For the first time in years the Ottawa Jazz Festival has added a new local stage to its lineup – at the same time as it’s reducing the number of local groups it showcases.
The new stage is indoors at the Queen Street Fare food hall downtown, which opened last fall. It will present shows at 4 p.m. each day during the festival. It joins the outdoor stage in Confederation Park, which will present shows at noon. All local shows are free. [See the full 2019 festival lineup]
But the total number of shows on both local stages this year is only 15, down from from 26 in 2018, 19 in 2017, and 24 in 2016. The festival has not brought back last year's popular evening free shows, which were usually packed. (These numbers don't include the youth bands traditionally scheduled on the first weekend of the festival.)
Popular local bands playing jazz from Latin to gypsy jazz to groove to vocal jazz are also featured: Pimienta Blanca (June 26), The Chocolate Hot Pockets (June 29), Mélanie E (June 29), Justin Duhaime’s Gypsy Muse (June 30), and the Patterns of Change Quartet (June 30).
In keeping with the festival's theme this year of “highlighting women as leaders”, about two-thirds of the local groups this year are led or co-led by women.
However, using the most elastic definition of jazz possible, fully one-third of the reduced number of acts on local stages are not jazz: for example, country-folk singer Julie Corrigan, singer-songwriter Matty McKechnie, the R&B/folk/Motown of Kimberley Sunstrum, or the disco/funk/pop of DeeDee7even.
The festival is showcasing four local groups on its main stage this year, as 6:30 p.m. openers to the headliners; this is a substantial increase from previous years. These include dynamic R&B/jazz bassist-vocalist Angelique Francis and her band (June 22), blues/soul/jazz vocalist Rebecca Noelle with a high-powered jazz septet (June 25), and a pop/soul sextet led by young brother-sister duo Mackenzie and Ben Di Millo and featuring local jazz talent (June 29).
Of particular note is the show by Ottawa jazz stalwarts Mark Ferguson and Mike Tremblay, who are releasing their second CD together with renowned Toronto musicians Dave Young and Terry Clarke (June 28). They recorded the album of originals last fall, almost a decade after their first album together.
The festival's free Canada Day lineup has also shrunk by one-third. It will only present groups on its Confederation Park stage this year, instead of on two stages as in previous years, at two-hour intervals from 12 noon to 6 p.m. Of the four groups scheduled, the promising young jazz players in the TD Jazz Youth Summit and Stingray Rising Stars (2 p.m.), and New Orleans traditional music played by the Dirty Catfish Brass Band (6 p.m.) will be of most interest to jazz fans.
The festival's late-night jazz jams will again be held in Grill 41 at the Lord Elgin Hotel, across the street from Confederation Park, with the experienced host band of guitarist Roddy Ellias, double bassist John Geggie, and drummer Greg Ritchie.
The festival had previously indicated its programming would be “smaller, more focused” this year, after a loss of nearly $200,000 in 2018 and losses in three of the last five years. Its 2019 schedule shows an approximately 20% reduction in ticketed concerts as well.
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