For two hours on Sunday afternoon, Southminster United Church was filled with the timeless beauty of jazz – to help those in desperate need.
Twelve Ottawa jazz vocalists and instrumentalists performed to support the work of Ottawa Centre Refugee Action (OCRA), which is helping families fleeing war and crises to resettle here. The concert raised a grand total of $3,772 through ticket sales, donations, CD sales, and a plant and bake sale outside the church.
OCRA organizer Angela Keller-Herzog told the audience that OCRA had committed to support 37 refugees, of which 27 (mostly from Syria and Iraq) had so far arrived. The concert proceeds would be applied to the $50,000 they still need to raise in order to finish this work, she said.
Omar Jammeh, who arrived a month ago in Ottawa after escaping discrimination in Gambia, expressed his deep thanks to the OCRA volunteers who had helped him – especially dealing with the shock of below-freezing temperatures at the end of April. “I've met so many beautiful people.”
On this Sunday afternoon, Ottawa was swelteringly hot – and there was competition from the Ottawa Race Weekend and other events. But the concert still attracted about 120 people, who listened attentively and applauded vigorously throughout.
The house band of three veteran Ottawa jazz instrumentalists – Mark Ferguson on piano, John Geggie on double bass, and René Lavoie on flute and tenor sax – opened the show with the standard “I Remember April”, given an upbeat rendition with Lavoie's soaring flute lines, Ferguson's sparkling piano, and Geggie's emphatic bass lines.
Then the vocalists took over, with varied contributions from Karen Oxorn, Dominique Forest, Sharon Timmons, Nicole Ratté, the Juliet Singers, and Geri Childs. Highlights of the concert included a romantic and warm “I've Got It Bad and That Ain't Good” sung by Oxorn; Forest's ardent rendition of “God Bless the Child”, sung from the heart; and Ratté's smiling version of “You Must Believe in Spring”, sung in the original French, followed by Bill Evans' sweet paean to childhood, “Waltz for Debby”.
The Juliet Singers (Rachel Beausoleil, Kathleen Eagan, Elise Letourneau) sang the theme from “Alfie”, from their recent Burt Bacharach tribute concert, in three-part harmony, their voices melding and then separating to deliver the langorous and wistful lyrics – accented by occasional tenor sax lines. They followed that with the bright and sassy “Farmer's Market”, featuring lots of scatting.
Guitarist Roddy Ellias went in a completely different direction. His duet with Geggie began with a completely improvised piece, created in that moment – which he said would be inspired by imagining what it would be like living in a country like Syria where you have to escape. It was a quiet, sad piece, featuring long deep lines on bowed bass and resonant, sparse guitar notes. It segued into one of Ellias' favourite tunes, the expressive and fluid “Domino”, which he learned from his mentor, Montreal jazz guitarist Nelson Symonds.
Vocalist Geri Childs thanked all the friends who worked with her to organize the concert over several months. She closed the show with a delicate version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's “Dindi”, followed by a swinging “Centrepiece”, featuring a bright, inflected guitar solo from Ellias.
It was a well-organized show, kept on-time by MC Ken Rockburn because the church was only available for a limited period of time. It showcased the musical strength of Ottawa's jazz scene – and its generosity.
– Alayne McGregor
Read the OttawaJazzScene.ca article about this show: This Sunday: discover jazz vocalists and support refugees .