Saxophonist Sam Cousineau has returned to Ottawa from two years in Texas, with a taste for the food and many new jazz experiences. You can hear the musical results this month as he returns to the local scene.
Cousineau graduated in May with a Master of Music in Jazz Studies from the University of North Texas, one of the top jazz schools in the United States. He studied there for two years, and played in and toured with the school's renowned One O'Clock Lab Band.
It was a natural next step for the young alto saxophonist, who has “always wanted to be a professional musician, performing.”
Cousineau has a deep love for straight-ahead jazz. He's been recruited by Ottawa trumpeter Ed Lister to join a new group, The Bow Street Runners, which will be performing each Sunday evening in August at Irene's Pub. The group's music (originals inspired by the Latin / hard bop blends of Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, and Monk, plus standards) is “definitely down my alley”, he said.
As a child, he said, “I remember the first time I heard Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley play – and that music has really stuck with me.” He's always played alto sax: “for me I think there's a special thing in the alto that I don't find in the tenor. It's hard to explain – like this clear beauty in the instrument that I find I might not get from the tenor. I'll be honest – I do find the alto much more difficult to play than the tenor: tuning and I find that it's very finicky, but that's for me to deal with in the practice room. But, in short, I think the alto saxophone is closest to my voice. And if I look at my alto saxophone heroes now like Dick Oatts, David Binney, Jon Gordon, Kenny Garrett, Lee Konitz, they all have their unique approach to the instrument that I find is very captivating.”
Sunday evening saw the debut of a new jazz series in Westboro, featuring a rare collaboration between two popular local gypsy jazz guitarists.
At the Westboro branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, about 20 jazz listeners heard two hour-long sets by Justin Duhaime and Christian Flores. Duhaime told the audience that he and Flores, a founding member of local jazz group Django Libre, hadn't played together for a long time – but they fluently navigated favourites in the gypsy jazz repertoire together, before an appreciative audience.
The set list included music by Django Reinhardt and his successors, plus jazz standards, including several less-commonly-played tunes. Duhaime provided enthusiastic introductions and explanations of many tunes. The guitarists comfortably played in unison and traded off the lead, one playing rhythm to the other's lead, and then switching, with each adding his own take on the tune.
Highlights included the two daring each other to take Fats Waller's “Honeysuckle Rose” further and further out, to the delight of the audience; the fast yet expressively melancholy “Bossa Dorado”, with contrasting intricate interpretations; the tender “Seul ce soir”; the energetic and fun “Limehouse Blues”; the spirited and almost funky “Heavy Artillery”; the vibrant swing of “After You've Gone”; the hypnotic vibe of “Made for Wesley”; and the gentle minor key melody of “Clair de Lune”. The vivid “Blues Clair” and the sweet “Troublant Boléro” were less familiar pieces well worth hearing.
The show was organized by local jazz fan Carol Raoult, who's aiming to run a monthly jazz series at the Westboro Legion starting in the fall. She said she has already lined up several local jazz groups interested in performing there.
On Saturday, Huu Bac Quach will add plaintive and haunting sounds from Vietnam, China, and Peru to mainstream jazz, as his Montreal-based quintet closes the 2019 Festival de Jazz du Parc de l'Imaginaire in Aylmer. The free concert in the park will be his Ottawa-Gatineau debut.
The multi-instrumentalist was a finalist for the Grand Jazz Award at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2017. He plays the dan bau, a resonant Vietnamese single-string zither, played with one hand bending a handle to modify pitch; the erhu, a Chinese two-stringed fiddle; the quena, a traditional Andean flute; and jazz guitar.
He incorporated all of these – plus piano, bass, drums, and violin – into the compositions on his first album, which he wrote while on a world tour. The result: approachable and engrossing music which pays tribute to both the jazz tradition and Chinese and Vietnamese musical traditions.
To Quach, it's a natural combination: “For me world music is just everything! When I write music, I just try to include everything in it at some level. Everything is equally world music for me – jazz is the folk music of North America and Bach is the folk music of Europe. I'm just trying to bring all the folk music together.”
The cover of his album, On the Steps of St. Paul's, shows him in front of the ruins of the first Christian church in Macao (now a special administrative region of China). Taken by tourists, the photo shows him playing dan bau on the steps of the 400-year-old church, “and at the left side is a traditional Asian building and in the background very far you see a modern skyscraper.”
“I thought it represented well what I do – a mix of Western and Eastern. The three buildings: the traditional Asian side, the European colonial representing the contrapuntal music I like with its European influences, and then there's the modern skyscraper that represents the new world, North America, and jazz, and the new creative side of things.”
Updated July 21
Ottawa's jazz scene has lost one of its most gentlemanly stars with the death of vocalist Bill Luxton Sr. CTV Ottawa reported that Luxton drowned in his backyard swimming pool this weekend.
Luxton, 92, had been the MC and male vocalist with the Grey Jazz Big Band for the last 25 years. The 20-member band draws its members from retired amateur and professional musicians, whose ages range up into the 90s. They play big band and swing numbers from the 20s to the modern day – with energy that belies their calendar ages.
“Bill was a gentleman to his fingertips – handsome, urbane, unflappable,” said Mary Frances Simpson, Luxton's vocalist partner in the Grey Jazz Big Band. At the band's concerts, the two would sing separately and together, often smoothly alternating lines in duet performances of songs such as “They Can't Take That Away From Me”.
“He was the consummate professional – punctual, letter perfect, in command of his material, unfailingly courteous, easy to work with. He passionately loved being a performer and those of us who were privileged to work with him benefitted from absorbing his enthusiasm, and his vast knowledge, and his absolute command of his profession.”
That professionalism came out of decades of experience working as a broadcaster at CJOH-TV (now CTV Ottawa), hosting shows such as Morning Magazine, Lunch Party, and The Amazing Kreskin – as well as a comic actor in the long-running syndicated “Willy & Floyd” children's show.
Luxton continued to deploy those announcing skills at Grey Jazz concerts, talking about the songs and their history, cracking jokes that got the audience chuckling, and introducing band members.
“Bill had a marvelous sense of humour, charming audiences with his witty remarks and jokes,” said saxophonist Paul Caron. “He would routinely address the audience without a script and would easily improvise a funny monologue if the band wasn't ready to begin playing.”
Updated July 19
This July in the Parc de L'Imaginaire in Aylmer, world music will overlap with jazz and jazz with world-spanning music.
The Festival de Jazz du Parc de L'Imaginaire officially announced its 2019 lineup today. The artists for its 33rd year include Ottawa's Souljazz Orchestra and well-known Quebec jazz artists Jordan Officer and Gentiane MG – plus two jazz groups new here: Sussex and the Huu Bac Quintet.
Music will be presented in the park, located just inland from the Aylmer Marina, on the first three Wednesdays in July and then every day from July 24 to 27. The concerts are again free to all. All concerts start at 7:30 p.m. and finish between 9 and 10 p.m. Picnics and families are welcome. Bring your own lawn chairs or blankets because seating is not provided. Donations are welcomed.
The concerts are offered by the Centre l'Imagier gallery, in conjunction with the City of Gatineau and the Conseil des Artes et des lettres du Québec. The rain location will be Christ Church Aylmer at 101, rue Symmes in Aylmer. It's at Avenue Frank Robinson, about 10 blocks from the park.
The series begins with three “Musique du Monde” show on Wednesdays:
Wednesday, July 3: Briga (a.k.a. Brigitte Dajczer) is a violinist and vocalist from Montreal whose music combines jazz, gypsy jazz, folk, pop, punk, and hip-hop. The JUNO nominee sings in both French and English, and plays her violin in styles “firmly rooted in eastern European and Romani folk sounds learned from the days her father played the piano to put the children to sleep.”
Jazz Mondays went out with a flourish on June 24, with crowds of local jazz musicians and fans coming together to celebrate the long-lasting current jazz jam in Ottawa-Gatineau.
The weekly jams have been hosted at Le Petit Chicago, a bar in downtown Gatineau, for the last 14 years. But the bar must leave its current location, where it's been for more than 15 years: the building at 50 Promenade du Portage is due to be demolished for a new development. The bar was originally scheduled to close in April but the deadline was stretched out to the end of June. This is its final week.
However, both Jazz Mondays and Le Petit Chicago will return, says jam coordinator Michel Delage. The late-night jams will resume on July 8 at le Minotaure, a bar owned by the same management as Petit Chicago. It's located at 3 rue Kent in downtown Gatineau, about 5 blocks east and north of the current location and behind Place du Portage Phase IV. [openstreetmap.org]
A new Petit Chicago will be revived in the Zibi development on the banks of the Ottawa River in Gatineau. Delage expected the jams to stay at le Minotaure for several months, and said that the new Petit Chicago is not likely to be ready before October or November.
During the past 10 years more than 120 post-secondary and advanced high school musicians developed their skills in and enthusiasm for big band performance in Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra (CYJO). They presented a variety of well-rehearsed and frequently very well-received public concerts. Behind that was CYJO founder and director Nick Dyson, sharing his encyclopedic knowledge and love of big band music with students, including arrangements by Canadian and local composers.
This spring marked the 10th Anniversary of the founding of CYJO, although it was not active this season. The CYJO 10th Anniversary Alumni Band, comprised of former CYJO players - many who are now working, professional musicians - performs a free special concert on Wednesday at noon on the Ottawa Jazz Festival’s Confederation Park Stage. The music selections will be 100% Canadian.
Two CYJO alumni told OttawaJazzScene.ca about their positive experiences in CYJO, including how it helped them develop as musicians, their favourite moments, and what they are looking forward to playing in next.
Saxophonist Brady Leafloor was a founding member of CYJO and played (as he recalls) the first four seasons. CYJO had a maximum age for members, and the most proficient members like Leafloor had to retire to make room for new members.
“It was a really great thing to be a part of building. A small group of us got together with Nick Dyson and talked it out to form the group,” he says.
Clayton Connell was CYJO’s pianist from 2011 to 2013. He received a highly-competed for-scholarship to The Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst (University for Music and the Performing Arts) in 2014.
On Sunday, Ottawa audiences can hear music by one of the best-heard – but least-known – jazz composers in Canada.
Over a prolific 75-year career, Eldon Rathburn wrote more than 250 film scores, including for many well-known National Film Board (NFB) animated and short films, plus many concert works. He wrote for the first generation of IMAX films, scored one of Buster Keaton's last films, and provided the music for the Labyrinth pavilion at Expo ’67. One of the films he scored was nominated for an Academy Award and won the Short Film Palme d'Or at Cannes. His music brightened up the most mundane subjects: for example, a film on how to keep fish from spoiling!
Now several of his film scores have been expanded into a jazz album from Justin Time Records, The Romance of Improvisation in Canada. It features five of Canada's finest jazz musicians: pianist Marianne Trudel, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte, saxophonist Petr Cancura, bassist Adrian Vedady, and drummer Jim Doxas.
The music is classic, appealing mid-century jazz – from lively bebop and Latin to an evocative ballad. Listeners can hear it played live at the NAC Fourth Stage on Sunday at 8 p.m. as part of the Ottawa Jazz Festival.
It's also a project with many Ottawa connections. Rathburn lived in Ottawa for much of his life, and composed much of the music on which the album is based while working at the NFB's Unit B offices in Ottawa. The music was rediscovered when Dr. James Wright, a music professor at Carleton University, decided to write an in-depth biography of Rathburn, They Shot, He Scored, which was released in May.
Wright brought in Ottawa academic and jazz drummer Allyson Rogers (now completing her PhD at McGill University on the musical aesthetics and social milieu of the National Film Board) to research Rathburn's NFB career. She discovered Rathburn’s jazz-inspired animated film scores of the 1950s, for films such as The Romance of Transportation in Canada (1952), Structure of Unions (1955), Fish Spoilage Control (1956), and Norman McLaren’s Short and Suite (1959).
Rogers discussed the music with fellow Ottawa jazz saxophonist Adrian Matte, and they realized that the scores could be unspooled and expanded and rearranged into longer jazz pieces. They created 12 pieces, each based and expanded upon jazz themes Rathburn wrote for film scores. Matte also ended up developing his Masters thesis on Rathburn's jazz music.
The album was recorded in February 2018 at the NFB’s historic Chester Beachell Studio in north Montreal – the same studio where Rathburn had frequently worked during his NFB career, and released last year.
OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor spoke to Rogers and Matte last fall, shortly after the launch of the book and the CD at Carleton University.
Christine Jensen is looking forward to working with noticeably different musical voices in the jazz orchestra she'll lead at the 2019 Ottawa Jazz Festival.
The saxophonist and composer has generally looked to a familiar group of Montreal musicians for her JUNO-winning jazz orchestra. But the orchestra she'll unveil next Tuesday in the NAC Studio contains musicians from Toronto and Ottawa as well, with many more women players, and will showcase the music of five women jazz composers besides herself.
It's a an 18-piece big band Jensen has brought together especially for the festival. It's billed as the “= Jazz Orchestra & Christine Jensen” – a name Jensen is not altogether happy with. The '=' refers to the festival's focus this year on women in music; the orchestra has eight female and ten male musicians, a much higher ratio than average in big bands.
“I wish I could rename it. But at the same time, it was all about trying to get an equal balance of gender diversity or gender balance between the band on the stage in a large ensemble. So that was the equal part and I’m the artistic director of it.”
Prominent in the orchestra are noted Canadian jazz musicians: pianist Marianne Trudel on piano, saxophonists Tara Davidson, Anna Webber, and Allison Au, and trumpeter Rebecca Hennessy – plus younger musicians Emily Denison on trumpet and Claire Devlin on sax. Jensen said having more women in the orchestra creates “a really strong, balanced community in the music.”
When faced with a breakup, some people cry, some vent, some drink. Montreal jazz guitarist Andy MacDonald went back to his first love, music.
Three months after losing his girlfriend, he was in the studio, recording his debut album with a seven-piece band. Influenced by both his musical loves – New Orleans traditional music and gypsy jazz – Asking For A Friend is full of hurting songs, but performed in a bright, accessible style that almost belies their lyrics. The album features two original songs by MacDonald plus ten jazz standards.
MacDonald will debut the album in Ottawa on Friday, June 21, in a house concert in Ottawa South. Also on the bill are two Ottawa musicians who often play gypsy jazz: guitarist Justin Duhaime (an old friend) and clarinetist David Renaud. Keith Hartshorn-Walton will add a New Orleans vibe on bass and tuba; he's frequently played that style with Tenth Ward Shakedown.
OttawaJazzScene.ca first heard MacDonald, who usually is billed as “Andy Mac”, in a well-received concert with Toronto vocalist Denielle Bassels, where his forceful gypsy-jazz-influenced guitar and compositions added considerably to the vibrancy of the show.
He regularly performs in his own gypsy jazz trio, Les Petits Nouveaux, as well as with Bassels, and in gypsy jazz, swing, and trad/Dixieland jazz groups in Toronto and Montreal.
OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor interviewed MacDonald by phone last week. This is an edited and condensed version of the interview.