NAC Presents producer Simone Deneau introduced an all-vocal jazz lineup for NAC Presents at the official launch of the 2012-13 series ©Brett Delmage, 2012
NAC Presents producer Simone Deneau introduced an all-vocal jazz lineup for NAC Presents at the official launch of the 2012-13 series ©Brett Delmage, 2012

September 2013: See our story on the 2013-14 NAC Presents lineup.

The National Arts Centre's producer of Variety and Community Programming, Simone Deneau, sang about the 2012-13 “NAC Presents” series of Canadian artists at its official launch on September 25. And singing, specifically jazz vocals (albeit of high calibre), will be the only flavour of jazz that NAC audiences will get for their fix of jazz in the current season.

Straight instrumental jazz is not only absent from NAC Presents, but will also be presented much less by the NAC, with the Geggie Series being dropped from the “NAC Presents” series and returning with only three shows starting in January, half the number of concerts compared to recent seasons.

The eight NAC jazz concerts will present popular, mainstream Canadian vocalists who are generally well-known to and well-regarded by Ottawa-Gatineau listeners. They will have an increased probability of filling the NAC's seats with a broader range of listeners, including those who don't consider themselves jazz fans:

  • Alex Cuba [November 2-3, 2012/NAC Fourth Stage]: Cuban music crossed with pop, soul and rock. Winner of two Junos (2006 and 2008) in the World Music category.

  • Amélie et les Singes Bleus [December 6, 2012/NAC Fourth Stage]: French classics in a contemporary, manouche/cabaret interpretation.

  • Holly Cole Christmas [December 20, 2012/NAC Theatre]: A Canadian vocal jazz icon with a sophisticated style and a long international career, who has influenced many other Canadian jazz vocalists. The lead track of her new CD, Night (to be released in November), is a remake of the James Bond film theme “You Only Live Twice”, music she describes as coming with a wink.
  • Elizabeth Shepherd [February 8, 2013/NAC Fourth Stage]: This pianist and vocalist has emphasized her own jazz compositions (with touches of funk, soul, blues and samba) in her previous four albums. However, her new CD, Rewind, is a collection of jazz standards, although not necessary vocal jazz standards.

  • Diana Krall [February 23-24, 2013/NAC Southam Hall]: This Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist and singer has probably the highest international profile of any living Canadian jazz musician. Her latest CD, Glad Rag Doll (to be released in October) consists mostly of Prohibition-era jazz and vaudeville songs from the 1920s and 30s.

  • Molly Johnson [March 8, 2013/NAC Studio]: Johnson has had a long and varied career as a jazz and blues vocalist, including performances at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. Her 2009 album, Lucky, won the Juno for best vocal jazz album; she was also awarded the 2009 National Jazz Award for Best Female Vocalist. CBC listeners will also recognize Johnson as the host of Radio 2's weekend morning show.

  • Laila Biali [March 16, 2013/NAC Fourth Stage]: Biali appeared with Phil Dwyer as the opening mainstage act at the 2012 Ottawa Jazz Festival. The composer, arranger, singer and pianist has released three albums, the second of which was nominated for a Juno in 2011, and played with a who's-who of Canadian jazz in both BC and Ontario.

  • Kellylee Evans [April 20, 2013/NAC Fourth Stage]: This Ottawa-based singer, who is very well known to local listeners, has just recently recorded her next album in France, which is slated to be released in 2013. Her previous album: Nina, a tribute to singer Nina Simone, was a Juno winner and a smash hit, and followed two previous jazz-pop albums. Evans tours regularly all over Europe and Canada.

NAC Presents describes itself as “showcasing the country's established artists and those at the forefront of the next generation”, “...the place to be if you want to experience a concert by a Canadian icon, or be right up close with the icons of the future”. With the possible exception of Elizabeth Shepherd and Amélie et les Singes Bleus, the NAC chose from among clearly established “icons”, with next-to-no exposure for newer Canadian jazz musicians “at the forefront of the next generation”.

On July 1, the NAC announced that its Foundation had received a $500,000 donation. “The Slaight Family Fund for Emerging Artists will support the up-and-coming Canadian artists who appear on its stages, including as part of NAC Presents, National Arts Centre’s all-Canadian programming stream that boldly shines the spotlight on contemporary music.” The NAC did not yet return an inquiry about who the emerging artists were, but Diana Krall obviously is not. Of the jazz artists appearing, only Shepherd's concert is identified as receiving support from the The Slaight Family Fund.

Except for Krall and Alex Cuba, the musicians are also currently from Ontario or Quebec. With no provincial “Scene” presenting artists from a different province this year, listeners will simply not be hearing a geographically diverse selection of Canadian artists this season.

What's not clear from this season's line-up is how the NAC can program the following year without repetition or a significant change in artistic direction beyond well-known and primarily female jazz vocalists.

During the launch and in talking with afterwards, Deneau, talked enthusiastically about the calibre of Canadian musicians and came across as genuinely and personally supportive of the Canadian talent that the NAC is staging.

With its 2012-13 NAC Presents jazz content, perhaps the NAC is simply giving a broader audience what it wants: vocal jazz, and making best use of its most limited resource: venue time, by using it to put talented Canadian artists in front of as many listeners as possible. Diana Krall, for example, has demonstrated that she has deep appeal to Ottawa audiences. She's attracted thousands of listeners to her Confederation Park main stage concert at the 2005 Ottawa Jazz Festival, at two nights at BC Scene in 2009; and to the NAC Gala in 2010. By presenting her in Southam Hall, and other jazz vocalists in their other halls, the NAC has provided the same opportunity for vocal jazz fans to hear their music in a more acoustically-supportive environment – and one that is safe from risk of heavy rain. That's the same experience given to instrumental jazz fans at the Ottawa Jazz Festival – and which artists and listeners have spoken of appreciatively.

Deneau also told that the Geggie Series was still being finalized (both dates and line-up) and would be announced in October. She felt this would be ample time to promote the late, January start and to encourage listeners to buy tickets. In previous years, the first show of the Geggie season usually attracted the smallest audience of the season. It is not clear whether this would hold with a shorter season with a later start, and whether it will then have a disproportionate effect on series attendance.

The Geggie Series has been taken out of NAC Presents to stand alone this year because it was a series and not a “one off” concert like the others, Deneau said. Also, John Geggie has a similar curatorial role as her, choosing the artists to put together a series.

This is the first full NAC Presents series that is being presented following the NAC's first federal annual funding cut of $800,000. While NAC staff are always close-lipped about the detailed finances of programming, a study of the publicly available numbers of seating capacity and ticket prices shows the huge difference in potential audience size and ticket revenue between different jazz concerts this season. Both number of attendees and potential revenue from ticket sales are likely to be very much on the mind of NAC music programmers this year.



Reserved seating capacity

Advertised minimum ticket price

Gross revenue from ticket sales when sold-out (at min. ticket price)

Diana Krall

Southam Hall

2323 (x 2 shows) = 4646



Holly Cole (Christmas)





Molly Johnson





one Geggie Series concert (3 will be presented)

Fourth Stage


$30 (in 2011)


Tickets for NAC Presents concerts are now on sale and some are selling briskly. It would be wise to make your decision on shows that you want to hear and have a good seat for, sooner than later. You can find out more about the artists and purchase tickets at the NAC Presents website.

    – Brett Delmage

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