Valeriy Nehovora ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Valeriy Nehovora has become increasingly integrated into Ottawa's jazz scene ©Brett Delmage, 2017

 Valeriy Nehovora has found Canada, and Ottawa's jazz scene in particular, to be a very welcoming place.

Fifteen months ago, the university-trained percussionist arrived in Canada from the Ukraine – and he's been busy ever since performing and making connections with local musicians.

This month, he's leading his first Ottawa-based group, as his quartet hosts Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago in downtown Gatineau. He's joining up with three well-known Ottawa jazz musicians he met at jazz jams and playing in different projects: guitarist Alex Moxon, bassist J.P. Lapensée, and saxophonist Richard Page.

You can also hear Nehovora the first three Sunday evenings this month as part of Marc Decho's Warp'tet, which is performing a tribute to Jaco Pastorius in the Sunday Sessions series at Irene's Pub in the Glebe.

Canada was Nehovora's first choice as a destination after he left Ukraine, because of what he'd heard of this country's welcoming attitude. “Canada is [the] best country. That's why I came to Canada.”

He said he talked to others in similar situations to his own – who had to leave because of economic or political problems or because of war. Friends in Germany and Poland told him that they were constantly reminded in those countries that they were immigrants, even those who were second or third generation.

“In Canada, here I'm not viewed liked an immigrant. I feel like it's my country now. And also for newcomers, Canada has a lot of different programs which help.”

When he got here, Nehovora said, he made a point of meeting as many musicians as possible at local jazz jams and shows, and playing with them in different projects. He met Moxon and Lapensée through attending their HML Trio jazz jam at the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata, and Page when they played together in a project with organist Don Cummings.

As he got better known, several local drummers invited him to sub in on different projects, and other musicians invited him to play with them, he said.

Fellow drummer Michel Delage was an early friend. Delage coordinates Jazz Mondays and suggested to Nehovora that he lead host band for one month. Initially, Nehovora wasn't sure he could do it, but when the musicians he talked to said, “ 'OK, we're ready to do gigs with you', I was really happy and I told Michel, 'OK, I want to play this gig.' ”

The group will perform modern jazz classics by musicians including Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, Sonny Rollins, and Don Grolnick, he said, plus a few originals by band members.

“I've just chosen music that I like, music that I've played before. Alex Moxon said OK, I'll bring my original tunes, and Richard Page say OK, I bring also some lovely tunes from Keith Jarrett. So we'll play together and have fun.”

Nehovora also hopes the Jazz Monday shows will increase his profile locally as a musician “which is also very important thing”. He's trying to work full-time as a musician, “but it's not easy because it takes time for other musicians to know you. If musicians know you, usually you have a chance for some future projects in which I can also participate.”

For the moment, he's also working at flexible side jobs such as driving for Uber, that don't conflict with rehearsals.

Nehovora has a Masters degree in percussion from a Ukrainian university, and performed in that country in a variety of groups, from the National Symphony Orchestra to show bands to jazz ensembles and more.

Percussion has been his passion ever since he was a small child playing toy drums. “I play a lot on the drums when I was a child. And my father asked, 'Maybe you want this?' 'Yes, yes, I want this, very much.' ”

By the age of 11, he focused strictly on percussion instruments. “I love it! As a percussionist, I have the chance to play all types, all kinds of music. I was working in symphony orchestras, I was teaching in a music school [for] children, I was working in different bands. I play not only jazz, I play rock, I play folk, I play on many different percussion instruments: congas, bongos. I have a lot of projects where I play with DJs.”

“I like all types of music which I feel is good for me. When you play with really good musicians, it doesn't matter what kind of music. All music has other rules, other ways for creating. It's a very interesting process.”

The Valeriy Nehovora Band, with Nehovora on drums, Alex Moxon on guitar, J.P. Lapensée on electric bass, and Richard Page on soprano sax, bass clarinet, and clarinet, will host Jazz Mondays on November 6, 13, 20, and 27, starting shortly after 9 p.m. The host band will perform in the first set. The second set will be an open jam: bring your horn, guitar, or voice! Jazz Mondays are held at Le Petit Chicago, 50 Promenade du Portage (in downtown Gatineau, two blocks from the Chaudière Bridge and from Les Terrasses de la Chaudière complex). There's a $5 suggested donation.

Marc Decho's Warp'tet, with Nehovora on drums, will perform a Tribute to Jaco Pastorius the first three Sundays in November at Irene's Pub, 885 Bank Street, in the Glebe. The group will play one long set from 9:30 p.m. to around 11 p.m. Admission is free; donations are appreciated.

Read about another show which included Valeriy Nehovora: