Sweet but with a rough edge, and deeply emotional, the harmonica is an unmistakable – but not often heard – jazz voice. As Normand Glaude has been increasingly adding harmonica to his jazz shows over the past few years he's been delighted at how many people in his audiences recognize and enjoy it.
“Every time I get the harmonica out there's always a number of people that come to me and say 'Wow, I love the way you sound. It just reminds me of Toots!'”
That's Toots Thielemans, the Belgian-American master of the jazz harmonica, who in his 65-year career turned it into a recognized jazz instrument and collaborated with the cream of jazz musicians. He's one of Glaude's musical heroes, and Glaude will present a tribute to his music on Friday, April 6.
Glaude is a well-appreciated member of Ottawa's jazz scene. For almost three decades, he's played double and electric bass, produced shows, and been a recording engineer and producer. He's a favourite accompanist, especially for local jazz vocalists, and has recorded many albums in his Morning Anthem Studio.
But the harmonica is both the oldest and the newest addition to his repertoire. It was the first instrument he learned, at age 4 or 5 – “I was playing reels and jigs and such as a kid.” But he let it go in favour of other instruments, eventually concentrating on the bass. “I really enjoyed being part of the foundation of the music in any group, orchestration, and that role [as bassist] has been one that I think has fit my personality really well.”
About 2010 he picked up the harmonica again. “I've always enjoyed the sound on bass, but it just doesn't have the appeal and the voice that, say, the harmonica has. It was very much of a little secret.”
Updated March 26, 2018
Diana Krall was a double winner tonight at the 2018 JUNO Awards – in her home province.
Krall's latest album, Turn Up the Quiet, was named Vocal Jazz Album of the Year, and Krall was named Jack Richardson Producer of the Year for two of its tracks: “L-O-V-E” and “Night and Day”. She performed both of those songs in her concert at Ottawa's National Arts Centre on December 2.
Toronto bassist Mike Downes won Jazz Album of the Year: Solo for his album Root Structure. At the ceremony, Downes thanked his bandmates, drummer Larnell Lewis, guitarist Ted Quinlan, and JUNO-winning pianist Robi Botos, saying "They put music first". He also acknowledged the other nominees, and said he was "so proud to be part of the community creating all of this". This was Downes' second JUNO nomination and second win (he won for Ripple Effect in 2014).
Mike Murley, David Braid, Anders Mogensen and Johnny Åman won Jazz Album of the Year: Group for The North. It's a joint Canadian-Scandinavian project whose original music is inspired by the experience of living and playing jazz in northern countries. Murley and Braid, who are both from Toronto, have often played in each others' projects. They have each been nominated for 8 JUNOs and (separately) won 2.
The awards were given out at the JUNO Gala Dinner tonight in Vancouver, at which most non-pop awards were announced.
Updated July 19
Gypsy jazz, Gershwin, and the Great American songbook will all be featured in the 2018 edition of the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival (Chamberfest).
On May 1, the festival unveiled the full list of shows which it will present from July 26 to August 9, 2018 in a slightly longer programme than usual to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The announced shows are primarily from the core classical repertoire, but several are also of interest to jazz fans.
On July 26 and 27, violin virtuoso Roby Lakatos will appear with his gypsy jazz quartet. Lakatos comes from a family of Romani violinists descended from Janos Bihari, an influential composer and performer who brought gypsy music into aristocratic fashion in the early 19th century, and whose melodies were used by Liszt and Beethoven.
Lakatos moves easily between classical, jazz, and his native Hungarian folk idioms. His violin training came both from within his own family, and at the Béla Bartók Conservatory of Budapest, where he won the first prize for classical violin in 1984. His biography notes that he has collaborated with Vadim Repin and Stéphane Grappelli, and his playing was greatly admired by Sir Yehudi Menuhin, who always made a point of visiting the club in Brussels to hear Lakatos. In the jazz realm, his ensemble has played with Herbie Hancock, Nigel Kennedy, and Randy Brecker.
Last fall, Lakatos and guitarist Biréli Lagrène – who also played with Stéphane Grappelli as a youth – released Tribute to Stéphane & Django, along with the big band of the Modern Art Orchestra, and jazz drummer Niek de Bruijn and guitarist Andreas Varady. The CD/DVD included Jazz Manouche standards such as "Djangology", "Nuages", "Minor Swing", and "Nuits de Saint-Germain-Des-Près".
Lakatos will perform a classically-oriented concert on July 26 at Dominion Chalmers United Church, and a jazzier late-night concert on July 27 at the École Secondaire de la Salle in Lowertown. [Read our review and see the pictures of the July 27 show.]
Most tributes to Jazz Age composer George Gershwin either concentrate on the piano or give his music a full orchestral treatment. But Montreal's Buzz Brass quintet has a different idea: their Gershwin show combines piano with two trumpets, two trombones, and French horn.
Ross Taggart was a central figure in Vancouver's and Canada’s jazz scene, as a pianist, saxophonist, educator, and composer. CBC Radio's “Hot Air” jazz program described him as “one of our most beloved jazz musicians, and a founding member of many of the best jazz bands in BC.” When he became seriously ill with cancer in 2012, musicians immediately organized a benefit for him. He died in 2013, at only 45.
He was also a very important person in pianist Sharon Minemoto's life. He was her teacher, the saxophonist in her jazz quintet, and for a number of years her husband – and always a beloved friend.
Minemoto has dedicated her new CD, Safe Travels, to Taggart, and she and her quartet are about begin a short Ontario tour to introduce it here. Their first stop, on Friday, March 23, is at GigSpace in Ottawa, followed by shows in Waterloo and Toronto.
She emphasizes this won't be a sad occasion.
“I hope that they will hear our passion for the music, and I hope that if any of them know Ross they will perhaps hear the humour in it. Because we really don't feel a lot of sadness when we're playing that music anymore. It's mostly just remembering all the fun times that we had with Ross.”
Updated April 26, 2018
It won't be the same Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2018.
The festival, which announced much of its summer line-up today, is facing the double whammy of construction in Confederation Park and the National Arts Centre's closure for rewiring. Most of its 2018 shows will be in the grounds of Ottawa City Hall and a nearby church, and it will only be able to use the Fourth Stage at the NAC.
American headliners announced today include pianist Herbie Hancock (June 30), vocalist Boz Scaggs (June 22), guitarist Russell Malone (June 23), and trumpeter Terence Blanchard (June 26). They join the already-announced trumpeter Chris Botti (June 21), vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater (June 24), bluegrass-roots vocalist Alison Krauss (June 26), and improvising banjo player Béla Fleck with the original Flecktones (June 28). Announced later were funk queen Chaka Khan (June 25), and French musician St Germain (June 27), who plays nu jazz, a mix of jazz and electronic music.
Festival programming so far emphasizes jazz more than in recent years, with Khan, Krauss, and Lake Street Dive the only non-jazz headliners announced this year, and fewer non-jazz acts in most series. Last year, 70% of headliners were non-jazz, and about 36% overall (excluding local groups); this year, only 33% of the headliners announced so far are non-jazz, and 16% non-jazz overall.
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.
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.
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 OttawaJazzScene.ca 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.
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.”
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.
OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor interviewed her about her Fourth Stage concert, her love for jazz, and what inspired the music on her new album.