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.

Kellylee Evans  ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Ottawa vocalist Kellylee Evans' summer-time album, Come On, is nominated in the Vocal Jazz category in the 2018 JUNO Awards. ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Read about the 2018 JUNO Award jazz winners

Ottawa jazz vocalist Kellylee Evans has received her third JUNO Award nomination, for her long-delayed album Come On.

Evans will be competing against Diana Krall, Matt Dusk, Michael Kaeshammer, and last year's winner Bria Skonberg in the Vocal Jazz Album category in the 2018 JUNO Awards. This year's nominations were released today, and the winners will be announced in Vancouver on March 24 and 25.

Two musicians appearing this week at the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival – Chet Doxas and Hilario Durán – are also on the nominees' list, along with Michael Kaeshammer, who will perform at the National Arts Centre on Thursday, and Christine Jensen, who performed here last Friday and who will return in April.

The awards “raise the public profile and recognition of musical artists in Canada” – and, unlike the 2017 JUNOs, most of the jazz musicians nominated this year do live in Canada. Of the 15 nominated in jazz categories, most are from Toronto or British Columbia, with three from New York City.

Evans released Come On in Ottawa last November – two years after its original release in France, because of delays caused by her being hit by lightning and a subsequent concussion. She told that she was excited to finally release it in North America.

The album is a collection of originals she wrote with her co-producer, French jazz pianist Eric Legnini. She describes it as vibrant, and “a summer kind of album. Lots of fun. It's a more joyful album. Less introspective.”

The Vocal Jazz category also contains Krall's and Skonberg's collections of jazz standards, Matt Dusk's Christmas jazz CD, and Michael Kaeshammer's album of original jazz and pop tunes (mostly vocal with two instrumentals). Krall was also nominated in the Jack Richardson Producer of the Year category for her album Turn Up the Quiet, which she co-produced with the late Tommy LiPuma.

In the Jazz Album: Solo category, the nominees are highly diverse. Pianist Hilario Durán's album, Contumbao, is a tribute to his roots in Cuba with performances by Cuban musicians including Chucho Valdes. Saxophonist Chet Doxas took his inspiration from modern art for his compositions in Rich In Symbols. Saxophonist Ralph Bowen, who has been part of the NYC jazz scene for three decades and teaches at Rutgers University in New Jersey, is nominated for his straight-ahead jazz quartet album with a suite of animal-inspired titles.

Hilario Durán (photo by Danilo Navas)
Hilario Durán (photo by Danilo Navas)

As a teenager growing up in Cuba, Hilario Durán loved that island's style of big band music – a love he's continued with all his life, and will share with Ottawa audiences on Friday.

Durán will present the big band compositions which won him a JUNO Award and a Grammy nomination – performed for the first time by a group of 16 jazz musicians from Ottawa and Montreal, brought together especially for this show.

While the musicians have many years of experience playing in big bands, and some in Latin bands, Durán hasn't played with any of them before. But he's brought his music to other unfamiliar big bands and orchestras before, and he's looking forward to the challenge.

“It's going to be great! I'm very excited, and looking forward to it.”

What they'll be playing is not the classic big band swing of Glenn Miller, but rather Latin big band music. The difference, Durán says, is in the rhythms: “The rhythm section is Cuban, with congas and batas and other extra instruments from American jazz with an Latin influence.”

It's a mixture that was popularized by big bands led by Stan Kenton and Tito Puente, starting in the 1940s and 50s. Durán first heard this music growing up in Cuba.

“Many years ago, when I was a teenager in Havana, there were big bands in Havana in the nightclubs. There were club shows and there were big band often accompanying those shows with dancers and stuff. Also on the radio, there were lots of big bands. So I always had my attention on this kind of format, this kind of instrumentation.”

“I always love it, the big band sound, five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets and the rhythm section. Always it got my attention, And also because there was a very big band in Havana at the end of the 1950s, Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, and I had the privilege to get into that big band years later assuming the directorship then. So that's where I learned all the secrets of big band music, working with the street bands.”

Anne Lewis ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Anne Lewis singing her favourite jazz standards at the Options Jazz Lounge at the Brookstreet Hotel (with J.P. Allain). She'll release a CD of her own songs on Saturday at the NAC Fourth Stage. ©Brett Delmage, 2017

When she steps onto the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage this Saturday, vocalist Anne Lewis will be combining two of her passions: for songwriting and for jazz.

With a landmark birthday coming up soon – she'll be 60 next July – she's releasing her third album, the first in more than two decades.

Expressions is a collection of her own original songs, in jazz arrangements by composer Mark Ferguson. She recorded them last year with four jazz musicians well-known to Ottawa audiences: Ferguson on piano and trombone, Mike Rud on guitar, John Geggie on double bass, and Jeff Asselin on drums, along with Petr Cancura on saxophone and Anthony Bacon on cello. She'll perform them with the core quintet at the Fourth Stage.

While she's always loved singing, Lewis' passion for jazz came much later, after she'd already established herself as a singer/songwriter. The reason for her conversion: long-time Ottawa jazz pianist J.P. Allain.

Although it's not obvious at first glance, Lewis is legally blind. In her early 30s, a hereditary disease robbed her of the central part of her vision. Shortly after that, she agreed to sing at a fundraiser for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and hired Allain as her pianist.

He introduced her to jazz standards, and she fell in love. With some interruptions due to illness and temporarily losing her voice, she has been singing jazz ever since, and is now a regular in the Ottawa jazz scene, with a monthly gig at the Options Jazz Lounge at the Brookstreet Hotel. editor Alayne McGregor interviewed her about her Fourth Stage concert, her love for jazz, and what inspired the music on her new album.

Sam Kirmayer photo by J.F. Hayeur
Sam Kirmayer (photo by J.F. Hayeur)

Right from the opening notes of his debut CD, you can hear Sam Kirmayer's affinity for melody.

The young Montreal jazz guitarist tries to create “interesting, exploratory music that's still focused on feeling good and is accessible to people”. He wants melodies that stick with the listener, he says, and that's the focus of his CD, Opening Statement, both in the originals he wrote for the CD and in the jazz standards he chose.

Next Thursday, he'll perform this music in Ottawa with his quartet – the first time all four musicians have performed together since he released the CD last April.

Kirmayer has emphatically jumped into his jazz career, with no looking back. Less than a year after graduating from the jazz performance program at McGill University, he released his first album, and is continuing to tour it across the country. He's already recorded his second album, High and Low, and will release it later this year. editor Alayne McGregor interviewed Kirmayer last week about the CD and his quartet's upcoming mini-tour, which will take him to Quebec City and Montreal after Ottawa. This is a lightly edited and rearranged version of our conversation.

©Brett Delmage, 2017
The Chocolate Hot Pockets performed among a variety of original visual paintings and sculptures at the Orange Art Gallery, including this sculpture by Maria Saracino ©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Chocolate Hot Pockets
Orange Art Gallery Music Nights
Friday, January 12, 2018 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this event

“Don't go out” - that was the message Friday on Ottawa weather forecasts and newscasts, with predictions of a flash freeze that evening, combined with a bone-chilling wind chill. Ottawa Public Health issued a frostbite advisory, while the police advised residents to avoid unnecessary travel.

But for the 20-odd people who did make it out to the Orange Art Gallery in Hintonburg, the Chocolate Hot Pockets put on a hot, funky, and enjoyable show that kept them listening throughout the evening.

The art gallery has been running monthly music nights with local groups since August, when it received its liquor license. It's featured pop music by River City Junction, jazz by Constant Black, swing by the Brian Downey Quartet, and New Orleans-inspired music by the Mumbo Jumbo Voodoo Combo.

Ed Lister ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Ed Lister will release the debut album for his "hyper-groove" band, ERU-ERA on Saturday at a favourite stomping ground, Irene's Pub. ©Brett Delmage, 2017

For trumpeter Ed Lister, ERU-ERA is a very personal project.

He brought together the seven-piece Ottawa jazz/groove band in 2015, and has written almost all its material. And he named it after himself: “Eruera” is his other given name – in Māori, his mother's native language. It's the Māori version of “Edward” and has been borne by several notable New Zealanders.

“So I just hyphenated it,” Lister said. “I thought it would be kind of cool. A bit of a tongue-twister, but...”

On Saturday, ERU-ERA will release its first album, ERA-LUDE, consisting of all his own compositions. The CD release show will be at Irene's Pub in the Glebe, where they recorded the album live last July.

Lister is one of the busiest players in Ottawa's jazz scene. He arrived in Ottawa in April, 2011, and within a few months was teaming up with local players in jazz groups like the Hard Bop Association and the Chocolate Hot Pockets. He runs his own record label, London Gentleman Records, and is a popular on-call trumpet player for many projects and recordings. And he leads or co-leads many local bands – The Chocolate Hot Pockets, ERU-ERA, 33Z, the LGR Band, and the Prime Rib Big Band – writing and/or arranging much of their material. editor Alayne McGregor interviewed Lister this week about ERU-ERA's music and how he developed it, and how Ottawa's music scene helped that development. This is a lightly edited version of the conversation.

©Brett Delmage, 2017
Patrick Vafaie and Stephen Szabo at the NACLB debut concert December 8 at John McCrae Secondary School ©Brett Delmage, 2017

View photos by Brett Delmage of the NACLB performance and of the opening act, Pick Up Sticks

An Ottawa student big band has expanded its vision to the entire city this year – and changed its name in the process.

The Nepean All-City Lab Band (NACLB) played its debut concert under its new name December 8 before a full and enthusiastic house. It was formerly the Secondary School All-Star Jazz Band of the Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), and is led by high school music teachers Jean-François Fauteux and Stephen Szabo.

The students “earned the right to have this opportunity by working so hard and playing so well,” Szabo said. “A lot of them are in the band this year who were in our [all-star] band last year.”

He said they decided to leave the district school board because the band had outgrown its original mandate. “The all-star band when it originally started was a seven-rehearsal band. And it was a very small project, but it evolved over time. And it needed a home that we now have.”

Instead, the NACLB has become a sister band of the award-winning Nepean All-City Jazz Band (NACJB), led by Neil Yorke-Slader. The NACJB celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2017.

“With the projects that we wanted to develop with this band, we were thinking about going out of the board and reaching a bigger catchment area for the band,” Fauteux said. “And then Neil called us, and he said, 'Well, you know what, what about joining our family?' And of course when he said that, he's a longtime friend and we were so honoured that he would even consider asking us, so that was a bonus for us for sure.”

Oliver Gannon
That's What is one of the 5 albums Oliver Gannon has recorded for Cellar Live.
Alain Caron
Alain Caron

Two well-known Canadian jazz musicians – guitarist Oliver Gannon and bassist Alain Caron – were announced as new members of the Order of Canada today.

Oliver Gannon has been a stalwart of the Vancouver jazz scene since 1970, best known for his long and fruitful collaboration with legendary Canadian tenor saxophonist Fraser MacPherson. Their album of duets, I Didn't Know About You, won a Juno for best jazz album in 1983. In 2002 Gannon was named Guitarist of the Year in the National Jazz Awards.

And Gannon hasn't stopped since: he's released five albums as leader on the Cellar Live label, and played on many more. In early January, he'll be unveiling a new trio at Frankie's Jazz Club in Vancouver, and recording the shows for another album. The Vancouver Coastal Jazz Society says that “Gannon cites Barney Kessell and Wes Montgomery as formative models, of horn players as conceptual influences, and of Art Blakey’s music as a favourite direction. His fluid swinging style is rooted in 50s and 60s bop.”

The Order of Canada awards list recognized Alain Caron for “his contributions as a six-string electric bass virtuoso and for his role in mentoring musicians in Canada and abroad”.