Updated January 4, 2012

The 12th season of John Geggie's invitational jazz series will be both shorter and closer to home.

Frank Lozano and Thom Gossage will play in John Geggie's first 2013 concert on Feb. 16. They also played together at the 2012 Montreal jazz festival ©Brett Delmage, 2012
Frank Lozano and Thom Gossage will play in John Geggie's first 2013 concert on Feb. 16. They also played together at the 2012 Montreal jazz festival ©Brett Delmage, 2012
The number of concerts in the series has been cut in half (from six to three), and all the musicians will be from central Canada. Nevertheless, Geggie is enthusiastic about the series, which will present several artists who have rarely been heard in Ottawa – and, as usual, in less familiar combinations, playing music they're not necessarily conversant with.

There's “a certain amount of risk involved,” he said. “It's not a packaged thing, as some concerts can be: it's a little bit more on the edge approach.”

This season's Geggie series concerts at the National Arts Centre (NAC) Fourth Stage will include:
• Frank Lozano, Thom Gossage, Jean-Nicolas Trottier (February 16, 2013)
• Roddy Ellias, Pierre Tanguay, David Braid (March 9)
• Tara Davidson, Tim Bedner, William Carn, Jim Doxas (May 25)

Tickets are now on sale, at the same price as last year ($30/show), or all three shows for $80.

In the first concert, three Montrealers will join Geggie and his double bass on stage. While tenor saxophonist Frank Lozano frequently plays here, drummer Thom Gossage has not been in Ottawa for a number of years. And trombonist Jean-Nicolas Trottier has not been here as a leader at all – although he received the Galaxie Rising Star award at the Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2003, and has played in many well-known Quebec big bands (including those led by Joe Sullivan, Lorraine Desmarais, Vic Vogel, and Alain Caron).

All three are very active in the Montreal jazz scene as musicians and composers, and have their own bands. Geggie said he first heard Trottier at the OFF Festival in Montreal a few years ago: “He was really, really great, and I was surprised that he wasn't more known for what he could do, so it seemed to be a natural fit to just to get him to come and play.”

Three weeks later, on March 9, the line-up will mix Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto musicians, with Roddy Ellias on guitar, Pierre Tanguay on drums, and David Braid on piano (last here in 2011 at Chamberfest and at Café Paradiso).

“This was one of those situations where I had a little chat with Roddy and I said it would be nice to do something. What would you like to do? What kind of people would you like to play with? … All of the people in this particular concert are people who I have played with but not with this configuration of people. So I've played with Roddy for years. I've played with Pierre Tanguay in lots of different groups, and he's very, very busy in Montreal playing with all kinds of people, playing all over the place. He's a fabulous colorist kind of drummer. He's a really, really creative individual.”

“So it's a case that I've played with all three of these guys and I'm very aware of what each of these guys can do and well, let's put the four of us together, and put it in a pot, and turn it on boil, and see what we get. And I think it's going to be a really interesting thing, because Roddy, for all the years that he spent in Montreal, has never played with Pierre and he's always wanted to play with David, and so when I mentioned this to each of the guys, they all were totally into the idea.”

The last concert, on May 25, will mix more “inside” musicians like Toronto alto saxophonist Tara Davidson and local guitarist Tim Bedner, with Toronto trombonist William Carn, who is more associated with free improvisation, along with Montreal drummer Jim Doxas, a fixture at Geggie series concerts.

“Everyone has their things that they've been doing more: Tara has a bit more of an inside player, and William has other things that he does that move it more out there, and Tim is more of an inside player, and Jim has the ability of going in all kinds of different directions, which is why I like playing with him, because he's got that flexibility.”

Davidson is best known for her collaboration with Mike Murley, David Braid, and Ian Froman in the mainstream jazz quartet DMBQ, but she also co-leads the Carn-Davidson 9 with Carn. That nonet released its debut CD, 9, in mid-November.

For each concert, Geggie said, “what I was really trying to do was to try to find those kinds of circumstances that were interesting and different and challenging, and like 'Where are we going now?'. So I'm looking forward to that, just because of what's going on and I'm really thinking that's going to be loads of fun to go with that.”

This has been the model he has followed for the past 11 years: “trying to find the right combination of people, the right situations to make it all work really comfortably and easily.”

The series has its own life

The series started when Geggie approached Michel Dozois, the then-head of community programming at the NAC – simply to talk about renting the Fourth Stage. Instead, Dozois proposed a jazz series, curated by Geggie. “So he had proposed it to me and it was something I was interested in doing anyway so the timing was right. All the pieces fell together fairly easily.”

“And it worked out well, and it was a success, and it was fun to do and it wasn't work. I like the fact that it's managed to keep going all these years, and there's an audience there to listen to things and there are lots of great musicians out there to listen to who are interested in coming and playing, so I've been very happy with that situation. It has its own life; it just keeps moving along because there are lots of good people out there who are interested in playing and also the audiences have been really good and loyal, coming back year after year.”

For the first couple years, there were four concerts a year. “Then it expanded to five or six and we kept it at six for a while. There was one year we actually had eight, because it actually continued into June. And then we pulled it back to six. It's been back at six for a little while.”

Geggie confirmed that the NAC's budget cuts caused the reduction in the number of shows. However, “the Fourth Stage is committed and [NAC producer of Variety and Community Programming] Simone Deneau is committed to try to keep the thing going, and hopefully we can get it back up to full strength next year. But what we're trying to do in the meantime is with three concerts nonetheless try to maintain the quality and the interest factor in what's going on.”

Although it is completely Canadian this year, the Geggie series is no longer part of the NAC Presents series, which promotes Canadian music. Deneau had previously told OttawaJazzScene.ca that this was because it is a series and not a “one off” concert like other NAC Presents concerts. Geggie said his series is “standing on its own this year, in terms of what's going on. What happens down the road I don't know.”

Previous seasons had included many high-profile artists from the United States and Europe, “world-class [musicians] who we would not have a chance to meet or for Ottawa audiences to experience” without the series. They included Jean-Marc Padovani and Jérome Sabbagh from France, and Sigurður Flosason and Sunna Gunnlaugs from Iceland, as well as Americans Marc Copland, Matt Wilson, Ted Nash, Marilyn Crispell, Donny McCaslin, Frank Kimbrough, Susie Ibarra, Vic Juris, Cuong Vu, Joel Frahm, Myra Melford, Mark Dresser, Craig Taborn, Gary Versace, Billy Hart, Ben Mondor, Edward Simon, and Ron Miles. In some cases, their appearances were financially assisted by foreign embassies.

Geggie said he hadn't approached embassies this year to get funding to bring artists in, because “I think everyone's feeling the pinch right now” and he felt they would probably say no.

“I think everyone's just trying to be a little bit careful. I have a great number of friends in Europe who are musicians and they're talking about the same thing. In places like the Netherlands and Sweden and whatnot, there are still funds to do things, but there have been cuts.”

“I'm hoping down the road there will be a recovery and hopefully things can go a little more smoothly and people can feel a bit more comfy about doing some of those things.”

Vocalists welcome

This year, the jazz concerts in NAC Presents all featured vocalists. However, Geggie said his series wasn't an instrumental counterweight to that: “I never really thought if it that way. I never tried to conceive it that way.”

In fact, he said, he had approached Ottawa jazz singer Kellylee Evans to “do something with some different people” in his series. She was very interested, he said, but before he could finalize that, she was booked for an NAC Presents concert next April.

“Maybe that's something we can do down the road. I've been thinking of other singers down the road, I hadn't made a conscious choice of not using singers, or anything like that. It's who was available and the combinations of people this particular year. That's really how it goes: there's some years that there may seem to be more guitar players and other years there seem to be more sax players, and that's just the way – who's available to do what in a particular time period.”

Previous Geggie series concerts had included singers Dawn Bishop, Tena Palmer, Dave Wall, Christine Duncan, Rebecca Martin, and Floyd Standifer Jr..

"A fascinating learning experience"

Geggie said the eleven years of the series have been a fascinating learning experience for him, playing with musicians from all over who have different influences and different styles. “It's pushed me. I like playing other people's compositions, I'm fascinated by how they put music together, how they think of music, how it is a means or form of communication. And it's a means or form of communication that seems to be able to cross many different boundaries and many different age groups. What I've also loved is the fact – I guess I've been lucky – with rare exceptions, the people whom I've played with have all been really, really great human beings. They've been really, really easy to work with and really open-minded and so it's been a really lovely time.”

“I'm always amazed that when we're playing here we are on stage together doing something as one and it's not about the individual, it's about the collective experience happening in real time. And particularly if you do that in the context of the fact that we're doing something with very little rehearsal, that's also very exciting that way. So I really enjoy that reality, that getting together, the meeting of minds.”

A great dinner party – with music

He compares the concerts to “a really great dinner party, inviting some really neat people to dinner. They may or may not know each other, but it's the resulting conversations that make the dinner so much more interesting. I feel it's the same way: we're coming together and we're all coming together as one to have a really good conversation and everyone's very selfless about it."

Also fascinating to him is how much certain pieces – whether his own compositions or jazz standards – “always have a really interesting different life with different players. And that's what always fascinates me about improvised music: the music won't ever be stale if you have good players, because they'll always add something interesting and creative and fresh to it.”

Learning from loyal audiences

And, finally, he said, he appreciated “the loyalty of Ottawa audiences. It's been really, really great that people will come and subscribe and be there for concerts and the concerts are most often sold out or pretty darn close to it. So, in this day and age, it's great that there's a group of people out there who are dedicated to hearing this kind of music, and are dedicated to coming out, night after night, to go hear this music – live music. It's not a package, it's not on DVD, it's live music in an intimate venue, and I really have grown to appreciate, and I've learned a great deal from the audiences.”

And it's an interactive process. “At the breaks I see people who I've been aware of over the years, so it's nice. And some people will come up to me and talk to me about things and tell me what they like and tell me what they don't like which is totally fine by me. I don't mind getting feedback from people on what they like and what they don't like. So I think that's part of the loyalty: that they're game to come out and try things and listen to things and they're just fine to give it all a shot and go from there.”

“It's not simply me and my musicians getting together: it's me, the musicians, and the audience getting together in the space to do something together. The audience is there participating because they are listening and it would concern me if we were to be playing and they wouldn't be reacting. That would be a sign that what we're doing isn't really getting anywhere. I love the fact that I can trust them to come and hopefully they can trust me to come up with some things that work.”

    – Alayne McGregor

December 31, 2012: Added ticket prices.
January 4, 2013: Add three-show package price, and links to individual show listings.

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