John Geggie at Fourth Stage - ©2008 Brett Delmage
John Geggie   ©2008 Brett Delmage

This year's Geggie concert series puts John Geggie in an unusual position -- front and centre.

With CD release concerts for two different Geggie projects included in the series, the Ottawa bassist is unusually prominent. In previous years, although Geggie organized the series and chose the musicians, once the concerts started he was content to highlight his guests, and push their CDs, not his own.

This year, he has two of his own CDs to promote.

October 31 will be the official launch of "The Geggie Project", featuring Geggie and two long-time collaborators: pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Nick Fraser. "It's taken me a while to get everyone together: their schedules are rather occupied."

And then on January 30, the Geggie Trio (Geggie, Fraser, and pianist Nancy Walker) will join with saxophonist Donny McCaslin to celebrate their new CD, "Across the Sky". Both projects have been in the works for a while: Geggie said the Trio CD had been recorded about 1 1/2 years ago.Geggie has teamed up with Walker and Fraser as the house band for the Ottawa Jazz Festival jams for the past several years.

Geggie said he was "really excited" about these two concerts, but was also looking forward to the other concerts in the series.

The remainder of the season features a wide range of diverse sounds and musicians: French, American, and Canadian, as well as Canadian expatriates now in New York. Geggie said there was no overarching theme for the series: "For me it's more a case of just wanting to get people together who sound good. In the past, I might have had the desire of doing something that
might have had to do with a theme, but I think one of the strong things is that the fact that the theme is the creativity of what people are doing and the fact that there is a variety there."

Diverse Concerts

The first concert, on September 26, is co-sponsored by the Embassy of France and Alliance Francaise, and features French saxophonist Jean-Marc Padovani, as well as Montreal percussionist Aldo Mazza (who has played with Geggie at JazzCamp), and Marianne Trudel on piano. Geggie said the embassy had approached him about this concert last year.

On November 28, Geggie mixes together pianist Josh Rager (who played Ottawa several times last year and is a mainstay of the Montreal scene), with New York City guitar virtuoso Paul Meyers. Meyers "accompanies all kinds of people in New York, he's a great nylon-string jazz guitarist, a great player," Geggie said. "It's going to be a fairly relaxed vibe.

The March 6 concert features four horn players: Toronto trumpeter Lina Allemano, Montreal saxophonists Chet Doxas and Remi Bolduc, and American trombonist Bret Zvacek, as well as Montreal drummer Isaiah Ceccarelli.

"It's almost like a mini-big band. Not having a chordal player is a challenge, but it also it gives the opportunity for some different kinds of sounds, and also some people who wouldn't necessarily work together. Lina was saying she didn't think she'd ever worked with Isaiah on the drums and Remi probably has and Chet probably has, but I don't know if Chet's worked with Lina, and I don't know if any of them have worked with Bret."

"For me it's more a case of just wanting
to get people together who sound good."

Geggie had been trying to line up New York pianist Frank Kimbrough "for a couple of years now", and will finally succeed on April 17. Kimbrough had most recently played in Ottawa with Maria Schneider's orchestra at the Jazz Festival. Together with Toronto drummer Jean Martin, "we'll be making a very freeish, free-flowing, lyrical kind of sound".

"I'm really looking forward to playing with Frank Kimbrough, because I haven't played with him, and we've been talking about playing and we've talked so much and we've traded music back and forth. I just know it's going to feel great because he's such a special pianist."

The final concert May 15 will feature three Canadian expatriates, now living in New York City. Tenor sax player Michael Webster has a father who plays viola in the NAC Orchestra; his brother is pianist Gord Webster, another long-time Geggie collaborator. Michael's wife, Erica von Kleist, plays flute and alto sax, and has played in the Lincoln Centre Latin Orchestra and on a recent recording by Chris Potter. They will be joined by ex-Montrealer Greg Ritchie on drums.

"I've tried to feature a number of Canadian musicians who are abroad and doing things and being very active and yet they may not be as well known in Ottawa. ... It's in keeping with the idea of getting people from different backgrounds together to come together for one thing.

"Also it's been an exciting thing for me just to try to get very fine American players such as Donny and Marilyn and Frank and Paul Meyers to come up and do some stuff."

Geggie said there would be a mix of styles: from the "very outside" music with Crispell and Kimbrough, to more classic jazz with Meyers and Rager. He said he wanted it to be balanced and make sense, and not be "heading too much in one direction".

"If that works out..."

Geggie said that planning for the season depended a great deal on which musicians were available: some, like Kimbrough, he had been trying to book for several years. But "I do need to balance this out; I do need to try different concepts. ... So there's a certain amount of just trying things out, and planning what would be an interesting and challenging thing to do. Can it work for me, and might it work for those people?"

Some ideas and musicians weren't possible for this year, he said, but might work out for the next.

"I never really go into it with a plan - 'OK - I need to do this and I need to do this and I need to do this.' I go into it with a plan - 'Well, I'd really like to try to get these guys to play, and if everything works out, and if it works out in a certain fashion, that's great.'

Geggie said he had played with many of the musicians; others he'd never played with but they'd been in contact. In a few cases, it's a cold call. "It's a mix. I try to know people as much as possible and make connections with people as much as possible." For example, he had been in contact with Kimbrough for a number of years through a mutual students and mutual friends, and enjoyed his music.

"In all these situations it's easy for me to say I can imagine playing with him. Finding the right circumstances under which I can do it is a different story."

This is the ninth year for the series at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage. Geggie said he was very grateful to have such a loyal audience that has "stuck with me". With only a few exceptions, he said, the houses have been almost sold out.

"I feel very fortunate that the audience that comes with me on these trips are so very positive and willing to take part in these processes, and also they're interested in listening to different things. One concert may be a bit more mainstream; other concerts may be a little bit farther out." He mentioned several concerts with unexpected combinations of instruments, like only bass and percussion. "All of that stuff is very exciting because of what that represents -- the risk taking going on, and not only the risk-taking going on as far as musicians but the risk-taking as far as the audience is concerned."

"I feel fortunate the the people I'm playing with are able to go into different directions. To me that's part of the interest is that it's not simply being played the same way because we're not dealing with the same people playing it. We're dealing with a whole different group of individuals who are playing and and putting their own stamp on the tune, which is what the entire excitement to me about playing improvised music is about that exchange of ideas and those kinds of stuff. I think that's the beauty of it."

"You never look outside the door and say that it's the exactly same sunset every night. It's always different and special and unique. You get to treasure every version of stuff that you get."

Geggie says he had no definite plans for touring any of the concerts to nearby cities, as he had in previous years: it would depend on funding and artist availability.

One innovation that the National Arts Centre is introducing this year is to allow on-line purchase of Geggie series subscriptions through the NAC website, he said. As well, Geggie will be heading a group for the NAC Fourth Stage New Year's Eve concert, with "bits of jazz" and other interesting music.

Demystifying the process

He said there would be a workshop with Jean-Marc Padovani and the other musicians on the evening preceding the September 26 concert. Other workshops would depend on funding and artist availability , and were not likely to occur until the new year.

"People have indicated they really like it because it has a freshness. It's the whole idea of demystifying the process a little bit. And the simple idea that they can go on Friday night and see what people are doing and then go to the concert on the Saturday night and check it out even more - I think people find that really interesting."

Geggie said that other projects he's involved with include Tim Bedner's student mentoring program at Cafe Paradiso, which he will be assisting with on September 28. On October 1, he will be recording a concert for Societe Radio-Canada with Mark Ferguson and Mike Tremblay and Charles Gay. Next February, he will be doing another SRC concert with Montreal saxophonist Frank Lozano.

– Alayne McGregor

You can buy mini-subscriptions to your choice of the remaining Geggie concerts (minimum four for $77). Subscriptions are available at the NAC box office or online at (go to the "NAC Fourth Stage" section and click on "Create a NEW Subscription").

Subscribers also get a discounted price to the Geggie New Year's Eve Show with John Geggie, Tena Palmer, Paul Rainville, Mark Ferguson, and Charles Gay.