Toronto jazz vocalist Maureen Kennedy is always learning new songs and expanding her repertoire of jazz standards.
“I have a passion for learning tunes. A real passion for it, and it's kind of nerdy.”
This summer, for example, she learned six new tunes just for one show. She'll be singing all six in Ottawa this Saturday at her quartet show at GigSpace, performing with saxophonist Rob Frayne, pianist Jeff Johnston, and bassist Alec Walkington.
Some she learns from sheet music, and some from listening to recordings of other singers, particularly from the classic vocal jazz era of the 1950s. But, after many years in the business, she's gone well beyond Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, or Sarah Vaughan to “obscure singers that people don't know that well”, such as Irene Kral or Jeri Southern.
“There was such a wealth of singers back in the 50s when singing standards was the popular music of the day. There were a lot of good singers that never became as famous … Teddi King was a really great singer. June Christy. Chris Connor. Singers that people aren't as familiar with. There are just a lot of great singers, and I've checked out a lot of their recordings and just picked up tunes from them.”
By day, Kennedy is a Media Librarian and visual researcher for the CBC in Toronto – where she has been able to access CBC's extensive sheet music collection. “In the days when we did a lot of music on television and radio, the Music Library would just order all this sheet music, and it's such a great collection!”
Jane Bunnett is still amazed at the success of her all-woman Afro-Cuban jazz group, Maqueque.
“Three years ago, this project was a leap of faith. I didn't know if this idea would have any legs. But I thought, 'Let's try it! Let's try to put something together for a recording, all females, and just see what happens.' "
Since then, Maqueque – the Canadian jazz saxophonist/flutist plus five young women musicians from Cuba – has toured all over Canada and the U.S. and as far away as Australia. They played before thousands at the Chicago Jazz Festival last fall, with an almost-unprecedented encore demanded by the crowd. In May, they received at standing ovation at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and then recorded a “Tiny Desk Concert” in the offices of National Public Radio – which has so far garnered almost 29,000 views. And they won a Juno Award for their first album.
The group has just released its second album, Oddara, and will bring it to Ottawa on Wednesday, October 19, for a concert at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans. Besides Bunnett, Maqueque includes Yissy Garcia on drums, Dánae Olano on piano, Magdelys Savigne on batá drums and congas, Elizabeth Rodriguez on violin and vocals, and Celia Jiménez on bass.
Bunnett's heart was in the project, both musically and as an organizer, but she recognized the risks.
Updated October 27, 2016
From swing to the avant-garde, with vocal jazz and Latin in between, October is shaping up as a dynamic month for jazz and improvised music in Ottawa-Gatineau.
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Famed drummer Gerry Hemingway, vocalists Diana Krall, Emilie-Claire Barlow, and Sienna Dahlen, the Afro-Cuban vocals of Augusto Enríquez and of Jane Bunnett & Maqueque, and pianist Bryn Roberts are among the headliners this month. The Chocolate Hot Pockets, the Sean Duhaime Trio, and the Lucas Haneman Express are releasing new albums, and you can revisit the classic jazz of Duke Ellington and of Billie Holiday.
The month opens on a Brazilian note with Samba Agoniza mas não Morre at Le Petit Chicago on Saturday, October 1: “a farewell party for some of our members in great style and with a lot of Samba, joy and jamming”. If you enjoyed Rachel Beausoleil's Brazilian vocal numbers last week, you should enjoy the bright rhythms of this regular Roda de Samba gathering, billed as the only one above the 45th parallel! Expect to see the musicians – guitarists, vocalists, percussionists and more – gathered around a large table and the crowd dancing and clapping all around them.
Five years later, fans still remember Thursday jazz nights at Café Paradiso – and are paying to hear that music again this weekend.
Three jazz listeners are sponsoring a concert on Saturday at GigSpace, where guitarist Tim Bedner and vocalist/pianist/flute player Elise Letourneau will recreate the music they used to play at that former Ottawa jazz venue.
“We were totally taken aback that someone missed what we were doing on Thursday nights,” Bedner said. “That was good for the heart and soul - that there were folks out there who would miss what we would do, with piano, guitar, voice, and flute. Also the repertoire that we had – favourites for folks that would come out.”
Café Paradiso closed in mid-2012, after a 14-year run, and more than 10 years as a major downtown jazz venue. It was a high-end restaurant which showcased jazz musicians visiting from Toronto, Montreal, and New York City (including Christine Jensen, Kirk MacDonald, David Braid, Sheila Jordan, and Dave Liebman), as well as well-known Ottawa jazz musicians such as Roddy Ellias, John Geggie, Mark Ferguson, and Diane White.
And every week for 4½ years, Bedner and Letourneau would play jazz standards, tunes by guitarist Pat Metheny, music by the Beatles and by Paul Simon, and choice Latin bossa novas.
“That is what every musician dreams of, getting something like that on a weekly, steady basis, because you show up every week trying to do better than you did the week before, adding new repertoire, tweaking songs out,” Bedner said. “Trying to come up with different things each time we play it, or go deeper in the tune, it's valuable! Having that: it's definitely like going back to school again.”
“I've been very, very lucky that I've been able to continue playing weekly at other venues since Café Paradiso. Again it's just getting that connection to music using the creative process of, 'OK here I am again, playing this tune, maybe a little bit differently, hopefully still as musical as I can be.' ”
“I respond well to deadlines, and having a reason to learn a tune or two or three every week was really valuable – having that Thursday night target,” Letourneau said. “It was really good for repertoire building. I thought I had a pretty good repertoire before, but just having that reason to keep adding to it, and having a place to try it out and gauge – 'OK, people seem to enjoy that, or people were kind of indifferent.' Sometimes they were indifferent, sometimes they were just focused on their meals.”
Two Ottawa musicians unveiled a sculpture that sings in an Ottawa city park on Saturday.
Jesse Stewart and Matt Edwards created The Listening Tree in St. Luke's Park, on the north-east corner of Gladstone and Elgin. It's a 5-metre-high structure of stainless steel tubes which acts as a transition and gateway to the park. The individual tubes echo the stainless steel traffic signal poles on the adjacent sidewalk, while their combined form resembles the canopy of large trees in the park.
Most importantly, this sculpture creates sound – but only when the wind is in the correct direction. Several of the tubes have carefully tuned slots in them which will channel the wind when it comes from the south or west – but most strongly from the southwest, when gusts blow up both Elgin and Gladstone. The result: a series of shifting tones.
“We thought it would be nice to have something that would draw people in a little closer so they could have a more intimate experience with [the park], and we decided to do that through sound,” Stewart said.
But not all the time. “It's not singing today, unfortunately. The wind is not blowing in the correct direction for that to happen, but, actually, we think one of the special things that can happen with this piece is that it's not always singing. You have to be here at a specific time. And so the experience is tied to that time,” Edwards told the audience of local residents, jazz lovers, and city staff and politicians.
“It's not supposed to be always active. It's just supposed to be once in a while, so the neighbours don't complain, but other neighbours get to enjoy it,” said local city councillor Catherine McKenney. When McKenney asked who had heard it during the ceremonies, several members of the audience put their hands up to indicate they had heard the sculpture singing since it had been installed a month before.
When Edwards was recently adding a protective layer of wax to the sculpture, he related, a man came up to him and said, “This amazing thing happened the other day. I came here and I heard it singing! It was a bit of a windy day, and I didn't realize that was going to happen. I've never heard anything like it.”
Stewart said they hoped the sculpture might allow people “to experience a sense of discovery – that they might be here and all of the sudden it will start singing.”
Saturday at 1 p.m. was the official opening. Stewart and Edwards played an short concert to start the ceremony, producing intimate, improvised music on two handpans, a drone-producing Shruti box, an accordion, a bamboo flute, and a frame drum.
Samba, bossa nova, Antonio Carlos Jobim: that's Brazilian music to most people. But there's lots of interesting and appealing music from that country rarely heard here.
At GigSpace on Saturday, Rachel Beausoleil will introduce a much broader picture of Brazilian music to Ottawa.
The Ottawa vocalist has been studying “Música Popular Brasileira” (MPB) for the last five years. She's now writing her PhD thesis about this music, which includes most of the genres that Canadians think of as Brazilian jazz. During three extended trips to Brazil, she's taken classes from master vocalists, attended conferences, and performed with musicians there.
At Saturday's concert, she and her group, Sol da Capital, will present songs by many composers covering the full range of these styles – from ballads to bossa nova, from music written a century ago to modern songs. What these songs have in common is a dedication to quality; rhythmic, harmonic, lyric, and melodic richness is insisted on in MPB, Beausoleil says.
Sol da Capital started when Beausoleil met Brazilian guitarist Evandro Gracelli, who spent a very busy two years in Ottawa, performing and working with many local musicians. During his stay in 2010-11, they formed the group to perform Brazilian music and their own compositions. They've kept up the connection, even when separated by 8000 km, and Beausoleil has continued performing in Ottawa with local musicians familiar with Brazilian music.
For François Houle, it's always been about the clarinet, starting from when he was 7 years old.
Unlike most other clarinetists, he doesn't double on saxophone, or even play the bass clarinet. He has regular B-flat, A, and E-flat clarinets, and that's it.
He was first introduced to the instrument through his father's big band LPs. Records by Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Woody Herman were often heard in their house – and they all played clarinet.
"And so I just got that sound in my head. One day when I was 7 years old, a cousin showed up and he had started the band program at school. He had his clarinet, and he said, 'Oh I really hate it! I don't want to play it,' and he left his clarinet at my place. And so I started tooting on it, just out of curiosity, and I just basically fell in love with the instrument. And having that sound of that music from the 30s and 40s and 50s in my head, I just started taking lessons and never looked back.”
“That was it. I was hooked from the get-go.”
When Houle was studying for his Masters in classical clarinet at Yale University, he got to meet Benny Goodman in person. “He came to do a fundraiser with his big band and I got to hang out with him for a few days – not just hearing him live but actually getting to hang out with him. That was pretty special!”
“He was already an old man, a bit grouchy, but very generous with his time and talking to us, the students about his career and his life, and his approach to the clarinet and all that. That was very informative and very inspiring.”
Listening to clarinetist François Houle, you hear a man endlessly fascinated by the myriad possibilities in music. His enthusiasm for his many different projects – even involving a mysterious hum – bubbles over as he talks.
When OttawaJazzScene.ca interviewed him over the phone this week, he got so involved in our conversation that when he was stung by a wasp while walking he ignored the pain and kept on talking.
Houle is an wide-ranging innovator on the clarinet, taking it to places ranging from free improvisation to classical to new music to world music to melodic jazz, and even as a first-call musician for indie rock artists like Matthew Good. He has been listed several times by Downbeat magazine's Critics' Poll and Reader’s Poll as a “Talent Deserving Wider Recognition” and “Rising Star”. His more than 20 recordings have earned multiple Juno Award and West Coast Music Award nominations. His performances with French pianist Benoit Delbecq were a highlight of the 2012 Ottawa Jazz Festival.
This week, he is on tour in Ontario and Quebec. He performs on Friday and Saturday in two featured concerts at the Guelph Jazz Festival. He'll also play in Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, and Montreal. He's playing a solo concert in Guelph;his other shows are in a trio with two fellow Vancouver musicians – guitarist Gordon Grdina and drummer Kenton Loewen.
They're long-time friends: “We've been working together as a group and in various projects for the last ten years. These guys are my brothers on the scene here. They're my go-to collaborators.”
Grdina is a Juno-winning composer and musician, who mixes mainstream jazz, free-form improvisation and classical Arabic music, as well as rock and punk. Loewen plays improvised and rock music, including with an anarchist punk band, an art pop group Mother Mother, and Tanya Tagaq.
Updated September 8
Jazz. Improvisation. Pushing the edge. The Guelph Jazz Festival has always had a very clear idea of what type of music it wants to present and what it's trying to promote.
Much of that is due to the festival's founder, musician and academic Ajay Heble, who has brought a deep love of jazz and an intellectual approach to improvisation to the festival. But after 23 years, Heble is retiring as the festival's artistic director.
|Ajay Heble introduces the 2013 Guelph Jazz Festival photos ©Brett Delmage|
The 2016 festival, which runs from September 14 to 18, will be the last he organizes – and he's brought back many festival favourites to perform.
From Vancouver: clarinetist François Houle, guitarist/oud player Gord Grdina, and drummer Kenton Loewen. From Montreal: pianist Marianne Trudel, saxophonist Jean Dérôme, and Esmerine. From the Toronto area: saxophonist/flautist Jane Bunnett, baritone saxophonist David Mott, reed player Peter Lutek, cellist Matt Brubeck, guitarist Kevin Breit, tabla player Ravi Naimpally, banjoist Tim Posgate, and guitarist Neil Hendry. From Ottawa: percussionist Jesse Stewart and violinist William Lamoureux.
From California: pianist Myra Melford. From Chicago: percussionist Hamid Drake, trumpeter Rob Mazurek, saxophonist Ernest Dawkins. From Philadelphia: drummer Chad Taylor. From NYC: trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, pianist Amina Claudine Myers, tuba player Howard Johnson, and pianist David Virelles.
Some of the music they play will look back: there will be two tributes to famous free jazz musicians, and one concert which will remix performances from previous Guelph festivals.
Others will expand possibilities, with performances as diverse as DJ/scratch artist Kid Koala, to the Asiko Afrobeat Ensemble, to the “heavy-handed” FreePunk of Peregrine Falls.
But the core of the festival remains improvised jazz. It has similarities to the Ottawa Jazz Festival's Improv Invitational series – ranging from melodic to highly avant-garde – but on a much larger scale.
Think "September Song", and you'll have a good idea of what's happening in jazz and improvised music in Ottawa-Gatineau. It's a month to hear jazz vocals – and the start of a new jazz season in which you can hear award-winning vocalists.
Sign up to our JazzScene newsletter to get a full listing of all the jazz and improvised music events within 100 km of Parliament Hill in your inbox every week. You can also check our list of Ottawa-Gatineau-area jazz clubs.
Of course, there's still lots of opportunities to hear mainstream jazz and the avant-garde. But this fall, the big names will include Diana Krall, Emilie-Claire Barlow, Bet.e and Stef, Tanya Tagaq, and Jane Bunnett and Maqueque.
In September, you can hear the human voice celebrated in jazz in many different forms, from ballads to blues to Latin, with shows by the Nylons, Bet.e and Stef, The Juliet Singers, Diane Nalini, Kimberley Beyea, Nicole Ratté, Betty Ann Bryanton, Rachel Beausoleil, Megan Jerome, Anne Lewis, Peter Liu, Steve Berndt with the Jivewires, Hélène Knoerr, Rachelle Behrens, and Caroline Cook.
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