The final Jazz Monday at the current Le Petit Chicago ©Brett Delmage, 2019
The final Jazz Monday at the current Le Petit Chicago was announced on the sidewalk sign; the "le Petit Chicago" sign had already been removed from the front of the bar ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Jazz Mondays went out with a flourish on June 24, with crowds of local jazz musicians and fans coming together to celebrate the long-lasting current jazz jam in Ottawa-Gatineau.

The weekly jams have been hosted at Le Petit Chicago, a bar in downtown Gatineau, for the last 14 years. But the bar must leave its current location, where it's been for more than 15 years: the building at 50 Promenade du Portage is due to be demolished for a new development. The bar was originally scheduled to close in April but the deadline was stretched out to the end of June. This is its final week.

However, both Jazz Mondays and Le Petit Chicago will return, says jam coordinator Michel Delage. The late-night jams will resume on July 8 at le Minotaure, a bar owned by the same management as Petit Chicago. It's located at 3 rue Kent in downtown Gatineau, about 5 blocks east and north of the current location and behind Place du Portage Phase IV. []

A new Petit Chicago will be revived in the Zibi development on the banks of the Ottawa River in Gatineau. Delage expected the jams to stay at le Minotaure for several months, and said that the new Petit Chicago is not likely to be ready before October or November.

On Monday evening, a high-velocity band led by Delage on drums opened the proceedings. It included Jazz Monday regulars Alex Moxon on guitar, François Gravel on keyboards, and Keith Hartshorn-Walton on electric bass.

As soon as they played a few tunes, other musicians eagerly came up to join in. There was a regular procession on and off the stage, with Delage occasionally returning to organize a tune. They included trumpeter Ajo Elias, bassist Dave Schroeder, guitarist/pianist James Dickens, drummer Mike Essoudry, pianist Pierre Chretien, baritone saxophonist Richard Page, saxophonist Tariq Amery, and many more. Almost all these musicians had led host bands at Jazz Mondays over the years.

Guitarist Steve Bilodeau, who was an important part of the Ottawa scene for many years but now lives in Boston, was here for a Jazz Festival show on Tuesday. He told that he couldn't miss the last night for Jazz Monday. James Arif brought his baritone tuba, and joined in with Hartshorn-Walton on tuba to create deep melodic lines over a driving rhythm sections.

One musician brought a wooden didgeridoo, almost as long as he was tall, and energized the music with its unmistakable vibrating timbre, not only playing on stage but also dancing through the audience.

The music was fast and high-energy – mostly familiar jazz classics from the 50s to the 70s, taken out with considerable improvisation. For example, while “Take Five” was recognizable at its beginning and end, by its middle the musicians were flying high creating a groove that filled the room.

Despite competition from the Ottawa Jazz Festival, which was running its own jazz jam at the same time in downtown Ottawa, the jam attracted an enthusiastic crowd. By 11 p.m. the audience had filled all the seats in the bar, with many standing as well. More spilled onto the sidewalk, to talk and to enjoy the warm evening. While it was clearly a social occasion, many were listening and appreciative. Like the musicians, most were in their 20s and 30s.

Jazz Mondays have been the longest-running current jazz jam in one location in Ottawa-Gatineau. In the many times that attended the jams, we consistently saw a happy and cooperative vibe. It has been a nursery for many new jazz projects, including ERU-ERA, Richard Page's Night on the Town Band, Linsey Wellman's Wedding and Funeral (now New Deal) Trio, Mike Essoudry's septet and octet, and the Atlantis Jazz Ensemble. Long-time host band Search Engine released its CD there. It was also a place for visiting musicians to meet up with locals, and an entry point for musicians to enter the scene. It attracted night-owls, with the music usually starting just before 10 p.m. and running until after 1 a.m.

Saxophonist Richard Page was in several long-running Jazz Monday host bands.

“Yes, for 5 years I lived there every Monday night. I loved playing there. It’s got one of the best crowds. It’s an intimate venue. Intimate and not judgmental, which was really good. The listeners gave you a lot of time to work things through. To put something on like that and take chances for 15 years is pretty something.”

The biggest connection he made there was a decade ago with trumpeter Ed Lister. They played for the first time together at Petit Chicago shortly after Lister came to Ottawa, and “we were like that! Yes. I’ve been looking for THAT.” Since then they've played together in many different projects.

The Promenade du Portage location of Le Petit Chicago was a friendly place for a jam, with reasonably-priced drinks and informal vibe – plus a proper, if small, stage with lights. It definitely had its own character. With a plain concrete floor and simple tables and chairs, it was the antithesis of high-gloss, while at the same time always clean and comfortable. The old upright piano in one corner was crowned by a set of antlers, there was a chandelier in the ceiling, and one wall held a B&W photo mural of Hull back in the 1930s when it was known at Little (“Petit”) Chicago for its jazz and its bootleggers.

Brian and Jeff Asselin were the originators of Jazz Mondays, initially persuading the bar to try out a jazz jam, and running it with their band Search Engine for more than five years. They passed the jam coordination on to Zakari Frantz in 2011, and with a few bumps, he continued until 2015, when Alex Bilodeau took over. When Bilodeau moved to Boston to study at the New England Conservatory in 2017, drummer Michel Delage became coordinator. Cynthia Tauro, a recent Carleton U music graduate at the time, was the first woman to host Jazz Mondays in 2017.

Besides Jazz Mondays, the bar regularly hosted DJs, quiz nights, and weekend concerts. Jazz groups which often played there included the Souljazz Orchestra, Florquestra, The Bank Street Bonbons, and Django Libre, which even recorded a live album at the bar. The Brazilian community loved the location, with regular Roda da Samba musical celebrations there featuring traditional Brazilian music and jazz.

with files from Brett Delmage

Watch for upcoming photos of the final Jazz Monday at 50 Promenade du Portage