Branford Marsali (photo by Palma Kolansky)
Branford Marsali (photo by Palma Kolansky)

Updated June 8, 2014

Music and Beyond will feature two celebrated jazz musicians – American saxophonist Branford Marsalis and Canadian pianist Oliver Jones – in its July lineup.

The Ottawa-based chamber music festival opens with a gala featuring Marsalis on Saturday, July 5, at Dominion Chalmers United Church. Marsalis will play a selection of classical pieces in the first half, and perform with his jazz quartet in the second.

On July 15, Oliver Jones will show three sides of himself as musician. The renowned Montreal pianist will perform solo, with his jazz trio, and with classical musicians. The concert, also at Dominion Chalmers, will also feature the Nepean All-City Jazz Band.

Julian Armour, the festival's artistic and executive director, told that, while he is a long-time jazz fan, “Our goal is not to do anything that belongs at the Jazz Festival – or anywhere else – but to do something that's totally different. Branford is creating this show just for us, and so is Oliver.”

He said he had always admired Marsalis' classical playing, and the concert had been two years in the making. “What's really great about a guy like that coming is that he's coming from quite a different world. He's going to play exactly the notes and the way it's written, but the way he plays classical music is so refreshingly different that it's a really nice thing for us to showcase.”

Having Marsalis as the opening show of the festival “was to just really go out to all of Ottawa to say 'Here's a name that you're familiar with, here's a concert that you'll love' so that we'll open in a really fun, inviting way.”

Armour was particularly pleased that Marsalis would be performing an uncommon concerto for alto saxophone and string orchestra, by Russian composer Alexander Glazunov

Marsalis had sent him a long list of classical repertoire that he would be able to do, Armour said. “From that list I jumped on Glazunov; I thought that was a really important piece for him to be playing. It's a major work from the saxophone repertoire, from the classical music repertoire and Glazunov was, of course, a major figure in Russian music from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century.” (Watch a YouTube video of Marsalis talking about that concerto.)

It's not a piece that would have been heard often in Ottawa, he said. “Saxophone concertos are very rare. It would have been played, but I bet in the history of the NAC Orchestra maybe only a couple of times.”

Marsalis will be accompanied by most of the string section of the NAC Orchestra, conducted by the NAC's Principal Youth and Family Conductor, Alain Trudel. Armour noted that while Trudel is a “very fine classical musician and trombonist, he's also a superb jazz trombonist.”

Marsalis last appeared in Ottawa at the 2012 jazz festival, playing back-to-back duets with his long-time collaborator, pianist Joey Calderazzo. editors attended one concert, which received a standing ovation from the festival audience. His quartet, with which he'll play in the second half of the Music & Beyond concert, includes Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Justin Faulkner.

Oliver Jones: a refreshing approach to classical repertoire

Armour said he wanted to showcase Oliver Jones but in a concert that was different from his last two performances in Ottawa and Gatineau. “I just feel that so many people don't know him as well as they should.”

He said he'd known Jones for years, “and I've always loved his playing. I'm a pretty big jazz fan, actually, and he's a guy that I knew when I was studying at McGill University. He had just moved back to Montreal. I kept in touch with him.”

One thing Armour really admires about Jones is that “when he takes on classical repertoire, he does it with a whole different approach, which I think is refreshing. I think it's really good for a classical guy like myself to hear people like that doing what he does!”

The first half of Jones' concert will range from classical pieces on solo piano, to piano with a couple other instruments, Armour said. The second half will be Jones performing with his regular trio: drummer Jim Doxas and bassist Éric Lagacé.

“But only when there's a direct tie to classical music”

Armour said that Music and Beyond, which will celebrate its fifth season this summer, is willing to include “a lot of other styles of music – but only when there's a direct tie to classical music. So a couple years in a row we've done heavy metal with a fantastic violinist that does superb classical and heavy metal.”

“I get calls from a million jazz musicians wanting to come do a concert, but we wouldn't do that because it belongs at the jazz festival as far as I'm concerned.”

But Armour has presented a number of classical-jazz crossover concerts. “When they link with [classical music], I really like it, I really like the idea of showing that classical music is really broad. One of the big reasons that I started Music and Beyond was just to show that classical music is relevant and that actually there are a lot more links to other styles of music and to the music that most of the population listens to.”

“That's just kind of normal for us. Music and Beyond is going in all directions as always, not in a particular direction.”

Other jazz-related shows

On Friday, July 6, the festival will offer a free Ottawa Music Expo at the University of Ottawa aimed at young people. It will feature 150 mini-concerts and events, and include activities which combine music with other art forms and cultural disciplines.

And jazz. “Every year we've had jazz at the Music Expo. Again I always make very clear that we're a classical music festival, but at the same time I do want to make sure that we're instilling, in our listeners and in young people, a great respect for all other styles of music. We always have. Jazz is one of these music styles that kids aren't that exposed to. Everybody knows the name, they know the label, but they're not that familiar about what it really is. So this is a chance for them to get close up, see instruments that they're used to seeing in a classical context but doing different things,” Armour said.

Chanticleer, a San-Francisco-based chorus of all male voices, will perform on Monday, July 7. The 12-member group, named Ensemble of the Year by Musical America in 2008, has won two GRAMMY awards. Its latest album, Someone New [2013], is a collection of jazz/pop tunes by composers such as Brubeck, Jobim, Gotye, Tom Waits, Mercury, Elbow, and M83.

Armour said the festival also hopes to include a performance of George Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue” – but not the jazz orchestra version. “We're looking at doing a return to the roots – one of the earlier versions of Rhapsody in Blue, which is really pretty cool. The first one was with jazz ensemble, but the second one was for small group. It has maybe been done a handful of times. And that's the one we're planning on doing.” That concert may also include jazz vocalists, he said.

The festival runs from July 5 to 17, 2014. More concerts, including its closing gala, are still to be announced.

    – Alayne McGregor

Read the review of Oliver Jones' show in April at the National Arts Centre:

June 8: Corrected Nepean High School Band to Nepean All-City Jazz Band.