Toronto jazz pianist Nick Maclean has taken many lessons from jazz legend Herbie Hancock – not the least about taking risks with his music.

Brownman Ali and Nick Maclean ©Brett Delmage, 2017
In the 1960s, pianist Herbie Hancock and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard created several classic jazz albums together. Nick Maclean (r) is channeling that vibe in his quartet with Brownman Ali (l). ©Brett Delmage, 2017

“The kind of jazz that I really enjoy, that means a lot to me, involves constant risks. It involves exploration. The kind of guys who are playing it safe, and play what they know – it can be very nice sounding, it can check all the right boxes, but there's something courageous about stepping into the unknown and seeing what happens. And Herbie's definitely one of those artists that idealizes that for me.”

Maclean's quartet will perform in Ottawa on Saturday as part of a Ontario/Quebec tour. They’ll play from their debut album, which he describes as a “love letter” to Hancock. The group and the album are inspired by Hancock's 1960s quartet/quintet with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, which produced four classic albums on the Blue Note label: Takin' Off, My Point of View, Maiden Voyage, and Empyrean Isles.

The general vibe is mainstream and acoustic – but with “a willingness to not know what the destination is going to be and just be along for the ride.”

“What we're trying to do with the quartet is to take the ethos of Herbie's 1960s Blue Note Quartet, but move it into the modern day – with modern compositions, with modern sensibility – and see where that ethos goes today.”

Maclean's quartet line-up takes its inspiration from Hancock's line-up on Empyrean Isles: trumpet (with his frequent collaborator Brownman Ali), piano, bass, and drums. It was a rare line-up for Hancock and relatively rare in jazz.

Justin Gray has designed an instrument which combines his two musical passions – for jazz and for Indian classical music.

Justin Gray
Justin Gray with his bass veena (photo by Sean O’Neill, provided by Gray)

He'll play his bass veena on Wednesday, as he gives his cross-genre quintet, Synthesis, its Ottawa debut at Chamberfest. The quintet, which includes well-known Toronto jazz musicians Ted Quinlan on guitar and Drew Jurecka on violin, will play Gray's music, which features Indian-inspired melodies in a jazz framework.

It's a surprisingly compatible and very listenable mixture, in part because Hindustani classical music also includes improvisation – just not in quite the same way as jazz. Synthesis has so far released one album, New Horizons, in 2017, with the same core quintet which will play Wednesday, although the album has a large number of guests from classical, jazz, and Indian classical music. The Chamberfest concert will showcase pieces from that album.

Gray has been studying Hindustani music for more than decade, at the same time as he's grown a substantial reputation as a bassist in Toronto's jazz scene, playing with a variety of groups, including several which have made it up to Ottawa: Gray Matter, and the Hoffman-Lemisch Quartet. editor Alayne McGregor recently interviewed Gray about the concert, the Synthesis project, and why he was inspired in 2010 to design an entire new instrument to play much of this music. This is an edited and condensed version of our interview. How did you get introduced to Indian classical music?

Justin Gray: My mom was born in India, so growing up, my brother Derek, who's the drummer in the project, and myself certainly were exposed to Indian music. We traveled to India to visit family. We listened to a variety of music growing up, which included things like Ravi Shankar, and of course getting into the Beatles and some other world music contexts.

When jazz trumpeter Paul Tynan was in Berlin in early May he played jazz each night but spent his days exploring the city. That became the inspiration for a number of his compositions which he'll perform in Ottawa next Tuesday, in a concert at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios.

Paul Tynan has a hobby that uses some of the same creative skills as his jazz compositions and jazz trumpet playing: forging knives ©Brett Delmage, 2013

“Berlin is an amazing city!” Tynan said. “I was there for a week. I had seven nights in a club called the The Hat Club in Berlin. It really was just a fantastic experience playing my original music every night at the same club, oftentimes for audience members who would come back, who would hear us one night and then come back the next night and maybe the next night and the next night. It was really inspiring.”

During the day, he tramped around the city. “As a kid I was always taken by the Brandenburg Gate. I got to see it. I'd been to Germany before, but this was the first time I'd been to Berlin, so I spent literally hours walking around the city and combing everything from the Schöneberg neighbourhood to the Kreuzberg neighbourhood to the typical tourist spots as well.”

And that ended up being reflected in his music. “You just hear these melodies in your head, and fortunately the place I was staying had a grand piano so I would come back and just write some music at this piano that was in the flat that I was in.”

On Tuesday, Tynan will combine this music with other “time-tested” tunes he's written in the last decade, and some jazz standards, in a trio show with Ottawa pianist Peter Hum and Montreal bassist Alec Walkington.

Tynan, who is a professor in the music department at St. Francis Xavier University, last performed publicly in Ottawa in 2013, in the faculty concerts at the Carleton University Jazz Camp. One of those concerts featured his compositions for big band.

This show will be on a much more intimate scale, but Tynan says that many of his pieces are flexible enough to work for a trio. “All the music I write can function either on a very small level or can function on a very large level. It just is how it's packaged or arranged. It's meant to be malleable. And I like that about it.”

In recent years Ottawa jazz guitarist Justin Duhaime has been specializing in performing – and promoting – what's called jazz manouche or gypsy jazz.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Two young listeners at East Feast check out the awesomeness of Django Reinhardt's music being performed by Justin Duhaime (r) and Nabil Yaghi (l) ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Jazz manouche was first popularized by guitarist Django Reinhardt in the 1930s, in his Quintet of the Hot Club of France, in conjunction with violinist Stéphane Grappelli. Duhaime has been regularly performing this music in duos with fellow guitarist Nabil Yaghi, and in larger groups like Django Libre and his own groups with violinist William Lamoureux, as well as bringing masters of this style to perform in Ottawa concerts.

On May 29, Duhaime was recognized as the 2018 RBC Emerging Artist by the Ottawa Arts Council, the first musician to receive this award. It recognizes and encourages the achievements of Ottawa artists who are in the early stages of their career in the arts and are working towards becoming recognized professional artists, while engaging with the community.

After Duhaime received the award, he talked with about

  • how he became interested in jazz manouche and why it’s awesome
  • his broad musical interests
  • what he’s noticed about listeners hearing music
  • his award (of course), and
  • an unexpected issue he's had to deal with in naming his group

Listen to the complete interview with Justin Duhaime

Ottawa vocalist Antoine Collins sang of love, in the most inclusive way, as he presented his tribute to Nat King Cole in a noon-hour concert at the 2018 Ottawa Jazz Festival. He released a CD of these songs, Nature Boy, in March.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Antoine Collins talked about the universality of Nat King Cole's lyrics and the beauty of his melodies in his Ottawa Jazz Festival show ©Brett Delmage, 2018


Collins had invited members of the city's LGBTQ community to hear the show, and not only they but a considerable number of other jazz lovers came out to fill every chair (and stand at the back) in the festival's large Ontario Stage in Confederation Park.

Collins sang his favourite Nat King Cole classics, and talked about how those songs spoke to him and to the world. He was well supported by Mark Ferguson on keyboards, Brian Tansley on saxophone/flute, Phil Victor Bova on electric bass, Mike Essoudry on drums, and Marianne Dumas on percussion, with a guest appearance by Petr Cancura.

Our video story includes excerpts from several of the numbers in the show, plus an interview with Collins and representatives of Capital Rainbow Refuge, the refugee assistance group to which he was donating part of the proceeds of his album.

Extravagant costumes. Acrobatic dancing. Strong rhythms. Music ranging from tender ballads to all-out ensemble performances.  Tropicana Night gave Ottawa listeners a taste of Cuban music and dance in its many forms.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
The Los Cubanitos dancers in full flight behind singers Rusdell Nuñez, Cristina Sayén, and Sheyla Fernandez, with the dancing beat of Fiesta Cubana led by pianist Miguel De Armas (left) ©Brett Delmage, 2018

It was the biggest production ever undertaken by artistic director Miguel De Armas and producer Yasmina Proveyer, with the Los Cubanitos dancers, the Fiesta Cubana band led by De Armas, the rumba percussion group Clave y Guaguancó, and four vocalists: Rusdell Nuñez, Caridad Cruz, Cristina Sayén, and Sheyla Fernandez. They performed classic Cuban tunes by composers from across the 20th century, with the dancers adding glamorous interpretations.

The 500-seat Harold Shenkman Hall was mostly full. By the end of the first set everyone was up and dancing to the infectious rhythms. The second set ended with more dancing and a full-out standing ovation.

Our video contains excerpts from several of the numbers in the show, plus an interview with Yasmina Proveyer.

Updated July 31, 2018
The 2018 Festival de Jazz du Parc de L'Imaginaire in Aylmer will feature two tributes to important milestones in jazz and two individual jazz voices this month.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Parc de l'Imaginaire: a cool place to listen to jazz under the trees, close to the river ©Brett Delmage, 2011

A recreation of the best-selling jazz album of all time, Kind of Blue; a tribute to Ry Cooder's ground-breaking collaboration with Cuban musicians, The Buena Vista Social Club; a trio show by Ottawa guitar master Roddy Ellias; and a quadrilingual show by jazz vocalist Diane Nalini and her trio – you can hear all these in the four nights of the outdoor festival, from July 25 to 28.

This is the 32nd year of the festival (renamed this year from the Festival de Jazz Desjardins to the Festival de Jazz du Parc de L'Imaginaire) and it is again free to all. Its concerts are held in Parc de l'Imaginaire in Aylmer, immediately across from the Aylmer Marina. 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.

In the event of rain, the concerts will move to the British Hotel, 71 rue Principale, Gatineau (Aylmer sector). The Centre d'exposition l'Imagier will announce by 2 p.m. each day whether that day's show will be held indoors or outdoors. Watch's twitter feed for the announcement.

The festival is run by la Ville de Gatineau, which will also offer world music concerts (shading into jazz) in the park on the first three Wednesdays of July, with Boogát, Laetitia Zonzambé, and Mamselle Ruiz.

Wednesday, July 25: Montreal trumpeter Ron Di Lauro opens this year's festival with his sextet of accomplished Montreal musicians: Jean-Pierre Zanella on alto sax, André Leroux on tenor sax, Geoff Lapp on piano, Michel Donato on bass, and Dave Laing on drums. Di Lauro was awarded the prestigious Oscar Peterson Prize in 2014 by the Montreal Jazz Festival, and his sextet has toured across Canada.

Last December, Montreal jazz pianist Rafael Zaldivar was initiated into the Yoruba tradition in Cuba. It was part of his recent exploration of his own Cuban roots, at the same time as he's become firmly ensconced in Quebec's jazz scene.

Rafael Zaldivar ©Brett Delmage, 2012
Rafael Zaldivar ©Brett Delmage, 2012

It was a spiritual experience for him: he went through a ceremony “to resolve personal incidents that I had about my past”. And not only did he learn more about this major Cuban belief system, its link to nature and the universe and to the divine, but also about the rhythms, dances, and songs which are a central part of its practices.

He's put those rhythms and that music into his Afro-Cuban Revival project, which he brings to the Ottawa Jazz Festival tonight, and then to the Montreal Jazz Festival on July 3. It's a show which he hopes will connect the audience to the energy of the music, the spirituality of the traditions, and “the vibration that music brings to them”.

“This is a live performance. This is an animated performance. There will be a lot of exchange between the musicians in terms of accentuations, syncopations, visual exchange between views, the dancing, the physicality of the performance – people will appreciate that.”

Zaldivar, 35, was educated in Cuba's rigorous musical system, graduating from the Higher Institute of Arts in Havana. He emigrated to Canada in 2005, and quickly found a place in Montreal's jazz scene. He has released three albums of mostly original compositions with Canadian and American musicians, one of which was nominated for a JUNO Award. At the same time, he continued his university education, and was awarded a Doctorate in Music from McGill University in 2016. He's currently a professor of music at Laval University.

His Afro-Cuban Revival Project includes rhythms traced from the four major Afro-Cuban cultures: the Yoruba (or Lucumí), the Congo (or Bantu), the Arará, and the Abakuá. These are all rhythms which he studied for his doctoral thesis, on Afro-Cuban integration in jazz composition and improvisation.

Updated June 28
Looking for fewer crowds or jazz in your neighbourhood? Downtown not convenient? There are many fine opportunities to hear live jazz around the city even while the Ottawa Jazz Festival is running.

Nicholas Adema ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Young trombonist Nicholas Adema brings a new sextet to town Saturday at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios playing modern, straight-ahead jazz ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Thursday, June 21: Fiesta Cubana helps open Westboro Beach for the season with an outdoor concert of lively Cuban music. With seven musicians and dancers, the spirited rhythms of the cha cha cha and other classic Cuban music will be pulling you to get up and dance. If you miss them tonight, they'll be performing frequently on sunny evenings at the beach this summer.

Prefer gypsy jazz? The long-standing Django Libre group will be at Bar Robo. Or, for Brazilian rhythms, Jerusa Leão, originally from Brazil and living in Toronto, will evoke a Samba party in Bahia, Brazil, at the Mercury Lounge.

Friday, June 22: Pianist James McGowan and saxophonist Peter Woods will play an acoustic duo concert in the beautiful surroundings of Dominion Chalmers United Church at noon. In the evening singer Douglas Moyle and his trio will celebrate Frank Sinatra and his fellow crooners at the Options Jazz Lounge in the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata.

Saturday, June 23: From 11 a.m. to noon, pianist Steve Boudreau will play an uninterrupted set of Thelonious Monk's inimitable compositions in among the bins of vinyl at the Record Centre in Hintonburg. And the Cuppa Soup combo performs Dixieland with verve from 11:30 to 2:30 at Billings Bridge Shopping Centre, as part of their charity work for the Shepherds of Good Hope.

That evening, two emerging jazz musicians, trombonist Nicholas Adema and saxophonist Austin Bassarath, bring their sextet to the intimate listening room at the Record Runner Rehearsal Studios on Colonnade Road. Adema and Bassarath met at the University of Toronto, where they're both studying, and found they had a similar passion for composers and players in the Modern-Straight ahead Jazz genre (Walter Smith III, Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Michael Dease). We've been impressed with Adema's attention to detail and musicianship in earlier shows.

I checked out the new Ottawa Jazz Festival set-up Tuesday night. It's definitely going to be more crowded for some outdoor shows!

©Alayne McGregor, 2018
The Main Stage, in front of City Hall, faces east instead of west this year. Listeners will face the early evening sun, but musicians will finally get a break. ©Alayne McGregor, 2018

Because of the construction in the Canal side of Confederation Park, most of the action has moved to around Ottawa City Hall, where the secondary stage was last year. From Laurier Avenue West, the walkway will lead you beside the Box Office and the Souvenirs tent, and then you enter on your left into the stage area.

Watch out for cyclists on the elevated cycle track along Laurier Avenue West, which looks just like a sidewalk, as you cross into City Hall.

The seating area in front of the Main Stage appears to be much smaller than in the park. It will be L-shaped, with the Gold Tent and the sound tech booth to the right, and the regular seating in front of and then extending back on stage left towards City Hall.

If you want to also see and not just hear the performers on the Main Stage, you may need to arrive earlier in order to get a spot with a good view.