Sam Kirmayer photo by J.F. Hayeur
Sam Kirmayer (photo by J.F. Hayeur)

Right from the opening notes of his debut CD, you can hear Sam Kirmayer's affinity for melody.

The young Montreal jazz guitarist tries to create “interesting, exploratory music that's still focused on feeling good and is accessible to people”. He wants melodies that stick with the listener, he says, and that's the focus of his CD, Opening Statement, both in the originals he wrote for the CD and in the jazz standards he chose.

Next Thursday, he'll perform this music in Ottawa with his quartet – the first time all four musicians have performed together since he released the CD last April.

Kirmayer has emphatically jumped into his jazz career, with no looking back. Less than a year after graduating from the jazz performance program at McGill University, he released his first album, and is continuing to tour it across the country. He's already recorded his second album, High and Low, and will release it later this year.

OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor interviewed Kirmayer last week about the CD and his quartet's upcoming mini-tour, which will take him to Quebec City and Montreal after Ottawa. This is a lightly edited and rearranged version of our conversation.

©Brett Delmage, 2017
The Chocolate Hot Pockets performed among a variety of original visual paintings and sculptures at the Orange Art Gallery, including this sculpture by Maria Saracino ©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Chocolate Hot Pockets
Orange Art Gallery Music Nights
Friday, January 12, 2018 – 8 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this event

“Don't go out” - that was the message Friday on Ottawa weather forecasts and newscasts, with predictions of a flash freeze that evening, combined with a bone-chilling wind chill. Ottawa Public Health issued a frostbite advisory, while the police advised residents to avoid unnecessary travel.

But for the 20-odd people who did make it out to the Orange Art Gallery in Hintonburg, the Chocolate Hot Pockets put on a hot, funky, and enjoyable show that kept them listening throughout the evening.

The art gallery has been running monthly music nights with local groups since August, when it received its liquor license. It's featured pop music by River City Junction, jazz by Constant Black, swing by the Brian Downey Quartet, and New Orleans-inspired music by the Mumbo Jumbo Voodoo Combo.

Ed Lister ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Ed Lister will release the debut album for his "hyper-groove" band, ERU-ERA on Saturday at a favourite stomping ground, Irene's Pub. ©Brett Delmage, 2017

For trumpeter Ed Lister, ERU-ERA is a very personal project.

He brought together the seven-piece Ottawa jazz/groove band in 2015, and has written almost all its material. And he named it after himself: “Eruera” is his other given name – in Māori, his mother's native language. It's the Māori version of “Edward” and has been borne by several notable New Zealanders.

“So I just hyphenated it,” Lister said. “I thought it would be kind of cool. A bit of a tongue-twister, but...”

On Saturday, ERU-ERA will release its first album, ERA-LUDE, consisting of all his own compositions. The CD release show will be at Irene's Pub in the Glebe, where they recorded the album live last July.

Lister is one of the busiest players in Ottawa's jazz scene. He arrived in Ottawa in April, 2011, and within a few months was teaming up with local players in jazz groups like the Hard Bop Association and the Chocolate Hot Pockets. He runs his own record label, London Gentleman Records, and is a popular on-call trumpet player for many projects and recordings. And he leads or co-leads many local bands – The Chocolate Hot Pockets, ERU-ERA, 33Z, the LGR Band, and the Prime Rib Big Band – writing and/or arranging much of their material.

OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor interviewed Lister this week about ERU-ERA's music and how he developed it, and how Ottawa's music scene helped that development. This is a lightly edited version of the conversation.

©Brett Delmage, 2017
Patrick Vafaie and Stephen Szabo at the NACLB debut concert December 8 at John McCrae Secondary School ©Brett Delmage, 2017

View photos by Brett Delmage of the NACLB performance and of the opening act, Pick Up Sticks

An Ottawa student big band has expanded its vision to the entire city this year – and changed its name in the process.

The Nepean All-City Lab Band (NACLB) played its debut concert under its new name December 8 before a full and enthusiastic house. It was formerly the Secondary School All-Star Jazz Band of the Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), and is led by high school music teachers Jean-François Fauteux and Stephen Szabo.

The students “earned the right to have this opportunity by working so hard and playing so well,” Szabo said. “A lot of them are in the band this year who were in our [all-star] band last year.”

He said they decided to leave the district school board because the band had outgrown its original mandate. “The all-star band when it originally started was a seven-rehearsal band. And it was a very small project, but it evolved over time. And it needed a home that we now have.”

Instead, the NACLB has become a sister band of the award-winning Nepean All-City Jazz Band (NACJB), led by Neil Yorke-Slader. The NACJB celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2017.

“With the projects that we wanted to develop with this band, we were thinking about going out of the board and reaching a bigger catchment area for the band,” Fauteux said. “And then Neil called us, and he said, 'Well, you know what, what about joining our family?' And of course when he said that, he's a longtime friend and we were so honoured that he would even consider asking us, so that was a bonus for us for sure.”

Oliver Gannon
That's What is one of the 5 albums Oliver Gannon has recorded for Cellar Live.
Alain Caron
Alain Caron

Two well-known Canadian jazz musicians – guitarist Oliver Gannon and bassist Alain Caron – were announced as new members of the Order of Canada today.

Oliver Gannon has been a stalwart of the Vancouver jazz scene since 1970, best known for his long and fruitful collaboration with legendary Canadian tenor saxophonist Fraser MacPherson. Their album of duets, I Didn't Know About You, won a Juno for best jazz album in 1983. In 2002 Gannon was named Guitarist of the Year in the National Jazz Awards.

And Gannon hasn't stopped since: he's released five albums as leader on the Cellar Live label, and played on many more. In early January, he'll be unveiling a new trio at Frankie's Jazz Club in Vancouver, and recording the shows for another album. The Vancouver Coastal Jazz Society says that “Gannon cites Barney Kessell and Wes Montgomery as formative models, of horn players as conceptual influences, and of Art Blakey’s music as a favourite direction. His fluid swinging style is rooted in 50s and 60s bop.”

The Order of Canada awards list recognized Alain Caron for “his contributions as a six-string electric bass virtuoso and for his role in mentoring musicians in Canada and abroad”.

©Brett Delmage, 2017
Alex and Steve Bilodeau performed jazz standards at Brookstreet on Christmas Eve. On Friday, Steve will demonstrate a completely different musical side with his Billa Joints hip-hop project. ©Brett Delmage, 2017

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.

©Brett Delmage, 2017
There is no cover charge for Miguel de Armas' popular New Year's Eve event at Brookstreet Options Jazz Lounge, but it filled up quickly with enthusiastic listeners and dancers in 2016. ©Brett Delmage, 2016

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.

F8-BIT (l-r: Alex Moxon, Michel Delage, Jake von Wurden, Steve Boudreau) perform jazz inspired by the music in 8-bit video games they've enjoyed playing

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.

Barbra Lica ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Toronto vocalist Barbra Lica will return to Ottawa for the 2018 Winter Jazz Festival, after a glamorous and well-crafted set at last April's JUNOfest ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Updated February 1, 2018

See the full 2018 Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival line-up

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.

©Brett Delmage, 2010
The Ottawa Jazz Festival may only be able to use part of Confederation Park in 2018, or none of the park at all. ©Brett Delmage, 2010

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.