"...it seems the first thing people try to do is classify you. They’re all trying to figure out whether to call you a rock singer, a folk singer, or whether you have a country sound. The only sound I have is me."
That's how Anne Murray introduces CBC TV's new series ‘From the Vaults’ in an opening archival clip. It's an observation that could often be said about jazz, which is frequently evolving, embracing, extending - and hard to classify sometimes.
The series’ six weekly shows – to which OttawaJazzScene.ca was given an advance view – span 60 years of Canadian music on CBC-TV. They include segments which will be of specific interest to jazz and blues fans. Other segments have interesting angles on Canadian musical history, and on our society and the culture which helped create and shape it. The first show airs on Thursday, November 15 at 9 p.m. on CBC TV. It will also be available on the CBC TV streaming app.
Episode 1, 'Land of Opportunities' features Sammy Davis Jr performing jazz standards in his own CBC special. ‘Parade’ aired during a tumultuous time in U.S. history when it would have been impossible for him to appear on U.S. television as a black performer. Another segment shows Muddy Waters and other well-known blues musicians performing together in a pioneering CBC show whose producers improvised to create a successful and unique show.
The jazz band Way North crosses borders – in several senses.
Its four members – saxophonist Petr Cancura, trumpeter Rebecca Hennessy, bassist Michael Herring, and drummer Richie Barshay – live in three cities in two countries. And its music defies simple categorization: “when I have to describe it, I cannot be more specific than saying 'folk-world-roots-music-inspired' ”, Cancura says.
When the band plays at Canada's National Arts Centre Fourth Stage on Wednesday, the audience will hear touches of blues, a strong whiff of traditional New Orleans music, hints of African and Brazilian world rhythms – and most importantly, an approach that combines jazz's improvisation and the story-telling aspects of folk music.
All four musicians have strong jazz creds: Cancura in a wide range of his own projects ranging from roots-jazz to chamber jazz to mainstream, as well as Ed Lister's Prime Rib Big Band; Hennessy with her FOG brass band, the groove-based Drumhand, and the chamber jazz group Hobson’s Choice; Herring with the JUNO-nominated jazz group Peripheral Vision; and Barshay who has played with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea as well as in his own bands.
Cancura lives in Ottawa, Hennessy and Herring (who are married) in Toronto, and Barshay in Brooklyn, NY. It's a wide triangle to traverse – more than 800km on a side – which, along with everyone's busy schedules, explains why this is the first time they've performed together in 21 months.
The Ottawa show is part of an Ontario/Quebec tour this week to promote the release of the band's second album, Fearless and Kind.
The four musicians first started playing together in 2014 when they were (briefly) all living in the same city – Brooklyn. “Rebecca and Michael were on a study residency down in Brooklyn for about 6 months. We played a few times and then we did the first record. Then Michael and Rebecca had to go back home. I think we recorded the record the day before they went back up to Toronto,” Cancura said.
That return to Canada inspired the group's name, he said. “We were all talking about that idea that we recorded it down south but they're going back up north. Then I decided to move back up. We started playing around with the idea of north versus south, and we came up with 'Way North'.”
Two pianists, Gentiane MG and Florian Hoefner, and two vocalists, Ellen Doty and Amanda Martinez, will headline the jazz concerts to be presented next spring at the National Arts Centre.
Their concerts were announced Tuesday as part of 30 new shows in the centre's NAC Presents series. Also included in the series is a tribute to calypso singer Harry Belafonte on February 22 including Canadian jazz singers Florence K and Alex Cuba.
Florian Hoefner is an accomplished composer and pianist, whose fluent and interlaced music has consistently evoked standing ovations and sold-out shows in his Ottawa concerts. He was born and educated in Germany, and worked for years in NYC, where he collaborated with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel.
In 2014, he moved to St. John's, Newfoundland when his wife was appointed a professor at Memorial University. He has made many connections here and toured several times across Canada. In 2015, he was awarded the Stingray Rising Star Award by the Montreal Jazz Festival for his compositions.
In Ottawa, he's played solo, with his international quintet, and with the German jazz group Subtone. For his NAC Fourth Stage show on February 19, he's bringing his new Canadian trio, with drummer Nick Fraser and bassist Andrew Downing.
Both Fraser and Downing are major figures in Toronto's jazz scene: highly versatile musicians who have often played together. Fraser's music ranges from free jazz to mainstream, including playing with pianists David Braid and Nancy Walker, while Downing has played everything from creative music to chamber music to mainstream jazz to world music.
Councillor Jeff Leiper (Kitchisssippi, ward 15), the leading live music industry advocate on Ottawa City Council, wasn’t the only one in the room receiving applause at his successful re-election victory party on Monday night.
At the Carleton Tavern in Hintonburg, the Nepean High School Jazz Combo – Patrick Vafaie on sax, Sam Alexander on drums, Kenny Hammond on bass, and Thom Simons on guitar – performed jazz standards for campaign volunteers and other residents to enthusiastic applause. Vafaie had performed with Leiper’s saxophonist son Nicholas in the Nepean All-City Lab Band. Nicholas Leiper is now in his first year of jazz studies at the University of Toronto, and his trio performed at the launch of his father’s campaign.
Ottawa jazz musician Keith Hartshorn-Walton can play the bass, piano, and organ, but his musical true love is the tuba. He has a Doctorate in Music (D. Mus) in jazz tuba from McGill University (yes, that is as rare as it seems) and he's brought his tuba to many different musical pairings in the last decade, including deep sounds with Safe Low Limit, French jazz and chanson with Mélanie E., and even Dixieland jazz.
Last year, he organized a tribute show to his tuba mentor, Howard Johnson, playing many of Johnson's compositions and music Johnson made famous on tuba. This Saturday, he's back with a second tribute, this time to what was likely the first jazz album to feature the tuba as a melodic, soloing voice in the front line alongside the trumpet.
In 1959, renowned jazz trumpeter Clark Terry recorded the album Top And Bottom Brass with tuba player Don Butterfield [listen on YouTube]. Butterfield was the go-to session tuba player in jazz at that time, appearing on releases by Charles Mingus, Roland Kirk, and Dizzy Gillespie. As Hartshorn-Walton describes it, “the session had a decidedly bop and west coast feel, with innovative combinations of the two instruments.”
At Record Runner Rehearsal Studios this Saturday, Walton's quintet, with Montrealer Bill Mahar on trumpet and flugelhorn, Peter Hum on piano, Dave Schroeder on bass, and Michel Delage on drums, will play Hartshorn-Walton's recreation of the entire album, plus other jazz pieces from that period with a similar sound.
OttawaJazzScene.ca editor OttawaJazzScene.ca McGregor interviewed Hartshorn-Walton this week about the concert and his love of this album.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: What inspired you to do a tribute to this specific album?
Keith Hartshorn-Walton: Well, it goes back to the Doctorate. I was just digging for any hidden treasures of when the tuba turned up, in anything other than doing bass lines. And I came across this album. I read about it a few times and managed to get hold of it. Although this was in 2010, so it wasn't on YouTube. I had to go on a McGill University online service to hear it.
The 2018 edition of Merrickville's Jazz Fest closed Sunday with a powerful performance by Ottawa vocalist Kellylee Evans. Supported by three Toronto musicians, Evans both exhorted and entertained her audience with personal stories and uplifting music which combined soul, pop, and jazz.
It was part dancefest, part revival meeting, and a consistently joyful and stirring show.
Five colourful musicians created a powerhouse of Afro-Cuban energy Saturday evening. OKAN (violinist Elizabeth Rodriguez and percussionist Magdelys Savigne) from Toronto collaborated with Ottawa pianist Miguel de Armas to present new compositions and arrangements very much in the Afro-Cuban and jazz traditions, but in their own modern voices.
Violin, congas, cajon, and Batá drums combined with piano, electric bass (Roberto Riverón), and drums (Frank Martinez) in music that ranged from folkloric chants to Cuban son to Thelonious Monk to rumbas to intensely personal songs.
Every seat was taken in the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage – and there were fans perched in the window ledges as well. Each song was greeted with strong applause, and by the last song, most of the audience was up dancing, and stayed on their feet to give the group a standing ovation and to demand an encore.
The ensemble is back in the Fourth Stage Sunday evening (October 14) for a second show. Tickets are still available.
Nominations are now open for a two-year term on the board of directors of the Ottawa Jazz Festival. The board is responsible for the festival, including decisions on the overall artistic direction such as the balance of jazz and non-jazz, overall size and budget of the festival, and the role of the festival in the community.
If you want to take an active role in directing the festival, this is your only opportunity to apply, once a year.
Nominations must be received by Wednesday, October 31, 2018. Anyone can run for the board, but you must be nominated by an active festival volunteer. A list of volunteers was printed in the summer festival program guide.
Cuban violinist Elizabeth Rodriguez was very lonely four years ago, in her first full winter after arriving in Canada. But she turned that experience into a song of hope.
“I was 23. I was extremely sad, and I didn't even know why. I started writing, and this one is about how hard it is to leave Cuba, and all things that I left behind: my family, my mother, my country, my language. And even though I really wanted to leave Cuba for the longest time, I found myself missing home and missing my family, and missing everything I knew. The only thing I had was hope, here, because it was a new country and a new life.”
The song has become the title track of the debut album by OKAN, the Afro-Cuban band which Rodriguez co-leads with percussionist Magdelys Savigne. With the album release this month, the band is touring Ontario, including two joint concerts this weekend with Afro-Cuban jazz pianist Miguel de Armas at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa
Rodriguez called her song (and the album) “Laberinto”, which means “labyrinth” in Yoruba, an Afro-Cuban dialect. “It's like a journey that we went through. I wrote it as a ballad years ago, and then Magdelys was the one that made the full arrangement with percussion. The percussion is representing the journey, the constant movement that we had to go through as immigrants.”
Both Rodriguez and Savigne originally came to Canada as members of Maqueque, the award-winning, all-female Cuban jazz group led by Canadian saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnett. Savigne was a founding member, while Rodriguez joined a year later. Both appeared on Maqueque's most recent album, Oddara, and when Maqueque performed in Ottawa in 2016.
Rodriguez, in fact, almost didn't stay. She arrived in Canada in February, 2013, and returned home 11 days later. “I was like, 'No! I ain't staying here.' Even though I really wanted to leave Cuba. In February, it was so, so, so extremely cold.” She returned that summer and realized the Canadian climate could be nice – and was able to brave the next winter.