Last December, Montreal jazz pianist Rafael Zaldivar was initiated into the Yoruba tradition in Cuba. It was part of his recent exploration of his own Cuban roots, at the same time as he's become firmly ensconced in Quebec's jazz scene.

Rafael Zaldivar ©Brett Delmage, 2012
Rafael Zaldivar ©Brett Delmage, 2012

It was a spiritual experience for him: he went through a ceremony “to resolve personal incidents that I had about my past”. And not only did he learn more about this major Cuban belief system, its link to nature and the universe and to the divine, but also about the rhythms, dances, and songs which are a central part of its practices.

He's put those rhythms and that music into his Afro-Cuban Revival project, which he brings to the Ottawa Jazz Festival tonight, and then to the Montreal Jazz Festival on July 3. It's a show which he hopes will connect the audience to the energy of the music, the spirituality of the traditions, and “the vibration that music brings to them”.

“This is a live performance. This is an animated performance. There will be a lot of exchange between the musicians in terms of accentuations, syncopations, visual exchange between views, the dancing, the physicality of the performance – people will appreciate that.”

Zaldivar, 35, was educated in Cuba's rigorous musical system, graduating from the Higher Institute of Arts in Havana. He emigrated to Canada in 2005, and quickly found a place in Montreal's jazz scene. He has released three albums of mostly original compositions with Canadian and American musicians, one of which was nominated for a JUNO Award. At the same time, he continued his university education, and was awarded a Doctorate in Music from McGill University in 2016. He's currently a professor of music at Laval University.

His Afro-Cuban Revival Project includes rhythms traced from the four major Afro-Cuban cultures: the Yoruba (or Lucumí), the Congo (or Bantu), the Arará, and the Abakuá. These are all rhythms which he studied for his doctoral thesis, on Afro-Cuban integration in jazz composition and improvisation.

Updated June 28
Looking for fewer crowds or jazz in your neighbourhood? Downtown not convenient? There are many fine opportunities to hear live jazz around the city even while the Ottawa Jazz Festival is running.

Nicholas Adema ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Young trombonist Nicholas Adema brings a new sextet to town Saturday at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios playing modern, straight-ahead jazz ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Thursday, June 21: Fiesta Cubana helps open Westboro Beach for the season with an outdoor concert of lively Cuban music. With seven musicians and dancers, the spirited rhythms of the cha cha cha and other classic Cuban music will be pulling you to get up and dance. If you miss them tonight, they'll be performing frequently on sunny evenings at the beach this summer.

Prefer gypsy jazz? The long-standing Django Libre group will be at Bar Robo. Or, for Brazilian rhythms, Jerusa Leão, originally from Brazil and living in Toronto, will evoke a Samba party in Bahia, Brazil, at the Mercury Lounge.

Friday, June 22: Pianist James McGowan and saxophonist Peter Woods will play an acoustic duo concert in the beautiful surroundings of Dominion Chalmers United Church at noon. In the evening singer Douglas Moyle and his trio will celebrate Frank Sinatra and his fellow crooners at the Options Jazz Lounge in the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata.

Saturday, June 23: From 11 a.m. to noon, pianist Steve Boudreau will play an uninterrupted set of Thelonious Monk's inimitable compositions in among the bins of vinyl at the Record Centre in Hintonburg. And the Cuppa Soup combo performs Dixieland with verve from 11:30 to 2:30 at Billings Bridge Shopping Centre, as part of their charity work for the Shepherds of Good Hope.

That evening, two emerging jazz musicians, trombonist Nicholas Adema and saxophonist Austin Bassarath, bring their sextet to the intimate listening room at the Record Runner Rehearsal Studios on Colonnade Road. Adema and Bassarath met at the University of Toronto, where they're both studying, and found they had a similar passion for composers and players in the Modern-Straight ahead Jazz genre (Walter Smith III, Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Michael Dease). We've been impressed with Adema's attention to detail and musicianship in earlier shows.

I checked out the new Ottawa Jazz Festival set-up Tuesday night. It's definitely going to be more crowded for some outdoor shows!

©Alayne McGregor, 2018
The Main Stage, in front of City Hall, faces east instead of west this year. Listeners will face the early evening sun, but musicians will finally get a break. ©Alayne McGregor, 2018

Because of the construction in the Canal side of Confederation Park, most of the action has moved to around Ottawa City Hall, where the secondary stage was last year. From Laurier Avenue West, the walkway will lead you beside the Box Office and the Souvenirs tent, and then you enter on your left into the stage area.

Watch out for cyclists on the elevated cycle track along Laurier Avenue West, which looks just like a sidewalk, as you cross into City Hall.

The seating area in front of the Main Stage appears to be much smaller than in the park. It will be L-shaped, with the Gold Tent and the sound tech booth to the right, and the regular seating in front of and then extending back on stage left towards City Hall.

If you want to also see and not just hear the performers on the Main Stage, you may need to arrive earlier in order to get a spot with a good view.

Updated June 7 to include details of Browne's memorial service on June 15.

One of Ottawa's most distinctive jazz voices, pianist Brian Browne, died Tuesday afternoon. He was 81 years old.

©Brett Delmage, 2010
Brian Browne ©Brett Delmage, 2010

Browne's greatest joy was in playing jazz standards, songs he considered “basically masterpieces that have survived the test of time, and that's why they're still around. They'll be around forever.”. He would perform them both with sensitivity and with considerable relish and élan – and never the same way twice.

“I could play 'Autumn Leaves' every night of my life and it would be different every night. The only thing that's the same is the title and the framework, the actual skeleton of the actual piece of music. I could play it in different keys, for a different feeling once in a while,” he told in 2014.

“And that's the beauty of playing the standards because even if the title is the same and the framework is the same, it's like building a house. The frame is the same but every time you play you have different rooms, different walls, different pictures on the wall, different colour rugs. It's always different. And that's what's fresh about playing jazz!”

His definition of a standard, though, was wider than just the Great American Songbook. It reached from the 1920s into the 1970s and 80s, with songs by the Beatles, Leonard Cohen, and Billy Joel.

Browne had an bluesy piano style that swung strongly but could also slow down, for example in his rendition of Cohen's “Hallelujah”, to become powerfully emotional. His playing was in the tradition of Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson (with whom he studied), Errol Garner and Bill Evans, but was immediately identifiable as his own.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
Even the large stage at Kailash Mital Theatre started to look crowded when musicians from three big bands temporarily merged Sunday to play two Duke Ellington compositions. ©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra (CYJO) put the “big” into big band Sunday, with three generations of jazz musicians performing 20 numbers in the final concert of its 9th season.

The Ottawa Junior Jazz Band (Grade 9 and 10 students) opened the show with a highly polished presentation, followed by CYJO (university and high school students) celebrating Duke Ellington, and the Prime Rib Big Band (professional musicians) playing engaging originals written in the big band tradition by leader Ed Lister. Individually and collectively, they performed a mixture of classic and modern big band tunes, with many pieces by local composers.

At the climax of the three-hour series of concerts, about 40 musicians from all three bands crowded on the stage at the Kailash Mital Theatre at Carleton University, double and triple-filling the stage risers.

From ballads to blues, from standards to free improv, from emerging jazz musicians to veterans – listeners heard it all at the second Jazz Ramble on May 25 and 26 at the Record Centre.

Mark Ferguson and Steve Boudreau at the 2018 Jazz Ramble ©Brett Delmage, 2018 ©Brett Delmage, 2018
Mark Ferguson and Steve Boudreau's four-handed tribute to Bill Evans was an audience favourite at the 2018 Jazz Ramble ©Brett Delmage, 2018

And when the Ramble ended on Saturday just before 10 a.m., four of those listeners were still awake, having made it through the entire 24 hours.

This was the second edition of the Ramble (the first was in 2016). From 10 a.m. Friday to 10 a.m. Saturday, it featured 25 local groups, one per hour, plus a drum circle which played between sets on the sidewalk.

The groups were mostly different from two years before, with only three repeating. In addition, more than 25 of the musicians performing this year were not at the previous Ramble.

The event was designed to promote Ottawa's jazz scene and the Ottawa Jazz Festival. The festival awarded a Bronze Pass to each of three fans who stayed to listen to every single act: Tariq Amery, Rob Leger, and Marcia Rodriguez. The fourth was's Brett Delmage, who not only listened throughout but made photos of every group which performed and tweeted every hour.

Hard Drop Quintet ©Brett Delmage, 2018
The Record Centre was stuffed with enthusiastic jazz fans for the Hard Drop Quintet at the 2018 Jazz Ramble ©Brett Delmage, 2018

View photos by Brett Delmage of the first 12 hours of the 2018 24-Hour Jazz Ramble

Friday evening and Saturday morning – hours 8 through 23 – of the 2018 Jazz Ramble continued to demonstrate the diversity and strength of Ottawa's jazz scene.

Read's previous story about the 2018 Jazz Ramble's daytime shows.

At 5 p.m., the Lucas Haneman Express – with Haneman on guitar, Megan Laurence on vocals, and Martin Newman on bass, but minus their drummer Jeff Asselin – played a quieter set, more acoustic than their usual electric blues.

They were followed by Jazz Festival programming director Petr Cancura, who again brought a new project to the Ramble, as he did in 2016. This time, he went in a very different direction, writing tunes influenced by singer-songwriter music, instead of his previous jazz and roots music. Cancura later told that he would be leaving for New York City right after the Ramble, in order to record these originals with musicians there. The Ramble show allowed him to workshop the tunes, he said, and the musicians he played with here (guitarist Alex Moxon, bassist J.P. Lapensée, and drummer Michel Delage) “were very gracious to do it.”

M is for poster

With one voice, you have a tune. With four voices, you have harmony, and accompaniment, and interplay, and much more texture and richness.

That's what you can hear on Saturday as The Capital Voices will present its final concert of the season – and its final formal season for a while. The vocal harmony quartet consists of Ottawa jazz vocalists Elise Letourneau and Rachel Beausoleil, plus jazz bassist cum vocalist Normand Glaude, and musical theatre singer Kenny Hayes.

The theme for Saturday's show is “M is for...”. All the tunes, both jazz and pop, have some connection to the letter “M”: for example, the jazz standards “Moonglow” and “Moonlight Serenade”. Also included will be tunes by composers Johnny Mandel, Henry Mancini, and Michel Legrand, and “Well, You Needn't” by Thelonious Monk (with lyrics by Mike Ferro which were made famous by Carmen McRae).

Guitarist Tim Bedner, who will accompany the quartet, will perform an instrumental by Pat Metheny. They're also featuring tunes by popular songwriters Joni Mitchell and Michael McDonald (of the Doobie Brothers), and “In My Life” by Paul McCartney – and even some Motown.

Letourneau said that the idea for the program came as the four were tossing around ideas for tunes. “It was just something that we noticed, how many of them had that common thread with the letter 'M'. And we realized well, we've got a third of a program here, and let's just keep going with it.”

“We're very excited about this program. There's a lot of feel-good music on it, and it's a very, very varied program, all rendered in a way that it feels natural to the four of us.”

Ever since high school, Letourneau said, she's done harmony singing.

May 25, 5 p.m. (Updated June 1 to include podcast interviews with Mark Ferguson and with Raphael Weinroth-Browne)

Like a well-stocked buffet, the first seven hours of the 2018 Jazz Ramble offered a wide and interesting range of music.

Peter Hum and Keith Walton at the 2018 Jazz Ramble ©Brett Delmage, 2018
Peter Hum on piano and Keith Walton on tuba traded melodic and rhythmic lines repeatedly at their 1 p.m. show at the 2018 Jazz Ramble ©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Ramble is running for 24 hours, from 10 a.m. Friday to 10 a.m. Saturday, at the Record Centre, 1099 Wellington Street West in Hintonburg. It has been organized by the Ottawa Jazz Festival together with the record store in order to promote the local jazz scene and this year's festival. There is no admission charge, but donations into the hat are encouraged. is covering all 24 hours of the Jazz Ramble. Support our Reportathon!

Follow's live coverage of the Jazz Ramble on Twitter @OttawaJazzScene

This morning opened with an appealing set of jazz/pop originals and standards by pianist Cynthia Tauro and her trio with Stephen Adubofuor on drums and Caylan Penny on bass, and in particular, a sultry version of George Gershwin's "Summertime" that matched the humid weather.

They were followed by the sweet and funky sounds of Marc Decho's Nu-Trio with Clayton Connell and Adubofuor, playing a well-mixed group of jazz and blues standards, including a fresh and strongly accented "Monk's Dream", whose dancing rhythms evoked strong cheers and clapping at the end.

OMIC logo

Fresh off its success persuading Ottawa City Council to adopt a city music strategy, the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition (OMIC) held a subdued annual general meeting on Monday that concentrated on building the organization.

The coalition's membership has ballooned from 10 to close to 150 members in the three years it's been in operation, and OMIC president Mark Monahan (executive director of Ottawa Bluesfest) told the AGM “sometimes the challenge is figuring out who your members are and what they want.”

“One of the biggest challenges we have I think in the coming year is to keep the organization relevant. We would like to think everybody joins this organization because they have a sense of supporting and wanting to support local music, but also people want to know what's in it for them. And that's a natural tendency when you join organizations like this. One of the things that we've been conscious of is trying to continue to build benefits for all of the members.”