The more you look at Ottawa guitarist Roddy Ellias and NYC pianist Marc Copland, the more connections you see between them.

The two musicians will play with bassist Adrian Vedady – the first and most obvious connection – at the Ottawa Jazz Festival this Wednesday, June 27. The NAC Fourth Stage concert will be their first public performance together. But the connections relate even more to their music and how they approach it.

Roddy Ellias shares his enthusiasm for melody with a Carleton University jazz masterclass  ©Brett Delmage, 2011
Roddy Ellias shares his enthusiasm for melody with a Carleton University jazz masterclass ©Brett Delmage, 2011
Ellias has a steady trio with Vedady and drummer John Fraboni (both from Montreal). Vedady and Fraboni have also “done a fair amount of work” with Copland (including an about-to be-released recording), Ellias said.

He met Copland through them about a year ago. “And we hit it off well and he'd heard some of my music and he really liked it. So I proposed, 'let's try bringing you up for something' and he was very much into that.”

Wednesday's concert will be all (or almost-all) originals, likely including one from Copland's most recent album, Some More Love Songs. But all three will contribute pieces and set the sound.

“We all have the same role – and that is to make music,” Ellias says. “And to listen, and to start with an idea and develop it as a group so that's it. There's no leader, there's no star, there's no one virtuoso. It's a group, even through we're not a group, we've never played together in that format. But it's a triangle and we all try to contribute.”

“So we'll all be playing melodies and we'll all be supporting.”

Ottawa audiences last heard Copland when he appeared in John Geggie's Invitational series in 2011 with Geggie and Fraboni. (read review).

Ellias and Copland are about the same age, and have had similar influences: for example, Copland recorded an album in 1993 with guitarist Ralph Towner, who is one of Ellias' musical heroes. He's also recorded with guitarist Vic Juris, whom Ellias has brought into Ottawa for several years in a row for a series of successful duo performances.

A love of the piano

But it's their love of the piano that particularly brings them together. Copland started out as a saxophonist, playing the alto professionally until the mid-70s. Dissatisfied with the music he was producing, he then spent almost a decade reinventing himself as a pianist. His piano career took off in the mid-1980s.

“I think he obviously identified more with the piano than with the saxophone,” Ellias said. “And I identify more with the piano than with any other instrument too. Somebody's called me a frustrated piano player trapped in a guitarist's body. So I hear that way. I hear the guitar that way, like a piano. So there's a nice connection there too.”

“And I also had a duo with Dave Hildinger for ten years. He's a great pianist. And there's a similarity between Hildinger's playing and Marc's playing: they're both very poetic players. And so I really relate well to that kind of approach.”

Copland's and Ellias' styles blend well, too. “He's got great ears and he's very sensitive and I have pretty good ears too so … My whole thing is blending with people, like being flexible and going with people and not imposing."

Future plans

Ellias said he was feeling particularly optimistic about this project. “I think that it's going to go really, really well. I'm really looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to this more than I've looked forward to anything for a long time, so it's almost like coming home to me because I had this duet with Dave Hildinger for ten years and it felt so good and I miss that. So I think that it's going to be good and I think the other guys in the group are going to enjoy it and I think we'll probably want to do more.”

The trio has tentative plans to meet up in New York later this summer to record an album, and to look for further festival appearances.

Just playing beautiful music

Over the years, there have been many famous piano-guitar duos in jazz: Bill Evans and Jim Hall, Barney Kessel and Oscar Peterson, or Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, to name just a few.

And Ellias said that Wednesday's performance is not going to sound like any of them. “Jim Hall and Bill Evans: that's a phenomenal connection they had. That's one of the best duos ever regardless [of] guitar-piano – it's such great music. But it's a different kind of music. I never think in terms of living up to anything. I just want to play well and connect well and I don't think in terms of comparing it to any other duet.”

Audiences should just expect “three people up there trying to play beautiful music. Contemporary music without trying to be avant-garde or anything. Just trying to make nice melodies, harmonies, rhythms, and communicate, and take ideas and develop them, and tell stories with – develop something. So go on journeys, and hopefully, if we're lucky, there'll be some magic and poetry.

“I think that's probably what we're going for. We're not going for the hard bop groove or the excited excitement of Latin music or something. It's not cerebral, either: it's just something that hopefully people will like.”

    – Alayne McGregor

Roddy Ellias, Marc Copland, and Adrian Vedady will play at the NAC Fourth Stage at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 27. This is the same time as one of guitarist Bill Frisell's concerts at the festival, but listeners can hear both: Frisell will play a second Studio Series concert at 9 p.m.

Other OttawaJazzScene.ca coverage of Roddy Ellias and the Ottawa Jazz Festival: