Jazz Festival volunteers (in red) © Alayne McGregor, 2017
Volunteers (in red T-shirts) at the 2017 Ottawa Jazz Festival. © Alayne McGregor, 2017

At Ottawa's summer music festivals – the Jazz Festival, Music & Beyond, Bluesfest, and Chamberfest – almost all of the hundreds of people who who keep the festival going are volunteers. And these festivals are already looking for volunteers for this summer.

Whether you want to sell tickets, usher at concerts, work on stages, sell beer or T-shirts, or pick up garbage (surprisingly, it can be fun), there’s a volunteer task that you could enjoy doing.

This Sunday (April 15), the Ottawa Jazz Festival is opening up applications for new volunteers (returning volunteers do not need to reapply). You will be asked about your skills, availability, and what volunteer jobs you're interested in. Applications for more popular slots close quickly, so it's advisable to apply soon.

Rob Frayne ©Brett Delmage, 2015
Rob Frayne has composed "thick" music for each of the 14 musicians in his latest Dream Band, which will perform April 18 at the NAC Fourth Stage ©Brett Delmage, 2015

For his current Dream Band project, Rob Frayne is simply writing what he loves.

"At this point, I think I'm old enough just to play from the heart. I turned 60 this year, and I realized, 'What the heck! Let's just go for it!' "

The Ottawa jazz composer and multi-instrumentalist will showcase 14 musicians at the NAC Fourth Stage on Wednesday, April 18, playing his recent compositions and arrangements. For this concert, he said, "I'm trying just to be myself" – and giving the same free-thinking direction to his musicians.

Frayne himself is a powerhouse in Ottawa's jazz scene: as a composer, arranger, teacher, and instrumentalist. He has led groups like the groundbreaking Chelsea Bridge, co-founded the JazzWorks jazz camp, and played across North America and beyond with everyone from Kenny Wheeler to the Gil Evans Orchestra to the Shuffle Demons.

He has picked his "dream" musicians, from Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal, for this show – just as he did for previous Dream Band shows in 2012, 2013, and 2015. Each musician in the 2018 band has a considerable jazz pedigree: trombonist William Carn and alto saxophonist Tara Davidson, for example, were JUNO Award nominees this year.

The music they'll play reaches beyond mainstream jazz. One the one side there's percussion and groove; on the other, classical brass and woodwinds. And all of that's combined with jazz soloists on trumpet, trombone, saxophone, and guitar.

"There's two sides that are new: the South African, like Dollar Brand [early Abdullah Ibrahim] groovy African jazz, and the classical thing are different. Before, I think it was more straight-ahead, more jazzy. This time, it's a little more folk, a little more classical."

Compared to previous Dream Bands, this music is "a bit looser. It's a bit more groove-oriented. Half of the stuff is like that. Half the stuff is like lots of percussion and simple South African township jive groove. But the other half is, because I had the flute and clarinet and tuba, I was all of the sudden excited to use the classical vibe."

Updated April 12
The City of Ottawa is looking at both practical and bureaucratic methods of promoting local music, including finding new performance places and making it easier to load in equipment.

Miles in the Sky ©Brett Delmage, 2015
The proposed City of Ottawa music strategy aims to brand Ottawa as a Music City, support musicians and venues, and attract new local and visiting listeners. ©Brett Delmage, 2015

It has unveiled a proposed music strategy, to be implemented by both the city and the local music industry from now until 2020. The three-year strategy was unanimously passed at the city's Finance and Economic Development Committee on Tuesday and by City Council on April 11.

The strategy argues that the city will benefit from a vibrant music economy through "job creation, economic growth, tourism development, city brand building and artistic growth. A strong music community also aids in attracting highly skilled employees from across various industries, who put a high value on quality of life."

The goal is to "create hometown pride and global renown". It aims to create a "music friendly" environment where "musicians and music businesses of all sizes and types, from live music venues to studios to manufacturers, can flourish".

The committee approved implementing only the first stage of the strategy, with primarily bureaucratic changes. They include reassigning a city staff person to be a Music Development Officer, responsible for implementing the strategy in coordination with the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition (OMIC), and providing $100,000 in funding to OMIC in 2018. It also agreed to promote music-friendly policies in planning, transportation, and bylaw/police departments (for example, noise regulations).

Normand Glaude ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Normand Glaude will pay tribute to jazz harmonica genius Toots Thielemans on Friday, April 6 ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Sweet but with a rough edge, and deeply emotional, the harmonica is an unmistakable – but not often heard – jazz voice. As Normand Glaude has been increasingly adding harmonica to his jazz shows over the past few years he's been delighted at how many people in his audiences recognize and enjoy it.

“Every time I get the harmonica out there's always a number of people that come to me and say 'Wow, I love the way you sound. It just reminds me of Toots!'”

That's Toots Thielemans, the Belgian-American master of the jazz harmonica, who in his 65-year career turned it into a recognized jazz instrument and collaborated with the cream of jazz musicians. He's one of Glaude's musical heroes, and Glaude will present a tribute to his music on Friday, April 6.

Glaude is a well-appreciated member of Ottawa's jazz scene. For almost three decades, he's played double and electric bass, produced shows, and been a recording engineer and producer. He's a favourite accompanist, especially for local jazz vocalists, and has recorded many albums in his Morning Anthem Studio.

But the harmonica is both the oldest and the newest addition to his repertoire. It was the first instrument he learned, at age 4 or 5 – “I was playing reels and jigs and such as a kid.” But he let it go in favour of other instruments, eventually concentrating on the bass. “I really enjoyed being part of the foundation of the music in any group, orchestration, and that role [as bassist] has been one that I think has fit my personality really well.”

About 2010 he picked up the harmonica again. “I've always enjoyed the sound on bass, but it just doesn't have the appeal and the voice that, say, the harmonica has. It was very much of a little secret.”

Diana Krall at the National Arts Centre ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Diana Krall showcased Turn Up the Quiet in her National Arts Centre concerts last December ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Updated March 26, 2018

Diana Krall was a double winner tonight at the 2018 JUNO Awards – in her home province.

Krall's latest album, Turn Up the Quiet, was named Vocal Jazz Album of the Year, and Krall was named Jack Richardson Producer of the Year for two of its tracks: “L-O-V-E” and “Night and Day”. She performed both of those songs in her concert at Ottawa's National Arts Centre on December 2.

Toronto bassist Mike Downes won Jazz Album of the Year: Solo for his album Root Structure. At the ceremony, Downes thanked his bandmates, drummer Larnell Lewis, guitarist Ted Quinlan, and JUNO-winning pianist Robi Botos, saying "They put music first". He also acknowledged the other nominees, and said he was "so proud to be part of the community creating all of this". This was Downes' second JUNO nomination and second win (he won for Ripple Effect in 2014).

Mike Murley, David Braid, Anders Mogensen and Johnny Åman won Jazz Album of the Year: Group for The North. It's a joint Canadian-Scandinavian project whose original music is inspired by the experience of living and playing jazz in northern countries. Murley and Braid, who are both from Toronto, have often played in each others' projects. They have each been nominated for 8 JUNOs and (separately) won 2.

The awards were given out at the JUNO Gala Dinner tonight in Vancouver, at which most non-pop awards were announced.

Roby Lakatos
Gypsy jazz violin virtuoso Roby Lakatos will perform two shows at the 2018 Chamberfest, showing off both his classical and jazz chops (photo provided by Ottawa Chamberfest)

Updated July 19
Gypsy jazz, Gershwin, and the Great American songbook will all be featured in the 2018 edition of the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival (Chamberfest).

On May 1, the festival unveiled the full list of shows which it will present from July 26 to August 9, 2018 in a slightly longer programme than usual to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The announced shows are primarily from the core classical repertoire, but several are also of interest to jazz fans.

On July 26 and 27, violin virtuoso Roby Lakatos will appear with his gypsy jazz quartet. Lakatos comes from a family of Romani violinists descended from Janos Bihari, an influential composer and performer who brought gypsy music into aristocratic fashion in the early 19th century, and whose melodies were used by Liszt and Beethoven.

Lakatos moves easily between classical, jazz, and his native Hungarian folk idioms. His violin training came both from within his own family, and at the Béla Bartók Conservatory of Budapest, where he won the first prize for classical violin in 1984. His biography notes that he has collaborated with Vadim Repin and Stéphane Grappelli, and his playing was greatly admired by Sir Yehudi Menuhin, who always made a point of visiting the club in Brussels to hear Lakatos. In the jazz realm, his ensemble has played with Herbie Hancock, Nigel Kennedy, and Randy Brecker.

Last fall, Lakatos and guitarist Biréli Lagrène – who also played with Stéphane Grappelli as a youth – released Tribute to Stéphane & Django, along with the big band of the Modern Art Orchestra, and jazz drummer Niek de Bruijn and guitarist Andreas Varady. The CD/DVD included Jazz Manouche standards such as "Djangology", "Nuages", "Minor Swing", and "Nuits de Saint-Germain-Des-Près".

Lakatos will perform a classically-oriented concert on July 26 at Dominion Chalmers United Church, and a jazzier late-night concert on July 27 at the École Secondaire de la Salle in Lowertown. [Read our review and see the pictures of the July 27 show.]

Most tributes to Jazz Age composer George Gershwin either concentrate on the piano or give his music a full orchestral treatment. But Montreal's Buzz Brass quintet has a different idea: their Gershwin show combines piano with two trumpets, two trombones, and French horn.

Sharon Minemoto (photo by Alfonso Arnold)
Sharon Minemoto discovered how much she was inspired by the memory of her late husband, Vancouver pianist and saxophonist Ross Taggart, after she reviewed the music that she wrote in the years after his death. She's recorded an album of that music, and is touring it in Ontario with her quartet. (photo by Alfonso Arnold)

Ross Taggart was a central figure in Vancouver's and Canada’s jazz scene, as a pianist, saxophonist, educator, and composer. CBC Radio's “Hot Air” jazz program described him as “one of our most beloved jazz musicians, and a founding member of many of the best jazz bands in BC.” When he became seriously ill with cancer in 2012, musicians immediately organized a benefit for him. He died in 2013, at only 45.

He was also a very important person in pianist Sharon Minemoto's life. He was her teacher, the saxophonist in her jazz quintet, and for a number of years her husband – and always a beloved friend.

Minemoto has dedicated her new CD, Safe Travels, to Taggart, and she and her quartet are about begin a short Ontario tour to introduce it here. Their first stop, on Friday, March 23, is at GigSpace in Ottawa, followed by shows in Waterloo and Toronto.

She emphasizes this won't be a sad occasion.

“I hope that they will hear our passion for the music, and I hope that if any of them know Ross they will perhaps hear the humour in it. Because we really don't feel a lot of sadness when we're playing that music anymore. It's mostly just remembering all the fun times that we had with Ross.”

Herbie Hancock ©Brett Delmage, 2008
Herbie Hancock will return to the Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2018. He was last here for the 2008 festival (seen here with guitarist Lionel Louecke). ©Brett Delmage, 2008

Updated April 26, 2018

It won't be the same Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2018.

The festival, which announced much of its summer line-up today, is facing the double whammy of construction in Confederation Park and the National Arts Centre's closure for rewiring. Most of its 2018 shows will be in the grounds of Ottawa City Hall and a nearby church, and it will only be able to use the Fourth Stage at the NAC.

American headliners announced today include pianist Herbie Hancock (June 30), vocalist Boz Scaggs (June 22), guitarist Russell Malone (June 23), and trumpeter Terence Blanchard (June 26). They join the already-announced trumpeter Chris Botti (June 21), vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater (June 24), bluegrass-roots vocalist Alison Krauss (June 26), and improvising banjo player Béla Fleck with the original Flecktones (June 28). Announced later were funk queen Chaka Khan (June 25), and French musician St Germain (June 27), who plays nu jazz, a mix of jazz and electronic music.

Festival programming so far emphasizes jazz more than in recent years, with Khan, Krauss, and Lake Street Dive the only non-jazz headliners announced this year, and fewer non-jazz acts in most series. Last year, 70% of headliners were non-jazz, and about 36% overall (excluding local groups); this year, only 33% of the headliners announced so far are non-jazz, and 16% non-jazz overall.

Africville Suite CD cover
Ginny Simonds was first introduced to jazz by Joe Sealy's JUNO-winning album, Africville Suite. Now she's paying tribute to Sealy with her quintet's concert of Sealy's compositions.

Ginny Simonds still remembers the first time she heard the music of Toronto jazz pianist and composer Joe Sealy.

“I first heard him on the radio. He had just won jazz album of the year that year with Africville Suite, and Peter Gzowski was playing him on Morningside. They played the tune, “Song of Hope”, and I loved it! It was really my first introduction to jazz. I literally pulled the car over and I wrote it down so I wouldn't forget.”

Simonds has kept listening to Sealy, even as her passion for jazz has increased. And next Wednesday, March 14, her quintet will pay tribute to his music in a concert at Live! on Elgin.

Sealy is probably best known for his JUNO-winning Africville Suite, an uplifting chronicle of the legacy of the black community of Africville, outside Halifax, Nova Scotia. Africville had to overcome a multitude of challenges, but managed to survive for more than a century before it was razed in the late 1960’s as an “urban improvement” measure. It's since been partially restored.

He's also known, however, for his long-standing collaboration over many albums with Toronto bassist Paul Novotny, and as a radio broadcaster and record label president. He toured with Blood Sweat and Tears and performed with jazz musicians including Joe Williams and Milt Jackson. He has received four JUNO nominations, and, in December 2009, he was appointed to the Order of Canada. He last appeared in Ottawa with an abbreviated version of Africville Stories in 2012.

Simonds said that what speaks to her in Sealy's music is that “you can feel his heart behind his music. It's not intellectual at all. He has deeply rhythmic music first of all, but also a diversity that goes from ballads to waltzes to blues to Latin rhythms, creative arrangements, standards that I've never heard before.”

Saturday, September 17, 2016: The second set was about to start in an afternoon concert at the Guelph Jazz Festival when the news was announced. Guitarist and composer Ken Aldcroft had died of a heart attack at only age 46. The room went completely silent, and the faces in the audience and on-stage were shocked and dismayed.

Jason Robinson © Michael Klayman
American saxophonist Jason Robinson collaborated with Canadian guitarist Ken Aldcroft over a seven-year period. They were planning to record their project when Aldcroft unexpectedly died. ©Michael Klayman

Aldcroft was a mainstay of Toronto's jazz and improvised music scene. He co-founded the Association of Improvising Musicians (AIM) Toronto, and led groups ranging from the duo Hat and Beard, to the six-piece Convergence Ensemble, to the AIMToronto Orchestra – releasing more than 25 recordings of his music. He was a frequent visitor to Ottawa, playing with his own groups and with American duo partners like bassist William Parker, and saxophonist Jason Robinson.

He hasn't been forgotten. At the Tranzac Club in Toronto, there's a monthly concert of music “by and for Ken Aldcroft”.

And, from March 2 to 11, five of his musical friends and collaborators are touring across Ontario and Quebec to perform his music for a larger audience [see tour schedule]. They'll be in Ottawa on Saturday, March 3 at Black Squirrel Books. [Read our review of the show: A heartfelt and boundary-breaking tribute to Ken Aldcroft].

The tour is the brainchild of two long-time Aldcroft collaborators: Jason Robinson and Toronto drummer Joe Sorbara. Playing with them are Boston guitarist Eric Hofbauer, Montreal guitarist Daniel Kruger and (ex-Ottawa, now Montreal) trumpeter Emily Denison.