Herbie Hancock ©Brett Delmage, 2008
Herbie Hancock will return to the Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2018. He was last here for the 2008 festival (seen here with guitarist Lionel Louecke). ©Brett Delmage, 2008

Updated April 26, 2018

It won't be the same Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2018.

The festival, which announced much of its summer line-up today, is facing the double whammy of construction in Confederation Park and the National Arts Centre's closure for rewiring. Most of its 2018 shows will be in the grounds of Ottawa City Hall and a nearby church, and it will only be able to use the Fourth Stage at the NAC.

American headliners announced today include pianist Herbie Hancock (June 30), vocalist Boz Scaggs (June 22), guitarist Russell Malone (June 23), and trumpeter Terence Blanchard (June 26). They join the already-announced trumpeter Chris Botti (June 21), vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater (June 24), bluegrass-roots vocalist Alison Krauss (June 26), and improvising banjo player Béla Fleck with the original Flecktones (June 28). Announced later were funk queen Chaka Khan (June 25), and French musician St Germain (June 27), who plays nu jazz, a mix of jazz and electronic music.

Festival programming so far emphasizes jazz more than in recent years, with Khan, Krauss, and Lake Street Dive the only non-jazz headliners announced this year, and fewer non-jazz acts in most series. Last year, 70% of headliners were non-jazz, and about 36% overall (excluding local groups); this year, only 33% of the headliners announced so far are non-jazz, and 16% non-jazz overall.

On the Canadian side, this is the year that Ottawa vocalist Kellylee Evans makes a triumphant return to the festival after several years of ill health. Together with festival programming director Petr Cancura, she's bringing back her sold-out NAC “Swing Swing Swing!” show to the late-night OLG stage on June 21. Then on June 30, she'll showcase her latest album, Come On, with her quartet at 7:30 p.m. on the Tartan Homes Stage.

The Great Canadian series will feature highly-regarded Montreal groups: the Joe Sullivan Big Band (June 22); Rafael Zaldivar’s Afro Cuban Revival (June 23); pianist Félix Stüssi and his Les Malcommodes together with JUNO-winning vocalist Sonia Johnson (June 25); and pianist François Bourassa's Quartet (June 28). From Toronto, the JUNO-nominated Turboprop group led by Toronto drummer Ernesto Cervini appears June 26, and The Heavyweights Brass Band evoke New Orleans traditions on June 27. Duchess, a jazz harmony trio of three Canadian ex-pat vocalists (Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner, and Melissa Stylianou) which made a splash at the 2015 festival, returns from NYC on June 24. The Ottawa R&B group The Commotions, led by jazz saxophonist Brian Asselin, performs on June 29, and the TD Jazz Youth Summit again closes out the series on June 30.

Joe Sullivan ©Brett Delmage, 2012
Montreal composer and trumpeter Joe Sullivan brings his long-standing and innovative big band to the 2018 jazz festival ©Brett Delmage, 2012

The Jazz Warriors series at First Baptist Church will include Malone, and Blanchard with his groove-based E-Collective. It also features British large-scale jazz composer and multi-instrumentalist Django Bates with his “Beloved” trio, focusing on his 2016 ECM recording, The Study of Touch (June 25); Halifax jazz drummer Jerry Granelli's Dance Hall group with guitarists Robben Ford and Bob Lanzetti (June 27); and genre-crossing Norwegian vocalist Mari Boine, whose music is inspired by her indigenous Sami roots (June 28). Announced later was Canadian fingerstyle guitar master Don Ross (June 24), the current Carleton University artist in residence, in a new jazz quartet with bassist Jordan O’Connor, keyboardist and vocalist Andrew Craig, and percussionist Marito Marques. Also announced later was a solo show by renowned Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba (June 29).

The mid-evening Tartan Homes series at 7:30 p.m. will include shows by ex-pat Canadian swing trumpeter and vocalist Bria Skonberg (June 21); funk group Ron Artis II & The Truth (June 24); Ottawa punk-noise group FET.NAT (June 25); American jazz/R&B/hip-hop group Ghost-Note, led by two members of Snarky Puppy (June 26); and the German National Youth Jazz Orchestra (June 29).

On the late-night stage, you can hear "Swing Swing Swing" (June 21); NYC jazz/funk/electronics group Moon Hooch (June 22); the 16-member Israeli brass band Marsh Dondurma (June 23); Israeli everything-but-jazz group Greilsammer (June 24); funk group Knower (June 25); American resonator guitarist and lap steel player Jerry Douglas (who is in Alison Krauss' band) playing jazz mixed with bluegrass and swing and rock (June 26); the multilingual Banda Magda's combination of South American rhythms with jazz improvisation (June 27); Canadian throat singer and improviser Tanya Tagaq (June 28); a return appearance by British groove-based piano trio, GoGo Penguin (June 29); and NYC jazz/R&B organ quintet Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles (June 30).

Mari Boine and Tanya Tagaq will also perform together for the first time on June 27 at 7:30 p.m. in a show examining visions of "north".

On its website line-up page, the festival lists the “Swing Swing Swing” show and Moon Hooch for the same day and time, but the ticket page shows them to be on different days.

The Discovery series emphasizes improvisation, the avant-garde, and world jazz. From around the world: the Baltic Jazz Trio, a piano trio featuring renowned musicians from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (June 21); Israeli/NYC jazz guitarist Rotem Sivan (June 21); Copenhagen-based saxophonist Marius Neset (June 23); Austrian Afrobeat/jazz septet Shake Stew (June 25); the pan-European quartet A Novel of Anomaly, which plays both lyrical music and sounds/electronics (June 26); French electric saxophonist Guillaume Perret (June 26); Polish saxophonist Maciej Obara, whose recent ECM debut album embraces both “tender lyricism and impassioned, fiery, powerful playing” (June 28); English vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and composer Gwyneth Herbert, creating jazz influenced by folk, contemporary classical and storytelling, and featuring flexible and pyrotechnical vocals (June 30); and British trip-hop/soul vocalist ALA.NI (June 30).

Samuel Blaser and Gerry Hemingway ©Brett Delmage, 2016
Trombonist Samuel Blaser returns to Ottawa for the 2018 jazz festival. His 2016 show here with drummer Gerry Hemingway was highly impressive. ©Brett Delmage, 2016

On the improv/avant-garde side: guitarist David Torn and saxophonist Tim Berne's new improv trio Sun of Goldfinger (June 22); Brooklyn-based post "cool jazz" quartet, Hush Point (June 24), which emphasizes cohesiveness and understanding based on long experience together; Canadian-born, now Berlin-based, saxophonist Peter Van Huffel with his Gorilla Mask “sonic madness” trio (June 24); Swedish octet Angles 8 (June 28), with one musician playing both baritone and sopranino saxophone.

Drummer Dan Weiss' Starebaby (June 29) features major NYC avant-garde players, including pianists Craig Taborn and Matt Mitchell and guitarist Ben Monder, combining “jazz with the power of heavy metal and electronic new music”.

We were highly impressed with the sensitivity and expressiveness of trombonist Samuel Blaser when he performed in Ottawa in 2016. He'll appear with his trio, featuring guitarist Marc Ducret, on June 25.

This year, the festival's main stage will be located in the Marion Dewar Plaza in front of Ottawa City Hall. Those who remember the massive puddles in Confederation Park last year will be pleased to know that the plaza has better drainage than the park.

That move displaces the Tartan Homes Stage, used for the 7:30 p.m. and the late-night (10:30 p.m.) shows; it's been moved to 29 Lisgar Street, between Lisgar Collegiate and the Rideau Canal, and behind City Hall.

Because the north and canal sides of Confederation Park will be occupied by construction machinery and material this summer, only the OLG Ontario Stage will be in there, in the west side of the park. Its schedule has not yet been announced.

Bria Skonberg ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Trumpeter Bria Skonberg shortly before she won a jazz JUNO Award in 2017 ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Last year's experiment of using La Nouvelle Scène for the summer festival's “Discovery” series spurred complaints from listeners who didn't enjoy the longer walk or the wait for the shuttle bus. This year, Discovery is back at the newly-renovated NAC Fourth Stage (which, at 150 seats, is actually slightly smaller than the 180-seat La Nouvelle Scène). There will be two shows a night, at 6 and 8 p.m.

The festival has also pressed the First Baptist Church (which it used in 2012) into service for five higher-profile “Jazz Warrior” shows. That series was at the NAC Studio and Theatre last year; this year it's even closer, right across the street from City Hall.

The NAC has said all of its spaces except the Fourth Stage will be off-limits all summer for the last part of its renovations, involving a major upgrade to its electrical and communications systems. Don't expect as good acoustics in the church as in the NAC – or as good air-conditioning!

Late-night jamming will again be held at the Lord Elgin Hotel's Grill 41 lounge, also across the street. The host band has not yet been announced.

But the festival has said it will have more line-up announcements. There are still open slots in all the series, and the programming at the OLG Ontario stage, at the Mercury Lounge, and on the free local (Ottawa-Gatineau) stages is yet to be announced.

The free Canada Day programming will include Ottawa brass band favourites The Bank Street Bonbons, led by Mike Essoudry, as well as the Jazz Youth Summit, composed of talented young players from across Canada. Several spots on that day remain to be filled.

Early bird ticket prices are about the same as last year: Gold $325 (down from $327 in 2017), Bronze $199, Youth $99. The festival says that an extra $2 SOCAN surcharge is applied to listed price of passes.

Daily park passes vary in price per day ($40 - $65), as do Platinum passes for seats immediately in front of the Main Stage. NAC Fourth Stage shows are $25 (down from $27 last year), and the Jazz Warrior shows at the First Baptist Church are $40 (down from $42 to $52 last year). Late-night shows are $28.

You can see all the shows on OttawaJazzScene.ca's 2018 Jazz Festival line-up page.

March 15: Updated to include St Germain, Knower, and Don Ross, which were added to the line-up that day.
March 22: Updated to include Canada Day programming, and the June 27 show with Tanya Tagaq and Mari Boine.
March 28: Updated to include Gonzalo Rubalcaba in the Jazz Warriors Series and Chaka Khan as a Main Stage headliner.

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