“Doing something like this is something I daydreamed about for a few years”, says Brad Evans, the driving force, financial backer, and very much hands-on organizer of IMOO Fest 2018. The festival, which runs from this Friday through Sunday, features top jazz and improving musicians from Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, and Japan performing original music that won’t be heard the same way again.
Evans is a software developer by day, and a very enthusiastic live music fan during the evenings and weekends. We’ve seen him at many, many live performances over the years, and he's a regular at the biweekly Improvising Musicians of Ottawa/Outaouais (IMOO) shows. It isn’t surprising that he is OttawaJazzScene.ca’s first Listener of the Month this month. He’s had a fascinating journey into jazz and improvised music.
Improvisation is normally thought of as happening on the stage, as it will happen on the stages this weekend at IMOO Fest. But Evans has also invoked his own improvisational magic – and determination – in the past year to bring together his dream festival, which other listeners can enjoy with him this weekend.
He shared with me how IMOO Fest 2018 came to be, from daydream to tickets you can buy. This is an edited transcript of our conversation.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: How did you get involved in IMOO Fest 2018?
Brad Evans: It was June of last year, 15 months ago, I was looking ahead to this year. I knew that at some point this year my house would be paid off, so I could do something stupid with my money after that [he laughs].
Updated November 26, 2018
This fall, GigSpace has filled every concert slot it can manage, with groups coming from NYC, Toronto, and Ottawa.
Its eighth season begins September 14 and includes brand-new jazz groups along with revivals of well-loved duos, three CD releases, and an improvised music festival. Most of the musicians playing there, both local and from out of town, will present material new to Ottawa audiences.
The Hintonburg concert venue has doubled the number of groups it has scheduled compared to 2017 (17 plus a festival, versus 9), and it is offering a more diverse selection than previous years. At the same time, it has updated its website with an integrated ticketing system, and increased its general ticket prices to $25.
GigSpace director Tim Bedner, who organizes the venue's concerts, said that the venue's fall season is completely booked (although they could possibly try to squeeze in a high-profile touring artist) – and, in fact, GigSpace is booked until next June.
From New York City will travel the duo of lyrical pianist Bryn Roberts and acclaimed guitarist Lage Lund, and the high-powered quintet of vibraphonist Stefan Bauer. Roberts and Lund were last in Ottawa in 2016 for the release of their first duo album, Nightsong. In late October, they released a new duo album, Hide the Moon and the Stars.
Bauer's “Voyage West” ensemble (vibraphone/marimba, sax, wordless vocals, bass, drums) will release their new album, Some Other Time, which combines “American-infused Modern Jazz” and world music. That album even has a Canadian connection: one of its tunes is called “In The Town of Springhill, Nova Scotia”, and the ensemble includes Toronto bassist Jim Vivian.
From Toronto comes two mainstream modern jazz groups: guitarist Harley Card's quintet with pianist Matt Newton, and a quartet led by drummer Ethan Ardelli featuring pianist Chris Donnelly and saxophonist Luis Deniz. Card released his third CD, The Greatest Invention, last fall, while Ardelli's group will be on a cross-Canada tour for their debut CD, The Island of Form.
The Ottawa line-up is all established groups, almost all of whom have played GigSpace before. But their projects are fresh: for example, vocalist Karen Oxorn will pay tribute to husband-and-wife jazz musicians Julie London and Bobby Troup (best known for “Cry Me a River”), in a show with Toronto guitarist Kevin Barrett and Montreal bassist Alec Walkington.
The Garry Elliott/Steve Boudreau Quartet will release a new CD, Opus 2; vocalist Diane Nalini will debut recent songs she's written for her trio with Mark Ferguson and John Geggie; and vocalist Elise Letourneau and her trio will both interpret songs that have “moved and shaped her” as well as putting on a rare performance of her own originals.
GigSpace Performance Studio, now starting its 8th season, has more demand for presentation space than its organizers can handle.
“It's all that we can do to keep up with the volume of emails that we get,” says GigSpace director Tim Bedner, who is responsible for bookings at the small (46-seat) concert hall.
But that doesn't mean that every evening has a concert. Part of the reason why the Ottawa venue isn't accepting more bookings is related to its own organization and the constraints that imposes.
GigSpace, located just outside downtown and near the Preston Street strip, is one of the few listening spaces in Ottawa with a resident and frequently-tuned grand piano. Its concerts are almost all jazz – with the occasional classical or folk show mixed in – and the artists playing there include both touring Canadian and American musicians and Ottawa groups.
It only programs shows on Friday and Saturday evenings and a few Sunday afternoons. Bedner said 90 to 95% of the shows there sold out last season.
GigSpace opened in the fall of 2011, and started programming weekly concerts the following January. Six months later, Café Paradiso, which had been Ottawa's best-known jazz spot, closed its doors, and GigSpace was left as one of the few places here hosting touring jazz groups, or where more complex local shows could be presented.
Toronto jazz pianist Nick Maclean has taken many lessons from jazz legend Herbie Hancock – not the least about taking risks with his music.
“The kind of jazz that I really enjoy, that means a lot to me, involves constant risks. It involves exploration. The kind of guys who are playing it safe, and play what they know – it can be very nice sounding, it can check all the right boxes, but there's something courageous about stepping into the unknown and seeing what happens. And Herbie's definitely one of those artists that idealizes that for me.”
Maclean's quartet will perform in Ottawa on Saturday as part of a Ontario/Quebec tour. They’ll play from their debut album, which he describes as a “love letter” to Hancock. The group and the album are inspired by Hancock's 1960s quartet/quintet with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, which produced four classic albums on the Blue Note label: Takin' Off, My Point of View, Maiden Voyage, and Empyrean Isles.
The general vibe is mainstream and acoustic – but with “a willingness to not know what the destination is going to be and just be along for the ride.”
“What we're trying to do with the quartet is to take the ethos of Herbie's 1960s Blue Note Quartet, but move it into the modern day – with modern compositions, with modern sensibility – and see where that ethos goes today.”
Maclean's quartet line-up takes its inspiration from Hancock's line-up on Empyrean Isles: trumpet (with his frequent collaborator Brownman Ali), piano, bass, and drums. It was a rare line-up for Hancock and relatively rare in jazz.
Justin Gray has designed an instrument which combines his two musical passions – for jazz and for Indian classical music.
He'll play his bass veena on Wednesday, as he gives his cross-genre quintet, Synthesis, its Ottawa debut at Chamberfest. The quintet, which includes well-known Toronto jazz musicians Ted Quinlan on guitar and Drew Jurecka on violin, will play Gray's music, which features Indian-inspired melodies in a jazz framework.
It's a surprisingly compatible and very listenable mixture, in part because Hindustani classical music also includes improvisation – just not in quite the same way as jazz. Synthesis has so far released one album, New Horizons, in 2017, with the same core quintet which will play Wednesday, although the album has a large number of guests from classical, jazz, and Indian classical music. The Chamberfest concert will showcase pieces from that album.
Gray has been studying Hindustani music for more than decade, at the same time as he's grown a substantial reputation as a bassist in Toronto's jazz scene, playing with a variety of groups, including several which have made it up to Ottawa: Gray Matter, and the Hoffman-Lemisch Quartet.
OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor recently interviewed Gray about the concert, the Synthesis project, and why he was inspired in 2010 to design an entire new instrument to play much of this music. This is an edited and condensed version of our interview.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: How did you get introduced to Indian classical music?
Justin Gray: My mom was born in India, so growing up, my brother Derek, who's the drummer in the project, and myself certainly were exposed to Indian music. We traveled to India to visit family. We listened to a variety of music growing up, which included things like Ravi Shankar, and of course getting into the Beatles and some other world music contexts.
When jazz trumpeter Paul Tynan was in Berlin in early May he played jazz each night but spent his days exploring the city. That became the inspiration for a number of his compositions which he'll perform in Ottawa next Tuesday, in a concert at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios.
“Berlin is an amazing city!” Tynan said. “I was there for a week. I had seven nights in a club called the The Hat Club in Berlin. It really was just a fantastic experience playing my original music every night at the same club, oftentimes for audience members who would come back, who would hear us one night and then come back the next night and maybe the next night and the next night. It was really inspiring.”
During the day, he tramped around the city. “As a kid I was always taken by the Brandenburg Gate. I got to see it. I'd been to Germany before, but this was the first time I'd been to Berlin, so I spent literally hours walking around the city and combing everything from the Schöneberg neighbourhood to the Kreuzberg neighbourhood to the typical tourist spots as well.”
And that ended up being reflected in his music. “You just hear these melodies in your head, and fortunately the place I was staying had a grand piano so I would come back and just write some music at this piano that was in the flat that I was in.”
On Tuesday, Tynan will combine this music with other “time-tested” tunes he's written in the last decade, and some jazz standards, in a trio show with Ottawa pianist Peter Hum and Montreal bassist Alec Walkington.
Tynan, who is a professor in the music department at St. Francis Xavier University, last performed publicly in Ottawa in 2013, in the faculty concerts at the Carleton University Jazz Camp. One of those concerts featured his compositions for big band.
This show will be on a much more intimate scale, but Tynan says that many of his pieces are flexible enough to work for a trio. “All the music I write can function either on a very small level or can function on a very large level. It just is how it's packaged or arranged. It's meant to be malleable. And I like that about it.”
In recent years Ottawa jazz guitarist Justin Duhaime has been specializing in performing – and promoting – what's called jazz manouche or gypsy jazz.
Jazz manouche was first popularized by guitarist Django Reinhardt in the 1930s, in his Quintet of the Hot Club of France, in conjunction with violinist Stéphane Grappelli. Duhaime has been regularly performing this music in duos with fellow guitarist Nabil Yaghi, and in larger groups like Django Libre and his own groups with violinist William Lamoureux, as well as bringing masters of this style to perform in Ottawa concerts.
On May 29, Duhaime was recognized as the 2018 RBC Emerging Artist by the Ottawa Arts Council, the first musician to receive this award. It recognizes and encourages the achievements of Ottawa artists who are in the early stages of their career in the arts and are working towards becoming recognized professional artists, while engaging with the community.
After Duhaime received the award, he talked with OttawaJazzScene.ca about
Listen to the complete interview with Justin Duhaime
Ottawa vocalist Antoine Collins sang of love, in the most inclusive way, as he presented his tribute to Nat King Cole in a noon-hour concert at the 2018 Ottawa Jazz Festival. He released a CD of these songs, Nature Boy, in March.
Collins had invited members of the city's LGBTQ community to hear the show, and not only they but a considerable number of other jazz lovers came out to fill every chair (and stand at the back) in the festival's large Ontario Stage in Confederation Park.
Collins sang his favourite Nat King Cole classics, and talked about how those songs spoke to him and to the world. He was well supported by Mark Ferguson on keyboards, Brian Tansley on saxophone/flute, Phil Victor Bova on electric bass, Mike Essoudry on drums, and Marianne Dumas on percussion, with a guest appearance by Petr Cancura.
Our video story includes excerpts from several of the numbers in the show, plus an interview with Collins and representatives of Capital Rainbow Refuge, the refugee assistance group to which he was donating part of the proceeds of his album.
Extravagant costumes. Acrobatic dancing. Strong rhythms. Music ranging from tender ballads to all-out ensemble performances. Tropicana Night gave Ottawa listeners a taste of Cuban music and dance in its many forms.
It was the biggest production ever undertaken by artistic director Miguel De Armas and producer Yasmina Proveyer, with the Los Cubanitos dancers, the Fiesta Cubana band led by De Armas, the rumba percussion group Clave y Guaguancó, and four vocalists: Rusdell Nuñez, Caridad Cruz, Cristina Sayén, and Sheyla Fernandez. They performed classic Cuban tunes by composers from across the 20th century, with the dancers adding glamorous interpretations.
The 500-seat Harold Shenkman Hall was mostly full. By the end of the first set everyone was up and dancing to the infectious rhythms. The second set ended with more dancing and a full-out standing ovation.
Our video contains excerpts from several of the numbers in the show, plus an interview with Yasmina Proveyer.
Updated July 31, 2018
The 2018 Festival de Jazz du Parc de L'Imaginaire in Aylmer will feature two tributes to important milestones in jazz and two individual jazz voices this month.
A recreation of the best-selling jazz album of all time, Kind of Blue; a tribute to Ry Cooder's ground-breaking collaboration with Cuban musicians, The Buena Vista Social Club; a trio show by Ottawa guitar master Roddy Ellias; and a quadrilingual show by jazz vocalist Diane Nalini and her trio – you can hear all these in the four nights of the outdoor festival, from July 25 to 28.
This is the 32nd year of the festival (renamed this year from the Festival de Jazz Desjardins to the Festival de Jazz du Parc de L'Imaginaire) and it is again free to all. Its concerts are held in Parc de l'Imaginaire in Aylmer, immediately across from the Aylmer Marina. All concerts start at 7:30 p.m. and finish between 9 and 10 p.m. Picnics and families are welcome. Bring your own lawn chairs or blankets because seating is not provided. Donations are welcomed.
In the event of rain, the concerts will move to the British Hotel, 71 rue Principale, Gatineau (Aylmer sector). The Centre d'exposition l'Imagier will announce by 2 p.m. each day whether that day's show will be held indoors or outdoors. Watch OttawaJazzScene.ca's twitter feed for the announcement.
The festival is run by la Ville de Gatineau, which will also offer world music concerts (shading into jazz) in the park on the first three Wednesdays of July, with Boogát, Laetitia Zonzambé, and Mamselle Ruiz.
Wednesday, July 25: Montreal trumpeter Ron Di Lauro opens this year's festival with his sextet of accomplished Montreal musicians: Jean-Pierre Zanella on alto sax, André Leroux on tenor sax, Geoff Lapp on piano, Michel Donato on bass, and Dave Laing on drums. Di Lauro was awarded the prestigious Oscar Peterson Prize in 2014 by the Montreal Jazz Festival, and his sextet has toured across Canada.