Adrian Cho conducts the orchestra playing Ellington ©Brett Delmage, 2009
Adrian Cho conducts the orchestra playing Ellington ©Brett Delmage, 2009
The Impressions in Jazz Orchestra (IJO) has announced that it is changing its name and its home base, and extending its repertoire and its reach.

And on Tuesday, November 23, you can learn more about the changes and hear the orchestra in action in a free concert.

The IJO's new name is the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra. In its announcement, it said it is linking up with a network of Canadian jazz orchestras to plan for nation-wide collaboration. And its first concert of 2010-11 won't be straight jazz – instead, the audience will hear jazz and rock arrangements of melodies from Rossini's operas.

The orchestra will be based at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans in the east end of Ottawa, instead of its previous locations downtown. The orchestra performed one previous concert at Shenkman in early September 2009, which attracted a relatively small audience.

Now in its sixth year, the orchestra has concentrated on recreating the music of jazz masters, such as Miles Davis and Charles Mingus. Some performances have contained as many as 35 instrumentalists, allowing the orchestra to play big band music by Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, and Gil Evans.

Orchestra artistic director Adrian Cho said that would not change: there would still be the "same superb musicians and the same dedication to presenting unique presentations of rarely heard music in entertaining and educational formats."

On November 23, the orchestra will be holding a free season launch at the Shenkman Arts Centre, at which it will play charts by jazz arranger Johnny Richards which it has never performed before. The remaining concerts in the 2010-11 season will also be announced.

OttawaJazzScene.ca asked Adrian to tell us more about these changes:

OJS: Why are you completely rebranding the orchestra, with a new name?

Adrian Cho: The name "Impressions in Jazz Orchestra" was, to be honest, somewhat accidental. In 2005 and 2006 I presented a concert series under the brand "Impressions in Jazz." The 2006 concert, Suite Freedom, was a huge artistic success but a financial disaster and one that left me physically and emotionally drained. I recall being on stage, barely able to stand, having had eight hours sleep in four days and so sick that I could barely speak. At that point I felt that I had to quit the entire project for the sake of my health, sanity and marriage but people encouraged me to keep things going and so I established a permanent ensemble and a team of volunteers to help out. To keep the momentum going I called the ensemble the "Impressions in Jazz Orchestra." While we've established a strong reputation under that name, the name "Ottawa Jazz Orchestra" is easier to recall and it reflects both our standing in the Ottawa community as well as our desire to collaborate with other established jazz orchestras across Canada.

OJS: Are you trying to reach beyond the core jazz audience, as you did with Ellington's Sacred Concerts?

Adrian Cho: Absolutely. I believe we've always tried to reach beyond the core jazz audience and you can see that with our past concerts. However we're pushing the envelope even more this season and we'll continue to do that in the future. Yet I think there is so much that traditional jazz audiences will love in this season's concerts. In the music we'll perform, there are grooves that could only be attributable to jazz and plenty of solo "blowing" for orchestra members.

The orchestra rehearsing at Shenkman Arts Centre in September 2009 ©Brett Delmage, 2009
The orchestra rehearsing at Shenkman Arts Centre in September 2009 ©Brett Delmage, 2009
OJS: Which will be more important in your material: the "jazz" or the "orchestra"?

Adrian Cho: By definition, "orchestra" defines our efforts as large-scale collaborations with a diversity of instrumentation not typically found in smaller groups. In our first concert for the season, there's a full big band plus accordion, cello, voice and symphonic and latin percussion. The "jazz" defines a couple of things including the core style of music we play, which just happens to be a genre with huge breadth and depth. For example, consider trad jazz, swing jazz, big band jazz, bebop, chamber jazz, free jazz, neophonic jazz, etc.; we've covered all these bases and more in the last five years. However "jazz" also refers to the freedom, democracy and openness with which our individual musicians and guest artists work together and the way in which we connect directly with our audiences.

OJS: You're saying "Our programming deliberately blurs the lines between jazz and classical music". This appears to be new. Why are you moving in this direction now?

Adrian Cho: The direction has actually always been there. In past concerts we've performed music by Tchaikovsky, Paganini, Grieg, Bach and many other classical composers. However this year it's probably more obvious as we're opening with a full concert of music by [classical/opera composer Gioachino] Rossini.

OJS: Will there be a change in orchestra members?

Adrian Cho: Apart from new guest artists there have been a few changes in the roster but you'd have to be really looking to notice the changes. We've got one new person in the saxophone section (Jean-Francois Picard) and also a new pianist (Robin Pitre) and both of these folks played with us at Billings Estate Museum during the summer. Martin Newman will be playing bass on all three concerts.

OJS: Which other Canadian jazz orchestras are you networking with?

Adrian Cho: The main one is the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra. I met with the WJO's Artistic Director, Richard Gillis several times a few months back and we had a great deal to talk about. The WJO has been running for fourteen years so there's a lot we can learn from their success. On the other hand, we've presented many substantial works that they are thinking about performing one day and I hope they can benefit from our experience in that area. Collaboratively there is a great deal we can do with other jazz orchestras including joint programming of guest artists, commissioning works, swapping personnel for guest stints, exchanging programming ideas and so on.

OJS: How are you planning to continue to distinguish the OJO from other jazz or other music ventures in town: the size? the repertoire?

Adrian Cho: The size and in some cases the complexity of our presentations will probably continue to be a differentiator. It takes a certain kind of insanity to attempt large, complex projects and we don't have anywhere near the financial, human or marketing resources of organizations such as the Ottawa International Jazz Festival nor the National Arts Centre. However it's the programming that I believe is really our unique element. I don't know of any other ensemble anywhere that covers such a breadth of material. Additionally, we are very focused on the educational component of what we do. Performing music is wonderful but telling stories through music is even better.

  – Alayne McGregor