©Brett Delmage, 2018
The saxophone line of Melissa Brown, Wesley Reissner, and Patrick Vafaie (l-r, front) were featured in the Brad Turner composition “Hey, That's My Bike!”, which closed the Nepean All-City Jazz Band fall concert.
©Brett Delmage, 2018

The Ottawa Junior Jazz Band
The Nepean All-City Jazz Band
Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School, Ottawa
Tuesday, December 18, 2018 - 7:30 p.m.

View photos by Brett Delmage of the Ottawa Junior Jazz Band performance, and the Nepean All-City Jazz Band performance

If you'd ever wondered which is louder, a big band or a fire alarm, the question was conclusively answered last month at a joint concert by the Ottawa Junior Jazz Band (OJJB) and the Nepean All-City Jazz Band (NACJB).

The punctuated snarl of the fire alarm won.

Just after 9 p.m., the NACJB was in full flight playing Tom Kubis' “Grimey Yet Slimey Blues” in the auditorium of Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School in Barrhaven. The alarm went off loudly and with a bright flashing light, the music abruptly stopped, and the entire audience dutifully trooped out of the school. Three firefighters arrived within a few minutes and quickly confirmed there was no fire. Then everyone returned after a 10-minute break – to hear the band resume right where they had broken off, fully immersed again in the energy of the piece.

Each year, the two student bands present a joint concert in December. It's a shaking-in show, the first chance for new band members to perform before a live audience and play the music they had been learning and rehearsing for the past three months. OJJB Director Mandar Gumaste said it was the first time it had ever been interrupted by a fire alarm.

The concert opened with a seven-song set by the OJJB, performing a mix of big band standards and more modern pieces. It was an energetic performance, tight and clear, of innovative and generally upbeat arrangements. The band's performance of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's “Such Sweet Thunder”, with its many strong individual solo sections, garnered particularly strong applause. Gumaste noted that half of the band was new this year, but you wouldn't have known that from their smooth performances in numbers such as “Spain” and “Hot House”.

As OJJB's members were leaving the stage at the end of their set, the trombone section stayed behind and played “Jingle Bells” – an extra fillip of Christmas cheer that was nicely done.

The NACJB kept the audience guessing with its first number: a new arrangement of the standard “Just Friends” by Sean Nelson, who just graduated from the big-band mecca of the University of North Texas. It opened with individual horn lines over a drum shuffle, which eventually coalesced into the familiar melody – and built to fanfares around piano (Vincent Ribberink) and tenor sax (Melissa Brown) solos. It typified the band's repertoire: a tip of the hat to the tradition, but in modern arrangements and including more recent pieces such as Bob Curnow's famed big band arrangements of Pat Metheny tunes.

After their fire alarm interruption, the NACJB continued unruffled. Highlights included a dramatic vocal reading by Laura Seaborn of “I've Got the World on a String” and an atmospheric “American Gothic” with an assured tenor solo by Patrick Vafaie, which reminded me of Aaron Copland's music.

The band closed with a Canadian piece, “Hey, That's My Bike!” by Vancouver jazz trumpeter/pianist Brad Turner, whom NACJB director Neil Yorke-Slader noted wrote particularly difficult saxophone parts. Yorke-Slader unleashed three of his saxophonists on the tune: Brown, Vafaie, and Wesley Reissner. They played the fast-moving music, which frequently abruptly changed direction and timbre, in individual solos and in unison – ending with the three leading a huge fanfare from the entire band.

Student big bands have traditionally tended to be populated by boys, so it was good to see more female faces in both of this year's bands. More than half of the OJJB musicians (9 of 17) are female, as are three of the NACJB musicians (tenor sax, trumpet, and vocals).

Both bands will next perform in the Capital Region Music Festival (Ottawa) in early March. The NACJB will perform its spring concert with a guest artist, 2017 JUNO nominee Shirantha Beddage, on April 30 at Nepean High School, along with its sister band, the Nepean All-City Lab Band.

©Brett Delmage, 2018
OJJB's trombone section played Jingle Bells to close the first set.
©Brett Delmage, 2018

Set 1: Ottawa Junior Jazz Band

  1. That's What I Thought (Paul McKee)
  2. This Can't Be Love (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, arranged by Scott Ragsdale)
  3. Blackbird (Lennon and McCartney, arranged by Mike Tomaro)
  4. Such Sweet Thunder (Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, arranged by Mike Kamuf)
  5. Spain (Chick Corea, arranged by Paul Jennings)
  6. Hot House (Tadd Dameron, arranged by Eric Richards)
  7. Giddyup! (Rick Hirsch)

Set 2: Nepean All-City Jazz Band

  1. Just Friends (John Klenner, Sam M. Lewis, arranged by Sean Nelson)
  2. Always and Forever (Pat Metheny, arranged by Bob Curnow)
  3. Grimey Yet Slimey Blues (Tom Kubis)
  4. I've Got the World on a String (Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler, arranged by Steven Feifke)
  5. American Gothic (Bob Berg, arranged by Mike Crotty)
  6. As (Stevie Wonder, arranged by Drew Zaremba)
  7. Hey, That's My Bike! (Brad Turner)

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