Renée Yoxon and Craig Pedersen at the Festival de Jazz Desjardins in Aylmer in July. ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Renée Yoxon and Craig Pedersen at the Festival de Jazz Desjardins in Aylmer in July. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Two of Ottawa's most innovative and entrepreneurial young jazz musicians are leaving the city this weekend.

Trumpeter Craig Pedersen and vocalist Renée Yoxon are moving to Montreal. However, they will both continue to perform and teach regularly in Ottawa, at least until next January.

Their reason for moving: the greater opportunities in a larger city.

As he coordinated his last few boxes Friday in preparation for Saturday's moving truck, Pedersen told that there was no specific incident which inspired them to move.

“Just the increasing promise of what Montreal has to offer. In particular, a lot of the ensembles I play with and the type of music that I play is happening with much greater frequency in Montreal. So that's why I'm going.”

Yoxon said what attracted her was Montreal being such a cultural hotbed: “there's so much music going on there. And I wanted to try and be part of a new scene. I've lived in Ottawa my whole life.” She also would like to study jazz performance at McGill University next September if she gets accepted. This had been a long-time dream of hers, she said, and “I think now I feel ready.”

Both have initiated and contributed to numerous jazz projects and groups in this area. Pedersen co-founded IMOO (the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais) three years ago, which has produced biweekly concerts and a weekend festival to substantially enliven Ottawa's avant-garde jazz scene. He has released seven CDs and EPs in the last two years, ranging from a free jazz/country duo, to mainstream jazz with his quartet, to solo improvisations. And he has performed with many local classical and jazz ensembles: from classical trumpet in churches to marching band music in the Mash Potato Mashers. In 2012, he received a City of Ottawa Arts Grant, and in 2011 a Canada Council Professional Musician grant.

Yoxon has one of the longest-standing regular gigs in town: almost four years of Monday nights at the Mercury Lounge playing jazz standards with François Gravel. She's released two vocal jazz CDs in the last three years. The first with guitarist / arranger René Gely completely sold out; the second with pianist/ trombonist / arranger Mark Ferguson, for which she and Ferguson co-wrote the music, was the first Ottawa jazz album supported by a $10,000 crowd-funding campaign . And, together with another local pianist, J.P. Allain, in 2012 she created a revue of the satirical jazz songs of famed American pianist/composer Dave Frishberg, to great acclaim (including Frishberg's). In 2011, she was named an Astral Emerging Artist by the National Arts Centre and Astral Radio. She has received two arts grants from the City of Ottawa: one for her album with Ferguson, and one this year for a writing project.

Both have attended the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music, Pedersen in 2009 and Yoxon in 2011.

Continuing with IMOO

Pedersen moved to Ottawa in late 2007 to take his Masters in music at the University of Ottawa – and found many opportunities here. “When I moved to Ottawa I found there was a wide-open scene with a lot of room for me to grow and be creative.”

“Being a smaller city and being a little bit more wide open, [Ottawa] has more of a community feeling. I think IMOO is a great example of that: it's become a community in the last three years of performers and listeners and friends and colleagues. I'm not sure I'll find that anywhere else in any other city. IMOO is, I feel, something very special.”

And he emphasized he would be continuing to coordinate IMOO. In fact, he said, since almost all his work arranging for musicians to play at the IMOO events was by email, it would hardly change. The only two people he talks on the phone with are IMOO co-founder Linsey Wellman and Montreal musician Scott Thomson.

“I do anticipate staying on at least for a year or two with IMOO. We're just trying to get into not-for-profit status maybe, or something a little more solid than an ad-hoc group collective. But it's really been highly recommended to me that for my future's sake that IMOO is something that I not let go of.”

Yoxon had been doing communications and volunteer coordination for IMOO, but is now looking for a volunteer to take over that role after IMOOfest in November.

Maintaining links to Ottawa

For at least the next four months, Pedersen said, he and Yoxon will be commuting back to Ottawa every week to spend Sunday and Monday here, for teaching, IMOO concerts, and performances – and even the occasional Mashers gig.

“For at least the first four months, at least until January, maybe a little bit longer as we get our footings in Montreal, the plan is to maintain a teaching studio [in Ottawa]. I have some students I have promised to see through to their university auditions and Renée has some students as well and she will be maintaining her Monday night gig for at least four more months. This is basically to combat the fact that we're freelance musicians moving to a city with no job. It will take at least four to six months for us to get working and after then it be at least three years before we're established, I think.”

A larger, more active arts scene in Montreal

Pedersen had lived in Montreal for nine months in 2006-7, which also was a factor in the move. “There's something about Montreal and its centrality but also the cost of rent, the cost of living, as well the education system there that really contribute to a really active artistic scene.”

“I'm ready to move back to a city that has a larger, more active arts scene. It's basically a numbers game. There's just more people and therefore a greater diversity of arts happening.”

Montreal is “very over-saturated”, he said, “which is what I'm looking for right now. I want to be surrounded by other musicians, with similar ambitions, of a similar style of music.”

“There are a handful of really wonderful musicians in Ottawa that are doing a really fantastic job and playing really fantastic music on par with amongst the best in Montreal. I think it's basically just a matter of there's more of them in Montreal.”

“Plus the improvised music scene, the free music scene is a little bit more developed. We have IMOO in Ottawa as well as Experimental Wednesdays and occasional other one-off shows. Whereas in Montreal there's at least three regular weekly series that happen, and a lot of musicians to support that so it's the scene that I feel would support me.”

While not fully bilingual, he said he was becoming “increasingly more so. And I play with as many Quebec-born French musicians as I do English-speaking Quebec musicians.”

Making connections in Quebec

Pedersen has regularly toured around Quebec and played in Montreal with different groups. He pointed out that most of the bands he's in are based in Montreal, including his duo with bassist Joel Kerr, The Live in Silence Quintet, and Dominic Gobeil's quintet. After the move, he also anticipated working a little bit more with Thomson, Ellwood Epps, and Lori Freedman, as well as other Montreal musicians.

Yoxon has also performed in Montreal, most recently in August at the Upstairs Club. She's also played in Ottawa with several Montreal musicians, including Kerr and pianist Marie-Claire Durand, “I think we'll probably continue to play together but I'm hoping to meet more people, and people my own age who are in the same place in their career, to do touring projects or creative projects.”

As soon as she gets unpacked, she said, she'll be getting out to meet people, particularly singers. “My main objective is to make some friends, to make singer friends. I met one the other day at Upstairs who came to my gig and I'm going to give her a call and have a coffee with her.”

Yoxon has lived her entire life in Ottawa, but Pedersen has moved regularly, “about every five to eight years, with the exception of one long stretch in Victoria. I think moving's a fact of life, and I learn, and meet new people. I think the greatest part is every time I move to a new city I have old friends and colleagues in the old city that I can go hang out with and tour to and spend time with. I mean it's really wonderful. I have friends all over the world.”

He said he would miss his friends in Ottawa – as well as the space here, and the ease of making a living.

In Ottawa. Pedersen and Yoxon lived 10 blocks from the Ottawa Bagelshop in Wellington West. In Montreal, their new apartment in the Plateau will be about nine blocks from Fairmount Bagels. So which city has better bagels: Montreal or Ottawa?

“Montreal,” Pedersen said – with no hesitation at all.

    – Alayne McGregor

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