Jazz pianist John Stetch will continue his rethinking of classical concertos and sonatas in a concert at the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival (Chamberfest) this summer.
The festival today unveiled 15 of the shows which it will present from July 22 to August 4 – primarily from the core classical repertoire, but also including crossover concerts with jazz, the Beatles, contemporary pop, and film music, as well as interpretations of Canada's Arctic and unexpected takes on musicals and audiovisual performance. The remainder of the line-up will be revealed in April.
OttawaJazzScene.ca learned after the announcement that Toronto jazz pianist David Braid will also appear at the festival.
On July 26, Stetch will perform at La Nouvelle Scène in a show entitled “Classical Meets Jazz”. The festival says he will blend “dashes of classical” along with his “percussive and improvisational brand of piano playing”.
Stetch, who began his jazz career in Alberta but has lived and worked in or near NYC for decades, is a prolific original composer. His most recent CD is Improvisations , an album of “unedited and un-premeditated solo improvisations”.
Over the last two years, Montreal saxophonist Rémi Bolduc has immersed himself in pianist Oscar Peterson's music – and developed an immense respect for Peterson as a composer and musician as a result.
Bolduc has just released a tribute CD to Peterson, Swingin' with Oscar, with his arrangements of Peterson's compositions. He is currently on tour with his quartet playing this music throughout Ontario and then further east, including a stop in Gatineau on April 12.
And, in the process, he's broadened his outlook on jazz. It used to be that when Bolduc listened to albums by the Canadian jazz icon, he would choose those Peterson made with famous saxophonists.
“I was really focusing on sax players. And I put a lot of my energy into transcribing solos of all sax players. And, of course, I heard Oscar Peterson on some of his records, but because I was checking out Sonny Stitt with Oscar, or Ben Webster with Oscar. I was really always taking the angle of the sax player. And as I get more mature in my music, I opened my mind. I'm like, OK, you've got to go further that that.”
In the fall of 2015, Bourgie Hall at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts asked Bolduc to perform a tribute show to Peterson, to honour the 90th anniversary of Peterson's birth. It was one of a series of tribute concerts he's played there, each time honouring a different jazz master. For the show, he brought in Taurey Butler on piano, along with long-time collaborators Fraser Hollins on bass and Dave Laing on drums.
He said he picked Taurey Butler as the pianist for this project because “we'd played together, and I thought that Oscar had a big influence on him.”
Butler studied classical piano as a child, but stopped playing piano after age 12. “And then he heard Oscar Peterson, and that brought him back to jazz. So Taurey, when he plays, he has that approach. He's really, of course, virtuosic, he uses all kinds of elements on the piano, and the way he plays the chords and his time feel and his whole vocabulary is highly influenced by Oscar Peterson. In Montreal, I couldn't really think of anybody else that had that power when he plays.”
After the concert, “my agent started to call me and say ‘People would be interested to hear that project again.’ And so we did a few concerts, and I decided, OK, let's do a CD. I guess people love that music – especially Oscar Peterson in Canada.”
Some Canadians might dream of living in Europe, but French pianist Simon Denizart went in the opposite direction. For Denizart, Quebec has been the exotic new land where his jazz career has flourished.
Raised in Créteil, a suburb of Paris, Denizart moved to Montreal in 2011. In 2014, his trio won the people's favourite award at the Festi Jazz International de Rimouski. They've released two albums, toured extensively throughout Quebec and appeared at the Montreal Jazz Festival, and made two tours of Europe, going as far afield as Poland and the Czech Republic.
Radio-Canada named Denizart their Révélation Jazz selection for 2016/2017. It's a considerable honour which has boosted the careers of previous picks.
On Saturday, he'll perform his first formal concert in Canada outside Quebec, when NAC Presents brings his trio to the National Arts Centre Back Stage.
The Stretch Orchestra is back in Ottawa on Friday, for two shows at GigSpace Performance Studio that may end up as a live recording.
The group, with Kevin Breit on guitars and mandolin, Jesse Stewart on percussion, and Matt Brubeck on cello, creates music that is energetic, complex, and fun, coming out of their joint background as jazz improvisers but drawing from almost every genre imaginable to create their very individual sound.
OttawaJazzScene.ca's Inside the Scene interviewed all three at their last show in Ottawa at Ontario Scene in 2015. It was very difficult to keep a straight face. And you can see what makes their music uniquely theirs in excerpts from their NAC Fourth Stage performance.
– Brett Delmage
Related: The Stretch Orchestra makes jazz bend [interview with Matt Brubeck]
Updated March 5, 2017
GigSpace will celebrate International Jazz Day in April with a new three-day festival promoting Ottawa's jazz musicians.
The GigSpace Jazz MicroFest will debut on April 28 to 30, with performances by 38 local musicians in 15 shows. The music will range from well-known and not-so-standard jazz standards, to groove based compositions, to folk and roots-inspired cabaret music, to lyrical modern jazz originals. The musicians will be familiar to readers of OttawaJazzScene.ca: many are popular names with long jazz careers here.
“It's a community-building effort,” said Marilee Townsend-Alcorn, the artistic director of the 45-seat concert venue. “It's raising the profile of the musicians in Ottawa. It's showing that we do have stellar musicians in our midst, playing at a very high level.”
The festival is a project that the GigSpace organizers have been wanting to undertake ever since they opened. “Probably every time there's a jazz festival, someone says, 'Wouldn't it be nice to just have Ottawa-only musicians? A festival for just the Ottawa people.' And we've all said that for five years,” she said.
GigSpace director and guitarist Tim Bedner in particular has been driving the project. With Canada's 150th birthday this year, “He really put the push on. 'Let's make it happen!'”
Updated with new events added on March 15, 2017
At the end of March, many Canadians will look to Ottawa for the Juno Awards and all its associated concerts here. But that's only the climax of a month of fine Canadian jazz in Ottawa-Gatineau.
With music ranging from big bands and swing, to tributes to vocalists like Nat King Cole and Joni Mitchell, to improvisation that pushes the boundaries, it's a diverse month – with a bit of extra push due to Juno concert microgrants. And to top it off, there's a CD release from David Renaud, a companion to his first duo record with Brian Browne.
We would like to thank GigSpace Performance Studio, Alrick Huebener, Marie Fleming, and Record Runner Rehearsal Studios whose donations made this unique March jazz highlights report possible.
OttawaJazzScene.ca’s reporting is made possible by reader donations. By becoming a donor you can help OttawaJazzScene.ca shine a spotlight on the scene every month of the year.
March begins with a blast – of horns, as Ed Lister premieres his new Prime Rib big band at Irene's on March 1. Lister has gathered together ten other well-known local jazz musicians to play mainly his own original material with a few covers thrown in. While Lister is better known for the funkier music of ERU-ERA or the Chocolate Hot Pockets, he's also a big fan of the swing classics (read our review of his Ellington tribute concert). He says that the style of this new band is “very much rooted in big band swing in the style of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk”.
Keith Hartshorn-Walton is an advocate for the jazz tuba, but he’ll blow his own horn when he leads a group for the first time in Ottawa this Friday. His unusual quartet will also feature John Geggie on double bass, Michel Delage on drums, and Peter Hum on keyboard.
Ottawa listeners have heard Hartshorn-Walton play front-line tuba in a variety of groups in the past year: in Safe Low Limit, with his wife and vocalist Mélanie Hartshorn-Walton, and in various jams. Some might be surprised that he is a multi-instrumentalist.
“Since moving to Ottawa, it's been my pleasure to just really focus on the tuba,” Hartshorn-Walton said. “But when I was living near Toronto I was playing a piano, tuba, bass, bass trombone, and organ in churches. So that's a lot of different instruments.”
Not to mention the tuba’s cousin, the sousaphone, which he plays in Mike Essoudry's Bank Street Bonbons.
Hartshorn-Walton says he’s always aspired to play the tuba as a front-line instrument.
“It's something I always wanted to do, from the very beginning almost, and having more and more chances to do it. But you have to make those chances happen – you can't wait around. No one's going to call you. You show them it's possible, and then they're interested.”
“That's what I did here. I started going to the jam sessions and playing a bit – and more projects started happening. But you always have to be a bit of an advocate for it. Any other tuba player has done that. They tend to be evangelizing about the tuba all the time,” he said, laughing.
As other musicians have been, he was introduced to his uncommon instrument of choice by an early school experience.
“I started piano at age 6. Then when it came time to start band, they wanted to put me originally on electric bass and drums but I wanted to take an instrument home like everybody else, so I took a tuba home. And I surprised my parents with it one day. That was in Grade 7. And I've never stopped.”
Beeched Wailers' Tuesday Jazz Jam
Tuesday, January 24, 2017 – 8:30 to 11 p.m.
View photos of the Beeched Wailers' jam on January 24, 2017 by Brett Delmage
The Beeched Wailers drew a full and enthusiastic crowd of players and listeners to the first night of their new jazz jam location on January 24. They'll be back for a second night tonight (February 7).
The jam has moved to what Wailers' trumpeter Nick Dyson described as “more comfortable surroundings”: Bar Robo in Chinatown, which is in the same location as the former Raw Sugar Café. It has a sleek vibe and good sight lines, as well as a proper stage and decent acoustics. The beer, coffee, and soft drink prices are reasonable, and the bar also offers an interesting line in exotic meat and veggie hot dogs.
While the jam remains on Tuesday evenings, it will now run every second week rather than weekly.
On the first night, jammers – including high school and university students – were already lining up to play at 8 p.m. The Wailers played one song and then relinquished the stage until 10:15 p.m., when they performed their traditional closing set.
In a year of national celebrations showing Canadians' pride in and attachment to their country, the national music awards have nominated a surprising number of jazz ex-pats living in the United States.
The 2017 Juno Award nominations were released this morning. Among those selected in the three Juno jazz categories were NYC residents Darcy James Argue, Bria Skonberg, Brandi Disterheft, Renee Rosnes, and Seamus Blake – as well as Quinsin Nachoff, who divides his time between Toronto and NYC. That's more than one-third of the 15 nominees in the jazz categories.
In 2016, only one of 15 musicians or groups nominated in the jazz categories was based in the U.S. In 2015, two of 15 were American-based.
Most of the remaining 2017 nominated jazz artists are from the greater Toronto area.
To be eligible for a Juno award, musicians must directly submit their albums for judging. For each category, the Junos establishes a 10-person expert judging panel, whose first task is to make a first selection from all the submitted albums (which could be as many as 40 or 50) to five nominees. Each panel member then ranks the nominated albums in a second round of voting, and the album with the most votes wins.
As usual, the jazz categories cover a wide range of styles, from Argue's large-scale orchestrations to samba-flavoured vocal duets to jazz fusion. Notable are Metalwood's reunion twenty years after their Juno award-winning debut and fourteen years since their last release, and the Order of Canada Band, composed of renowned jazz musicians who have been awarded that national honour, paying tribute to Oscar Peterson's compositions.
When Ottawa pianist Miguel de Armas and Toronto saxophonist Jane Bunnett got together to play for the first time a few years ago, they didn't want to stop.
Bunnett still remembers their after-dinner jam at her house in Toronto. “We just kept doing tune and tune after tune. It was like, Omigod, as I was winding down, Miguel was winding up! He was this incredible atomic energy. It's why we love Cubans. This is why they're just amazing. They're so full of energy and creative spirit and collaboration, and let's go for it. We played and played, probably for a couple of hours, to my neighbours' chagrin, and definitely after midnight.”
At their Ottawa concert this Saturday, the music will be limited to 75 minutes, but the zest for playing will be there as much as ever.
Bunnett is one of the best-known proponents of Afro-Cuban jazz in North America; her ground-breaking and award-winning recording, Spirits of Havana, released in 1991, was the first major collaboration of North American and Cuban musicians. De Armas had an extensive professional jazz career in Cuba before coming to Canada.
Saturday's concert will be their first public performance together.
The show will also mark de Armas' fifth anniversary in Canada. He came here to marry Yasmina Proveyer, a Canadian who now acts as his manager and spokesperson. De Armas quickly found a musical niche in Ottawa, performing at festivals and clubs here and in Montreal and southern Ontario. He's made a point of playing with a wide variety of musicians, both inside and outside the Latin community.