Guitarist Steve Bilodeau has deep roots in Ottawa and in jazz. He started out playing in the Ottawa Junior Jazz Band and then with the Nepean All-City Jazz Band. He took a degree in jazz performance at McGill University, and returned to Ottawa, performing in a number of different jazz groups and teaching full-time. After saving his pennies for several years, he moved to Boston in 2013 to take a two-year Master's degree in jazz at the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC) – and has stayed there ever since. In 2016, he was a semi-finalist in the Montreux Jazz Festival's renowned international guitar competition.
But he has another side – as a producer of hip-hop beats, composing the instrumental tracks over which hip-hop vocalists rap. And that's what Ottawa audiences can hear Friday, in a Canadian incarnation of Bilodeau's hip-hop group Billa Joints. The show at Pressed will include his brother, bassist Alex Bilodeau (a regular member of the group in Boston), plus two emerging Canadian jazz musicians: Deniz Lim-Sersan on drums, and Chris Maskell on tenor sax and effects.
OttawaJazzScene.ca caught up with Bilodeau on Christmas Eve, when he and Alex Bilodeau performed standards at the Options Jazz Lounge at the Brookstreet Hotel. It was an evening of time-honoured jazz, from Thelonious Monk to “Darn That Dream”, with both musicians exploring and extending each tune in a classic improvisatory style – before a surprisingly full and appreciative audience for what it is not normally considered a jazz evening.
Between sets, we talked about Billa Joints, and how Bilodeau's jazz and hip-hop sides fit together – and how he keeps them separate. This is a lightly-edited version of the interview.
This is last year's list. Check out the 2018 New Year's choices
Updated December 29, 2017
Want to ring in the new year with jazz? There's more than a dozen choices this year in Ottawa – from big bands to intimate duos, from swing to Latin to standards, and at all price points.
The biggest and most glamorous jazz show for New Year's 2017 will be at the National Arts Centre, where Big Band Ottawa will headline the “Light the Lantern” gala dinner/dance. In 2014, the band performed to a sell-out crowd of more than 800 at the NAC. This year, with the centre's renovations complete, leader Robert Vogelsang says they're back with many new charts.
With experienced vocalist Doreen Smith giving her personal zing to the songs, they'll perform music spanning the last 90 years, from Count Basie to Bruno Mars. The event will again take over the NAC lobby outside Southam Hall. It will begin with a four-course dinner inspired by sustainable and Canadian ingredients, followed by dancing, and including a sparkling toast at midnight – all for $199 per couple.
Looking for a more family-oriented evening? The NAC is offering free early evening events, culminating at 8:45 p.m. in the unveiling of its new glass tower over its Elgin Street entrance, with huge LED screens displaying constantly-changing images of artists and productions at the NAC and across Canada. The free activities starting at 5 p.m. will include performances by the local large jazz ensemble Stevens & Kennedy, and lots of hot chocolate.
The musicians in F8-BIT loved playing classic 8-bit video games, and the games' music was a very important part of the experience. OttawaJazzScene.ca's Inside the scene attended their first jazz performance, which was inspired by the games' music. Discover what it sounded like and learn about the unusual venue that was a perfect win for their music.
Updated February 1, 2018
Trumpeter Chris Botti will perform with the NAC Orchestra at next summer's Ottawa Jazz Festival, while pianist Fred Hersch, a Latin big band led by Hilario Durán, vocalist Barbra Lica, and saxophonist Chet Doxas will headline the 2018 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival.
At the festival's annual general meeting Thursday, executive producer Catherine O'Grady revealed the first few artists booked for the summer festival and announced the winter festival line-up.
The summer 2018 Ottawa Jazz Festival will run from June 21 to July 1. O'Grady said the performers will include trumpeter Chris Botti with the NAC Orchestra (June 21), bluegrass-country vocalist Alison Krauss, and improvising banjo player Béla Fleck with the original Flecktones (June 28). (The Montreal Jazz Festival also announced on the same day that Fleck would perform at that festival.)
On December 7, the Ottawa jazz festival added a further award-winning artist: jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater (June 24), with her new album honouring her home town of Memphis, Alabama.
The 2018 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival will run from February 8 to 10. It will again be located indoors at La Nouvelle Scène in Lowertown, as it was in 2017 – not at the National Arts Centre, where it had been primarily located from 2012 to 2016.
|More Ottawa Jazz Festival news: Location worries in 2018, after a "scary" 2017|
The festival has announced eleven concerts over three days for the winter festival – one day and one concert shorter than in 2017, but keeping the same general format. In late December, it finished the line-up by announcing the winner of its special project grant, with which a local jazz musician would present a concert which also includes multimedia, spoken word, dance, or visual art, and in January it added another late-evening concert to Thursday.
With a major excavation planned under its usual home in Confederation Park, next summer's Ottawa Jazz Festival is still in flux.
At the festival's annual general meeting on November 30, executive producer Catherine O'Grady said that she was currently in negotiations with the National Capital Commission (NCC) and the City of Ottawa about the festival's 2018 location. She said she expected to have an answer by Christmas.
Major's Hill Park is not available at the end of June, she said; it's booked for an indigenous music, theatre, and dance festival. Nor is Lansdowne Park: the Escapade Festival will be there at that time. And “we don't fit in any of the other parks. ... So we have very few options.”
In his written report to the AGM, festival president John Freamo said that the festival “will have to adapt [in 2018] as part of Confederation Park will be unavailable due to a large infrastructure project.” But when asked at the meeting what parts of Confederation Park would be available, he said they could not talk about that yet, because the NCC was still working on the details of the project.
Marc Decho has been the bassist with the Miguel de Armas Latin Jazz Quartet / Miguel de Armas Trio for five years, since it started in 2012. He talked enthusiastically with OttawaJazzScene.ca's Brett Delmage about the music the group will perform at this Wednesday's NAC Presents concert, the guest musicians who will join them, and the surprising way that Decho came to meet de Armas and be a part of the group.
When you talk to Michael Snow about improvised music, the word he mentions most frequently is “surprise”. It's a musical quality he values highly.
The world-renowned Canadian artist has certainly surprised enough art critics and viewers in his career, with ground-breaking innovations in painting, sculpture, photography, film, multimedia, and conceptual art. He's less well-known as a jazz and improvising musician, but it's a calling he's followed throughout his life.
On Saturday, Snow and Jesse Stewart will perform a duo show at GigSpace, with him on piano and Stewart on percussion. It will be their third concert together in Ottawa. They'll also release a recording on vinyl this weekend, with an appearance at The Record Centre on Sunday afternoon.
Their music together is completely improvised. Both said they had no preconceptions or plans of where they would start or what they would play at GigSpace – other than it wouldn't duplicate what they'd played together before.
“I'm very much looking forward to it – because I will be surprised!” Snow said.
“We just start and then the structure of the music is co-created in real-time,” Stewart said. However, “it sometimes feels like the musical conversation has a tendency to pick up where we last left off. It's an ongoing dialogue that he and I have been having musically for the past 15 years or however long we've been playing together.”
The first time Snow and Stewart performed together in Ottawa was at the National Gallery in 2010. OttawaJazzScene.ca was at that show. It was a packed house, and at the end of their improvised show, the audience immediately rose to its feet for a standing ovation.
On Wednesday, November 29, Ottawa vocalist Karen Oxorn will step into the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage, and pay tribute to her favourite jazz vocalist of all time, Ella Fitzgerald.
Her 'An Ella Celebration! The Classic Songbook Recordings' concert is the latest in a series of large-scale tribute concerts which she's organized over the last decade, at the NAC, GigSpace, and local festivals. She's been thinking about this show for three years, and preparing for it for the past two years.
She talked with OttawaJazzScene.ca's Brett Delmage about some of the ideas behind it and the extensive work required to bring it to the stage.
The final concert of this fall's Jazz Jazz Jazz! festival in Gatineau on Sunday afternoon attracted an enthusiastic crowd to hear the music of French composer Michel Legrand.
Legrand was a prolific composer for musicals and films, and on record; many of his songs, like “I Will Wait for You”, have become classics. He's also the favourite composer of Ottawa vocalist Nicole Ratté, who picked 17 of his songs – some ballads, some upbeat – to sing at this show.
Some she performed in French, and others with the well-known English lyrics, accompanied by her frequent collaborators J.P. Allain on piano and Normand Glaude on double bass and harmonica.
The audience at Les Brasseurs du Temps clapped warmly throughout the two-hour show and demanded an encore at the end.
“This is our ensemble's Canadian debut! It'll also be our first time to Ottawa. We love bringing our music to new audiences,” sax and clarinet players Peter and Will Anderson enthusiastically replied to OttawaJazzScene.ca, about their show in the Concerts by the Canal series next Saturday.
The Andersons are 30-year-old identical twins. Born and raised in Washington D.C., they attended Juilliard for 6 years, earning bachelors and masters degrees together. The brothers have sustained their life-long personal friendship and musical partnership after graduating, playing the classical jazz they love and their originals with each other almost all the time.
Their extensive experience playing together is evident in their videos in which they seamlessly weave their changing roles of soloist and accompaniast.
OttawaJazzScene.ca journalist Brett Delmage exchanged emails with them to learn more about them and their CBTC concert at Southminster United Church. They replied jointly.
OttawaJazzScene.ca: Why have you selected this repertoire?
A lot of our repertoire was pioneered by greats like Ellington, Basie, and Sinatra. But we try to play it in a unique way that suits our style. The best songs in jazz are from what we call the Great American Songbook, but many other composers have contributed to the jazz repertoire including those from New Orleans, Brazil, and us too!
Why do you like playing this music?