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.
Updated February 14
Jazzed with love? Or in love with jazz? You've got lots of opportunities this month to celebrate romance – or to be cheered up with a touch of swing and groove.
Visiting musicians this month include guitarist Jordan Officer, pianists Steve Holt and Jean-Michel Blais, vocalists Betty Bonifassi and Nancy Martinez, swing vocalist Alex Pangman, and the deep Chicago groove and mastery of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble.
And local musicians are playing their hearts out as well, with shows by the Back-Talk Organ Sextet, the Bank Street Bonbons, Safe Low Limit, Sabor de Cuba, the Apex Jazz Band, and the Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra this month.
February is also Black History month, and several concerts will commemorate the contributions of black musicians to jazz.
But particularly noticeable this month is a whole series of Valentine-themed shows.
Even the NAC Orchestra gets into the romantic jazz act this month. It will perform the evocative score to “Casablanca” as part of a three-evening screening of the classic Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman film on February 9 to 11. Max Steiner's lush score to that film also includes six jazz standards, and in particular “As Time Goes By”, which Steiner refers back to repeatedly in snatches of melody throughout the score. Each evening, Ottawa jazz pianist Steve Boudreau will also play an hour-long solo set of jazz standards in the NAC Foyer before the orchestra takes to the stage in Southam Hall.
Toronto swing vocalist Alex Pangman loves performing at swing dances, singing her favourite vintage tunes that fill the dance floor with bright energy. On Friday, February 10, she's the featured guest of Peter Liu & the Pollcats – also a consistent favourite with Ottawa dancers – for an Ottawa Swing Dance Society Valentine's dance. The music will concentrate on love-themed songs. Listeners are welcomed too.
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When Ottawa saxophonist and composer Doug Martin stepped out before several hundred listeners in Havana, Cuba, in December, he realized he had to pick up his game. It was his second time playing the Havana Jazz Festival – but it was in much bigger halls than his first time in 2014.
“I thought, OK, I've got to take a step upward here because I don't usually get to play venues like that. So I had to come up to the mark and I think we did very well at that. I felt very relaxed and in the groove, in the zone.”
And he'll be using that experience in Ottawa this Friday, playing the same material in a show at the 80-seat Live! on Elgin hall.
In Havana, Martin teamed up with three Cuban musicians: bassist Arturo Cruz, drummer Alain Ledrón, and pianist Miguel de Armas jr., who is the son of Ottawa-based jazz pianist Miguel de Armas. Martin had played with de Armas jr. and Cruz in 2014 as well.
“I think we did two better shows this time than we did last time.”
They performed Martin's original music inspired by his first two trips to Cuba, which he released as a CD, Spirit of Survival, last summer. The pieces on that CD are a tribute to the Cuban people and their “admirable” optimistic approach to life in spite of hardship, but are not Afro-Cuban in style.
Martin said he was reminded again how good the Cuban musicians were, and in particular de Armas jr. “He's a marvelous player!”
On Friday, Montreal jazz pianist Gentiane MG (short for Michaud-Gagnon) makes her Ottawa debut in a duo concert at the Record Runner Rehearsal Studios. She's performing with Ottawa-born tenor saxophonist Chris Maskell; both are currently in the master's program in jazz performance at McGill University. They'll be playing standards and some of their own compositions.
Gentiane is from Saguenay, Quebec, and discovered the piano at five years old. She originally studied classical piano, winning two Quebec competitions and reaching the finals in the Canadian Music Competition – but then moved into studying jazz and improvisation. She studied jazz performance at McGill University with a $15,000 Schulich Scholarship, finishing her undergrad degree in 2014. She received a Graduate Excellence Fellowship Award to work on her master's, and study with renowned French pianist Jean-Michel Pilc.
For several years, she's been playing with bassist Levi Dover (who has also performed with Maskell) and drummer Louis-Vincent Hamel in her trio, and performing regularly on the Montreal jazz scene. This month, she's playing at Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill every Tuesday with different musicians and a different repertoire each week.
Friday's concert is the second in the Live @ Record Runner series at the new Record Runner Rehearsal Studios in mid-west Ottawa.
OttawaJazzScene.ca donors received full advance details of these shows and more than a hundred other jazz performances this month as a token of our appreciation for helping us shine a spotlight on the scene. Become a donor!
2017, Canada's 150th birthday, is a year to celebrate our own culture, including Canadian jazz. And this month will give you many opportunities to do that in Ottawa-Gatineau.
Local and Canadian jazz groups predominate in January – and several are taking interesting chances. The Rakestar Arkestra has a major concert planned with vocalist Christine Duncan and the Tone Cluster choir. Vocalist Betty Ann Bryanton is trying out a new repertoire of strictly Canadian jazz music with her trio. Record Runner Rehearsal Studios is presenting its second concert featuring a pianist not heard before in Ottawa in duo with an Ottawa native.
These January, 2017 jazz highlights are brought to you by OttawaJazzScene.ca readers Peter Liu, Karen Oxorn, Jesse Stewart, and Gaby Warren. We thank them for their support that makes this article possible.
It's also been a month that's continue to evolve and become more crowded even after the New Year’s fireworks. As we've been compiling this update,notifications of new shows and line-up changes have been popping up frequently.
On Sunday, January 8, Florquestra will play a rare late-afternoon show at the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield. The group combines an encyclopedic knowledge of Brazilian rhythms with a French melodic sensibility, in an always-exciting presentation.
Updated January 21, 2017
The most unusual choir in Canada will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year.
It has no fixed membership, although many vocalists have been part of it for years. It has formed and reformed in cities across Canada. It doesn't use sheet music, but instead creates its music in the moment. And it uses all the possibilities of the human voice – singing, yes, but also growls, shrieks, water and air ambient noises, and many more sounds.
The Element Choir is the brainchild of Toronto vocalist Christine Duncan, who is its conductor and spark-plug – and it reflects her own audacious spirit as a vocalist and musician.
This week, Duncan is in Ottawa to conduct a local choir – Tone Cluster – as part of the large-scale “Sung Ra” concert with the Rakestar Arkestra. For Sunday's concert, most of the music will be composed rather than the completely free improv of an Element Choir show, but Duncan will use the same system of conducting cues and many of the same musical ideas.
It's a system she's been developing since 2007, and using to perform stand-alone and with musicians like Tanya Tagaq. But it came about almost by accident – as part of a release concert for a CD project. “It was a very bizarre and random thing,” Duncan says.
Rory Magill can't hide his excitement, as he prepares for the biggest and most impressive concert he's organized in a decade.
On Sunday, January 22, Magill and the seven other instrumentalists in the Rakestar Arkestra will join the 35-voice Tone Cluster choir and vocalist Christine Duncan to create “Sung Ra: The Songs of Sun Ra”. They'll fill the Church of the Ascension in Ottawa East with costumes, fancy hats, dancing – and entertaining, full-bodied jazz which can jump from melodic to awe-inspiring
The concert is a tribute to the unique jazz composer and bandleader Sun Ra, who in the decades between the 50s and 80s created “cosmic jazz” with his own mythology. To his jazz roots he added elements of avant-garde classical music; he was a pioneer in using electronic keyboards; and he believed in the power of spectacle, with his Arkestra usually dressed in bright, flamboyant costumes, and occasionally including dancers or jugglers or stilt-walkers. That's the spirit Magill wants the January 22 show to have.
“Sun Ra's concerts were always festooned with amazing costumes and ornaments and so on, and this is theatrics as he would do it. It's full-dress this time."
It's a concert which Magill has wanted to present for years. He's been working intensely on it since last year – writing grant proposals, composing music, and inviting other musicians to participate. He received a Canada Council grant for the project last summer – “a huge morale boost” – along with support from the City of Ottawa and the Juno 2017 committee.
Three very different Christmas shows were presented by Ottawa's jazz and improvising musicians this month.
On December 14, Ottawa's Latin big band, Los Gringos, performed their Gringos-style adaptations of holiday favourites, with lots of horns, in their annual Christmas show. On December 16, Ottawa jazz aficionado and vocalist Gaby Warren hosted the JazzWorks Christmas jam for the 16th consecutive year, together with his friends – an accomplished group of Ottawa musicians. And on December 18, radio host, composer, and saxophonist Bernard Stepien and his orchestra presented the 10th annual rendition of A Very Ayler Christmas, a mixture of free jazz and carols, presented by the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO).
We recorded one Christmas-themed song from each show, and present the videos below.
Inside the Scene is made possible through the generous support of OttawaJazzScene.ca's donors.
For earlier in December, see More jazz than Jingle Bells in the second week of December
Even as we get closer to Christmas, there's lots of opportunities to clear your musical palate with jazz.
It's now become a 16-year tradition: Ottawa vocalist and jazz aficionado Gaby Warren hosts the JazzWorks Christmas jazz jam. Warren has an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz – and not just his specialty, Afro-Cuban jazz – and can amaze you by recounting the musicians whom he's heard in person. Each year he brings this experience to picking his song list – mostly jazz classics with just a touch of seasonal music – and then performs them with a group of fine jazz musicians.
His group's 45-minute set starts at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, December 16, at the Georgetown Pub in Ottawa South – don't be late! After that, the stage is open for jamming.
On Saturday, December 17, you can celebrate the season with two high-profile concerts. At Live! on Elgin, vocalist Renée Landry pays tribute to Ella Fitzgerald's famous 1960 album, Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas, backed by six experienced musicians from Ottawa's younger jazz crowd. At the show, she's also releasing an EP, A Christmas Night, with her music and lyrics, produced by pianist Clayton Connell and with arrangements by Richard Page. The show is currently sold out.Watch for your opportunity to win a copy of this CD from us.
GigSpace, Ottawa's intimate jazz venue, is marking its fifth anniversary with two “Jazzin’ the Holidays” fundraisers on December 17 with Toronto-area vocalist and pianist Micah Barnes. Barnes is best-known for the years he spent singing in The Nylons; more recently, he has recorded a series of critically acclaimed solo jazz recordings. This spring, he released New York Stories, which evokes “the rich musical history of the Big Apple with songs that describe a long distance romance using the rhythms of the Cotton Club, the Brill Building, The Apollo Theatre and classic Broadway”.