Molly Johnson and Larnell Lewis ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Vocalist Molly Johnson and drummer Larnell Lewis are separately nominated for JUNO Awards in 2019 ©Brett Delmage, 2013

March 16, 2019: Read the list of the 2019 JUNO Awards winners, in jazz-related categories.

Jazz fans will recognize many of the names in the 2019 JUNO Award nominees – but also see more than a few surprises.

What you might not have expected: vocalist and CBC broadcaster Laila Biali is featured on two albums nominated in the same category. Jazz pianist David Braid is recognized for a classical choral piece. Vocalist Molly Johnson is deemed Adult Contemporary rather than jazz. Andrew Rathbun's large-scale celebration of Margaret Atwood's poetry gets a nod. A viola d'amore/baritone sax female duo from Montreal is selected for their avant-garde CD.

Less surprising: crooner Michael Bublé is up for Artist of the Year, among other nominations.

In the Vocal Jazz Album of the Year, all the nominees have previously won multiple JUNOs. Diana Krall's collaboration with Tony Bennett will compete against Holly Cole's first studio album in five years, and Diana Panton's celebration of the changing seasons. Each of those albums features primarily jazz standards.

The category wraps up with two albums featuring Laila Biali and original music. The first is Biali's self-titled album of her own material with a jazz edge. The second is an album by Vancouver bassist Jodi Proznick, in which Proznick examines the polarities of life from birth to death in her compositions; the tunes are performed by an accomplished Vancouver quartet with Biali on vocals.

Diane Nalini ©Brett Delmage, 2018
Diane Nalini will sing the string arrangements which Nelson Riddle created for Ella Fitzgerald  ©Brett Delmage, 2018
Mike Tremblay ©Brett Delmage, 2018
Mike Tremblay will improvise on his saxophone over a chamber orchestra as he recreates Stan Getz's album Focus  ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Strings will hold sway as the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra (OJO) recreates classic jazz albums this week.

Instead of its usual big band or jazz ensemble lineup, OJO's “Strings in Focus” concert on Saturday will feature a chamber orchestra: six violinists, three viola players, two cellists, one bassist, and one harpist, plus piano and drums, under the baton of Angus Armstrong.

In the first set, they'll recreate Nelson Riddle's lush arrangements for Ella Fitzgerald's Songbook albums, supporting vocalist Diane Nalini. In the second set, they'll perform all of Stan Getz's 1961 album, Focus, with Ottawa saxophonist Mike Tremblay soloing against the strings.

For both Nalini and Tremblay, this is music close to their hearts. For Nalini, Ella Fitzgerald was a singer whom she grew up listening to and her “first jazz crush”. For Tremblay, it's an album which he was immediately amazed by when he first heard it at age 18.

It's a project which OJO artistic director Adrian Cho had been hoping to bring to the stage for several years.

Updated December 21, 2018
You can choose jazz from big glitzy dances to small sit-down dinners, to close out 2018 and welcome in 2019 in Ottawa.

Big Band Ottawa ©Brett Delmage, 2015
Big Band Ottawa director Robert Vogelsang (foreground) will also be a featured vocalist at this year's big band New Year's Eve event at the National Arts Centre ©Brett Delmage, 2015

If you enjoy celebrating with up to 600 fellow big band enthusiasts, the National Arts Centre would be your destination. The NAC is again teaming up with Big Band Ottawa for a large-scale party in its lobby. The eight-piece group Tuxedo Junction will play during dinner, and then the 18-member Big Band Ottawa will take over for dancing past midnight. After the champagne toast for the new year, they're planning for the longest conga line in Ottawa.

Vocalists Doreen Smith and Robert Vogelsang will perform with both bands. They promise many new charts for this year's show, for an evening of classic big band jazz spiced with Latin and rock and blues, and featuring popular hits starting at the 1930s right through to modern arrangements. This year's NAC event also offers an 1980s music party upstairs: be sure to specify that you want the Big Band party when you register.

At the Ottawa Conference Centre on Coventry Road in Ottawa's east end, the Steve Berndt Quartet will perform for dinner at the Ottawa Charity Ball. Dancing to a DJ and a live auction will follow. The ball will raise funds for two local charities which help children with developmental difficulties and their families.

Berndt's quartet will have just finished recording his upcoming solo jazz album that week. They will perform his original songs from the album plus jazz standards. At the request of the organizers, they'll also include a few of Michael Bublé's hits. Berndt previously recorded two well-received duo albums with the late jazz master pianist Brian Browne, plus many albums with his jump-swing band The Jivewires.

Queen Street Fare, a food hall which also bills itself as a live music venue, opened in downtown Ottawa this month. It's located on Queen Street near Bank Street, across from CBC and right beside the soon-to-open Parliament LRT station. It has been consistently programming jazz since its opening show December 7 by local jazz groove group Thrust.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
The live music stage at Queen Street Fare has a good sound and light system but is distant from much of the seating in this new food hall ©Brett Delmage, 2018

Coming up this week is a jazz brunch on Saturday and Sunday with the Jamie Holmes Trio, and a Saturday evening salsa concert with Miguel de Armas' Fiesta Cubana. Almost all the events have no cover charge, but the Fiesta Cubana show will be ticketed ($10 in advance, more at the door).

In the last 18 months, Fiesta Cubana has drawn large crowds to its outdoor shows at Westboro Beach and indoor shows at the Mercury Lounge; the nine-piece ensemble combines Latin hits with their Afro Cuban roots.

The hall replaces the former Hy's Steakhouse, but with a much more open and less formal vibe. The food is more varied as well, from burgers to Vietnamese to Buddha bowls, with all-local vendors offering a higher-end menu than the average food court.

The hall extends most of the width of the block from Queen to Albert, with food vendors interspersed with tables and chairs, and padded booths. At the east end of its space, it has a raised stage with lights and a sound system. An oval-shaped bar surrounded by seats is located at one side of the stage. A large open space in front of the stage would be suitable for dancing, although it seemed to be unnecessarily empty and kept listeners away from the band.

Kevin Breit ©Brett Delmage, 2011
Guitarist Kevin Breit will be one of three Artists-in-Residence at the 2019 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival ©Brett Delmage, 2011

Updated February 6, 2019
Never-before-heard collaborations will enliven the stages of the 2019 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival.

The festival, which announced the winter line-up today, will highlight three Canadian jazz musicians as its Artists-in-Residence. Half of its 14 winter festival concerts will showcase them in their own groups and in new combinations.

Running from Thursday, February 7 until Saturday, February 9, the winter festival will also feature two American jazz stars – pianist Joey Calderazzo and vocalist Nellie McKay – as well as other Canadian and local jazz groups.

The Artists-in-Residence are Montreal pianist Marianne Trudel, Toronto guitarist Kevin Breit, and NYC saxophonist Michael Blake. They'll play with musicians drawn from across Canada and the U.S.:

  • Ottawa saxophonist Petr Cancura,
  • Halifax drummer Jerry Granelli,
  • Vancouver cellist Peggy Lee,
  • Toronto bassist Michael Herring,
  • Montreal bassist Étienne Lafrance,
  • Toronto drummer Dave Clark,
  • New Orleans accordionist Michael Jude Ward-Bergeman, and
  • NYC saxophonist Tony Malaby.

Almost all of these musicians have been presented at previous Ottawa jazz festivals. Ward-Bergeman appeared at the 2016 Ottawa Chamberfest.

They will play both in their own groups and in four Artists-in-Residence Collaboration concerts, created just for this festival. OttawaJazzScene.ca reported last month that Cancura, who is also the festival's programming manager, would be trying a new approach for this festival: “a lot more workshopping and combining players together” in shows.

Dave Young ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Toronto bassist Dave Young performs in GigSpace's winter / spring lineup, in a trio with Tim Bedner and Kevin Turcotte, on April 26 ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Updated February 10, 2019

GigSpace has just announced its spring 2019 line-up. All the groups so far booked have played in Ottawa before, and most at GigSpace.

The winter-spring season opens with Montreal's PSC Trio playing their arrangements of well-known songs from pop, rock and jazz, re-built into their own jazz voice (January 12).

For vocal jazz fans: the duo of Christine Fagan and guitarist Garry Elliott playing jazz-inspired interpretations of Joni Mitchell (April 6); Toronto vocalist Micah Barnes (May 10); 16-year-old Vancouver vocalist Maya Rae and her quartet with noted west coast pianist Miles Black singing tunes from and inspired by the Great American Songbook (February 9); and the quartet of Ottawa vocalist Nicole Ratté with violinist William Lamoureux paying tribute to jazz and Paris (February 22).

For jazz in the tradition: Toronto bassist Dave Young and his trio of trumpeter Kevin Turcotte and guitarist Tim Bedner (April 26); Montreal guitarist Sam Kirmayer and his quartet (with piano this time instead of organ) (March 2); pianists Mark Ferguson and Steve Boudreau performing a double piano tribute to Bill Evans, similar to their show at the 24-hour Jazz Ramble (March 22 and 23); Tim Bedner and his quartet playing some of his favourite ballads, blues, and original compositions (May 11). Guitarist Garry Elliott will reprise his collaboration with Bumpin' Binary (Don Cummings on Hammond organ and Mike Essoudry on drums) in "an evening of groove featuring music from the canon of great guitar - organ trios" (May 4).

Unveiling personal projects: pianist/vocalist Steve Amirault playing from his recent recording, Hold On, Let Go (January 18); Montreal sax/piano duo Tevet Sela and John Roney with their 2018 album, The River (March 30); Toronto flutist Bill McBirnie with an Ottawa ensemble and new material (April 13).

So far, GigSpace has announced fewer shows for next spring than this fall (14 versus 18), but not all spring slots are yet filled. In addition, percussionist Jesse Stewart has a show scheduled for April 27 whose exact musical shape is not yet defined.

Toronto jazz pianist Jeremy Ledbetter wants to welcome and include all listeners, whether or not they're hardcore jazz fans.

Jeremy Ledbetter (photo by Denise Grant)
Jeremy Ledbetter: "in the world of jazz, we need to expand our audience. And the way we do that is by playing music that draws people in and welcomes them in and includes them. So I was trying to write music that would be enjoyable to listen to on more than just an intellectual level." (photo by Denise Grant)
 

“One of the places I think a lot of jazz takes a wrong turn is it becomes very isolationist. It shuts off interaction between the players and the audience. It becomes all about interaction between the players, and all about the audience observing this interaction between the players. But then all the things that happen are like almost inside jokes that the audience isn’t a part of. And I don’t think that’s what jazz was originally supposed to be, and I don’t think it’s what it’s supposed to be now.”

He'll be putting that open philosophy into practice on Saturday, when he performs at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios with multi-talented Ottawa bassist Marc Decho and rising-star Toronto drummer Sarah Thawer.

Ledbetter is best known on the Toronto music scene for CaneFire, his seven-piece Caribbean Latin jazz group. His newest project, though, is his jazz piano trio with award-winning Toronto musicians Rich Brown and Larnell Lewis. In June, the trio released its first album, Got a Light?, and on Saturday, Ledbetter, Decho, and Thawer will showcase music from that album here in Ottawa.

Got a Light? is an indirect reference to the Twin Peaks TV show, but Ledbetter said that he had other reasons for putting a question in the title.

“So naming the album with a question, automatically it’s involving the audience, right? We’re asking you something, so it makes you a part of it already. And “Got a Light?” obliquely refers to the idea of lighting something on fire, or perhaps lighting a fuse and blowing something up. So it refers to the energy, but again including the audience in a part of that. You’re not here to watch us blow up the stage. We would like you to help us,” he said, laughing.

Listening to Canadian pianist Bryn Roberts and Norwegian guitarist Lage Lund, you can hear the musical rapport they've built up from playing together for more than a dozen years.

Lage Lund and Bryn Roberts (photo by James Bizon)
Lage Lund and Bryn Roberts (photo by James Bizon)

They have just released their second duo album together, and will showcase it to audiences in Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa this week, including Saturday at GigSpace.

Hide the Moon and the Stars is a collection of their own compositions, plus one jazz standard. It was recorded in the same way that they perform, with just the sound of Roberts on grand piano and Lund on archtop guitar.

There's a richness and melodic beauty to the tunes on the album – but also unexpected textures and intriguing contrasts, in a collection with depth and substance. The music is evocative yet simple, with no unnecessary notes.

Originally from Winnipeg and with seven years of steadily increasing visibility in Montreal's jazz scene, Roberts released his debut album in 2000 to considerable acclaim and a Montreal Jazz Festival appearance. He moved to New York City in 2001 and has released two further quartet albums since, plus two duo albums with Lund. He’s recorded with Seamus Blake, Matt Penman, Jochen Rueckert, and Drew Gress, and often plays with legendary bassist Chuck Israels. He also regularly accompanies renowned singer-songwriters such as Shawn Colvin and Rosanne Cash.

Lage (pronounced Lah-gay) Lund became well-known after his win at the 2005 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Guitar Competition. Praised publicly by Pat Metheny and Kurt Rosenwinkel, he's several times won the Rising Star guitar category of the DownBeat Critics Poll. He’s released four albums, the latest being the trio CD Idlewild.

Roberts spoke to OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor last week about the album and about his musical partnership with Lund. This is an edited and condensed version of our interview.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: What appeals to you about the piano-guitar duo format?

Roberts: I've always been a big fan of the piano and the guitar together, even though it can be counter-intuitive because they're both chord instruments. There's the potential for harmonic clashes and things like that. But I've always just loved the colour of it, and in particular I was influenced a lot by the Bill Evans and Jim Hall recordings, which were to me some of the best music ever made.

Malcolm Goldstein is a violinist, composer, and improviser who has consistently found his own path in music, and expanded possible ways of thinking about music along the way.

Jade Mountain Soundings graphic score by Malcolm Goldstein
Jade Mountain Soundings graphic score for violin, by Malcolm Goldstein. See www.tactilepaths.net/goldstein/ for the complete document, including how to read this score. Goldstein will discuss graphic scores like this in his free masterclass at Carleton University on Friday.

Goldstein is known for extending the range of tonal and textural possibilities for the violin, for experimenting with new ways of notating music through graphic and text-based scores, and as a master improviser and a writer about improvisation. He's collaborated with Ornette Coleman and John Cage – and more recently with many musicians in Montreal, where he's lived for the last 26 years.

His last performance in Ottawa was in 2011 with percussionist Jesse Stewart. On Friday, he's back for two events. At noon, he'll present a free masterclass at Carleton University on graphic scores and on improvisation. That evening, he'll have a return engagement with Stewart: a completely-improvised concert in the intimate and very quiet environs of GigSpace. Details are at the end of this article.

Now 82, Goldstein was raised in Brooklyn and has been active in the new and improvised music scenes since the 1960s. Trained as a classical violinist and with an MA in music composition from Columbia University, he nevertheless quickly moved away from the standard classical and jazz repertoire, starting with his collaboration from 1962-4 with the Judson Dance Theatre in New York City. He has written extensively on improvisation, including his book Sounding the Full Circle: Concerning Music Improvisation and Other Related Matters [1988].

For almost three decades, he's divided his time between Montreal and Vermont, living in a cabin in the woods in Vermont in the summer and wintering in Montreal, plus extensive touring in Europe, although he has slowed down recently and is now primarily in Montreal.

OttawaJazzScene.ca interviewed Goldstein by phone on Tuesday, in a wide-ranging conversation about creating and listening to music. The following is a condensed and edited version of our discussion.

We began by talking about composition and a piece he wrote that was recently performed across Canada by Montreal improvisers Nicolas Caloia and Lori Freedman, which was written out in words instead of traditional musical notation.

The Carl Mayotte Fusion Quintette makes its Ontario debut on Friday, November 30, in the Live @ Record Runner series.The Montreal bassist and composer enthusiastically incorporates jazz, rock, funk and world beat into his original compositions. They'll perform "my compositions, and 2-3 arrangements of jazz fusion classics (Weather Report, Chick Corea), just to do a tribute to the music I like in this style," Mayotte told OttawaJazzScene.ca.

Carl Mayotte - original photo by Sébastien Veilleux
Carl Mayotte - original photo by Sébastien Veilleux

OttawaJazzScene.ca conducted a written interview with Mayotte. The interview has been edited for clarity and style.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: What attracts you to jazz fusion?

Carl Mayotte: My father was listening to progressive rock so I really loved this music early on. That led me to jazz fusion when I was 13-14 years old, especially because electric bass has such a great place in this music. The virtuosity of the musicians in this style always kept my attention very high. But for now, what I like of this genre is the infinite variety of other genres that you can combine in it. There are literally no boundaries. For a musician and a composer, it's a world full of freedom. I love too that it has to groove and that can make people listening to it dance sometimes.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: What are your jazz influences or other non-influences that may be known to jazz audiences?

Carl Mayotte: I have too many influences, hahaha, but for this Fusion project naturally my influences are Weather Report, UZEB, Return to Forever, and certainly all the progressive rock scene, especially King Crimson and Frank Zappa. But in general, some of my main influences for the bass are Jaco Pastorius for the spirit, Steve Swallow for the melodies, Richard Bona for the energy, and Alain Caron [UZEB’s bassist] for the sound. These day I listen a lot to some Japanese city pop music, a lot to Francis Poulenc, and a bit to 60'S Miles Davis.

Alain Caron influenced me A LOT. First, he is a Quebecer so I really loved him for that when I was a teenager. I have transcribed him a lot too, and love the fact that even if he was so good at the beginning of UZEB, he still evolved and progressed from Jaco-like to his original sound and technique. His fretless playing has had a big impact on mine. I'm working presently with Michel Cusson, the guitarist of UZEB, for my first album.