Updated June 27
Jazz is in the air in June. Downtown streets are lined with bannerGenerals for the jazz festival; there are advertisements everywhere for concerts. And there's no reason to wait: Ottawa-Gatineau is jumping with jazz all over every week in June. You could miss the festival completely and still get a great dose of enjoyable jazz.
From out of town, you can hear American pianist Don Washington, Montreal guitarist Mike Rud, Vancouver pianist Matt Choboter, Toronto vocalist Alex Samaras, NYC guitarist Pravin Thompson and drummer Jarrett Walser, Toronto world-jazz group So Long Seven, Toronto saxophonist Allison Au and her quartet, Montreal improvisers Sound of the Mountain, and Vancouver crooner Michael Bublé.
There are two shows celebrating Canada's 150th birthday, two CD release shows, and music ranging from deep organ/drum grooves to vocal jazz to a Cuban fiesta.
OttawaJazzScene.ca's jazz highlights and all other reporting is made possible by reader donations. Thanks to these June highlights sponsors: Barry Cooper, Gregory Klowak, Jonathan Langsner, Barry Paulson, Geoffrey Zeiss
Your reader donation is essential so that OttawaJazzScene.ca's can promote jazz in Ottawa-Gatineau with our unique and in-depth reporting
This month McKay United Church presents lunch-time jazz every Wednesday at noon. It's the second year for the free series, with McKay's minister and saxophonist Peter Woods playing with a different guest each week – mostly musicians he frequently collaborates with. The series opens with pianist James McGowan (June 1), and continues with trumpeter Charley Gordon, guitarist Rob Martin, and vocalist Gerri Trimble (June 8), McGowan and vocalist Leah Cogan from the Evensong Ensemble (June 15), a Country Jazz Revue with guitarist Campbell Woods and guitarist/bassist Tim Jackson (June 22), and not least of all, master pianist Brian Browne (June 29).
On Saturday, June 3, vocalist Karen Oxorn and her quartet celebrate Canada's 150th in song at the Baldachin Inn in Merrickville. Oxorn has listened to many albums by Canadian jazz vocalists, and picked jazz standards which they recorded – as well as a few songs composed by Canadians. Her selections include songs made famous by Diana Krall, Michael Bublé, Céline Dion, Susie Arioli, Bria Skonberg, Diana Panton, Denzal Sinclaire, Carol Welsman, Leonard Cohen, and k.d.lang.
Also on June 3, pianist and vocalist Don Washington brings his powerful brand of uptown swing and down-home blues to GigSpace. Performing with locals Tim Bedner on guitar, Elise Letourneau on flute and vocals, and Marilee Townsend on drums, Washington will play music in the tradition of Les McCann, Jimmy Smith, Gil Scott-Heron, and Nina Simone, telling stories along the way.
Washington is from upper New York state, where he currently teaches music in public school. He was a preacher's kid, and performed as part of worship services in his father's church. But it was in Ottawa that Washington truly fell in love with the blues. “In the spring of 1991, Don had a chance to see Buddy Guy perform live at the Penguin Club in Ottawa, Ontario. The performance was so powerful that Don left the show mesmerized. He realized at that moment that his gospel roots gave him the tools he needed to play and sing the blues.”
The Souljazz Orchestra has an unusual gig on June 3. They're the headliner at the “Pure Love Afterparty” for the City of Om day-long yoga festival at Lansdowne Park. Expect some very limber dancers swaying to the orchestra's Afrocentric jazz!
This month, the Sunday Sessions at Irene's Pub in the Glebe feature The Bank Street Bonbons, for each Sunday night starting June 4. The Bonbons are drummer Mike Essoudry's brass band: he's the only non-horn player among a bevy of hard-driving saxophonists, trumpeters, trombonists, and a sousaphonist. The Bonbons will play material from their upcoming album plus some new material and covers of less expected music, such as by Britney Spears and The Jackson 5. Read our review of their previous Sundays at Irene's.
Keyboard player Pierre Chretien will show off two different host bands at Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago this month. On June 5 and 12, he's presenting a solo project for the first set, before opening the stage for jamming in the second. On the last three Mondays of the month, he and Zakari Frantz will lead the Atlantis Jazz Ensemble as host band, playing “modal, spiritual and esoteric jazz music”. The ensemble released its first CD, Oceanic Suite, in 2016: a seven-part conceptual jazz album depicting the sea and other related themes.
The Beeched Wailers have moved their Tuesday night jazz jams to Irene's Pub. They’ll play there for the first three Tuesdays of this month (June 6, 13, and 20), after open jamming. Whether they continue will depend on the turnout for the jams, so come out to listen!
Have a yearning for big bands? On Wednesday, June 7, trumpeter Ed Lister returns to Irene's with his Prime Rib Big Band for their monthly show. This 11-piece band, including some of the best horn players in town, showcases Lister's compositions written in the tradition of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk.
The following evening (June 8), Ottawa's most experienced but still lively big band (with many members in their 70s and 80s) performs at a City of Ottawa big band dance at Ron Kolbus Centre in Britannia. The theme for the The Grey Jazz Big Band dance is “Caribbean Carnival”.
Then the jazz scene gets busier – way busier!
Matt Choboter is a young, award-winning jazz pianist from Vancouver. He’s been mentored by the respected multi-instrumentalist Brad Turner, with whom he's performed and recorded. In 2015, he released his debut album, samskaras, and then studied Carnatic rhythm and melody with 9th generation veena player/vocalist Karaikudi S. Subramanian, in Chennai, South India.
Choboter's Ottawa show on June 8 at the Avant-Garde Bar is the first stop on his trio's Canadian tour. The trio, with Cole Birney-Stewart on double bass and Andrew Thomson on drums, promises an evening of “adventurous improvisation and original composition”. Their goal is to “infuse multi-cultural musical practices and procedures into a Canadian Jazz context”, and their music is “informed by Carnatic rhythmic ideas, of how time and space can be experienced with great accuracy by way of interacting large-scale and small-scale frameworks.”
On Friday, June 9, Bumpin' Binary, the drums and Hammond organ duo of Mike Essoudry and Don Cummings, is back for the first time in six months, playing their brand of swinging funky soul with strong grooves. They're opening for the indie band Bongo Date (which also includes Cummings) at Irene's.
On June 9 and 10, Montreal guitarist Mike Rud collaborates again with drummer Michel Delage in paying tribute to a famous jazz guitarist. This time, it's Wes Montgomery, who introduced an entirely new approach to playing guitar in the 1960s – including his octave technique (playing the same note on two strings usually one octave apart) and his use of chords in solos. He won the Down Beat Critic's Poll award for best Jazz guitarist in 1960–63, 1966, and 1967.
Montgomery had a huge influence on many famous jazz and rock guitarists after him – and that includes George Benson (the subject of Rud and Delage's last tribute), and Rud himself, who first heard Montgomery in an LP borrowed from his local public library.
At their show in the Options Jazz Lounge in the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata, Rud and Delage will be joined by bassist Alex Bilodeau and pianist Peter Hum in performing many of Rud's favourite pieces by Montgomery. The quartet will repeat the show on Sunday afternoon (June 11) at the Record Centre in Hintonburg.
But there's lots more happening on that Saturday. On June 10, Django Libre fills Bar Robo with their brand of gypsy swing, and Afro-Cuban pianist Miguel de Armas brings his dynamic seven-piece Fiesta Cubana band to the Mercury Lounge. And at Le Petit Chicago in downtown Gatineau, la Roda de Samba plays joyous Brazilian rhythms – and particularly the samba.
When Toronto vocalist Alex Samaras appears at GigSpace on June 10, he'll sing “original takes on jazz standards and some surprises”. And those surprises could come from many areas, given Samaras' wide musical interests. He's most frequently brought his Stephen Sondheim jazz project here, but he also sings regularly with his own trio, with the group Twin Within, in the The Queer Songbook Orchestra, and with the Toronto Jazz Orchestra. He is the founder and artistic director of his own eight-voice group GREX which performs new and experimental vocal works
In Ottawa, Samaras will perform with Steve Boudreau on piano and John Geggie on double bass. He and Boudreau met through the JazzWorks music camp, where Samaras has taught, and all three “share a love for the jazz tradition while searching for fresh approaches to improvisation and group interplay”.
Also on June 10, the Toronto instrumental group So Long Seven will perform at l'Avant Première in Gatineau (beside the music conservatory). The group combines world music with cinematic jazz, and includes three veterans of the Toronto jazz scene – Tim Postgate on banjo, Ravi Naimpaly on tabla, and Neil Hendry on guitar – plus a young wunderkind, Ottawa-born violinist William Lamoureux. Their performance in Aylmer last summer was a definite hit with the audience (read the OttawaJazzScene.ca review). Lamoureux will open the show with a short solo set, playing Top 40 pop hits rearranged for voice, violin, and effects pedals.
Looking for more Latin jazz? Vocalist Rachelle Behrens releases her first CD, Nostalgia, at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios on Sunday, June 11. The CD is a tribute to Behrens' Chilean heritage and the songs she grew up listening to: a cornucopia of Latin jazz tunes primarily from Central and South America, all sung in Spanish. Behrens will be accompanied by Chilean-born percussionist Angel Araos, as well as prominent local jazz musicians Steve Boudreau on piano and Marc Decho on bass.
Also on June 11, Bang Bang Bang Bang! is at Bar Robo, performing jazz inspired by Delta blues and Mississippi roots music. The group, which premiered at last year's Jazz Ramble, consists of saxophonist Petr Cancura, tuba player Keith Hartshorn-Walton, and drummer Mike Essoudry. Expect raw melodies and stories.
The Rakestar Arkestra is a constellation of eight excellent and adventurous Ottawa jazz musicians who pay tribute to the music of the unique American composer and bandleader Sun Ra – but in their own voices and with considerable fun and verve. After their “Sung Ra” concert extravaganza in January, they've continued to perform monthly. They'll play an afternoon show at The Record Centre on Sunday, June 11, and a full evening show at Bar Robo in Chinatown on Sunday, June 18.
On Wednesday, June 14, the NYC duo of guitarist Pravin Thompson and drummer Jarrett Walser will appear at the Avant-Garde Bar, as part of a quickie Canadian tour that also takes them to Montreal. In 2014, Pravin released Identity, a six-track EP of all original compositions, blending rock and jazz and influenced by everything from Miles Davis to the Smashing Pumpkins. It feaures “Singer-Songwriter like melodies, along with improvisation and heavy band interaction.”
Megan Jerome has been busy writing new material for a second album with her Together Ensemble, fitting her perceptive lyrics atop the full sound of guitar, drums, and Hammond organ. You can check it out at Bar Robo on Friday, June 16.
There's no doubt that the Cuppa Soup Combo loves playing traditional jazz (yes, with washboard!) – you can see it in their smiles and the zest with which they play those familiar and fun songs. Each summer, the group performs for charity, asking for donations to the Shepherds of Good Hope. You can see them at the Billings Bridge Shopping Centre on the morning of Saturday, June 17, and outdoors on Preston Street during the Italian Festival in the early evening on June 16 and 17.
Saxophonist and composer Allison Au and her talented quartet won two JUNO awards in a row for their first two albums. That wasn't a fluke: their dense jazz packs a considerable emotional punch and intellectual complexity. On Saturday, June 17, they'll perform at a JazzN house concert in Almonte.
Also on June 17, the Souljazz Orchestra brings its intense Afrocentric jazz to the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, Quebec. Don't expect to sit still during this show.
The ice cream parlour Stella Luna features groups on Sunday evening during the summer (and if you stay til the end, you can take home ice cream on sale). On June 18, bassist Marc Decho will perform.
On Monday, June 19, pianist Cynthia Tauro will perform with her quartet of well-known Ottawa jazz musicians (guitarist Alex Moxon, bassist Alex Bilodeau, and drummer Michel Delage) at Live! on Elgin. Tauro's original songs feature confessional and romantic lyrics over propulsive jazz instrumentals [read the OttawaJazzScene.ca story about her quartet hosting Jazz Mondays]. Brazilian-Canadian guitarist and vocalist and recent Carleton U graduate Rômmel Ribeiro will open.
The Wednesday noon-hour concert series at Southminster United Church in Ottawa South is wrapping up for the summer, but not before featuring one more jazz concert. On June 21, multi-genre pianist John Dapaah will perform with bassist JP Lapensée and drummer Jamie Holmes in a program of jazz standards, plus a number in honour of Canada's 150th birthday – a new jazz arrangement of “O Canada”. Dapaah will also perform a free “Chamber Pints” show sponsored by Chamberfest at Pressed on Friday, June 23.
Linsey Wellman's Wedding and Funeral Trio performs rich, Balkan-inspired originals, blending Wellman's expressive alto sax, Mike Essoudry's inventive percussion, and the deep bass notes of Keith Hartshorn-Walton's tuba. Bar Robo will feature them on Thursday, June 22.
The summer Ottawa Jazz Festival is, of course, the major source of jazz in the city from June 22 to July 2. Not all its shows are pricey: you can hear free showcase concerts by local jazz musicians in front of City Hall at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. each day, as well as late afternoon shows in Confederation Park, before the visiting shows coming in. Discover the full line-up in our easy-to-read guide to the festival.
On Friday, June 23, the Jetset, led by drummer Ken Harper, will play a house concert in the Glebe at 20 Wilton Crescent. The group, which also includes guitarist Tony D, percussionist Rob Graves, and bassist Dan Grewal, plays late 60's and early 70's compositions by jazz artists including Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, and Johnny Lytle, as well as original compositions.
The National Arts Centre's Canada Scene festival is featuring creative artists in many genres this summer. In some shows, it even combines genres – as with the Propeller Dance Company on June 23 and 24. The mixed-abilities contemporary dance company is continuing its collaboration with percussionist Jesse Stewart in its new show “Living the undesirable life” at the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Hintonburg.
On Wednesday, June 28, the Montreal improvising duo Sound of the Mountain releases its first studio album, Amplified Clarinet and Trumpet, at an IMOO show. The duo – trumpeter Craig Pedersen and clarinetist Elizabeth Millar – will be on a cross-Canada tour collaborating with different musicians along the way; at this show they'll be playing with local electronics duo Instant Places (Laura Kavanaugh and Ian Birse) and saxophonist David Broscoe. At previous IMOO shows, their nuanced music, which uses extended techniques, has sunk to the barest breath and expanded to great exclamations of sound. Also on the bill is the Montreal experimental duo of reed player Arrington de Dionyso and drummer Pierre-Luc Simon, and Linsey Wellman playing a solo set on alto saxophone.
This will also be the first IMOO show at its new regular location, the General Assembly, at 5 Fairmont Avenue in Hintonburg (just down the street from the Bridgehead coffeeshop). You can easily find them, since the new venue is right next door to their previous location. Oops ... the show got moved back to House of Common, at 11b Fairmont Avenue.
On Thursday, June 29, the National Arts Centre will host the 2017 Governor General's Performing Arts Awards Gala. Vocalist Michael Bublé will perform, and will also receive the 2016 National Arts Centre Award at the gala, which recognizes “recent exceptional work by a performing artist”. He was supposed to receive that award last year but had to postpone because of vocal cord surgery. Bublé has won 12 JUNOs (most recently the JUNO Fan Choice Award in 2015), four Grammys, and seven Smooth Jazz Awards. He released his ninth studio album, Nobody But Me, in 2016, which includes “reinventions” of classic jazz and pop songs.
On Friday, June 30, vocalist Michael Curtis Hanna brings his quintet of well-known Ottawa musicians to the Options Jazz Lounge. Hanna is the son of the late jazz pianist Sir Roland Hanna, and grew up with many jazz musicians such as Sarah Vaughan, Al Hibler, Thad Jones, and Nat Adderley living around the corner from their New Jersey home. He sings vocalese in the style of the great Eddie Jefferson, and his music also has a strong gospel component, having been shaped by singing in church choirs. He has performed in venues in Japan, the US, and Canada, and released two CDs.
Miguel de Armas will be away in California at the end of June, teaching a summer course in Latin Jazz at California State University. In his place, vocalist Caridad Cruz and guitarist César Ricardo will present a Cuban Night at The Marshes on Friday, June 30. Expect fiery and intense vocals and music.
Also on June 30, local swing dancers will kick up their heels to the practiced swing of David Renaud's Dr. Jazz ensemble, at the Ottawa Swing Dance Society's dance in the basement of St-Joseph's Parish Church in Sandy Hill. Listeners are always welcome too.
Of course, there's lots more jazz happening in Ottawa-Gatineau, with weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly jazz jams in locations from Kanata to Vanier, regular big band and swing dances, and many restaurants and bars which offer jazz weekly or even daily.
– Alayne McGregor
Updated June 27 to include the new location for the IMOO show on June 28.