Pioneer jazz record producer Blue Note Records made its first recording on January 6, 1939, and marks its 80th anniversary this year. There will be an Ottawa celebration of that birthday: music students will present a special public concert, “Blue Note Café: 80 Years of Blue Note” on Tuesday, April 9.

Stephen Szabo directs the Nepean All City Lab Band in December 2018 ©Brett Delmage, 2019
Stephen Szabo directs the Nepean All City Lab Band in December 2018 ©Brett Delmage, 2018

 “This provided us with a wonderful opportunity for us to celebrate the contributions this label has made to jazz,” Nepean High School music teacher and project co-organizer Stephen Szabo said.

Wikipedia lists an impressive discography (which links to many individual album articles) for Blue Note: 849 individual albums and six compilation albums.

“Many of the most significant albums ever recorded were Blue Notes. We believe that part of our responsibilities as music teachers is to educate our students and our audiences. No jazz education would be complete without an understanding of the Blue Note label and the artists who recorded for Blue Note. Unlike some labels, Blue Note had a very clear identity and sound - made possible by the work of Rudy Van Gelder. The clear identity of Blue Note made it a logical choice for this type of educational project,” Szabo said.

It’s a big evening. Szabo will conduct the 17 member Nepean High School Junior Jazz Band. The 26 members of the Nepean High School Senior Jazz Band (conducted by high school music teacher Jean-Francois Fauteux, who is also a co-organizer of the event), and the self-directed sextet, Nepean High School Jazz Combo will also perform. And even more musicians will join them: the Nepean All City Jazz Band (NACJB) directed by Neil Yorke-Slader, and the Nepean All City Lab Band (NACLB) directed by both Szabo and Fauteux.

“There will probably be in excess of 60 musicians performing at the event, which is very exciting for us!” Szabo said.

Even off the stage, Szabo’s music students are playing a major role.

“The bulk of the event is organised by my grade 11 music class. I’m really impressed with how professional they’ve been in putting this event together!” he said.

(Other students of Szabo capably and friendily staffed the ticket and draw tables at the 2017 inaugural performance by Nepean All City Lab Band at John McCrae High School in Barrhaven where he previously taught.)

Stephen Szabo responded to my emailed questions about this big evening. Why is Blue Note Record's music a good choice for students to perform?

Szabo: We strive to expose our students to a variety of music, and in choosing our repertoire we make it a priority to choose music that would be considered “source material”. We want our ensembles to play the great tunes that started and helped develop what we call jazz today. So many of the important tunes were recorded on Blue Note Albums, and I can’t think of anything better to expose your jazz musicians to. Who are some of the Blue Note musicians or composers who will be featured? Are they from a particular decade or period?

Szabo: The performances will not be exclusively Blue Note tunes, but we tried to incorporate the Blue Note theme as much as possible. We’ll be playing music from older Blue Note artists like John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. We’ll also be covering material from newer artists like Norah Jones and Brian Blade. Are the arrangements for this evening traditional charts or contemporary arrangements?

Szabo: The arrangements for the big band tunes were done by various arrangers. They were easy to find, but some of the more contemporary tunes being performed by the Jazz Combo needed to be transcribed. Many classic Blue Note tunes are readily available in fake books, so they are easily translated to the small group jazz format. More and more the big publishers like Alfred [Music] and Hal Leonard are putting out arrangements of some of these classic tunes. It’s very exciting to be able to share this music with young musicians. Has your special guest, Petr Cancura, been working with / teaching the students? What is his involvement in this evening?

Szabo: Petr will be coming in to rehearse and work with the students leading up to the performance. Our plan is for him to perform with as many of the bands as possible! I had the pleasure of working with Petr on a similar event when I taught at John McCrae Secondary School, and I can’t think of a better musician to help bring this music to life! How many notes in total will listeners get to hear?

Szabo: I’m note sure how many notes they will get, but I do hope they will all be Blue!

Blue Note Café: 80 Years of Blue Note takes place on Tuesday, April 9, at 7 p.m. at Nepean High School. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Advance tickets ($6 students, $10 adults) are available by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Tickets ($8 students, $12 adults) are also available at the door. Light refreshments will be available.

Nepean High School is at 574 Broadview Avenue, four blocks north of Carling Avenue, in Ottawa's near west end. Try the OC Transpo Trip Planner to find your trip to the show

Get the details of this show and dozens of more jazz events every week in’s Live Jazz Guide, available exclusively to donors.