Read about the music and the awards at the 2019 MusicFest

Jazz fans have an extensive opportunity to hear performances by some of Canada’s most talented young musicians in the next six days.

 ©Brett Delmage, 2019
Director Neil Yorke-Slader conducts the Nepean All-City Jazz Band on April 30, 2019. NACJB has received 31 gold awards at MusicFest. Neil Yorke-Slader received MusicFest's inaugural Tommy Banks Outstanding Jazz Director Award in 2018. They're participating in the MusicFest Nationals again this year. ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Almost 100 student jazz bands from coast-to-coast, including the Charlottetown (PEI) Rural Senior Jazz Ensemble and the Wellington Secondary School in Naniamo, B.C., are coming to Ottawa from Monday May 13 to Friday May 17 to play their very best jazz in the MusicFest Nationals. Their reward is the opportunity to earn Gold, Silver, or Bronze recognition, get constructive advice from judges, learn from professional musicians and other students, and win thousands of dollars in scholarships.

Notable Canadian jazz musicians who performed at MusicFest when they were young include “Diana Krall, Christine Jensen, Ingrid Jensen, Campbell Ryga, Steve McDade, Brad Turner, Larnell Lewis, Eli Bennett, and about half the jazz faculty at Humber,” MusicFest Associate Director and Instrumental Jazz Chair Neil Yorke-Slader informed

Adjudicated performances ranging from big bands to smaller jazz combos will be presented on MusicFest’s jazz stage at the Bronson Centre (211 Bronson Avenue). The 30-minute mini-concerts run from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. All concerts are free and open to the public. Listeners are expected to remain seated during the performances and remain quiet, to allow the students to focus and the judges to hear every well-articulated note. All performances will also be live streamed - particularly helpful for friends and family of musicians who are coming from thousands of kilometres away.

“These are some of the best young jazz musicians and ensembles in the country. To hear what kids can do in their teens as musicians is quite inspiring. The quality of musicianship is really high…and they're young!” Yorke-Slader wrote.

Yorke-Slader has guided his own ensemble, the Nepean All-City Jazz Band, to Gold standard awards at MusicFest for 31 years (A Gold Standard signifies that an ensemble has achieved excellence in all facets of its performance). He received Musicfest’s inaugural Outstanding Jazz Director Award in 2018.

Frequent jazz listeners know that the audience is usually an important part of the performance, from which musicians derive additional energy and motivation. According to Yorke-Slader “I've heard some ensembles play as if they are going through the motions when there is little to no crowd. At Nationals, however, usually the grandeur and gravity of the situation gives them a focus.”

Want to join the judges in evaluating what you hear in a concert? Here’s what they pay attention to:
“Musical integrity will be the basis of evaluation. Adjudicators will include consideration of stylistic interpretation, intonation, dynamics, attacks, releases, articulations, balance, time, feel, improvisation, instrumentation and the variety, quality and appropriateness of repertoire selections,” states the MusicFest website.

And what is appropriate repertoire?

“Pop material is inappropriate,” states MusicFest.

“All jazz ensembles should present a program of no more than three contrasting selections including a ballad (World Music ensembles are exempt from this rule). There should be opportunities for improvisation. Jazz repertoire is compulsory; i.e. Swing, Jazz Blues, Ballads, Jazz Rock, Latin Jazz, Samba, etc… It is strongly recommended that one selection be composed and/or arranged by a Canadian. The work can be published or commissioned.”

There are many more rules and regulations at MusicFest, and you can read them here. It's a complicated event!

Besides the individual bands, five jazz Honour Ensembles Concerts will feature selected top students from across Canada working with well-known Canadian jazz musicians.

  • Monday, May 13, 8 p.m. – McGill Jazz Orchestra, directed by Christine Jensen, with special guest artists Jocelyn Couture and Remi Bolduc. (sold out)
  • Tuesday, May 14, 8 p.m. – The Humber Experience, featuring the Mike Downes Humber X Ensemble, the Groove Merchants, directed by Mark Kelso, the Humber Vocal Jazz Ensemble, directed by Lisa Martinelli, and the Humber Strings, directed by Drew Jurecka. (sold out)
  • Thursday, May 16, 8 p.m.  – Nepean All-City Jazz Band, directed by Neil Yorke-Slader. (sold out)
  • Friday, May 17, 2019, 12:00 p.m. – MusicFest Awards Ceremony, featuring the Humber National Youth Jazz Combo, directed by Lorne Lofsky (First Baptist Church)
  • Friday, May 17, 2019, 1:00 p.m. – Humber National Youth Jazz Combo directed by Lorne Lofsky (First Baptist Church)
  • Friday, May 17, 2019, 5:00 p.m. – Conn-Selmer Centerstage Jazz Band directed by Gordon Foote

Most concerts will be live streamed for anyone to watch.

A limited number of tickets ($25) may be available to hear the Honour Ensembles Concerts live. (MusicFest participants receive tickets first.) They may be purchased at the MusicFest office in AtelierBelle Shenkman & Desmond Smith in the canal level of the National Arts Centre (across from the Southam Hall doors). MusicFest recommends that tickets be purchased early in the week.

Ottawa is well-represented at MusicFest, with sixteen Ottawa student jazz bands and individual ensembles participating.

Ottawa Band Day Time
Broadview Jazz Band Friday 14:00
Earl of March Intermediate Blue Jazz Ensemble Friday 08:00
Earl of March Intermediate Green Jazz Ensemble Friday 13:30
Henry Larsen Elementary Jazz Band Friday 09:00
Hillcrest High School Brass Choir Monday 08:30
Hillcrest High School Clarinet Choir Tuesday 07:30
J.H. Putman Public School Jazz Band Tuesday 11:30
John McCrae Secondary School Jazz Orchestra Monday 16:30
John McCrae Senior Jazz Combo Wednesday 14:30
Longfields-Davidson Heights Jr. Jazz Band Monday 10:00
Longfields-Davidson Heights Sr. Jazz Band Tuesday 15:30
Nepean All City Lab Band Monday 13:00
Nepean All-City Jazz Band Wednesday 16:00
Nepean High School Jazz Combo Monday 08:00
Osgoode Township HS Senior Jazz Band Monday 17:30
Vincent Ribberink Quartet Tuesday 16:00

MusicFest will present free Jazz Educoncerts (interactive mini-concerts) from Monday to Thursday at noon and 1:30 p.m. at the NAC’s Susan Glass & Arni Thorsteinson Staircase (on the new, north side of the Elgin Street level). The concerts will be hosted by well-known Toronto and Ottawa jazz musicians Mike Downes, Brian Dickinson, Lorne Lofsky, Ed Lister, and Jamie Holmes. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis and is limited.   NAC building map

This will be the 47th annual edition of MusicFest Canada. It moves around the country each year, and was last in Ottawa in 2016. It's North America's largest festival dedicated to developing musical talent, covering not only instrumental and vocal jazz groups, but also concert bands, classical orchestras, and choral groups. It will attract more than 8000 students ranging in age from 9 to 19.

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