Diana Panton ©Brett Delmage, 2017
Jazz vocalist Diana Panton will make her NAC debut next March with a new album ©Brett Delmage, 2017

Juno-winning jazz vocalist Diana Panton will make her National Arts Centre debut next March, in one of the few high-profile jazz concerts announced by NAC Presents this week.

The NAC popular music series announced 30 additional shows in its 2017-18 season on Wednesday. Of those, five were jazz shows, including Panton, pianist Michael Kaeshammer, saxophonist Benjamin Deschamps, and Quebec jazz/pop group Bellflower. Notably, Ottawa multi-instrumentalist Petr Cancura will return with a new all-star instrumental Canadian group: Generation NOW.

Diana Panton (March 3, NAC Studio) has won two Juno Awards: one for Red, a collection of love songs for grown-ups about serious love relationships, and more recently for I Believe in Little Things, her album of jazz songs for children. In November, the Hamilton-based vocalist releases her eighth album, solstice/equinox, whose theme is the changing seasons and how they relate to the cycles of love and life. The album features an all-star Canadian musical cast: arrangements by Don Thompson, who also performs on bass, piano, and vibraphone; Guido Basso on cornet, flugelhorn, and trumpet; Phil Dwyer on saxophones; and Reg Schwager on guitar.

For his show in the NAC Theatre on February 8, Vancouver Island-based Michael Kaeshammer will have two recent albums to present. No Filter, a collection of original songs and piano instrumentals, with special guests Randy Bachman, Denzal Sinclaire and Joel Parisien, was released in 2016. This fall, Kaeshammer will record his new CD in New Orleans, to be released in January. At his last NAC show in 2016, Kaeshammer made a real effort to connect with his audience, playing a lively and varied set with a top-notch band, and chatting with the crowd.

Generation NOW with Petr Cancura (March 13, NAC Studio) is a new group of “today’s most important Canadian jazz musicians”, assembled by Cancura. He's picked musicians skilled in both composing and playing: Michael Blake (Vancouver, NYC) on woodwinds, Rebecca Hennessy (Toronto) on trumpet, Marianne Trudel (Montreal) on piano, Rémi-Jean LeBlanc (Montreal) on bass. and Greg Ritchie (Montreal) on drums. The result: a band with “great time feel”, filled with “original Canadian musical personalities”.

NAC Fourth Stage Technical Director Peter Kealey will conduct an enthusiastic crew and a new theatre full of new equ  ©2016 Brett Delmage

Starting this month NAC Fourth Stage Technical Director Peter Kealey will conduct his enthusiastic and experienced crew in a new theatre with a new stage, new lights, and upgraded sound equipment. ©2017 Brett Delmage

Canada's National Arts Centre’s popular Fourth Stage concert hall officially reopened Wednesday afternoon after a 17-month reconstruction, which included a down-to-the-ground tear-down.

“We've been waiting for this moment for a long time,” NAC CEO Peter Herrndorf told the press at the opening. It was Herrndorf's idea, back in 2000, to convert a former bookstore into the original Fourth Stage, and he said it became “the most popular venue” at the NAC, and a favourite space for community groups.

The reconstruction was part of the NAC's major 50th anniversary rejuvenation, which substantially expanded its event rooms and performance spaces, and added a new glass front and entrance on Elgin Street. Passers-by can now look into the windows of the Fourth Stage from the sidewalk and see events happening there, as part of "a more welcoming space”.

(l-r) Jean-Nicolas Trottier - trombone, Sebastien Pellerin - double bass, Benjamin Deschamps - saxophone, composer/leader ©Brett Delmage, 2017
((l-r) Jean-Nicolas Trottier - trombone, Sebastien Pellerin - double bass, Benjamin Deschamps - saxophone, composer/leader ©Brett Delmage, 2017

The Benjamin Deschamps Quintet brought high energy to two hour-long sets at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios in Ottawa on Saturday evening. They performed primarily Deschamps' own compositions from his 2017 album, Demi-Nuit, which showcased the quintet's fine playing and rich interlacing of instruments.

Jean-Nicolas Trottier on trombone and Deschamps on alto sax were particular stand-outs, whose lines combined and complemented each other to produce propulsive fire and sweet melodies. The audience demand an encore, and then responded with a standing ovation.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Catherine OGrady Tweet

In a tweet on September 12, Ottawa Jazz Festival director Catherine O'Grady welcomed music suggestions of all kinds for the 2018 festival.

You can email your 2018 program ideas to her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Looking for ideas? Check OttawaJazzScene.ca! Festival-goers commented extensively about what shows they liked and disliked – and why – in our 2017 Ottawa Jazz Festival poll. We reported their votes and comments in a series of stories.

Benjamin Deschamps - photo by Bruno Guérin
Award-winning saxophonist Benjamin Deschamps is on tour this week with his quintet He'll perform at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios in Ottawa on September 30.
photo: Bruno Guérin

Read our review of The Benjamin Deschamps Quintet's standing-ovation show in Ottawa.

Montreal saxophonist Benjamin Deschamps is immersed in the jazz tradition, but carefully explores music in his own voice.

A fan of big band composers like Thad Jones and Duke Ellington, he currently leads a quintet of well-credentialed Montreal jazz musicians playing his own compositions – which blend influences from many streams. He's released two albums of his originals so far; the second, Demi-Nuit, came out in April.

On Saturday, Deschamps and his quintet will perform in Ottawa as part of an Ontario release tour for Demi-Nuit.

This year, he also got a big boost from Radio-Canada: he was named the 2017-18 jazz artist in the network's Révélations program – the tenth in the series, and only the second saxophonist. The program, which is open to French-speaking Canadian musicians, has chosen notable young jazz artists including Brandi Disterheft, Samuel Blais, Jérôme Beaulieu, and Jacques Kuba Séguin, and helps promote their careers.

Deschamps has performed with pianist Charles Trudel, bassist Sébastien Pellerin, and drummer Alain Bourgeois since 2013. That year, his group won the Grand Prize at the Festi Jazz de Rimouski – an award that has frequently led to further success in the Quebec jazz scene. More recently, he added experienced trombonist Jean-Nicolas Trottier to the group to form a quintet.

In Ottawa, the quintet will perform in the intimate listening room at Record Runner Rehearsal Studios on Saturday. Their tour will also take the them to Kitchener-Waterloo on Friday and Toronto on Sunday.

OttawaJazzScene.ca editor Alayne McGregor spoke with Deschamps on Monday. This is a lightly edited version of our phone interview.

OttawaJazzScene.ca: I first wanted to ask you about being chosen as the 2017-18 jazz artist in Radio-Canada's Révélations program. What was your reaction when you heard you'd been chosen?

Benjamin Deschamps: I was totally surprised, because I didn't apply for it. People nominated me. So I didn't know that it was really going on. And when I received the phone call, it was very early in the morning, and I literally yelled – a scream of joy! I was so surprised and happy. It was really incredible. The woman on the phone was used to it, because she's calling everybody. There are four categories: I am the Révélations Jazz, but there is one for classical, one for pop music, and one for world music. So she's used to these reactions, that's what she said.

©Brett Delmage, 2017
Epoch leader/drummer Mike Essoudry has brought a great deal of his original music to this project ©Brett Delmage, 2017

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

Mike Essoudry is giving compositions – which he says reflect our current times – their first airing this month, as his new Epoch Quintet hosts Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago.

He's workshopping the tunes – many brand-new – with the quintet, which also premièred this month. When OttawaJazzScene.ca heard them on September 11, the music was rich, multi-layered, and strongly interactive. The room was mostly full, and the audience applauded strongly.

Essoudry has been a regular player in the decade-long series at the downtown Gatineau club, and several times used it as a place to try out new projects. The Jazz Mondays host band (which changes each month) plays a first set of approximately an hour, and then opens up the second set for other musicians to join in for a jazz jam.

He's gathered four other Ottawa musicians into the quintet, all of whom he's played with before in other groups. Guitarist Alex Moxon (the HML Trio and the Chocolate Hot Pockets) and saxophonist Zakari Frantz (the Souljazz Orchestra) are well-known on the scene, while bassist Phil Charbonneau has lately been playing more with indie groups like the Hilotrons. Pianist Roland Racz moved to Ottawa a few years ago from Hungary, where he had won many awards, and has been steadily increasing his profile here.

Florian Hoefner ©Brett Delmage, 2016
Florian Hoefner releases his first solo piano CD, Coldwater Stories, in a four-city tour beginning in Ottawa on September 20 ©Brett Delmage, 2016

St. John's, Newfoundland, is the easternmost city in Canada. From Signal Hill, all you see eastward is the Atlantic Ocean, with Europe on its other side.

This makes it a uniquely suitable location for Florian Hoefner – a jazz pianist with strong connections both to Canada and to Europe. Hoefner has been living in Newfoundland for the past three years, and its sea-rimmed landscape has strongly influenced his new solo piano CD, Coldwater Stories.

He'll debut that CD in a four-city tour of Ontario and Quebec next week – beginning with a solo show in Ottawa at Southminster United Church on Wednesday, September 20.

Hoefner was last here in January, 2016, as part of a cross-Canada tour with his quartet. His Ottawa show was a notable jazz highlight of the year, with its expressive music and remarkable musical unity. OttawaJazzScene.ca heard from listeners months later about how glad they were to have discovered his music.

On Coldwater Stories, he continues to create impressively rich and beautiful compositions – but combining his jazz roots with the influence of modern classical composers. It's his first solo piano CD, and he's used that opportunity to explore the musical possibilities of that instrument, including learning from past masters. Each of the compositions on the album has a title linked to Newfoundland, including pieces inspired by a local puffin colony, icebergs off the coast, a hike in a Newfoundland national park, and the north Atlantic Ocean.

Hoefner was born and raised in Germany, studied jazz at the University of Arts in Berlin, and then was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to complete a Master of Music degree from the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. After spending six years in New York, he moved to St. John's in 2014, after his wife was appointed as an Assistant Professor in Memorial University's music department.

Florian Hoefner ©Brett Delmage, 2016
Florian Hoefner releases a new solo piano album at his Ottawa show September 20. ©Brett Delmage, 2016

Updated September 7
September is when jazz starts up after summer vacation, and begins the new 2017-18 jazz season. Here in Ottawa-Gatineau, the season is opening with an interesting variety of shows.

Two CD releases, award-winning musicians from Montreal, a new weekly jazz series, a jazz group revival, and more are on the schedule for this month – and the music heats up particularly near the end.

It's been 2½ years since Ottawa drummer and composer Mike Essoudry last presented his sextet in concert at the National Arts Centre, playing his evocative and complex compositions. Now he's revived and reworked the group into the Epoch Quintet, with well-known Ottawa jazz musicians Zakari Frantz on alto sax, Phil Charbonneau on bass, Alex Moxon on guitar, and Roland Racz on piano.

Throughout this month, the quintet will be playing and workshopping new tunes by Essoudry, as the September host band for the late-night Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago in downtown Gatineau, just the other side of the Chaudière Bridge. As always, the second set will be open for jamming.

Other jazz jams are back from their summer break this month, too, rejoining the year-round weekly jams at Jazz Mondays, and on Thursdays with the HML Trio at the Brookstreet Hotel's Options Jazz Lounge. Starting September 5, the Beeched Wailers are back hosting their Tuesday night jam at Irene's Pub in the Glebe. Just up the street at the the Arrow and Loon, the Glebop Jazz Trio will begin their 13th season with their annual jam session on September 10, with saxophonist Rick Moxley and drummer Greg Klowak sitting in with the trio.

And jazz will reign for two evenings at The Black Irish Pub in Vanier: Jacquie Dixon's jam on Friday, September 8, with a host band headed by vocalist Claudia Joseph, and the JazzWorks jam on Thursday, September 21, with host band Red Jazz and Friends.

On Wednesday, September 6, the Prime Rib Big Band celebrates seven monthly shows at Irene's. The 11-member band, led by trumpeter Ed Lister, plays Lister's originals, rooted in big band swing in the style of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Thelonious Monk. He's been steadily adding tunes for this band, which includes many well-known local jazz players.

Ottawa guitarist Sean Duhaime was inspired by a new collaboration and by the death of one of his musical heroes for the music he'll present in concert this Wednesday evening.

Sean Duhaime ©Brett Delmage, 2015
Guitarist Sean Duhaime with drummer Jansen Richard ©Brett Delmage, 2015

Duhaime's long-time jazz fusion trio, with bassist Laura Greenberg and drummer Jansen Richard, will be joined by two guests for their show at at Live! on Elgin – vocalist Doressa Dorcilhomme and keyboard player Nathaniel Clarke.

Dorcilhomme was a 2017 finalist in the Ottawa Bluesfest's “She's the One” competition for local vocalists. Duhaime said she sings neo-soul and R&B, and will sing some tunes by Robert Glasper, Sade, and Erykah Badu on Wednesday.

Clarke has had a closer connection to Duhaime – they've both been playing in the local hip-hop/funk/soul group, BlakDenim. Over the last year, they found they had a lot in common musically.

Playing with Clarke inspired Duhaime to write “nearly 15” new compositions which incorporated keyboards into his sound for the first time: “I never thought I wanted to have a keyboardist”. One of the new songs, “Opportunity” is dedicated to Clarke.

“We've been taking a lot of time to rehearse the music, and Nathaniel took a lot of time to practice. We just tried to figure it out and make a new voice, a new repertoire for this music and this band.”

He described the music they'll play on Wednesday as “a little bit more funky and rockin' – something that has a lot more energy to it”, although he also does have some pure jazz compositions. He'll also be playing music from the EP the trio released last year, although Clarke will be sitting out their best-known piece, “Bert”.

Clarke said he thought Duhaime's music was “really something to aspire to. Just by listening to it, or just from reading the music charts, you can tell that there's a story behind it, from song to song. I guess over time he got inspired and that's the whole art behind composing songs. It's like an everyday journey, an inspiration like he mentioned.”

IMOO #161: Raymond MacDonald and Guests
General Assembly, Ottawa
Sunday, August 6, 2017 - 7 to 9 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

How well does jazz improvisation cross geographical boundaries? Very well, if the latest IMOO show this month is any example.

David Jackson listens to Raymond MacDonald ©Brett Delmage, 2017
David Jackson listens to Raymond MacDonald ©Brett Delmage, 2017

This month, improvising saxophonist Raymond MacDonald visited here from Scotland – and played with Canadian improvisers in three cities: Quebec City, Montreal, and Ottawa.

MacDonald is a composer and improviser, with roots in jazz and pop music, who has worked with notable free jazz musicians including Evan Parker, Marilyn Crispell, and George Lewis. He is a founding member of the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, and has released over 60 CDs and toured and broadcast worldwide. He describes much of his work as exploring “the boundaries and ambiguities between what is conventionally seen as improvisation and composition”. He is also Professor of Music Psychology and Improvisation at Edinburgh University, and is currently involved in running Polyphony, a music project providing access to musical activities for individuals with mental health problems.

The Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO) organized the Ottawa show, in their new location, General Assembly in Hintonburg. They teamed MacDonald (alto sax) with four IMOO stalwarts: David Broscoe (alto and baritone saxophones, drink cans), David Jackson (guitar, effects), Ian Birse (electronics and percussion), and Laura Kavanaugh (electronics and violin). The result: two sets of wide-ranging and engaging music made on the spot.

MacDonald opened the show alone with punctuated rhythms on his saxophone, followed by continuous vibrating tones. His tone was almost electric in feel although completely acoustic. As the other musicians joined in, they softly added to the textures filling the room: Birse ringing bells, Broscoe adding light ones on baritone, a gentle electronic buzz from Kavanaugh. Throughout the show, the music flowed in waves, sometimes barely there, sometimes intense, but always clear and full, with the musicians carefully picking their entrances for maximum impact. The show ended with a dense overlay of complex and complementary lines, and then dissolved into sparse, quiet notes on guitar trembling in the silence – followed by strong applause.