Ottawa trombonist and composer Nick Adema is just 19 but he’s already releasing his debut EP recording, Starting Point. The four pieces on the album, all composed by him, range from quiet, thoughtful passages to more intense collaborations, but throughout carefully showcase all his musicians' voices in multi-layered patterns. The songs were all inspired by his Ottawa experiences. [listen on]

©Brett Delmage, 2019
Nick Adema at Irene's Pub ©Brett Delmage, 2019

At Irene’s this Friday, Ottawa listeners can hear Adema's original music arising from those experiences. He'll be joined on-stage by the fellow musicians on the recording, who are studying jazz at the University of Toronto. The experienced Ottawa jazz musicians in the Zakari Frantz Trio, with bassist Keith Hartshorn-Walton and Mike Essoudry, will open the show.

Adema considers this debut recording to be “my starting point in the professional jazz scene.”

Although he’s only completed his second year in Jazz Performance at U of T, he already has a proven track record of working hard, being accepted in and performing in award winning bands, composing his own music, and being recognized for his talent and effort. He performed in the Ottawa Youth Orchestra, the Nepean All-City Jazz Band, and the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra since Grade 10, and was selected to perform in the national jazz Honour Ensemble, the Conn-Selmer Centerstage Jazz Band. As a personal music project while in Grade 12, he organized and presented his own public concert.

Three times this winter he played his tenor trombone for an evening with the Prime Rib Big Band in Ottawa, hopping in the afternoon on the bus from Toronto, and then returning overnight.

Adema’s awards and scholarships include National Arts Centre Orchestra Outstanding Brass Player Award (2015), the MusicFest Nepean All-City Jazz Band Honour Award (2017), the Albert & Wilhelmine Francis Renewable (full tuition, University of Toronto) Scholarship, and Tim O’Hara Jazz Scholarship (Nepean High School).

This is a lightly edited record of the email conversation's Brett Delmage had with Nick Adema about his journey to Starting Point. Why did you make an EP now? What musical itch or other need did you have to make it?

Nick Adema: I have been writing a lot of music for different groups in Toronto for the two years I have been here, and I felt I had enough music to put out confidently. I only made it an EP with four tracks because I wanted something I can use to market my self as a "starting point". Although I started the process for this EP in September, it was something I just did on a whim at the beginning of the year. Why did you chose a quintet, and this particular instrumentation?

Ottawa's jazz scene has often been enriched by musicians who are here for a short time – a few months or a year – and then move on after having played in local jazz jams and with local musicians.

Nicholas Bracewell ©Brett Delmage, 2019
Nicholas Bracewell led the host band at Le Petit Chicago in April ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Drummer Nicholas Bracewell has had a peripatetic career: raised in Windsor, he received his Bachelors and Masters in jazz performance from Michigan State University across the border, and has also lived in Vancouver. He's performed at festivals around the U.S. and Canada such as the Detroit Jazz Festival and South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

He's currently in Ottawa, as his wife is studying here, and has been playing in jazz locations around town. In April, his quartet with three Ottawa musicians – guitarist Alex Moxon, bassist Chris Pond, and pianist Peter Hum – hosted the late-night Jazz Monday jazz jams at Le Petit Chicago. was there for the quartet's last Monday, where they performed a mix of jazz classics by Joe Henderson, John Coltrane, and Wayne Shorter, as well as originals by Hum and Moxon. The vibe was electric and elastic: in Moxon's “Crab Walk”, fluid guitar and bright piano soared over responsive bass and drums in a jazz fusion feel. Bracewell's strong drumming kept the energy up throughout, and in Coltrane's "26-2", he briskly traded 4's with Moxon.

Despite the nearby Chaudière Bridge being closed because of floodwaters in the Ottawa River, the bar gradually filled during the host band's set. Listeners applauded happily after each tune.

Read about the music and the awards at the 2019 MusicFest

Jazz fans have an extensive opportunity to hear performances by some of Canada’s most talented young musicians in the next six days.

 ©Brett Delmage, 2019
Director Neil Yorke-Slader conducts the Nepean All-City Jazz Band on April 30, 2019. NACJB has received 31 gold awards at MusicFest. Neil Yorke-Slader received MusicFest's inaugural Tommy Banks Outstanding Jazz Director Award in 2018. They're participating in the MusicFest Nationals again this year. ©Brett Delmage, 2019

Almost 100 student jazz bands from coast-to-coast, including the Charlottetown (PEI) Rural Senior Jazz Ensemble and the Wellington Secondary School in Naniamo, B.C., are coming to Ottawa from Monday May 13 to Friday May 17 to play their very best jazz in the MusicFest Nationals. Their reward is the opportunity to earn Gold, Silver, or Bronze recognition, get constructive advice from judges, learn from professional musicians and other students, and win thousands of dollars in scholarships.

Notable Canadian jazz musicians who performed at MusicFest when they were young include “Diana Krall, Christine Jensen, Ingrid Jensen, Campbell Ryga, Steve McDade, Brad Turner, Larnell Lewis, Eli Bennett, and about half the jazz faculty at Humber,” MusicFest Associate Director and Instrumental Jazz Chair Neil Yorke-Slader informed

Adjudicated performances ranging from big bands to smaller jazz combos will be presented on MusicFest’s jazz stage at the Bronson Centre (211 Bronson Avenue). The 30-minute mini-concerts run from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. All concerts are free and open to the public. Listeners are expected to remain seated during the performances and remain quiet, to allow the students to focus and the judges to hear every well-articulated note. All performances will also be live streamed - particularly helpful for friends and family of musicians who are coming from thousands of kilometres away.

Updated May 5, 2019
American jazz composer and bandleader Benny Carter had many firsts. He was one of the first great lead alto sax players in big bands, one of the principal architects of the big band swing style, and the first black composer to write film and TV soundtracks in Hollywood. His career lasted more than 70 years. When he was in his late 80s, he was still releasing records, and performed a brand-new composition with the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra in 1996..

Sandy Gordon ©Brett Delmage, 2019
Sandy Gordon will evoke Benny Carter's solos on alto sax in the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra's tribute to Carter ©Brett Delmage, 2019

As Duke Ellington once wrote, "the problem of expressing the contributions that Benny Carter has made to popular music is so tremendous, it completely fazes me."

Carter is “really a huge, huge giant in the jazz world that not enough people know about and appreciate,” says Ottawa Jazz Orchestra (OJO) director Adrian Cho. On Saturday, the OJO will bring an 18-piece big band at the National Arts Centre to pay tribute to Carter's music.

The music will range from swing compositions to more modern pieces. Most of the pieces will be by Carter, although they will also include his arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.

“Carter’s music is always groovy with so much for the listener and musicians to grab on to and enjoy. His compositions and arrangements were always very innovative and he was able to cover a very wide range,” Cho said. “In his music, including some of what we’ll play at the concert, you can hear that evolution from the sounds of the 40s all the way through to the more modern sounds of 1990s.”

From 1920s to 1940s, Carter played in big bands – and led them, starting at only 21 years old. He was a “big innovator” as an alto saxophonist: “He and Johnny Hodges [from Duke Ellington's band] were arguably the greatest alto players or at least certainly had the most distinctive and beautiful ways of playing the instrument,” Cho said. As an arranger with Fletcher Henderson and Chick Webb early in his career, Carter helped define the big band swing style; he also wrote for Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and Count Basie.

In 1946, he settled in Los Angeles, becoming the first black jazz composer for films and TV, as well as a valued arranger for vocalists including Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, and Louis Armstrong. He reemerged into the public eye as a full-time jazz musician in the 1970s, with new compositions and albums, and toured the U.S., Europe, and Japan through the 1990s.

But those decades behind the scenes meant that Carter's music is better known than Carter himself, Sandy Gordon, who will play first alto saxophone in most of Saturday's concert, said that when he first played through the set list, he recognized pieces he hadn't realized were by Carter.

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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.

Tord Gustavsen ©Brett Delmage, 2012
Pianist Tord Gustavsen returns to the Montreal Jazz Festival this year to celebrate the ECM record label's 50th anniversary ©Brett Delmage, 2012

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.

Eagles/Schroeder/Essoudry at the Ottawa Jazz Festival ©Brett Delmage, 2018
The local stage at the 2018 Ottawa Jazz Festival attracted consistently good crowds, as with this show with the trio of Wayne Eagles, Dave Schroeder, and Mike Essoudry ©Brett Delmage, 2018

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.)

Included in the lineup are some notable shows, including Nicole Ratté's Tribute to Michel Legrand (June 27), and the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra's 10th Anniversary Alumni Band (June 26).

Decades after he started, Toronto jazz musician and composer Shirantha Beddage is still exploring and being challenged by the baritone sax.

Shirantha Beddage ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Baritone saxophonist Shirantha Beddage returns to Ottawa on April 30. He was last here in 2017 with his quartet performing at JUNOfest. ©Brett Delmage, 2017

“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.”

Shirantha Beddage ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Baritone saxophonist Shirantha Beddage, seen here at JUNOfest in Ottawa, is the 2019 special guest of the Nepean All-City Jazz Band and the Nepean All-City Lab Band on Tuesday, April 30. ©Brett Delmage, 2017

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.

Ellen Doty (photo by Brendan Klem)
Calgary vocalist Ellen Doty makes her National Arts Centre debut Friday, showcasing her second album, Come Fall . She'll perform Saturday at Neat in Burnstown and Sunday at Burdock in Toronto. (photo by Brendan Klem)

“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.”