Adam Saikaley looked slightly bemused after his set at the Record Centre Tuesday morning. It was about the earliest he'd ever performed jazz piano, he told OttawaJazzScene.ca.
Saikaley's 10 a.m. set opened the Ottawa Jazz Festival's Jazz Ramble event at the record store. It was a quiet and graceful evocation of mostly 60s jazz classics, including pieces by Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock, and ending with “Body and Soul” – and a fine start to 24 hours of music, celebrating the strength of Ottawa's jazz scene.
The free event, the first ever by the festival, showcased Ottawa-area jazz musicians, performing everything from standards to funk to free improv to poetry. Fans could hear both well-tried and brand-new groups, but not necessarily playing in their comfort zones, or at times of the day they were used to.
It was a cornucopia of interesting music – something for almost all tastes.
The ramble attracted a constantly-changing group of listeners. There was a noticeable shift in the audience after every set, with listeners leaving and new ones entering, but there was always at least a dozen listeners even in the early hours of the morning.
In the late afternoon and evening, the place was packed with jazz fans, many spilling out onto the sidewalk. Toddlers danced to the music with their parents smiling beside them; a few of the older seniors really appreciated the chairs and stools set out by the store. Many people were recognizable from local jazz jams, but there were also many new faces.
The event featured familiar names in the jazz community: the Chocolate Hot Pockets, the Atlantis Jazz Ensemble, Tim Bedner, Roddy Ellias, Mark Ferguson, John Geggie, Lucas Haneman, Mike Essoudry, and Linsey Wellman. But it also included groups which have only been heard occasionally: The Small Packages Duo, with Steve Boudreau on piano and Michel Delage on cajon, evocatively playing pieces by George Gershwin and Nirvana; and Rob Frayne's DrumSwamp, a rich, multi-layered blend of intricate percussion with soaring guitar, saxophone, and Moog.
The event featured the debut of several groups, including Bone & Cello Jazz, with Steve Berndt on vocals and trombone with occasional mute, and Ken Kanwisher on cello with tasteful effects and looping. It was a surprising combination that allowed each musician's distinctive voice to be heard clearly, including several of Berndt's vocal compositions from his CDs, and it provided a nice complement to the louder groups that played throughout the ramble.
Later that evening, Petr Cancura introduced Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang! with Cancura on tenor sax, Keith Walton on tuba and Mike Essoudry on drums, playing mostly Cancura's compositions. An unexpected guest, Toronto-NYC saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff, showed up around 11:30 p.m., and added his soprano sax to their last number.
And alto saxophonist Zakari Frantz, guitarist Alex Moxon, drummer Michel Delage, and Walton unveiled their as-yet-unnamed new quartet playing nuanced and multi-layered versions less-familiar modern jazz compositions.
Walton was, in fact, a notable presence at the show. After finishing the quartet show at 1 a.m., he was back by 7 a.m. for a duet with vocalist Mélanie Hartshorn-Walton, performing jazz arrangements of mostly French songs. He thanked the “super-fans” listening to their set whom he recognized from the previous evening.
By 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, five jazz fans had been there for the entire 24 hours, including OttawaJazzScene.ca's photojournalist, Brett Delmage. The festival was offering a Gold Pass package to one fan who was “still standing” after the 24 hours; Delmage stood back and not up, and did not participate because that would be a conflict with his role reporting about the event as a professional journalist.
After the final group finished playing, festival programming director Petr Cancura asked the fans who had been there for the entire event to stand. He then announced that the festival had decided to award Gold Passes to all four. OttawaJazzScene.ca interviewed each of the four to ask them what particularly impressed them about the music they heard.
Martin Roussel said he liked the ambiance and the people at the event. He said most of the bands were “really awesome”, and particularly liked three or four. “It's great to discover local bands that we don't know about, that played during the 24 hours.”
Eric Sladic has been attending the jazz festival since 2001, and lives only a few blocks from the Record Centre. He was already planning to attend this year's festival, but entered the contest in order to be able to auction the Gold Pass off to benefit those suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). “My girlfriend is a volunteer spokesperson for ALS, so I figured it would be a challenge, it would be fun. I'm not expecting anything for myself, but it's easy to go home and get a coffee and go back and enjoy all the music.”
Sladic announced on Thursday on Twitter that the Gold Pass was being auctioned on eBay.
He said he liked some of the music, “and some of it made me sleepy! Some of it was just really creative, engaging, fun, crazy. I liked something about all of it, actually. And just the challenge and the camaraderie of us all hanging out here trying to make it by. So it was a lot of fun.”
Local saxophonist and flutist Tariq Amery had originally wanted to perform at the event but didn't apply in time. He ended up as an impromptu guest in two sets: on tenor saxophone with Sean Duhaime's trio (which “gave me a bit of a boost, helped me get through the next few hours”), and then adding his flute to Megan Jerome's sing-along which closed the ramble.
He said that the hardest challenge for him was that, because of a spiritual discipline, he was fasting for the first 10 hours of the event. “Until 8:45 p.m., I wasn't able to drink any water or eat any food, so that was probably the hardest part.” He had other humps about 2 and 6 a.m., he said, but kept going by conserving his energy: “clap and cheer, but not too much, because you get tired and you're not able to stay awake.”
Amery studies saxophone with Cancura, and said he was particularly impressed with several of Cancura's performances, particularly Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang!, and his playing with guitarist Roddy Ellias and trombonist Mark Ferguson. “The Bumpin' Binary [with Essoudry and organist Don Cummings] was great, too. They always make me dance. I know most of the people who were here, so a lot of it was just like seeing what my friends are working on and trying to check out what's going on in the scene.”
Gregory Kampf, the long-time host of the weekly radio program La Villa Strangiato on CHUO-FM, said he stayed for the full 24 hours because “when you have a chance to witness in person some of the best jazz musicians this city has to offer, and you don't have to go to them, they will come to you, I think that made it pretty clear that I had to be here for the entire thing.”
He said he'd previously heard “maybe half of the artists that came out to play for us in the last 24 hours, some in different projects whether alone or in other groups. And then the other half I'd maybe seen their names in listings in OttawaJazzScene.ca. I hadn't had a chance to hear them before. It was worth it just to fill in so many gaps in my own knowledge and I'm much better off now than when I started, even though I'm lacking sleep!”
Kampf said the music had kept him going, and he didn't expect to be tired until the event ended. “It's almost like we've become family here in the last day, so I think there will be an emotional and a spiritual let-down that will happen.”
He said he found it particularly inspiring “to see so many young jazz artists in the city who are quite content to make their art right here in our community and build the community, as opposed to going off to Toronto or Montreal or New York City. They want to stay here and they want to play here and build a scene, and I think that's very encouraging. I'm very excited by that, and as a radio show host, I want to find a way to promote that and help that along.”
“I heard a surprising variety of jazz which was new and exciting to me, even though I am reporting about the scene all year long and hear a lot of music,” OttawaJazzScene.ca's Brett Delmage said. “Whenever I got tired – I slept 3 hours in the 48-hour period that ended with the Ramble – I critically asked myself if it was the music or just me. Every time, I concluded that the music was always interesting and deserving of my attention – and that helped overcome my fatigue. I hope listeners will be able to hear some of these performances in individual shows next season.”
Record Centre owner John Thompson was smiling – and ready to get some sleep after only a few 20-minute catnaps – by 10 a.m. Wednesday. “It all worked! We had perfect weather, we had beautiful, loving crowds who were enthusiastic. The place was full, the bands were great. I think everybody's expectations were met, and surpassed.”
He praised the organization of his technical crew, which taped the music and helped set up the equipment, and the bands for staying on time. “24 bands played in 24 hours, and we finished at 10 on the nose! We were never behind more than a minute all night.”
He was particularly impressed by the Cancura-Ferguson-Ellias-Geggie quartet, the Atlantis Jazz Ensemble, and the “incredible” middle-of-the-night set with saxophonists Zakari Frantz and Julian Selody. He said he hoped to bring in some of the musicians whom he hadn't already featured for concerts in the store – and definitely would like to repeat the Ramble next year.
Cancura said he was thrilled at how the Ramble turned out. He said it met all three goals that he had set for it: to raise awareness of the jazz festival, to showcase Ottawa's local jazz talent, and to create a really cool community event.
“It was cooler than I expected it to be. I can't believe how many came out, how many people supported it. It was such an amazing show of community. ... And it was focused on jazz.”
He said the jazz festival got a lot of attention from the event. It had a limited number of Bronze passes at 25% off for sale at the store between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and all of them sold, he said. At 10 p.m., OttawaJazzScene.ca noted there was a long line-up for pass sales.
For Cancura, there were many musical highlights, but particularly the evening shows from 6 p.m. to midnight, including ERU-ERA, his set with Ellias, Ferguson, and Geggie, and the Atlantis Jazz Ensemble. “I loved a lot of it. A lot of great music was made.”
Would he repeat the event next year? “Right now it seems crazy, but perhaps.”
– Alayne McGregor, with files from Brett Delmage
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