2014 Ottawa Jazz Festival, Day 3: Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra's Fifth Anniversary Concert
Jean Pigott Place, Ottawa City Hall
Sunday, June 22, 2014 – 3 p.m.

“The Capital Youth Jazz Orchestra is 5 1/2 years old now, but who's counting? Well, actually we are!”

CYJO director Nicholas Dyson sounded proud and delighted at the success of his creation, as the young musicians in the orchestra presented their fifth anniversary concert at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. Their concert was the last in a series of six presented by youth big bands at the 2014 festival.

As part of the celebration, the orchestra reprised several numbers from previous concerts, including a full-bodied rendition of “Mermaid Beach” by local composer Mark Ferguson. Other numbers ranged from classics made famous by Duke Ellington and Buddy Rich, to pieces by Canadian composers Maynard Ferguson and Paul Tynan, to the modern “That's How We Roll” by Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band.

Over CYJO's five-year history, Dyson has consistently featured big band charts by Canadian and local composers, most recently by Ottawa jazz composer Rob Frayne. And as he has done at every concert, Dyson told the audience about each piece and who had performed it, sharing his clear love of big band music.

The music went over well with the intently-listening audience, who strongly applauded the generally upbeat selections. The ground floor atrium of Ottawa City Hall was almost filled with jazz fans and local musicians.

For this concert there was more than just the current incarnation of CYJO on the bandstand – musicians from back to its beginning returned. The orchestra consists of local university and high school students, and its membership regularly turns over as students graduate or move to study at universities in other cities.

Throughout the show there was a constant flow of musicians on and off the stage, adding solos, doubling up on the bass, guitar, and drums, or joining in the horn sections. A dozen band alumni showed up, many of whom have established their own musical careers or are studying in university jazz programs.

On "Backwoods Sideman", a John Labarbera number, alumni Patrick Smith and Brennan Anderson doubled the energy playing in unison and alteration, propelling the piece along; on “Isfahan”, Brady Leafloor played a long, moody and disciplined alto solo; Alex Tompkins' rippling guitar solo was underscored by the trumpet section on “Cottontail”.

By the time the orchestra reached its last two numbers, the stage couldn't accommodate the crowd, and several musicians were at the side, playing percussion instead of their regular instruments.

With the day running a few minutes late, Dyson had to leave before the last two numbers to get to another gig. But the band, with some guidance from founding member Brady Leafloor, easily navigated the infectious Latin beats of “Sunny Rae”. The closing number, “That's How We Roll”, featured eight saxophones in the front row, producing quick alternating solos and ending with a last intense fanfare.

In previous years, the youth bands played outside; this year, the outdoor stages were dedicated to non-jazz shows and they were moved indoors to Jean Pigott Place. It's not a very forgiving location for sound: its hard, marble walls and high ceiling are very reflective. The festival worked around that by close-miking the entire orchestra, which generally allowed the audience to hear all the instruments. In the second row at least, it sounded OK, but not as rich as in its normal concert location of Kailash Mital Theatre at Carleton University.

The festival reduced the number of youth bands it presented this year by almost one-half. For decades it has dedicated two days to the youth bands: in 2013, there were 11 bands over the first Saturday and Sunday. In 2014, there were only 6, on one day.

    – Alayne McGregor

Photos are not available for this review because the Ottawa Jazz Festival denied access to OttawaJazzScene.ca's photojournalist.

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Updated June 23 to correct Alex Tompkins' name playing in "Cottontail".