners with vocalist Lindsay MacLeod; on Wednesday, April 27, he and vocalist Steve Berndt will impart the joy of jazz standards at Brookstreet.

On Sunday, April 17, composer and bandleader Rob Frayne unveils the MegaBand of local jazz musicians which he will have been coaching for the previous week. Along with four professional musicians – Frayne, vocalist Megan Jerome, trumpeter Nick Dyson, and saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist Petr Cancura – the band will perform a concert at the Westboro Legion. The music – both standards and some of Frayne's own compositions – will be tailored specifically for that group.. Expect groove, Latin rhythms, and mainstream jazz stretched in interesting ways.

Starting on Monday, April 18, Carleton University will stage its students in graduation recitals. The recital concerts often include local professional musicians as well as students playing approachable jazz. The April jazz contingent include pianist Cynthia Tauro (April 18); guitarist Jacob Clarke (April 22); saxophonist Devon Witol (April 23); drummer Matt Welsh (April 29); and bassist Harrison Singer (April 30).

On Friday, April 22, vocalist Megan Jerome takes her Together Ensemble out for a groove-based spin at Kaffe 1870, in Wakefield, Quebec, with her insightful lyrics supported by a rich bed of Hammond organ, Wurlitzer, guitar, and drums.

From April 22 to 26, the ByTowne Cinema presents the jazz documentary film, Song of Lahore. It follows the travels of a small group of Pakistani classical musicians called Sachal Studios, and their unexpected collaboration in New York City with Wynton Marsalis' Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra. Sachel released an experimental album combining their Southern Asian improvisational style with jazz – to which they had been introduced by Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck and other Ambassadors of Jazz in the 1950s and ’60s – and it became a hit. “One cut in particular, an exuberant spin on Brubeck’s ‘Take Five,’ made waves worldwide.” The documentary follows the rehearsals – and the culture clash – between JALC and the Pakistani musicians, culminating in their concert together.

On Saturday, April 23, hard-hitting Canadian pianist Michael Kaeshammer and his quintet will enliven the NAC Theatre with his mix of standards and originals, all with a boogie-woogie touch. Kaeshammer and his band emphasize improvisation in their shows, making each performance unique and constantly evolving in response to the audience.

Also on April 23, Ottawa vocalist Geri Childs shares some of her favourite tunes from her large repertoire, accompanied by Mark Ferguson on piano. The GigSpace show will feature compositions by Gershwin, Ellington, Monk, Michel Legrand, Ivan Lins and more: “some are familiar and some more obscure, but all are melodic and memorable.”

On Sunday, April 24, get the funk! from two local jazz bands which emphasize groove: Thrust (with Jamie Holmes, Ed Lister, and Clayton Connell), and Soundproof (with Caleel Hall, Kevin Pryce, and Leighton Rodney). They're playing a double bill at Live! On Elgin downtown.

The NAC Orchestra has invited up two notable jazz musicians from Columbus, Ohio, for its next Pops concert: trumpeter Byron Stripling and drummer Bob Breithaupt. On April 28-30, Stripling and Breithaupt will be featured soloists with the orchestra for Night At The Cotton Club, an invocation of “the legendary pre-war gin joint where Duke Ellington’s orchestra was the house band and legends like Cab Calloway and Ella Fitzgerald dazzled audiences nightly”. Stripling never quite finished his music degree because he went on the road with Lionel Hampton, followed by the Woody Herman Orchestra and then the Count Basie Orchestra. He has been playing with pops and jazz orchestras since 1989, and is now the artistic director of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, where Breithaupt also performs.

On Friday, April 29, the Rainbow will be filled with jumpin' and jivin' as the Jivewires put on a high energy show of original songs inspired by the great "jump blues" artists of the late 40's and early 50's like Louis Jordan and wild swing masters like Cab Calloway – and add a good dollop of groove, improvisation and social satire. The blues-oriented Lucas Haneman Express is also on the bill.

The last jazz film this month at the ByTowne is the one that seems to have stirred up the most advance controversy – but then trumpeter Miles Davis was never a quiet character himself. Miles Ahead is a snapshot of Davis in the late 1970s, with flashbacks to earlier times, and gives an unsparing and sometimes violent view of his life. It stars and is directed by actor Don Cheadle, and the soundtrack includes music by Davis as well as original music by Robert Glasper. You can see Miles Ahead from Friday, April 29 until Thursday, May 5.

On International Jazz Day (Saturday, April 30), you have a choice of three shows. At GigSpace, it's the Ottawa release concert for the new CD by Montreal drummer Mark Nelson's Sympathetic Frequencies group (the CD is included in the ticket price). The group's members (Mike Bjella on tenor saxophone, Andrew Boudreau on piano, Nicolas Bédard on bass, and Nelson on drums) each hail from a different part of North America, but they have created a unified voice as “sound sculptors producing these Sympathetic Frequencies”.

In Almonte, JazzN.ca presents a Jazz Day concert with the Roddy Ellias Trio (with Fraser Hollins on bass and Greg Ritchie on drums) at the Carriageway Studios.

And at the Mercury Lounge in the ByWard Market, the Atlantis Jazz Ensemble releases its first album, Oceanic Suite. The ensemble has several of the same members as the Souljazz Orchestra, but a very different sound, defined by Pierre Chretien's electric piano/vibraphone, Ed Lister's trumpet, and Zakari Frantz's alto sax. The CD is a a seven-part conceptual jazz album depicting the sea and other related themes.

Going into next month, May begins with several high-profile concerts. On Wednesday, May 4, legendary saxophonist Pat LaBarbera is the guest of the award-winning Nepean All-City Jazz Band for its spring concert. On May 6, you can hear the Nick Fraser Trio at GigSpace, and the Ken Harper Trio at Pressed.

Of course, that's by no means all the jazz happening in Ottawa each week. Many local restaurants, bars, and coffeehouses across the city run jazz shows every week (or more often), with a rotating list of performers, and there are regular jazz jams on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and some Fridays.

Sign up to our Jazz Scene newsletter to get a full listing of all the jazz and improvised music events within 100km of Parliament Hill in your Inbox every week. You can also check our list of Ottawa-Gatineau-area jazz clubs, and our daily On The Scene listing on our website's front page to learn more about what's going on in jazz locally right now.

    – Alayne McGregor