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.

Gaby Warren presents his annual pre-Christmas JazzWorks jam for the 16th year. ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Gaby Warren presents his annual pre-Christmas JazzWorks jam for the 16th year. ©Brett Delmage, 2013
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”.

Updated December 12, 2016
No need to feel hemmed in musically in the second week of December! There continues to be lots of jazz choice, with a few Christmas cookies as well.

Bassist Harrison Bankhead plays with David Murray at Mercury Lounge on December 8  ©Brett Delmage, 2013
Bassist Harrison Bankhead plays with David Murray at Mercury Lounge on December 8 ©Brett Delmage, 2013
On Thursday, December 8, you have a rare chance to hear three major jazz voices from Chicago in the All Star Ritual Trio at the Mercury Lounge. Saxophonist David Murray was a hit with audiences at the 2013 Ottawa Jazz Festival with his big band featuring R&B vocalist Macy Gray; he's also a founding member of the World Saxophone Quartet and has worked with greats like Elvin Jones, Jack DeJohnette, McCoy Tyner, Max Roach, and Randy Weston.

Percussionist Kahil El’Zabar is an AACM member and the leader of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, which played Ottawa annually for years. He's worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Paul Simon, Nina Simone, Pharoah Sanders, among others. Bassist Harrison Bankhead plays everything from straight-ahead to free jazz; OttawaJazzScene.ca was very impressed with his interpretive ability when we heard him with Nicole Mitchell in 2013. He's played with Fred Anderson, Roscoe Mitchell, Hamiet Bluiett, and many more.

Expect a deep understanding of the jazz tradition – and the ability to turn that tradition on its head. Ottawa saxophonist Petr Cancura's trio will play an opening set.

Also on December 8, you can hear four groups whose music ranges from free jazz to experimental music at Daïmôn in Gatineau. The show is called “Électrons Libres”, and it pairs sound artists and instrumentalists together for improvised sets. The show features Ottawa improvisers Instant Places (Laura Kavanaugh and Ian Birse) playing a short set with saxophonist Linsey Wellman, plus the touring American duo Elka Bong (Al Margolis and Walter Wright). Margolis is an experimental violinist and clarinetist whose works cover both fairly spontaneous studio constructions and more process-oriented composition, while Wright plays drums and electronics and includes electro-acoustic music and videos in his performance. Just don't expect to hear any Art Blakey here...

The Ottawa Jazz Festival made a sliver of a surplus in 2016 after cutting its payments to musicians by more than a third, while staff and contract costs remained stable.

graphics: Brett Delmage
graphics: Brett Delmage
At the festival's annual general meeting on November 28, festival treasurer Lee Tessmer reported that “after two challenging years, we're back in the black”. The festival had a net income of $3,449 this year, after losses of $123K in 2015 and $141K in 2014.

But the tiny surplus did not come from greater ticket sales, which were down by almost 10% in 2016 from the previous year. (The weather during this year’s festival was primarily warm and sunny, with rain on only two days with ticketed concerts.) Similarly, grants were down 29% and corporate sponsorship down 24%, and advertising revenue was zero.

Instead, the festival cut costs – and particularly for musicians' fees. In 2016, it spent $954,671 on programming, compared to $1,459,246 in 2015 and $1,496,535 in 2014. This was despite 2016 being the festival's 35th anniversary.

The festival spent marginally more on non-musician wages and contract services, from $493K in 2015 to $497K in 2016. In 2015, according to the most recent Canadian Revenue Agency filings, the festival had three employees earning from $40,000 to $79,999, and one employee earning from $80,000 to $119,999.

Bassist Dave Watts, drummer Dave Laing, vocalist Ranee Lee, and guitarist Richard Ring have performed together for years and it showed in their fine delivery of everything from upbeat jazz classics to heartfelt ballads In Ottawa on Friday. ©2016 Brett Delmage
Bassist Dave Watts, drummer Dave Laing, vocalist Ranee Lee, and guitarist Richard Ring have performed together for years and it showed in their fine delivery of everything from upbeat jazz classics to heartfelt ballads In Ottawa on Friday. ©2016 Brett Delmage

Ranee Lee doesn't just sing: her voice is a flexible instrument that can softly caress a lyric – or jump, growl, and bop the night away. In a 2¼-hour high-energy show at Shenkman Arts Centre on Friday night, she and her quintet moved from jazz standards to pop ballads to lesser-known gems, and gave each song an arrangement and the attention which allowed it to shine. The 250-strong audience responded with enthusiastic applause throughout and two standing ovations.

Read the full review on OttawaJazzScene.ca. Read our interview with Ranee Lee

Read about week 2's jazz in December

You don't have to be stuck in a Christmas carol jail this month. There's lots of non-seasonal jazz to keep you happy.

Daniel Ko is featured in Record Runner Rehearsal Studio's first concert on Dec 2. ©Brett Delmage, 2012
Daniel Ko is featured in Record Runner Rehearsal Studio's first concert on Dec 2. ©Brett Delmage, 2012
From big bands to jazz vocals, from creative exploration to jazz influenced by Gershwin or Shostakovich, there's a variety of interesting music available in December in Ottawa-Gatineau – as well as Christmas cheer!

The month opens with a holiday classic, with the Jerry Granelli Trio performing their annual Tales of a Charlie Brown Christmas at Dominion Chalmers United Church. Drummer Granelli is the only remaining musician who played on that iconic recording of Vince Guaraldi's music, and he's teamed up with two Canadian musicians – Chris Gestrin on piano and Simon Fisk on bass – to recreate it, this year with the The Cross Town Youth Chorus providing the vocals. You want comfort music – you've got it!

Also on December 1: the local jazz band Stay Tuned plays “accessible jazz” to raise money for refugees at a show at the Sheba's Cove restaurant in Westboro. There's no cover or minimum, but donations to assist refugees getting settled here in Ottawa will be welcomed. Or, if you like swinging across the dance floor, the Starlighters big band will be playing a Christmas-themed dance at the Ron Kolbus Centre on December 1.

More than 45 years ago, Ranee Lee chose Canada for love – and she's never regretted it.

Ranee Lee (photo by Pierre Arsenault)
Ranee Lee (photo by Pierre Arsenault)
The award-winning Montreal jazz vocalist will make a rare appearance in Ottawa on Friday at the Shenkman Arts Centre, performing music from her latest CD with an all-Canadian band, including a string quartet. And when OttawaJazzScene.ca spoke to her on Monday, she praised the many Canadians who contributed to that CD and to her career as a whole.

Canada has given her “every opportunity”, Lee said. “It's given me my life.”

“I don't like the attitude of small fish, big fish. I don't like that attitude, because I believe we all have to swim accordingly. I feel that the opportunities to raise a family, to be diverse enough to act, to sing, to dance, to play instruments – all of which was afforded me this opportunity through having my roots planted in Canada now.”

“I've toured most of the world as a Canadian ambassador, representing our art form in many countries. Just two months ago, we were in Johannesburg, South Africa, in a jazz festival there. So my Canadian roots have reached far and wide. And due to that, and the fact that I have a long history with McGill University as a vocal teacher there, I was given the Order of Canada. And you can't live anywhere else and get that!”

“So I believe that by fortune of birth I was given the opportunity to be born in the United States, which I don't regret. I had a wonderful childhood and a great family, and still do, and I got to see the best that the world could offer me, the best career that I could ever choose for myself.”

Lee has had a highly successful career as a musician, musical theatre performer, actress, and educator. She has released 12 jazz albums for the Canadian label Justin Time, and won a Juno for best vocal jazz album in 2010. In 2006, her joint album with pianist Oliver Jones was named Album of the Year at the National Jazz Awards. She was awarded a Dora Mavor Moore award for her performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, and produced and starred in the musical Dark Divas about the lives of seven renowned female jazz vocalists. She was named to the Order of Canada in 2006.

Safe Low Limits's Steve Berndt and Keith Walton    ©2016 Brett Delmage
Safe Low Limits's Steve Berndt and Keith Walton ©2016 Brett Delmage
Safe Low Limit presented its music, which extends far into the bass clef, to appreciative listeners at Le Petit Chicago on Monday nights in November. This was their first public performance as a quartet.

OttawaJazzScene.ca's Inside the Scene interviewed all four members of the group: Steve Berndt (trombone and vocals), Ken Kanwisher (cello). Dr. Keith Walton (tuba), and Michel Delage (drums). All four enthusiastically shared their motivations for participating in this project, the challenges and pleasure of making this music, and what a Doctorate  in tuba is all about (fascinating!) on-camera.

Our story also features excerpts from their performance of Steve Bendt's composition, Safe Low Limit.

– Brett Delmage

Related: Safe Low Limit digs deep for Jazz Mondays in November

Florquestra makes a rare apopearance, in the final weekend of Buckingham Buzz Jazz series on November 25   ©2013 Brett Delmage
Florquestra makes a rare apopearance, in the final weekend of Buckingham Buzz Jazz series on November 25 ©2013 Brett Delmage
There's lots more heartfelt jazz to hear in Ottawa-Gatineau in the final half of November. Here's OttawaJazzScene.ca's independent look at what's bright in jazz in a traditionally grey month.

Subscribe to our weekly jazz newsletter for details of these events and more.

On Thursday, November 24, the Quebec chamber jazz group Esmerine make their yearly trek to the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield. A perennial favourite for both jazz and world music fans, the group is centred on cello and percussion with other instruments like violin adding special touches. Its music incorporates genres such as drone music, post punk, and Turkish folk. Esmerine won an Juno for Instrumental Album for Dalmak [2013].

Also that evening, the Carlos Alberto Santana Jazz Band officially releases its debut CD, Oye Latino, in a show at the Mercury Lounge. You can read about the circuitous path Santana took to releasing this album in the OttawaJazzScene.ca interview.

On Thursday, November 24, saxophonist Petr Cancura begins a new year of his National Arts Centre Crossroads folk/jazz series, the time in the NAC Theatre with local singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards. The idea behind the series is that Cancura works with the folk musician to create jazz arrangements of their sonigs; they then perform the arrangements together, along with jazz musicians Roddy Ellias, John Geggie, and Greg Ritchie. OttawaJazzScene.ca reported the first of these collaborations in video, with Ian Tamblyn  [Petr Cancura and Ian Tamblyn combine jazz, folk in satisfying Crossroads concert] and reviewed the second Crossroads show with Lynn Miles. Expect the singer-songwriter ethos to predominate over the jazz arrangements.

Dong-Won Kim is a master percussionist from South Korea. He has studied various forms of traditional Korean percussion music for three decades, including farmer’s drumming and dance, shamanic music, and Pansori accompaniment, and has performed throughout Europe, the U.S., Canada, Japan, and many other countries. He's also a member of cellist Yo Yo Ma's multi-national Silk Road Project.

Korean percussioniust Dong-Won Kim  ©2014 Brett Delmage
Korean percussioniust Dong-Won Kim ©2014 Brett Delmage
His instruments include the jang-go, an hourglass-shaped drum with hide-covered ends; the buk, a round leather barrel drum; and bronze gongs.

But he's gone beyond that tradition – creating new possibilities in jazz and creative improvised music. And that's the type of music he'll be playing on Friday with GigSpace in two duo concerts with Juno Award-winning percussionist Jesse Stewart.

Kim created a notable stir with his inventive performances in several appearances at the Guelph Jazz Festival. He has played and recorded with Stewart both in Guelph and in Ottawa.

He's been living in Ottawa since mid-September, working as Carleton University's musical artist-in-residence for the fall term. He's taught weekly lessons in Korean rhythms, but also lectured on the theory and practice of improvisation and musical performance. His lecture topics have included “Rhythm for Designing Space”, “Composition in Improvisation”, and “Movement in Sound, Sound in Movement”.

OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor interviewed Kim on Monday about Friday's concert, what he's been teaching at Carleton, and how he approaches music – but also about his experiences as a political prisoner in Korea in the 1980s, and how that solidified his determination to become a musician. This is an edited version of our conversation.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: What's it been like being in Ottawa?

Dong-Won Kim: Good! I'm very much enjoying being here in Ottawa. I really enjoy it. It's been a little longer than two months so far, and one more month to go.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: How did you first start studying traditional Korean percussion music?

 

Pianist Robi Botos poses with the statue of Oscar Peterson outside  Canada's National Arts Centre. Botos, a protege of Pederson's, will help celebrate his music and inspiration as part of Canada Scene in 2017 ©Brett Delmage, 2016
Pianist Robi Botos poses with the statue of Oscar Peterson outside Canada's National Arts Centre. Botos, a protege of Pederson's, will help celebrate his music and inspiration as part of Canada Scene in 2017 ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Canada's National Arts Centre (NAC) announced its 2017 Canada Scene festival today, including a major tribute to Oscar Peterson with pianists Robi Botos, Oliver Jones, Jon Kimura Parker, Bill Charlap, Gerald Clayton, Benny Green, and Justin Kauflin.

The Canada Scene festival will run from June 15 to July 30, 2017 – the middle of Canada's 150th birthday year. It will feature artists from across Canada in music , dance, theatre, culinary and visual art, performing at the newly-renovated NAC. It will also be the culmination of seven previous “Scene” festivals at the NAC which celebrated different regions of Canada between 2003 and 2015.

Robi Botos opened the launch event playing a swinging and virtuosic rendition of Peterson's “Blues for Smedley”. He will be one of seven “renowned pianists and close friends of Peterson” included in the July 10 “Oscar, with Love” tribute in Southam Hall – playing on Peterson's own beloved Bösendorfer Imperial grand piano, which will travel to Ottawa for this occasion. The evening will be hosted by Peterson's daughter, Céline.

Fellow Canadians Oliver Jones and Jon Kimura Parker will also perform, along with Americans Bill Charlap, Gerald Clayton, Benny Green, and Justin Kauflin. They will be accompanied by renowned Canadian bassist Dave Young, who played with Peterson for 35 years, in appearances in the Oscar Peterson Trio all over the world up until Peterson’s death in 2007.

Young released an Aspects Of Oscar tribute album with Botos in 2011. In 2012, Young, Botos, and drummer Terry Clarke appeared at a star-studded tribute to Peterson in Ottawa, organized by the German Embassy to celebrate the historical connections between Germany and the Canadian jazz icon.

Botos, Jones, Charlap, Clayton, Green, Kauflin, and Young are also included on the recently-released Oscar with Love CD organized by Peterson's widow, Kelly Peterson, of performances on Peterson's Bösendorfer of never-before-heard Peterson compositions.