David Braid and Phil Nimmons will perform on November 1 at the NAC Fourth Stage. ©Brett Delmage, 2006
David Braid and Phil Nimmons will perform on November 1 at the NAC Fourth Stage. ©Brett Delmage, 2006

The National Arts Centre has resurrected instrumental jazz in this year's NAC Presents series.

At the launch September 24 for the series' entire season, series producer Simone Deneau announced eight jazz concerts, many of which featured either jazz veterans or musicians who had previously had well-attended NAC shows. They were also more varied: from free improvisation (Phil Nimmons and David Braid) to classic piano jazz (Oliver Jones) to vocal jazz (Emilie-Claire Barlow, Kellylee Evans) to New Orleans (Michael Kaeshammer) to Latin (Mamselle) to modern jazz with remixing (Trio Jérôme Beaulieu).

The series is also bringing back Ottawa bassist and composer John Geggie for a single concert on April 12. For the last twelve years, Geggie had been presenting a series of invitational concerts bringing together jazz artists from Canada and abroad in new combinations (ranging from three to eight concerts per season). Last year, the number dwindled to three; this spring, it was unclear whether there would be any concerts this season. The artists Geggie will play with in April have not yet been confirmed; Deneau said this would happen in the next couple months.

However, while the total number of NAC Presents artists increased from about 40 last season to 54 this season, the number of jazz artists is the same as before. As well, there's no high-profile artist to match last season's doubleheader Diana Krall concerts. None of the Southam Hall and Theatre concerts (the larger NAC venues) will be showcasing jazz; four jazz shows are in the Studio, and the remainder in the Fourth Stage.

In her talk, Deneau did note the contribution that jazz made to the series' “incredible 2012-13 season with many sold-out shows”, specifically crediting Krall, Alex Cuba, and Molly Johnson among other musicians. That season featured only vocalists in its jazz offerings, unlike this season where four of the eight shows are instrumental.

A new initiative this year is a national partnership with Radio Canada for its Révélations program, in which a panel of experts within the network picks promising francophone artists from different musical genres. The network then promotes and mentors them for a year. The NAC agreed to showcase all of these artists in concerts as part of NAC Presents. The jazz group, a pick of Radio Canada jazz host Stanley Péan, is Trio Jérôme Beaulieu (March 1).

Xavier Forget, the associate producer of NAC Presents, said he really liked the “modernity” of the trio's sound. “It's really unique and actuelle: I like the melodies and there's a great piano player [Beaulieu].” The trio will not just play straight instrumentals: according to Radio Canada, it also diversifies its range of textures with sound samples, percussion, effects and prepared instruments.

Ottawa singer Kellylee Evans was big hit on the main stage of the 2013 Montreal Jazz Festival this summer. She returns to NAC Presents December 18. ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Ottawa singer Kellylee Evans was big hit on the main stage of the 2013 Montreal Jazz Festival this summer. She returns to NAC Presents December 18. ©Brett Delmage, 2013

Emilie-Claire Barlow has a show in Gatineau this fall showcasing her new album of French songs; that concert has already sold out. Forget said that her NAC show on March 22 would not duplicate that but would instead cover more of Barlow's career. “Of course we hope she'll do some of her French album, because it's great but she'll pick from her older repertoire as well. It will probably be a bilingual show.”

Two of the concerts will celebrate jazz longevity: pianist Oliver Jones (April 24) will be entering his 80s, while clarinetist Phil Nimmons (November 1) will be hitting 90. Deneau said that the contrast between age and youth (Nimmons is playing with pianist David Braid, who, at 38, is less than half his age) was one thing that attracted her to presenting them in concert.

“I love the juxtaposition of the young and the slightly older gentlemen. I had the opportunity of meeting with Phil last spring in Toronto, and the passion with which he and David talk about this project really made me interested in it. I'm really excited to have them at the NAC. It's a really cool thing to have happening.”

If Nimmons and Braid follow the same pattern as their last two Ottawa concerts (Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2006, Ottawa Chamberfest in 2011), they'll simply sit right down, look at each other, and improvise. But since both are renowned composers and lovers of melody, you can expect many interesting moments. The concert will also have a new multimedia twist: the photographs of San Francisco photographer Nathan Wirth will be projected during the concert.

Michael Kaeshammer, whose NAC show two years ago quickly sold out out, will present a tribute to New Orleans jazz and R&B pioneer Allen Toussaint (January 18).

Ottawa singer Kellylee Evans will perform a Christmas show on December 18, which was announced last spring.

Montreal singer Mamselle Ruiz's heritage is Mexican, and this infuses her music with Latin jazz and trova cubana, as well as traditional Mexican folkloric music. (January 23)

In its previous two seasons, NAC Presents had presented almost exclusively musicians with a strong vocal emphasis, and especially singer-songwriters. When asked what had changed for this year, Deneau said, “There's always room for different things,” pointing to previous Geggie concerts in the series and previous series concerts by “some artists that are more musicians than singer-songwriters.”

The series is the National Arts Centre's initiative to promote Canadian musical talent: Deneau described it as the fifth arm of NAC programming. It was given a glitzy launch at the packed Fourth Stage, ìncluding the series' own music video. The Franco-Ontarion singer/spoken word artist Yao (February 27) closed the proceedings with three songs/poetry declamations, the second of which definitely had a jazz swing in the backing instrumentals and some notable syncopation in his rich bass voice – a reminder that jazz might be found in some of the NAC's non-jazz shows as well.

    – Alayne McGregor

See also: