Bernard Stepien (sax) and Nathan Corr (guitar) will again play for the pho crowd June 15 ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Bernard Stepien (sax) and Nathan Corr (guitar) will again play for the pho crowd June 15 ©Brett Delmage, 2013

One of the peculiarities of jazz in Ottawa is that you almost always find it downtown or west of downtown. With a few exceptions like Groovy's, east-end venues haven't presented jazz.

So it was delightful and unexpected to hear a jazz duo – tenor sax and guitar – at a Vietnamese restaurant in the south-east end of Orléans, on June 1.

Bernard Stepien, a 40-year veteran of Ottawa's jazz scene and longtime host of the jazz radio show Rabble Without a Cause on CKCU-FM, played saxophone. He teamed up with Nathan Corr on guitar; Corr just graduated from the music program at Carleton University, and won the student competition at Guitar Now! in May.

They ended up at Hanoi Pho (on Innes Road near Tenth Line) because Stepien knew the owner; they worked together in high tech years ago.

The duo played bebop and standards to a reasonably full house, and was greeted by steady applause and lots of interest between sets. For their last set, they were joined by Dr. Mortimer Katz on clarinet – who has been around the local jazz scene even longer than Stepien!

Dr. Mortimer Katz joins in for the second set. ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Dr. Mortimer Katz joins in for the second set. ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Stepien was happy with the response. “We managed to turn the unsuspecting Vietnamese food connoisseurs into Jazz fans and the official Jazz aficionados into Vietnamese food connoisseurs. Second: it looks like that Be Bop, a music that is now over half a century old can be easily digested by unsuspecting pop-music oriented restaurant patrons even turning surprise into enthusiasm.”

One listener told us he was really pleased to find jazz in his Orléans neighbourhood rather than having to go downtown. He had learned about the show through OttawaJazzScene.ca's JazzScene newsletter.

Stepien and Corr will return to Hanoi Pho this Saturday for their third appearance there, before taking a break for the summer. For this performance, Stepien promises “a few deceptively simple Thelonious Monk compositions”, as well as an obligatory “Giant Steps” by John Coltrane.

    – Alayne McGregor