John Thompson at the Record Centre ©Brett Delmage, 2016
John Thompson plans to present live music in the CD tent at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, just as he does in his Record Centre store ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Updated June 22, 2019
John Thompson is bringing the live music vibe of his record store to the 2019 Ottawa Jazz Festival, in a major revamp of the festival's CD and merchandise tent.

“I thought we could do something that as a shopper I would find fun,” he said. “We're doing something a little different.”

Thompson has big plans – not only selling CDs and vinyl, but also offering his own listening area. He intends to present a free set by local band each day, essentially a fourth festival stage.

His store, The Record Centre Centre in Hintonburg, regularly books live bands to play shows among the bins of collectible vinyl and vintage audio equipment. It's also twice hosted the 24-hour Jazz Ramble, a one-day mini-festival of local jazz, in partnership with the Jazz Festival.

Jazz fans will find the merch tent next to, but outside of, the festival's Main Stage area, on the walkway from Laurier Avenue West to the festival gate, and beside the festival's Souvenirs tent. It will be open to all, with no tickets or passes required to hear the shows or browse the merchandise.

It will actually be a double tent, Thompson said. One side will stock CDs and vinyl; the other side will be a listening room, “a chill area where you can listen to a good Technics system”. At about 5:30 each day (the time may vary depending on sound checks for the main stage), a band will present a half-hour+ show in the listening tent – with about 30-40 chairs in the tent, plus standing room.

The groups will be mostly jazz, he said, and so far includes groups from Ottawa, Montreal, and Waterloo:

  • June 21: Steve Boudreau and John Steele
  • June 22: Ray Montford Releases Vinyl on RecordCentreRecords
  • June 23: The Peter Woods Duo, in a tribute to Brian Browne (Vinyl Release Show)
  • June 25: Merganzer (Mika Posen and Katie Hurdon)
  • June 26: The Peter Hum Quartet with Kenji Omae
  • June 27: JoJo Worthington Trio (which Thompson describes as “a folky, jazzy trio”)
  • June 28: Keturah (Keturah Johnson with Yolande Laroche and Pierre-Luc Clément)
  • June 29: Wayne Eagles, Phil Bova, and T. Bruce Wittet
  • June 30: Sam Pippa
  • July 1: Steve St-Pierre Trio

On Sunday, June 23, Record Centre Records, the store's record label, will release on vinyl an album by the late jazz pianist Brian Browne and saxophonist Peter Woods. “It's a record that we recorded in our store with a whole lot of love. We only made 100 pressings. Any profits from that record go to charity; there's no profit being made off that record.”

“Brian was sick when we were making that record and we were really hoping to release that before he passed. And we didn't. So what we did is we sat back and put it on the shelf. Peter Woods, who knows Brian's wife well, they talked about it. She really wanted that record to come out. We made a limited edition, a beautiful vinyl pressing. I have it at the store. We're going to play The Record Centre in the tent that day, and Peter's going to play with a local guitarist, just a couple of tracks that were on [the album]. So the 23rd – that's Brian Browne day for us.”

[Update June 22. The centre will play the Woods/Browne album starting about 5 p.m. on June 23, and Pete Woods and bassist Normand Glaude will perform starting about 5:30 p.m.]

As before, the tent will sell CDs and other merchandise from artists appearing at the festival, as well as by local artists.

“The most important reason we're there is to represent the musicians that are playing at the festival and to help them sell their merch,” Thompson said. “And we're going to do that well. And we're going to sell local music. It's understand that you get a small percentage when you sell merch for travelling musicians and that's fine. But if it's a local band we don't take anything.”

He'll also sell used jazz CDs. “Even though I don't sell CDs in the store, I have 20,000 or 30,000 at my warehouse, that have been sort of curated over the years, always thinking for the right time when am I going to sell these. I'll have a fabulous selection of CDs this year! A really good jazz selection.”

As in his store, he'll also be selling used and new vinyl and vintage audio equipment – but with a special “Coat Check” service so that buyers don't have to cart records or turntables around all day while they listen to music.

“You can buy something at our tent, and check it till the end of the day, or you can check it and pick it up at our store. It will be safe. I'm still working on a few details, but it's going to be like you pull out your camera and take a picture of your purchase. And then we give you a ticket and you also ticket your bag. So there's this foolproof [mechanism] so you're not going to lose your coat check. You can pick it up at the end of the day, or you can pick it up at our store. And we're going to even say we'll deliver stuff – because how many people are going to take you up on that, honestly? A few dozen, maybe, and we're happy to accommodate that.”

He'll have new LPs from the European reissue label Music on Vinyl, covering classics by Bill Evans and Miles Davis catalog, he said, and will be bringing in used vinyl from his collection of quarter of a million records. “So I'll be able to figure out what to bring maybe as the festival progresses and I see what's selling.”

Thompson sees the tent as a way of promoting his store, his record label, and the fact that he buys and sells vintage audio. Technics is sponsoring the tent, he said, and is donating a $1500 turntable for him to give away during the festival.

He'll also raise money for the Parkdale Food Centre by giving away shots of espresso for a donation to that food bank. “I go to the jazz festival every year, and it's easily my favourite festival, but it's hard to get a coffee there. We're going to be giving away coffee, shots of espresso … and I'll have all the coffee I want!”

The festival merchandise tent had previously been run for many years by Ottawa record store Compact Music, and before that CD Warehouse. Thompson emphasized that he agreed to run the merchandise tent only after Compact Music and the festival had already parted ways.

Like the jazz fan he is, Thompson admits he's going to be improvising for this first year.

“I'll really get the first look at my site and the space I have to work with about three days before the festival doors open. So I'm visualizing a certain thing but who knows? We might have to wing it a bit. But we're good at that – you know that! We're good at winging it.”

“We're going to just try it! And see what happens.We're hoping to do a good job this year, and learn from some of our shortcomings and adjust next year, and just keep on going.”

Related more stories about the 2018 Ottawa Jazz Festival:

June 13: Updated to include the June 21 show.
June 22: Updated to include June 30 show and to include more details on Brian Browne Day.