Evelyn Glennie (photo by Peter Brenkus)
Dame Evelyn Glennie will perform a percussion concerto she commissioned from Ottawa composer Vincent Ho, when she plays with the NAC Orchestra next April (photo by Peter Brenkus)

Percussion-lovers, take note! The National Arts Centre will showcase three acclaimed percussionists from different traditions in its upcoming concerts: Dame Evelyn Glennie, Sarah Thawer, and Magdelys Savigne.

Their concerts are among those in the next year which the NAC announced this week. Other jazz-related shows include a holiday concert by Ottawa vocalist Kellylee Evans, a dance program to live jazz, a French Theatre production with a live jazz/classical score, an NAC Pops show celebrating the music of the Jazz Age, and a VivaFest festival in May.

The Scottish-born Dame Evelyn Glennie will appear with the NAC Orchestra for two shows on April 8 and 9, 2020.

A solo percussionist, she performs all over the world with major orchestras and smaller ensembles. She has collaborated with noted improvisers including guitarist Fred Frith, and banjo player Béla Fleck (their album together, Perpetual Motion, won a GRAMMY). In the last year, she's been regularly playing with the Scottish Trio HLK, whose music “heavily deconstructs and reconstructs jazz standards, creating intricate new pieces with complex frameworks for improvisation”.

Profoundly deaf (she lost most of her hearing at eight years old), Glennie has learned to be aware of sound through her entire body, using it as “a resonating chamber”. She says she learned to “distinguish the rough pitch of notes by associating where on my body I felt the sound with the sense of perfect pitch I had before losing my hearing. The low sounds I feel mainly in my legs and feet and high sounds might be particular places on my face, neck and chest.”

Her program with the NAC orchestra will include a Brahms symphony, plus two pieces by modern Canadian composers. One of those is a concerto she specifically commissioned from Ottawa-born composer Vincent Ho; one review described it as having “a driven trajectory with jazzy rhythms and cross-rhythms, and contains an energetic cadenza”.

On his website, Ho writes that “Throughout my years of attending [Glennie's] concerts, I always felt that her performances were more than just visual or aural experiences – they were “spiritual” events. She has the uncanny ability to draw the audience into a magical world and take us on wondrous journeys that are beyond material existence. Every performance she delivers leaves the audience spellbound and spiritually nourished. For me, Ms. Glennie is the modern day shaman I wrote this piece for.”

Sarah Thawer and Magdelys Savigne will appear at VivaFest, a weekend world music festival to be held at the NAC on May 24 and 25, 2019, including concerts and workshops. It's a collaboration between NAC Presents, the Lula Music and Arts Centre in Toronto, and Axé WorldFest.

Sarah Thawer ©Brett Delmage, 2018
Sarah Thawer combines Indian, Latin, and Brazilian percussion with jazz in her vibrant drumming style. She'll perform at the NAC with vocalist Malak on May 24. ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Thawer, a rising-star Toronto drummer, will perform at the NAC Fourth Stage on Friday, May 24, with electropop vocalist Malak. Thawer graduated from York University's jazz program Summa Cum Laude, and received the program's highest award, the Oscar Peterson Scholarship. She plays drum set, Brazilian percussion, flamenco Cajon, Latin percussion (congas, bongos, timbale), and Indian percussion (tabla, dholak, kanjira, dhol, ghatam, djembe, darbuka, udu pot). Her YouTube channel, SarahTDrumGuru, has more than 16,000 subscribers. She most recently appeared in Ottawa last December in the Jeremy Ledbetter Trio in a vigorous show that evoked strong applause. She has also performed with jazz artists Jane Bunnett and Thompson Egbo-Egbo.

Magdelys Savigne will appear with OKAN, her duo with violinist Elizabeth Rodriguez, which fuses Afro-Cuban and other global rhythms with jazz, folk and classical forms. Both were trained in Cuba's rigorous university classical music program, and for several years were members of Jane Bunnett's JUNO-winning Maqueque group. Savigne plays drums, congas, cajon, and Batá drums.

At VivaFest, they'll collaborate with Peruvian-Canadian vocalist Patricia Cano and other musicians in a concert on Saturday, May 25, in the NAC Studio. In OKAN's two shows last October with Miguel de Armas, they packed the NAC Fourth Stage combining their own compositions, jazz standards, and Afro-Cuban songs into a joyous rush of music.

On May 24 in the NAC Studio, two Brazilian-Canadians will be showcased: vocalist-percussionist Aline Morales with guitarist-vocalist Rômmel Ribeiro. Morales' debut album, Flores, Tambores e Amores, is rooted in classic Brazilian song styles such as samba, forró, Northeastern folk music and 1960’s Tropicalia – but with her own touches added.

Ribeiro, who graduated in 2017 from Carleton University's music program and then studied in Spain, will launch Caminho de Vento. This new album reflects his “musical explorations around the world”, and links reggae, funk, and jazz in an intercultural and multilingual record.

Also appearing at VivaFest will be calypso/reggae band Kobo Town with saxophonist Linsey Wellman (May 25, NAC Fourth Stage).

Magdelys Savigne created sizzling rhythms on Batá drums and sang evocatively in OKAN's NAC show last October ©Brett Delmage, 2018
Magdelys Savigne created sizzling, thumping rhythms on Batá drums as OKAN and Miguel de Armas brought down the house at the NAC last October. OKAN is back May 25, this time with vocalist Patricia Cano  ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Other jazz-related shows:

December 21: Kellylee Evans will combine holiday classics, new standards, and her own songs in “Winter Song” in the NAC Studio. The JUNO-winning vocalist has a soaring voice and the ability to click with an audience, and a repertoire ranging from Nina Simone to hard beats.

May 31: Kamancello plays improvised music informed by traditions thousands of kilometres and hundreds of years apart, with Raphael Weinroth-Browne on cello and Shahriyar Jamshidi on kamanche, a Persian spike-fiddle. Their self-titled debut album of six improvised and unedited pieces – ranging from “quiet drones to chugging, propulsive rhythms, and intricate counterpoint” – was recorded live in one take. This East-meets-West duo has performed in festivals in Montreal and Toronto, the Aga Khan Museum’s concert series, and the Cello Biennale Amsterdam, and will make their orchestral debut as soloists with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra this year. They will release their second full-length record in 2019.

October 19: The eight-member ensemble Bellflower, led by vocalist Em Pompa, will bring its mix of hybrid jazz, orchestral pop, and soaring harmonies to the NAC Fourth Stage. The group, which includes pianist Jérôme Beaulieu, saxophonists Félix Petit and Alex Dodier, trumpeter Nicolas Boulay, and drummer William Côté from Montreal's jazz scene, has been a regular at NAC Presents.

February 29, 2020: Michelle Dorrance's tap dance troupe from NYC will perform three pieces to jazz scores, in NAC Southam Hall. “Myelination” features eleven dancers building up the rhythm with rapid-fire footwork to a live original jazz score by Prawn til Dante, while “Jungle Blues” is danced to the Branford Marsalis Quartet’s recording of the 1927 Jelly Roll Morton song.

April 30 to May 2, 2020: The NAC Orchestra will evoke the feel of Prohibition, with its gangsters and speakeasies, in a Pops concert celebrating the music of the decadent 1920s. Jeff Tyzik has arranged jazz pieces made famous by Rudy Vallée, Josephine Baker, Kurt Weill, and King Oliver, and other top hits of the decade, for the orchestra, three vocalists, and conductor/trumpeter Byron Stripling. The music will be accompanied by vintage imagery and video. The NAC says this show is not suitable for listeners under 16, as it contains adult themes and imagery.

May 20 to 22, 2020: The NAC French Theatre presents Requiem pour L., a theatrical piece performed by 14 musicians and singers. Fabrizio Cassol’s score merges lyrical singing, jazz and popular music in a celebration of “death in all its brilliance”, based on Mozart's Requiem.

June 18 to 20, 2020: The NAC Orchestra, together with vocalist Capathia Jenkins, will play the renowned jazz-influenced scores from James Bond films. The Bond & Beyond Pops concert will include themes from Live and Let Die, For Your Eyes Only, Goldfinger, and Skyfall, as well as jazzy classics from Peter Gunn, Austin Powers, and The Pink Panther

While the NAC Orchestra, Dance, and French Theatre have announced their full 2019-20 seasons, NAC Presents – which presents most of the popular music and jazz shows at the centre – has only announced about one-quarter of its upcoming shows.

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