The group Mélanie E has found inspiration in popular song – but not the Great American Songbook.
On Saturday, the Ottawa jazz quartet will launch its second CD, a collection of songs popular in French Canada from the 50s to the 80s – in jazz versions. For francophones, it will be a trip down memory lane – but in a quite different style. For anglophones, it's jazz from a completely new angle.
The project is the brainchild of wife-and-husband musical team Mélanie and Keith Hartshorn-Walton. Mélanie is the vocalist; Keith is the arranger and tuba player; and they collaborated writing the three original songs on the CD. Both are well-known in Ottawa's jazz scene, as are the other two members of the quartet: guitarist Alex Tompkins and drummer Michel Delage, with whom Keith has played in other groups.
When OttawaJazzScene.ca interviewed the Hartshorn-Waltons last week, they were enthusiastic about their show this Saturday at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios, and about the music on their new CD, Chemin.
The group plays the French songs that Mélanie heard on French-language radio as she grew up: by famous Québeçois songwriters such as Félix Leclerc, Robert Charlebois, Georges Dor, and Claude Léveillée, as well as songwriters from France such as Serge Gainsbourg and Joe Dassin.
“That's why I chose them. They're just songs that spoke to me, during that time,” Mélanie says.
“I grew up living most of my impressionable life in Ontario, even though my family traditions were very much from the east coast of Quebec. And I think that made me culturally insecure. So I spent a lot of time in my youth and in high school and even in university listening and researching French music, and reading French authors, some of which cover both music and literature. And I think that's where my passions came from.”
There wasn't a big French community where she lived while in high school, she said, “and so I felt a bit of a disconnect. And through music, I was able to bring French songs to my friends who hadn't, they'd never heard of these artists before!”
Valeriy Nehovora has found Canada, and Ottawa's jazz scene in particular, to be a very welcoming place.
Fifteen months ago, the university-trained percussionist arrived in Canada from the Ukraine – and he's been busy ever since performing and making connections with local musicians.
This month, he's leading his first Ottawa-based group, as his quartet hosts Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago in downtown Gatineau. He's joining up with three well-known Ottawa jazz musicians he met at jazz jams and playing in different projects: guitarist Alex Moxon, bassist J.P. Lapensée, and saxophonist Richard Page.
You can also hear Nehovora the first three Sunday evenings this month as part of Marc Decho's Warp'tet, which is performing a tribute to Jaco Pastorius in the Sunday Sessions series at Irene's Pub in the Glebe.
Canada was Nehovora's first choice as a destination after he left Ukraine, because of what he'd heard of this country's welcoming attitude. “Canada is [the] best country. That's why I came to Canada.”
He said he talked to others in similar situations to his own – who had to leave because of economic or political problems or because of war. Friends in Germany and Poland told him that they were constantly reminded in those countries that they were immigrants, even those who were second or third generation.
“In Canada, here I'm not viewed liked an immigrant. I feel like it's my country now. And also for newcomers, Canada has a lot of different programs which help.”
When he got here, Nehovora said, he made a point of meeting as many musicians as possible at local jazz jams and shows, and playing with them in different projects. He met Moxon and Lapensée through attending their HML Trio jazz jam at the Brookstreet Hotel in Kanata, and Page when they played together in a project with organist Don Cummings.
At 61, John Merritt is one of the youngest members of the Grey Jazz Big Band, whose members' ages range from 55 to the early 90s. On Friday afternoon, he's leading the band in “A Concert to Remember” – playing tunes from eras some of those musicians lived through.
Merritt is the director of the 19-piece big band, whose repertoire is primarily vintage swing music. Their Friday concert at Centrepointe's Studio Theatre will broaden that to include tunes from 1903 to 1968 – Dixieland to the Beatles.
The Grey Jazz Big Band is Ottawa's most senior band, with “a lot of experience”. It includes many retired musicians keeping up their chops playing in it. In the last 30 years, the band (and its smaller sub-bands) has specialized in community work and fund-raising, as well as playing for seniors, particularly day-time concerts that other bands might not be able to undertake because of conflicts with day jobs.
“We've got a few people in their 90s, and they're still playing really well,” Merritt said. “They're as sharp as tacks. It's awesome to see. Of course, we have [pianist] Kay Denison, who's been around for a very long time in the jazz community here in Ottawa and elsewhere. And Bill Luxton, formerly a CJOH announcer and he did a lot of live theatre as well, he's one of the singers, Mary Frances Simpson being the other one. Bill is in his 90s. Bobby Cleall, a trumpet player, he just turned 90 last week. He does some very nice soloing.”
Updated November 18
For Kellylee Evans, swing music and swing dancing are a source of joy, as she figures out where she's going next.
On Wednesday, November 8, she's asking jazz fans to share that joy and put on their dancing shoes for her “Swing, Swing, Swing!” show at the National Arts Centre.
The Juno-winning vocalist is teaming up with saxophonist Petr Cancura and the Ottawa Swing Dance Society (OSDS) for the show, which will celebrate swing music in general and the 100th birthday of jazz great Ella Fitzgerald in particular.
The show comes at a busy time for Evans, as she gradually restarts her career after several years of recovering from two serious injuries: being hit by lightning while washing dishes in 2013, and suffering a concussion after a fainting fall in November, 2015.
On October 27, she finally released her latest album, Come On, in North America – two years after she released it in France. She's currently preparing for several CD release shows, finishing off her period as musical artist-in-residence at Carleton University, and thinking about what she'll do next.
Evans was first introduced to swing by Marc Stevens, the general manager of the National Arts Centre Orchestra. They met backstage in 2014 when Evans was preparing for a Canada Day concert with the orchestra.
Stevens is a big swing dance fan, she said, and was “selling this idea to the band and I and anyone who was coming, to go swing dancing. I had just recently started to get a little bit better after my accident, and he sent me a video of swing dancing. And I was … this video of people being thrown over heads and Lindy Hop just looked so difficult – I was like, I can't do that with a brain injury! So I told him, 'I don't think so!' ”
“I think they’re all curious at what the new, old dude might have to offer,” Peter Feldman tells me about the listeners who have bought tickets for his upcoming performance. “Better Late than Never” will be his debut as a jazz soloist at a self-proclaimed ‘shockingly advanced age’.
Listeners have reason to be curious about what Thursday’s show will bring, because Feldman is aiming for a different experience.
“I was hearing an awful lot of repertoire that was similar. And I thought, I’d like to see if I could put together a program of both standards and other tunes that not everybody in town is singing. So I’ve been very particular about the repertoire selection,” he said.
This show has been on his mind “for about a year.” Its musical inspiration arises from his love of jazz and other music and from decades of work in the theatre and music business, where he’s put other performers in front of audiences, while setting aside his own on-stage performances.
“38 years ago today, I presented Sarah Vaughan, the first show I presented in my five years of presenting concerts. I got to work with Brubeck and Dizzy and Akioshi and Lew Tabackin and Stephane Grappelli … I got to present some wonderful artists in that period of time,” he said, about his early first work as a concert promoter and presenter at the University of Alberta Students' Union (SUB) Theatre in Edmonton.
For 22 years, he continued that work as the founding Executive Director of CAPACOA, which promotes live performance and touring by Canadian artists. For his work, he received the National Arts Centre Award for Distinguished Contribution to Touring in the Performing Arts.
Music has always been part of Feldman's life. “I did a lot of theatre in high school and in college, including musical theatre. My mother was an opera singer. So there was always live music in the house. I played violin and clarinet. And I learned how to play bass and that was my experience in bands, playing electric bass.
“And then I started getting into jazz when I was in college, partially because of this close harmony group that I was singing in, but also the group of people I hung out with. A crowd of us went to hear every show that the Buddy Rich big band played in Rochester for four years when the band was in its heyday.”
Behind many successful Blue Note jazz records in the 1960s was a pianist named Duke Pearson. You could call him the man who gave that record label its groove.
In addition to being a composer and bandleader in his own right, Pearson was also an arranger and A&R man for the record label, and contributed to many albums released on that label. Allmusic says he “played a big part in shaping the Blue Note label's hard bop direction in the 1960s”.
Adrian Cho, the artistic director of the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra, has been researching Pearson and his music, and his reaction was, “Oh, wow! There is so much incredible stuff here. I want to play some of this.”
This Thursday, November 2, the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra will present “The Duke of Groove”, a tribute to Pearson, at the National Arts Centre (NAC). It's the first show in the orchestra's five-show season in 2017-18, whose subjects will range from iconic jazz composer Billy Strayhorn to jazz reimaginings of 60s and 70s pop songs. The shows have one thing in common, however: in each Cho and the orchestra are thinking large.
For the Duke Pearson show, nine musicians will take the stage at the NAC Fourth Stage – and that's not even the largest show. The Strayhorn tribute will feature a 15-piece big band, and the following “Wes’ Coast Vibes” an even larger group.
This is nothing new for the orchestra: its biggest show, a restaging of Duke Ellington's Sacred Concerts in 2010, included almost 50 instrumentalists and vocalists, and even a tap dancer. However, last year, the orchestra had to perform in the NAC's Back Stage because the Fourth Stage was being completely rebuilt, and in the smaller room was not able to put on large-scale shows.
The orchestra's marks its 12th season this year. Unlike other big bands in town, its main audience is concert-goers, not swing dancers, and so it primarily plays more complicated and often long-form pieces by major jazz composers. Those have included Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Stan Kenton, Miles Davis, and Kenny Wheeler. OJO also features music by lesser-known composers like Johnny Richards and Terry Vosbein.
TABLE 4 FOUR is a new project started by vocalist Nicole Ratté – with three other well-known Ottawa jazz vocalists. They'll play their very first concert at Les Brasseurs du Temps in downtown Gatineau on Sunday, October 29. It's a project that Ratté has been contemplating for the last four years, but only pressed the start button on a year ago.
Ratté knew Dominique Forest, Kieran Milne, and Steve Berndt, and “I wanted that mix of voices, their specific strengths and I was sure we were going to blend well.” They each have strong individual careers: Milne as a drummer as well as a vocalist; Berndt leading The JIvewires, Safe Low Limit, and his own quartet, and well as his long-time duet with pianist Brian Browne. Forest and Ratté have both released jazz CDs, and sung together in several popular tribute shows to Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, as well as singing regularly around town in their own jazz ensembles.
Each vocalist will epitomize a different style: “Steve holding the fort for mainstream jazz, Dominique adding a little bit of a pop flavour to her tune, Kieran going in the direction of funk and myself Chanson française.” Supported by a three-person rhythm section that includes J.P. Allain on keyboard, Scott Latham on drums, and Normand Glaude on bass, they'll sing in four-part harmony and in different duos, as well as singing solo.
Bassist Artie Roth is a busy member of Toronto's jazz scene. He's played with musicians ranging from Kenny Wheeler to Robi Botos to the Shuffle Demons to Melissa Stylianou to Rez Abbasi to Lynne Arriale. He's performed on over 50 albums, including Rich Underhill's JUNO-winning Tales from the blue lounge and Sophie Milman's JUNO-nominated debut CD. For many years he was the bassist in Kollage, the band led by a Toronto jazz icon, drummer Archie Alleyne, and composed for that group.
He's also released three CDs of his own groups performing his music, and performed several times in Ottawa: in 2015 with his quartet, and in 2016 with Ottawa drummer Ken Harper.
On Saturday, October 28, The Artie Roth Trio will appear at Southminster United Church as part of the church's Concerts by the Canal series. They'll play tunes from Roth's two most recent albums, Currently Experiencing , and Discern .
OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor recently talked with Roth about the concert and how he's arranged the music to fit Southminster in particular, how he connects with audiences, and how Archie Alleyne is a continuing presence in his music.
This is a slightly edited, condensed, and rearranged version of that conversation.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Two years ago, I heard you tell students about an important lesson you learned from bassist Reggie Workman. Could you tell me more about that?
Artie Roth: What I was referring to was probably when I was studying with Reggie at the Banff Centre for the Fine Arts. At that time, I was in my early 20s, a relatively nervous and very cautious player. I remember I was about to play a concert, and Reggie was my teacher at that time. He waved me to the side of the stage before I played.
He has this thick Philadelphia accent, and he says , “Artie!” And I go, “What?”
“Look at them!” – and he meant the audience. “OK”, so I looked at them.
Nominations are now open for the board of directors of the Ottawa Jazz Festival. The board is responsible for the festival, including decisions on the overall artistic direction such as the balance of jazz and non-jazz, overall size and budget of the festival, and the role of the festival in the community.
If you want to take an active role in directing the festival, this is your only opportunity, once a year.
Nominations must be received by Friday, October 20. Anyone can run for the board, but you must be nominated by an active festival volunteer. A list of volunteers is in the summer festival program guide on pages 24-25.
Increasingly, Steve Boudreau has found that George Gershwin “permeates all the music that I look at”.
For the last few years, the Ottawa jazz pianist has been listening to, absorbing, and performing the music of the renowned Jazz Age composer. On Sunday, October 22, he'll release a CD of almost-all Gershwin compositions, in a show at the NAC Fourth Stage.
Entitled Preludes, it's centred around the three short Preludes which Gershwin composed in the 1920s, whose form is classical but whose spirit is definitely jazz. To those, Boudreau has added four songs from the opera Porgy and Bess, and several other Gershwin tunes which have become jazz standards – plus two of Boudreau's own tunes. The CD closes with a piece by Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, who has also acknowledged his debt to Gershwin.
OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor recently interviewed Boudreau about Gershwin, the CD, and the upcoming release show. In our podcast interview, Boudreau explains: