It's a swingin', bumpin' jazz month in May in Ottawa-Gatineau, with a nod to the jazz tradition and to the future.
Swing dancers will get many chances to show off their footwork, jazz musicians will visit from across Canada, and local musicians will display new and evolving projects. There's contemporary jazz, Latin rhythms, and vocals ranging from modern to the Great American Songbook.
Toronto pianist Dave Restivo, Toronto drummer Nick Fraser, and Yukon vocalist Fawn Fritzen release new CDs, a new monthly jazz series starts, and Montreal pianist Oliver Jones begins his farewell tour.
There's a bumper crop of visiting Canadians, including saxophonist Pat LaBarbera, vocalist Kate Hammett-Vaughn, trumpeter Rachel Therrien, reed player Ted Crosby, vocalist Florence K, bassist Brad Cheeseman, vocalist Amanda Martinez, guitarist Kim Ratcliffe, drummer Aubrey Dayle, harmonica player Carlos del Junco, bassist Henry Heillig, guitarist Eric St. Laurent, the Kite Trio, guitarist Alex Pelchat, bassist Stéphane Diamantakiou, trumpeter Paul Serralheiro, and percussionist Ivan Bamford. Ottawa drummer Ken Harper will bring in Toronto bassist Artie Roth and saxophonist Bob Brough.
These May jazz highlights are brought to you by Charles Buckingham, Marcie Campbell, Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra, Wayne Eagles, Dominique Forest, Caroline Gibson, Normand Glaude, Chris Halford, and Keith Hobbs. We greatly appreciate their support!
And on top of that, you can hear from some of Ottawa's most talented younger players, at the university and high school level.
It's been 15 years since Toronto pianist Dave Restivo released his first album, Prayer for Humankind(ness), a beautiful album of fine performances and memorable original melodies. But he's finally back with a new CD, The Waves. He gives it its official Ottawa release on Tuesday, May 3, at St. Luke's Church in Chinatown, a location well-known for its frequent classical concerts, accompanied by two renowned Montreal jazz musicians: bassist Fraser Hollins and drummer Greg Ritchie.
Restivo was named Pianist of the Year three times at the National Jazz Awards. He's was in Rob McConnell's Boss Brass and Tentet, and the Mike Murley Quintet. He has also performed and recorded with Dave Holland, Jon Hendricks, Kenny Wheeler, John Abercrombie, Mel Tormé, Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, Christine Jensen, Kevin Mahogany, and Molly Johnson. In Ottawa, he's frequently been seen with vocalists like Sienna Dahlen and Laura Crema.
Also on May 3, Montreal reed player Ted Crosby and guitarist Jacob Wiens appear at the Brookstreet Options Jazz Lounge in Kanata. The duo will play jazz standards and original compositions, some from the band, Nomad, which they both belong to.
On Wednesday, May 4, you can hear legendary jazz saxophonist Pat LaBarbera in concert with the award-winning Nepean All-City Jazz Band, in the acoustically-excellent auditorium of the Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School in Barrhaven. LaBarbera was the featured soloist in the Buddy Rich band from 1967-73, and has also regularly performed with Elvin Jones, Woody Herman, Louie Bellson and Carlos Santana, as well as his brother, drummer Joe LaBarbera. His album Deep in a Dream won a Juno Award in 2000, and he's been a key player in the Toronto jazz scene for more than three decades. [Read the OttawaJazzScene.ca interview with Pat LaBarbera.]
On Friday, May 6, drummer Nick Fraser will release not one, but two, CDs at GigSpace. The concert is part of the Canadian release tour for his far-reaching album, Too Many Continents, which he recorded with NYC saxophonist Tony Malaby and Toronto/Brooklyn pianist Kris Davis. Davis and Malaby will be performing with him on Friday. But Fraser also recently recorded another album, Starer, with Malaby, along with cellist Andrew Downing and bassist Rob Clutton, and that album will also be available at the concert.
In previous concerts in Ottawa, Fraser and Malaby have consistently enthralled their audiences and pushed the edges with intense improvisations. You can see them in action with Downing and Clutton in the OttawaJazzScene.ca video of their 2013 show at GigSpace.
The trio is only performing in three cities for this tour: Toronto, Ottawa, and Edmonton, so the GigSpace concert is a rare chance in particular to hear Kris Davis, a Vancouver-born, Brooklyn-resident pianist who was dubbed one of the music’s top up-and-comers in a 2012 New York Times article. She has studied composition with Jim McNeely, and extended piano techniques with Benoit Delbecq, and received a 2015 Doris Duke Impact Award. This summer, she'll appear twice at the Newport Jazz Festival, once in a solo concert, and once with the Eric Revis Quartet.
Also on May 6, drummer Ken Harper brings back his hard-hitting trio with Toronto bassist Artie Roth and saxophonist Bob Brough. They'll play compositions by Thelonious Monk, Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington, Ornette Coleman, as well as their own material, and promise that “anything can and will happen”. The following evening (Saturday, May 7), the trio will play a JazzN.ca house concert in Almonte.
If you're looking for a more intimate show, vocalist and pianist Megan Jerome will perform solo on May 6 at the Royal Oak Canal pub, near the Pretoria Bridge.
There's a noticeably promising crop of young jazz musicians graduating from Carleton University's music program this year, and in April and May they've been presenting graduation recitals, usually with local jazz musicians in their bands. OttawaJazzScene.ca has noticed drummer Andrew Ferderber in particular, both as the engine of the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra and in other bands and jam sessions.
He'll present his recital on Friday, May 6, at the university's Kailash Mital Theatre, along with well-known names on the local scene: saxophonist Petr Cancura, trumpeter Ed Lister, pianist Clayton Connell, bassist J.P. Lapensée, and guitarist Wayne Eagles. Expect “jazz, Latin, funk, fusion, rock, and blues”. The following evening, Saturday, May 7, is the last in the series of recitals, with guitarist Will O’Neill, also at Kailash Mital.
On Saturday, May 7, four well-known Ottawa jazz musicians – vocalist and trombonist Steve Berndt, guitarist Alex Moxon, bassist J.P. Lapensée, and drummer Mike Essoudry – get together for a concert at St. Stephen's Anglican Church (in Ottawa's west end, near Pinecrest). This show is the beginning of a series of monthly concerts at the church, being curated by pianist Roland Racz.
The quartet will perform material from Berndt's repertoire, including their own arrangements of jazz standards, blues, and the original songs which Berndt has written for groups like the Jivewires and his collaborations with Brian Browne.
May 7 will be the last day for the current Fourth Stage at the National Arts Centre, which will be completely rebuilt as part of the NAC's extensive renovations, and won't reopen until July, 2017. The very last show in the Fourth Stage will be Carlos del Junco and the Blues Mongrels, with bassist Henry Heillig (Manteca) and guitarist Eric St. Laurent. The Mongrels play a cross between blues and jazz, powered by del Junco's championship blues harp playing.
At GigSpace on May 7, Ottawa vocalist Betty Ann Bryanton and her quintet will present a collection of jazz songs “that are fabulous but are off the ‘Sideways Bend’ - I guarantee there will be several tunes you have never heard before but that you will go away loving!”. The show is reported to be sold out.
On Sunday, May 8 and 15, you can sit back and enjoy classic vocal jazz at Les Brasseurs du Temps in downtown Gatineau. Promising jazz vocalists will be supported by veteran Ottawa jazz performers, as Nicole Ratté presents two recitals by her students.
Drummer Mike Essoudry loves brass bands: his Mash Potato Mashers marching band became a legend in its own time. He's got a new project, the Bank Street Bonbons, with seven Ottawa brass players (including Keith Walton on sousaphone!) plus himself on drums. They play brass band music like Slavic Soul Party, the Soul Rebels, and a few Masher tunes; Essoudry describes it as “very dancy and fun”. You can hear them at Irene's Pub in the Glebe every Sunday evening this month.
Also on Sunday, May 8, you can hear jazz musicians performing in a classical vein. At McKay United Church in New Edinburgh, guitarist Roddy Ellias will play jazz-infused chamber music with the Silflay String Quartet. And at the Avalon Studios in the Glebe, Dave Renaud and Sylvie Duchesneau present “Dragonfly and Libellule”, a duo show of clarinet and bass clarinet repertoire, drawing on the clarinet culture from around the world.
At Le Petit Chicago, Alex Bilodeau is mixing up the host bands this month for Jazz Mondays, including many contemporary jazz groups. He started with the HML Trio on May 2. Next up is the Ottawa Jazz Collective on May 9, followed by The Kite Trio from Montreal on May 16, and The Alex Tompkins Group on May 23 and 30.
Wednesday usually isn't a major jazz day in Ottawa, but May 11 is an exception. At noon, you can hear “Pay the Duke”, a modern and exuberant tribute to Duke Ellington's music at Southminster United Church. This one-time concert, organized by Ed Lister with arrangements by him and Richard Page, will feature Lister on trumpet, Page on saxophones, Mark Ferguson on piano, Alex Bilodeau on double bass, and David Pontello on drums.
Jazz vocalist Fawn Fritzen is touring Ontario in early May – all the way from Whitehorse! She's presenting her new album, Pairings, which has her singing in duos (voice/bass, voice/drums, voice/piano, and even voice/saxophones) with a variety of well-known Canadian jazz musicians. They perform some well-known jazz songs (Cole Porter) and some which should be better-known (Francesca Blumenthal), and four of Fritzen's originals – all fitting smoothly and expressively together. (Listen to our podcast interview with Fritzen.)
The evening of May 11 is the Ottawa stop on her CD release tour, at the Steinway Piano Gallery on Innes Road near Cyrville in Ottawa's east end. The show includes two of the musicians on the album: bassist George Koller and pianist Dave Restivo. Ottawa vocalist Peter Liu adds his voice to the mix as well.
On Friday, May 13, the Ottawa vocal harmony trio The Juliet Singers celebrate the music of composer Burt Bacharach at GigSpace. The vocal trio (Elise Letourneau, Rachel Beausoleil, and Kathleen Eagan) will be accompanied by master pianist Brian Browne.
Bacharach, with lyricist Hal David, wrote some of the most memorable and stylish pop songs of the 1960s and 70s, including “Walk On By”, “(They Long to Be) Close to You”, “Trains and Boats and Planes”, “What the World Needs Now Is Love”, “Alfie”, “The Look of Love”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, and “I'll Never Fall in Love Again”. Many of his songs were taken up by jazz vocalists and instrumentalists. Last year, the Juliet Singers paid tribute to another well-known songwriter of that period, Carol King.
On Friday and Saturday, May 13 to 14, Montreal trumpeter Rachel Therrien brings her trio at the Options Jazz Lounge. In 2015, Therrien won the Grand Prix Jazz Award at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, where she presented her second album, Home Inspiration, “an emotionally charged show filled improv and exceptional musical orchestration” [FIJM]. In 2016, she will launch her new Afro-Colombian inspired jazz album, Pensamiento, which was recorded in Bogota, Colombia in 2014. She's also working on a new album with her Montreal Quintet.
On the dance floor
This month features several swing dance spectaculars, with jazz bands keeping the energy and swing up as the dancers spin and glide across the floor. On Friday, May 13, the Tulip Festival opens with an huge swing dance, with the 14-piece big band Standing Room Only (SRO) and vocalist Pauline Proulx on the bandstand.
In 2015, SRO also headlined the festival's opening night, and its two-hour concert turned into an impromptu swing dance. This year, the band is working jointly with the Ottawa Swing Dance Society (OSDS) to hold a proper dance and introductory lesson for newcomers, to be held in the Aberdeen Tulip Pavilion at Lansdowne Park. The 4000 square foot dance floor (approved by OSDS) will easily accommodate the expected four to five hundred dancers the festival is hoping to attract.
The vintage feel of the music is expected to be echoed on the floor, as the dancers are being encouraged to wear WWII period dress, and participants in the WWII Military Encampment and Re-Enactment in WWII military garb are also expected to attend. A festival day pass is required for admission, and there will be no age restrictions.
Standing Room Only will be back the next evening (Saturday, May 14), as it hosts its second tea dance in Ottawa at the Glebe Community Centre. The big band normally holds these tea dances at the Almonte Town Hall, but in January decided to try out the big city. The experiment was successful – it packed the dance floor at the centre [see OttawaJazzScene.ca's photos of the dance] and decided to return.
Two weeks later, on Friday, May 27, the OSDS will celebrate World Lindy Hop Day at its monthly live band dance at St. Joseph Church in Sandy Hill. Vocalist Peter Liu, the Pollcats with clarinetist Scott Poll, and the four-part swinging harmonies of the Jazz Lines Vocal Quartet will provide the music. The day commemorates Frankie Manning, a founder of Lindy Hop and a leading figure in its history, and “celebrates the joy and freedom of swing dancing, bringing together people of all backgrounds, ages, and abilities”.
On Sunday, May 15, at 5 p.m., vocalist Megan Jerome brings her Together Ensemble to the Record Centre in Hintonburg for a free show (with donations strongly appreciated). The ensemble's music combines Jerome's lyrics with slice-of-life vignettes and pointed observations with a deep, melting, and insistent groove courtesy of Don Cummings' Hammond A organ, Mike Essoudry's drums, Fred Guignon's electric guitar, and her piano.
Later that evening and also in Hintonburg, the Montreal quartet Shortest Longest Day will perform at House of Common (11b Fairmont Avenue at Wellington Street West) in an IMOO show. The quartet includes four experimental/free jazz musicians: Alex Pelchat on guitar, Stéphane Diamantakiou on double bass, Paul Serralheiro on trumpet, and Ivan Bamford on percussion – who come from as far away as France and British Columbia.
Sixteen years ago, pianist Oliver Jones officially announced he was retiring. But after a few years, the lure of jazz brought him back – to the delight of jazz piano fans. However, his current series of concerts has been announced as his farewell tour, and so it's likely that his show in the NAC Theatre on Thursday, May 19, may be the last chance to see him in Ottawa.
A friend and disciple of Oscar Peterson, Jones nevertheless had his own style with the standard repertoire, showing his classical training, his swinging feel, and his love of ballads – and his talent for picking agile and inventive musicians to perform with. OttawaJazzScene.ca reviewed his trio's sold-out NAC concert in 2014, and praised their musical rapport and intuitive understanding – and how well Jones connected with the audience.
On Saturday, May 21, Ottawa singer/songwriter Erin Saoirse Adair will release her new EP, Gaslight, in a show at Pressed. While Adair's songs are primarily in the confessional songwriting mode, she consistently adds many interesting jazz touches to her music. For this show, she'll be accompanied by Nick Dyson on trumpet and Richard Page on saxophones.
The last weekend in May is by far the busiest, with a strong Latin vibe. On Thursday, May 26, Toronto singer Amanda Martinez appears at the NAC Studio, playing an upbeat cross between world and Latin music. Her third and latest CD, Mañana  was produced by GRAMMY-winning producer Javier Limón. Martinez has headlined at the legendary Blue Note jazz club in New York, at the 2010 FIFA World Cup Festivities in South Africa, and at the 2011 PanAmerican Games in Guadalajara, and was the first host of Jazz.FM-91's Latin Jazz program.
Also on May 26, Quebec bossa nova vocalist Florence K will perform at the Jean-Despréz Hall in downtown Gatineau. She's recently released a best-selling book, Buena Vida, which tells the story of how she overcome severe depression several years ago, and brings that story to the stage in music, including some new songs. “Seated at her piano, accompanied by a multi-instrumentalist, she throws wide the doors on this deeply personal journey to the limits of her being.”
A year ago, guitarist Garry Elliott teamed up with Bumpin' Binary (Mike Essoudry on drums and Don Cummings on the Hammond A organ) for a soulful and grooving (and sold-out) show at GigSpace. OttawaJazzScene.ca's review of that show called its recreation of 60s jazz classics “fresh and compelling”. They're back at GigSpace on Friday, May 27, again drawing from the legacy of guitar and organ trios, with tunes by musicians like Grant Green, Larry Young, Sam Yahel, Peter Bernstein, Mike LeDonne, and Shirley Scott.
Also on May 27, vocalist Megan Jerome will perform a solo show at Kaffé 1870 in Wakefield, sharing the bill with Birdie Whyte.
On Friday and Saturday (May 27-28), the Toronto group On Topic, with guitarist Kim Ratcliffe, drummer Aubrey Dayle, and bassist Brad Cheeseman, will play at the Options Jazz Lounge. They’ll be performing music from their new album Second Time Around, and original pieces from each of the members. This contemporary jazz trio was formed in early 2015 with musicians well-known for their own solo projects, and allows them to work in a collaborative band. The Options shows are the last stop on a tour throughout April and May that will take the trio across Ontario and to Montreal.
Over the last five years, vocalist Claudia Salguero has regularly sold out the NAC Fourth Stage for her evocations of the romantic melodies of Latin America. On Saturday, May 28, she's moving to the larger Studio for “Cantares”, again singing poetic love songs in Spanish and backed by her long-time Latin band, with soaring arrangements by Sylvio Modolo. A portion of the proceeds from the show will be donated to “Casa Taller Las Moyas”, a community centre in Colombia which teaches music, arts, cooking, and other activities to underprivileged children.
That same Saturday evening, a new Ottawa jazz “super-group” will have its formal debut at GigSpace. Modasaurus began when the HML Trio (Alex Moxon on guitar, J.P. Lapensée on bass, and Jamie Holmes on drums) started playing with pianist and composer James McGowan. They share a link through Carleton University, where the trio originally formed and where McGowan is a professor of music.
The HML Trio is best known for hosting the weekly jazz jams at the Options Jazz Lounge, but the music they'll be playing at this concert isn't jazz standards. Instead, it's primarily McGowan's compositions. The group's music is influenced by everything from “funk to ECM free-jazz to Latin rhythms to sounds from the Middle East” – all creating “an impressively rich and dynamic jazz fusion”.
To the south of Ottawa, Jazz Vibes will play a JazzN.ca house concert in Manotick on May 28. Guitarist Pierre Monfils and bassist Chris Thompson are inviting young violinist William Lamoureux to join them for this show. They'll play a wide range of jazz standards, along with Brazilian bossas and sambas, some familiar, some rarely heard outside Brazil.
Hammett-Vaughan is also a highly respected teacher of the art of jazz singing. On the following afternoon (May 29) at 1 p.m., she will offer a vocal workshop at GigSpace, in which she will explain how “exploring a new groove or establishing a fresh sense of mood can transform your favourite songs”.
The month ends with a jazz benefit concert on the afternoon of Sunday, May 29, at Southminster United Church. Organized by singer Geri Childs, the concert will help Ottawa Centre Refugee Action with its work in resettling Syrians made homeless by the war in their country.
Many of Ottawa's most prominent jazz vocalists are donating their talent, including Childs, Dominique Forest, Karen Oxorn, Nicole Ratté, Sharron Timmins, and the Juliet Singers – as well as guitarist Roddy Ellias. They'll be supported by a house band of Mark Ferguson on piano, John Geggie on double bass, and René Lavoie on saxophone. Advance tickets ($20) are for sale from Herb & Spice on Wellington West, or from Geri Childs; tickets at the door will be $25.
On Sunday evening, you can also hear two jazz crossover bands. In the Nachtmusik series at Das Lokal in the ByWard Market, you can hear the Treasure Dub Quartet, with four jazz musicians (Adam Saikaley, Alex Moxon, Philippe Charbonneau, and Michel Delage) playing jazz interpretations of reggae tunes. At Live! On Elgin, the jazz/pop group Novalatte plays its farewell concert. The group of just-graduating Carleton University music students, which recently recorded an EP, is ending because its lead vocalist is moving to Singapore.
Looking forward into June, vocalist Renée Yoxon is briefly back in Ottawa for a noon-hour concert on Wednesday, June 1, at Southminster. Together with Mark Ferguson and John Geggie, she'll pay tribute to lyricist and composer Johnny Mercer, known for classic songs like “Moon River”, “Skylark”, “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)”, and “That Old Black Magic”.
Of course, there's lots more jazz happening in May in Ottawa-Gatineau. 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. You can also hear monthly Jazz Vespers at the Knox Presbyterian Church downtown (May 18) and at All Saints-First United Westboro (June 5).
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
May 10: Updated the description of the Pay the Duke concert.