Despite an everything-that-could-go-wrong day, Gil Scott-Heron and his band wowed the audience at the Ottawa Jazz Festival's opening and free concert night on Wednesday.
The warmth between the tall, painfully-thin man and the audience crowded up to the stage was palpable. As he entered, many people reached up their hands, and Scott-Heron shook as many as he could. He started talking, simply and straightforwardly, with a lot of humour, some of it old but all of it still funny.
The day had started badly for the Festival when the original headliner, the Max Weinberg Big Band, had had to cancel because thunderstorms completely shut down travel out of Chicago. Then Scott-Heron's band made it to Ottawa, but he was delayed by customs inspections – of which he made much fun on stage, at point recounting that he had assured the inspectors that if they had really wanted drugs he could go back home and find them some but right now he didn't have any on him.
Scott-Heron missed his flight, got further delayed by weather, and was barely on his plane from New York City at 8 p.m., when he was originally scheduled to start.
Instead, his backing band, Kimberly Jordan on vocals and keyboards, Brian Settles on tenor and soprano sax and flute, and Alton Duncanson on percussion, gave a highly crowd-pleasing set of jazz, pop, and R&B standards, ending with a long, crowd-involving back-and-forth on a Carole King song. Jordan has a strong, flexible voice and used it well, and Duncanson's percussion gave a strong underpinning. Lots of cheers and happiness.
And that happiness was needed, because the weather got steadily worse as the evening progressed. The rain started spitting about 8 p.m., became steady by 8:30, and continued sometimes light, sometimes heavy for the rest of the evening.
Some of the crowd put up umbrellas, others pulled up their hoods, and others just ignored the rain. Many just stood close together under the stage overhang and to be closer to the musicians.
Scott-Heron first moved to the centrally-placed Fender Rhodes, and played several songs with an R&B feel, sometimes just singing a cappella. Then he was joined by Jordan on backing vocals for several more songs, and finally by Settles and Duncanson. The music shifted between R&B and jazz: one song involved a long and humorous "explanation" of the origins of "jazz", followed by a fine New-Orleans-style piece.
Settles produced some fine solos on sax and flute, while Duncanson particularly spread himself on a long percussion solo near the end.
Particularly notable pieces were a heartfelt "Work for Peace", and the soulful "I'll Take Care of You" from Scott-Heron's 2010 album I'm New Here.
The concert ended with "Celebration" (which it felt like), but the audience called them back for an encore before dispersing into the rain.
– Alayne McGregor
The new Friends series at the Ottawa Jazz Festival is giving four musicians a chance to go outside their comfort zones.
Instead of playing with their normal groups, they can choose whom they'd like to play with – within the constraints of availability and budget, of course
According to Ottawa Jazz Festival executive producer Catherine O'Grady, the festival was thrilled and "very lucky" to get the artists they did.
There's lots of places to listen to jazz at the 2010 Ottawa Jazz Festival – but not a lot of chances to talk about it.
In 2008 and 2009, the Festival worked with the Jazz Journalists Association to produce noon-hour panels with local and out-of-town experts on topics like Fusion at 40 and 1959: The Wonder Year. The initiative was not continued this year.
The panel will feature AAJ founder Michael Ricci and managing editor John Kelman, who will be covering the Ottawa Festival. They will be giving a behind-the-scenes look at AAJ: "the web's most successful jazz music website". They will discuss the website's 15-year history, how it operates, its ongoing challenges, its current projects, and its plans for the future.
If you read or write about jazz, you might be interested. A 30-minute Q&A will follow their talk.
The panel run from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Friday, June 25, at The Black Tomato (11 George Street, just east of Sussex Drive, in the Byward Market). [map]
If you miss certain concerts at the Festival, you might be able to hear them later on CBC Radio.
CBC Radio 2 has announced it will be taping the following concerts:
Amanda Putz, host of Bandwidth on CBC Radio One, will emcee the first three tapings.
Ottawa Jazz Scene will let you know when we learn when these concerts will be broadcast, but it could be several weeks or several months away.
There will be jazz in the Glebe this Saturday afternoon.
According to Catherine Lindquist, executive director of the Glebe Business Improvement Area, the BIA is sponsoring two jazz groups, playing from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 26.
The BIA is working with the Ottawa Jazz Festival to organize the event. Lindquist said it is involved to promote the Glebe and promote music in the area. "It's another opportunity for people to enjoy the Glebe."
You can hear the music in the parking lot at McKale's Service Centre, 852 Bank Street (the south-west corner of Bank and Fifth). Bring your own lawn chair if you'd like to sit.
But the first group won't be starting there. Mike Essoudry's Mash Potato Mashers, a marching band with jazz, Balkan, klezmer, and many other roots, will parade southwards down Bank Street first.
The Mashers will play from 1 to 1:45 p.m. They will be followed by Petr Cancura and Friends from 2 to 2:45 p.m. Cancura is a saxophonist and clarinetist, formerly from Ottawa, who now works in New York City but often comes back to play here.
– Alayne McGregor
If you've gone to a major jazz event in the last few decades, you've probably seen a man with a Nikon camera sitting in the front row and carefully capturing the musicians and the moment.
John Fowler, who recently retired as a civil engineer, has a second career as a jazz photographer. Last year, he published his first collection of his photographs in book form, "Renee Rosnes Playing Glen Gould's Steinway - Images of Canadian Jazz". In previous years Fowler's photos have been featured in exhibits at the National Library and Arts Court, for the Ottawa Jazz Festival's 25th Anniversary.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Ottawa Jazz Festival, Fowler has organizing an exhibit of his photos taken at the festival from 1991 to 2009. They include portraits of jazz greats such as Herbie Hancock, Dave Brubeck, and Chick Corea.
The exhibit will be held at the artsandarchitecture gallery, 1181 Bank Street in old Ottawa South. It opens on Wednesday, June 23 with a vernissage from 5 to 8 p.m. where you can meet the photographer and enjoy snacks and refreshments.
The gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Thursdays and Fridays it is open until 7 p.m. The last day of the exhibit is Sunday, July 4. For more information see www.artsandarchitecture.ca or John Fowler's website at www.jazzphotoguy.com .
Once the Ottawa Jazz Festival starts, it's non-stop for bassist John Geggie.
That's because running the Festival jam sessions is not a matter of simply showing up at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the late evening and playing until the early hours. It involves a great deal more advance planning, discreet promotion, and understanding the capabilities of different musicians.
The jam sessions are "an important part of the jazz world," Geggie told Ottawa Jazz Scene. They're a chance for musicians playing at the Festival to unwind and play with musicians they may normally never have the chance to play with – or just to kick back and have a beer and listen. They're also a chance for jazz fans to hear unexpected and unrehearsed combinations, and the possibility of more music from their favourite artists.
But to meet all these expectations is not always easy.
Over 500 volunteers will be required to help run the Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2010, according to the new Volunteer Coordinator, John Cvetan. Each on-duty volunteer needs to be clearly identified to the public and other festival crew by a personal badge and a special color of T shirt. So John and Wendy, both long-time festival volunteers themselves, are spending this weekend making packages with a badge, T shirt and printed instructions for the massive volunteer orientation meeting on Monday. John points out that the new roll-up self-packaged kit doesn't need an envelope and is "more environmentally friendly."
Sometimes – heresies of heresies! – you might actually want to go somewhere else during the Ottawa Jazz Festival.
The ground might be totally waterlogged from two thunderstorms in one day. Or it might be 35C with a humidex of 40C and you're about to get heatstroke. Or the bands that night aren't your style. Or you just want to sit in a real chair and eat from real china plates or drink a different beer.
There are alternatives.
Most local jazz venues will be open and running jazz on their regular nights during the festival.
Of course, you can enjoy also these Ottawa-Gatineau jazz musicians throughout the year if you can't drag yourself away from the festival. Check our upcoming shows listings and/or subscribe to our free weekly email newsletter, Jazz Scene.
If you'd like to stay out of downtown Ottawa, the Chelsea Pub in Quebec will be running its own intimate jazz festival on June 25, 26 and 27. It starts with Nicole Ratté's Quintet (with a different mix of musicians and a more French-influenced repertoire than at the Ottawa festival), then Groovus Maximus (Latin jazz-funk with Mark Ferguson and some of the members of Los Gringos), and ending with Patrice Servant and his group (Servantes) playing everything from Latin to bluegrass to flamenco to classical, with a jazz tinge.
There are some acts coming to the 2010 Ottawa Jazz Festival that just aren't jazz.
Not crossovers, not hyphen-jazz, not on the bleeding edge. Simply fine artists who play music other than jazz.
Ottawa's not the only festival which does this. On CBC Radio this week, "Q" host Jian Gomeshi took Montreal JazzFest's co-founder Andre Menard to task for the many "decidedly non-jazz artists" at that festival.
In reply, Menard argued that "just the pure jazz content" in the Montreal festival "accounts for a huge festival in itself. Then the rest [the jazz purists] can consider it decoration or distraction if they want." You can hear their debate at podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/qpodcast_20100608_33580.mp3 .
Compared to the Montreal JazzFest (or the number of non-blues acts at the Ottawa Bluesfest), the Ottawa Jazz Festival has fewer "decorative" artists. However, Ottawa Jazz Scene still counted 12 non-jazz acts, spread throughout the 2010 festival program: