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On Thursday, the Montreal Jazz Festival announced the remainder of its 2019 indoor lineup. It's the festival's 40th anniversary, and the ECM record label's 50th - and the festival has upped its choices in accordance, with some out-of-the-ordinary collaborations, both with international and Canadian artists.
Among the newly-announced festival highlights are an ECM birthday series with artists including Tord Gustavsen, Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn, and Bobo Stenson; a gypsy jazz mini-series with Biréli Lagrène, Stéphane Wrembel, and the Django Festival All Stars; and an Invitational three-concert series with Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca.
The festival is also marking the 20th anniversary of Effendi's Jazzlab band with many notable Quebec artists. John Pizzarelli is making a 100 Years Salute to Nat King Cole. And accordionist Richard Galliano is not only paying tribute to the late Michel Legrand, but also playing a duo set with bassist Ron Carter.
Vocal jazz fans can look forward to Kurt Elling, Melody Gardot Nikki Yanofsky, Patricia Barber, Cyrille Aimée, and Bebel Gilberto.
Jean-Michel Pilc will present his Waves trio, and Christine Jensen her new star-studded (and all-female) New York quartet with Allison Miller, Helen Sung, Noriko Ueda. And Montréal’s Orchestre National de Jazz will explore the iconic album The Invisible Man: An Orchestral Tribute to Dr. Dre, conducted and accompanied by its creator Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II, aka Sly5thAve, mixing hip-hop ambiance with groove.
For the first time in years the Ottawa Jazz Festival has added a new local stage to its lineup – at the same time as it’s reducing the number of local groups it showcases.
The new stage is indoors at the Queen Street Fare food hall downtown, which opened last fall. It will present shows at 4 p.m. each day during the festival. It joins the outdoor stage in Confederation Park, which will present shows at noon. All local shows are free. [See the full 2019 festival lineup]
But the total number of shows on both local stages this year is only 15, down from from 26 in 2018, 19 in 2017, and 24 in 2016. The festival has not brought back last year's popular evening free shows, which were usually packed. (These numbers don't include the youth bands traditionally scheduled on the first weekend of the festival.)
Decades after he started, Toronto jazz musician and composer Shirantha Beddage is still exploring and being challenged by the baritone sax.
“The baritone has been my weapon of choice for the better part of the last 22, 23 years. I think for me any instrument has that potential – but I feel more drawn to the baritone and I have for a number of years. I think that it's always going to allow the challenge to learn and grow.”
What appeals to him about it, he says, is “it has a vocal quality that is similar enough to my vocal range that I feel like I try to get a singing sound out of the instrument. And that is something I've identified with.”
Ottawa audiences have heard Beddage on baritone both with his own quartet and backing musicians like pianist Nancy Walker. He's also showcased the baritone in his three albums, the latest two of which were nominated for JUNO jazz awards, and he performs with it in ensembles ranging from trios to big bands. He plays other saxophones, clarinet, and flute as well, both in big bands, and on his latest album, Momentum.
The baritone sax is at the low end of a standard horn section; while there are deeper-pitched saxophones such as the bass and contrabass, they're infrequently played. But players don't have to stick to its low notes; its range also overlaps to a great extent that of the tenor saxophone.
Beddage has experimented with extending its upper register – a natural move given he started on first piano and then tenor sax before moving to baritone, and was inspired by listening to many of the great tenor players.
“Even as a high school student, I remember experimenting with some of those extreme upper register sounds, and later trying to learn how to control those things and make it a more natural part of my improvisational and even compositional voice. A lot of the songs that I've written, especially more recently, have forced me to stay up there and try to understand how I could make melodies and even compose melodies for myself that sit in that extreme upper register of the instrument – just so I could learn how to better control that end of the instrument's range.”
He came to the baritone almost by accident. “I was asked to play the baritone sax by my high school teacher. I joke that I was asked to play it because I met the height requirement! I think they just needed someone to fill that particular instrument in the ensemble. My teacher knew that I played tenor and they needed a baritone player, and that was that.”
“To be honest, I'm not sure why I was drawn to that instrument at first. I suppose it was just because the opportunity was presented and I liked the sound of it.”
For Shirantha Beddage, playing in a jazz big band is “a really magical thing”.
“I just love big band music in general. I think writing for a large ensemble gives you the opportunity to work with so many different colours and textures, and experiment with orchestration that of course you can't do the same way in a small group.”
Beddage will be passing on this love of big band music to Ottawa students and to big band jazz fans this month. He's the 2019 guest artist with the award-winning Nepean All-City Jazz Band (NACJB) and Nepean All-City Lab Band (NACLB), each 18 members strong.
He will perform with both bands in a large-scale public concert at Nepean High School on International Jazz Day on April 30 – his first appearance in Ottawa in two years. The concert will include some of his compositions and several of his arrangements for big band, and other modern and classic big band compositions.
The Toronto baritone saxophonist has twice been nominated for a JUNO Award – both times for small-ensemble jazz recordings of his own compositions. But he also directs a student big band at Humber College, and plays in professional big bands.
When Calgary jazz vocalist Ellen Doty sang before thousands of jazz fans at the Tokyo Jazz Festival she discovered that jazz could transcend language barriers.
“I learned that music is its own language, really. Even if people couldn't understand the lyrics, a lot of them still came up and waited in the line to talk to me afterwards. There was a translator there that helped with some stuff. That people feel an impact from something, even if they don't understand all the lyrics, is really cool.”
“And to feel that connection with people even though it's in another language is really cool.”
Doty is looking to make that same connection with Ontario audiences this weekend. She has a sold-out show at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, and will also perform at the Neat Coffee Shop in Burnstown (85 km west of downtown Ottawa), and at Burdock in Toronto. She's presenting her latest album, Come Fall, whose songs are primarily concerned with emotional relationships.
“Lyrically, I think there's quite a few different threads that go through the album, but the most important one is the idea of giving love to other people. Whether you know people or not, to treat people around you with kindness and generosity, and just to try and express what you don't always say typically to people that you love, and to not be afraid to do that.”
One of the songs commemorates a close friend who died of cancer at age 34. “She was a really brilliant woman. She was doing her PhD at Oxford in science at that time, and was a marathon runner, and so fit and healthy and just full of life. That song was certainly inspired by her, and I know she wouldn't have wanted to write a sad song about her.”
“She, I think, was someone who inspired other people to live in a good way. She was always just so kind and giving of her time with everyone. She set a really good example for how to live life. I'm trying to pass that along to other people – it was the goal of that song.”
Another tune, “Stranger”, deals with broken relationships, opening with “I used to know your naked soul. Now we barely get along.”
“It's that idea of sometimes you know someone so well, and then something could happen and you see them on the street years later and they seem like a complete stranger at that time, even though it was someone you knew so closely. It's how relationships like that can change.”
Carleton University music student James Anderson recently recorded his debut album, at the university. Out Loud is "a collection of songs of resistance, survivance, and dreaming of better days", performed in a jazz fusion vein with a strong punk influence. The CD is eminently listenable modern jazz, which a version of Chick Corea's "Spain" fits in nicely. Don't let the words "punk" or "fusion" scare you away before listening! This is the only album we've seen with "Ottawa Jazz" on the CD cover.
Anderson will release the album next Wednesday at the "OUT THERE SOUNDS" show at House of TARG. Full details and a link to a related music video are at the end of this story.
OttawaJazzScene.ca's Brett Delmage sat down with him last week for an extensive interview, learning about how the album marks his determination to live his life "out loud" as a queer musician, and about the similarities in ethical approaches between punk and jazz.
We recommend you listen to the interview podcast recording if possible, which conveys Anderson's enthusiasm, conviction, humour, and uncertainties best
OttawaJazzScene.ca: On your Out Loud CD launch announcement, I’m interested that you identified yourself as a jazz guitarist, but you state that you approach jazz from an outside perspective with a unique and eclectic musical vocabulary.
What elements of influence: punk, blues, house and video game music do you like to draw upon as a composer or guitarist?
And to add to that, are there any elements you dislike or would like to leave behind?
James Anderson: I started out in punk music and so I really come from that, and I don’t think it’s something I can really escape. It’s something in the way I construct my melodies, in my technique, in my tone. It’s everywhere. It’s everywhere and it’s something very close to me , something very near and dear to my heart. And it’s something I’d never leave behind frankly.
You know, funny enough, even though I do identify as a jazz guitarist because that’s what I’ve been trained to do and that’s what I call this music, all my favourite guitarists, all my favourite musicians, save for a few, are punk musicians.
Highly charged music, combining the energy of horns with the power of guitar, bass, and drums, and taking elements from both jazz and rock – that's the music that Wayne Eagles is presenting in his new monthly series called “OUT THERE SOUNDS”.
The jazz guitarist began the jazz fusion series in January, and has presented three concerts so far, with a fourth scheduled for next week. They've included both younger and veteran members of Ottawa's jazz scene.
The bands perform in the House of TARG, a downstairs live music spot in Ottawa South. Jazz lovers will remember this space as the former New Bayou/Cabana Supper Club, which hosted JazzWorks jams and other local jazz shows for many years before it closed in 2009.
The music stage is surrounded by video games, with video games facing it. You might catch the smell of fresh, handmade frying perogies wafting from the kitchen at the far end of the room.
The most recent edition of this series was on Wednesday, March 27, featuring two Ottawa fusion bands: the Shane Calkins Trio (the opening act), and PreDestined. They attracted an interested crowd, which applauded regularly and was listening more than playing the games. Listeners sat in the chairs by tabletop video games, leaned up against the pinball machines, or simply stood facing the stage.
This evening marked the release of PreDestined's first album, Rising. In their hour-long set, the quintet played a dramatic and soulful selection of originals, with the front line of Brady Leafloor on tenor sax and Nick Miller on guitar strongly backed by Matt Welsh on drums, J.P. Lapensée on bass, and Miguel de Armas Jr. on keyboards. Welsh introduced the numbers, telling jokes and keeping the set moving well.
Pioneer jazz record producer Blue Note Records made its first recording on January 6, 1939, and marks its 80th anniversary this year. There will be an Ottawa celebration of that birthday: music students will present a special public concert, “Blue Note Café: 80 Years of Blue Note” on Tuesday, April 9.
“This provided us with a wonderful opportunity for us to celebrate the contributions this label has made to jazz,” Nepean High School music teacher and project co-organizer Stephen Szabo said.
Wikipedia lists an impressive discography (which links to many individual album articles) for Blue Note: 849 individual albums and six compilation albums.
“Many of the most significant albums ever recorded were Blue Notes. We believe that part of our responsibilities as music teachers is to educate our students and our audiences. No jazz education would be complete without an understanding of the Blue Note label and the artists who recorded for Blue Note. Unlike some labels, Blue Note had a very clear identity and sound - made possible by the work of Rudy Van Gelder. The clear identity of Blue Note made it a logical choice for this type of educational project,” Szabo said.
It’s a big evening. Szabo will conduct the 17 member Nepean High School Junior Jazz Band. The 26 members of the Nepean High School Senior Jazz Band (conducted by high school music teacher Jean-Francois Fauteux, who is also a co-organizer of the event), and the self-directed sextet, Nepean High School Jazz Combo will also perform. And even more musicians will join them: the Nepean All City Jazz Band (NACJB) directed by Neil Yorke-Slader, and the Nepean All City Lab Band (NACLB) directed by both Szabo and Fauteux.
“There will probably be in excess of 60 musicians performing at the event, which is very exciting for us!” Szabo said.
You've probably heard saxophones in a jazz quintet, or as the front line of a big band. But this Sunday afternoon, saxophones will star in their own show, without the other instruments.
Saxophone ensembles from Carleton University's music program and two local high schools will present a two-hour concert of jazz, classical, and rock music arranged for saxophone quartet and saxophone choir. A sax tentet will have a rhythm section assisting it, but other than that, it's all saxophone.
The show will include an 13-sax performance of Queen's “Bohemian Rhapsody” – with dance moves – conducted and choreographed by Carleton student Rebecca Cowal. Other pieces will come from Piazzolla and Vivaldi on the classical side, to jazz composers Bob Mintzer of the Yellowjackets and Ed Calle of the Miami Saxophone Quartet.
Directing it all is Mike Tremblay, one of the best-known musicians and music educators in Ottawa's jazz scene. This is his 25th year teaching in Carleton's music school. He started with one student – Brian Asselin, who's now a well-known composer and bandleader in his own right. A decade later, he was able to field one sax quartet – as long as he was the fourth player. Then there were two quartets, and now the school has four quartets which rehearse every week with Tremblay.
The show is the culmination of the students' work this term. Saxophone lovers from the general public are welcome to listen to their performance.
OttawaJazzScene.ca interviewed Tremblay on Monday about the concert, why it's great to listen to an all-sax show, and what saxophonists learn from playing together. This is an edited version of our interview.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Do you vary the standard saxophone quartet – soprano, alto, tenor, baritone – at all?
Mike Tremblay: In some years, we'll have alto, alto, tenor, bari. But the goal, just for repertoire, is to have soprano, alto, tenor, baritone. And this year we have all four quartets that are [those four].
OttawaJazzScene.ca: What range of sounds can you evoke with a saxophone quartet?
Tremblay: That's a great question! It's really unlimited. There's so much you can do with that voicing. And the saxophone being an instrument that they say is very close to the human voice, it's very hard to reproduce that by a computer. It's really quite a dense sound, and because of the nature of the reed and the mouthpiece, and using your oral cavity, you can produce so many different colours and sounds with it.