The TD Ottawa Jazz Festival and the "Lifeblood" of the City Music Scene
Photos provided by the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival.
The TD Ottawa Jazz Festival has always been a place to discover new music with enough choice and selection overlap you’d need a couple of clones to really take in all the festival has to offer each year. From an often unpredictable After Dark series in the tent by City Hall, to international musicians taking the stage in the National Arts Centre, Main Stage headliners and shows in the Rideau Centre to watch while sipping your Dave’s Tea, the festival brings in musicians from all over to fill those stages.
However, as Programming Manager Petr Cancura tells Ottawa Life, local talent is just as important to the festival.
“This is the lifeblood of our musical Ottawa and we want to highlight as much of it as we can,” he says. “It is also instrumental to the development of the local scene by presenting local talent at a festival with other internationally recognized artists. At the best of times local and visiting artists meet and get to play together. These bonds push these musicians forward and hence our local scene moves forward.”
This year, with even more home-grown acts to see, the festival decided to take things even further with a new series that may require copious amounts of caffeine if you want to see it in its entirety.
From 10AM Tuesday June 14 to 10AM Wednesday June 15, “The 24-Hour Jazz Ramble” will be an all-day/all-night concert with over two dozen of the city’s top musicians playing non-stop in the Record Centre (1099 Wellington Street West).
Store owner plans to take in the entire 24 hours, noting that his comfy couch in the store kitchen will be a welcome place for a nap or two. He also says they will be putting on some extra staff for the event.
“Petr approached me and it came together so quickly. By noon the next day it was 80% full,” says Thompson on how local talent was eager to join the line-up for this unique show. He adds that every show will be recorded live to tape for future enjoyment.
Ottawa Life chatted with over a dozen local bands and musicians performing at the festival this year to find out what they were preparing for their shows, some of their personal festival memories and how they feel the Jazz Festival helps support talent here in the city.
Jim Bryson:Tartan Homes Stage, Marion Dewar Plaza,
Thursday June 30 @ 10:30pm
So, what went through your head when you were asked to play a jazz festival?
Jim Bryson: How much does it pay? (laughs) Not serious. I knew Petr was programming music that was pushing the definition of jazz, especially in the after hours programming. And, really, I breathe Bill Evans, so I have a jazz heart and I studied piano with Wray Downes, who was Peter Appleyard's piano player, so I got some jazz in there.
The After Dark series shows have been pretty unpredictable and have gotten pretty wild. What do you plan to bring to the tent party atmosphere?
If your idea of a party is a couple of whiskeys and some introspective lyrics with the odd danceable beat, I'm your man.
What are you planning on taking in yourself at the fest this year?
Definitely Brian Wilson. I have a long history with Pet Sounds in my brain and I would love to see him in my lifetime. Colin Stetson is on my list, and Chick Corea with Brian Blade are my certainties.
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Harea Band:Rideau Centre, Sunday June 26 @ 12pm
Tell me what your first show was like for the festival?
Alex Harea: Our first show was so much fun. It was a Monday at noon but there were way more people there than we expected and the audience was so receptive. It was our first experience on a festival stage and it could not have gone better.
How does it feel to be welcomed back?
I'm so honored to be back. I know that local acts don't often play the same festivals two years in a row so it's pretty cool to be invited again. I hope the experience on the new stage is just as exciting. Ottawa Jazz fest just looks so good on a press kit or music resume. It's helped us get bigger gigs in Toronto and get better bands to play with us.
leMeow: Rideau Centre, Saturday July 2 @ 12pm
Have you attended the festival at all in the past and, if so, what was your experience?
Gin Bourgeois: I used to go every year with my family when I was a kid. It was a really positive experience for me. I loved the energy of the crowd and I got to experience some amazing music at a young age.
How are you prepping for your coming show with the fest?
Right now we’re putting the final touches on our set list and working hard to ensure that we’re as polished as can be.
What can people expect from your show at the fest?
We’ll be releasing our debut album York St the week before our Jazz Festival performance so it’s really great timing. Our show will be a mix of originals from the album as well as some of our favourite jazz covers.
Chris Maskell Trio:Rideau Centre, Friday June 24 @ 12pm
Chris Maskell: For jazz fans in Ottawa, the Jazz Festival is not only a rare opportunity to hear world-class performers, but is also a chance to get together and share their love for the music. I run into many friends at the festival that I don’t usually see during the rest of the year, and the nightly jam sessions are a chance for the musicians to get together, create and have fun. It’s great to see so many people excited about and enjoying jazz and improvised music!
How does this festival support local musicians?
Christine Fagan & Steve Berndt Vocalese: Tartan Homes Stage, Marion Dewar Plaza, Wednesday June 29 @ 12pm / “The 24-Hour Jazz Ramble” at the Record Centre, Tuesday June 14 @ 5pm
Steve Berndt: I've played many gigs over the years at the festival with my band The Jivewires and as a solo artist. My song "Déjà Vu" was included on the 2012 compilation album and I have been lucky to have collaborations with many other local musicians and bands throughout the years. 2016 is no exception with the inclusion of a vocalese show on June 29th with vocalist Christine Fagan, guitarist Tim Bedner, bassist Norm Glaude and drummer Jamie Gullikson.
What are the plans for your coming show at the festival?
Christine and I will be singing some intricate harmonies to some very complex chord structures as well as some vocal improv soloing and, of course, vocalese lyrics to jazz standards. One of the shows highlights is Coleman Hawkins' famous version of "Body And Soul" with me playing his tenor sax solo on the trombone and then Christine singing a set of vocalese lyrics set to the melody of Colemans' tenor solo that tells the story of how vocalese started. Lot's of surprises after that!
Megan Jerome and the Together Ensemble:Rideau Centre, Sunday June 26 @ 2pm / “The 24-Hour Jazz Ramble” at the Record Centre, Wednesday June 15 @ 9AM
Have you attended the festival in the past?
Megan Jerome: I've been going to the festival for 20 years and I'm thrilled to be asked to play!
There is a strong focus on local musicians this year. How does the festival's support of local acts effect your band?
Well, we're going to do the "24-Hour Jazz Ramble" and that's going to be a lot of fun. When we get to play at the festival we get our names and pictures in the programs and flyers and that's great publicity. There are also the jam sessions so we can play with visiting acts and hang out together too.
What are some of the acts you're looking forward to at this year's festival?
I love the whole thing! I try to book the festival off and just go every day, and check out a bit of everything, hang out at the park, enjoy the weather and the food and drinks and visit with my friends who go. It's such a laid-back, casual, easy vibe I just love it all!
The Beeched Wailers: Rideau Centre, Thursday June 23 @ 12pm
How do you think the festival effects the city music community?
Nicholas Dyson: I think the festival does a good job of serving many different communities. There are some super heavy, top-level artists on the bleeding edge of the world scene for the dyed in the wool jazz-heads, musicians, and students. There are some more readily accessible, more mainstream artists for the jazz fans that could easily make converts out of people who might think jazz is a four letter word. And there's some non-jazz shows to appeal to a much broader audience, to bring in more "civilians" to be exposed to these jazz musicians.
Do any of the band have any past experience they can share as either attending or performing in the festival?
There are great experiences at every year of the festival. One of the favourites was after the Maria Schneider Orchestra performance a few years ago. Ingrid Jensen was holding court at the late night jam session with a bunch of local trumpet players, when an MSO baritone saxophonist and incredible musician on many instruments came over to borrow Ingrid's flugelhorn. We all stood there like a bunch of zombies staring while he played. Incredible!
What do you feel it will be like performing inside of a shopping mall?
We played at the mall at last year's festival as well. The audience can be a bit transient, but there were a lot more people there specifically for the concert than we thought there would be. Sound is an issue as it travels too well through glass and tile corridors of that setting. We'll cross our fingers and hope for the best.
Super Awesome Club: Tartan Homes Stage, Marion Dewar Plaza, Tuesday June 28 @ 12pm
Can you share an experience from one of the past Ottawa Jazz festivals you enjoyed?
Matt Ouimet: All four of us have been involved in the festival for more than 15-years playing with various groups so there are too many great times to chose from. Most Freaky-Deaky memories involve beer and spinning around.
What do you feel it will be like performing during the lunch hour slot?
Having played this slot before it will probably be: 1) Hot, 2) Wet or 3) Both. Personally I am expecting a maximum capacity Freaky-Deaky crowd on site during our set. They may even have to close a couple side streets, possibly helicopter us out. There is a surprising amount of onstage yelling at our shows, if people have minds they should probably bring a second one as we tend to blow them pretty regularly.
Christine Fagan & Steve Berndt Vocalese: Tartan Homes Stage, Marion Dewar Plaza, Wednesday June 29 @ 12pm / “The 24-Hour Jazz Ramble” at the Record Centre, Tuesday June 14 @ 4pm
Can you tell me a bit about what you are planning for your festival show?
Christine Fagan: We will be featuring cocalese, a jazz style that consists of performing lyrics to pre-existing melodies or improvised solos. Steve and I have both written vocalese pieces over our careers, and we perform some of these, as well as some of the classics, written by the likes of Jon Hendricks, Eddie Jefferson, and even Joni Mitchell.
Mackenzie Rhythm Section: Tartan Homes Stage, Marion Dewar Plaza, Sunday June 26 @ 7:30pm
You guys blew them out of the water last year! What was that performance like for you?
jf: Yeah, lots of water! It was raining hard! Also, we played at noon, our earliest show ever, but it didn't matter. In minutes, the crowd got up, started soulsteppin' and literally created a dance craze. This year, we hit the stage at 7:30PM. Should be amazing!
How do you maintain so much stage energy?
The suits. It's all about the suits, man.
How do you feel the festival balances jazz with none genre musicians?
Festival's are good when they feature all kinds of sounds, all kinds of musicians. The idea is to walk around, have a beer and discover new music. Jazz puristes have plenty to check out this year. But as far as soul-step goes, there is only one show: June 26th - 7:30PM. Don't miss it!
Carlos Alberto SantanaJazz Quintet: Rideau Centre, Wednesday June 29 @ 12pm
Jazz music seems to transcend many genres, remaining relevant over so many years with festivals like this one showcasing lots of amazing music. Who are some of your top picks this year?
Carlos Alberto Santana: I think this is definitely one of the most important festivals in Ottawa, because Jazz was born in North America and it is a tradition for people to go in the summer to enjoy by listening to great music. I can’t forget when I went to see Dave Brubeck, who played on the same day as my birthday. Unfortunately we had to leave early because my daughter was a bit tired. This year I cannot miss Chick Corea, one of my favorite musicians, but also there are new talents that are worth a look like Angelique Francis
Your thoughts on performing in a shopping mall atompshere?
This is an amazing opportunity. The Rendez-vous Rideau stage is at the centre of the city where many local people and tourists walk by. It is very exciting!
Angelique Francis: Rideau Centre, Saturday July 2 @ 2pm
What has been one of your favorite festival shows?
Angelique Francis: They’ve all been amazing, but my most memorable experience so far has to be the Earth Wind and Fire show. The entire experience was truly amazing, from their very first song in the set, to the very last song, they had the crowd dancing. The crowd was big, the show was lively and even the people on lawn chairs got up and danced. Jazz Fest has done an excellent job of exploring a wide range of genres while also maintaining a large portion of jazz and jazz-influenced music throughout their lineup. This provides something for everyone to listen to no matter their background or preference in music.
The Rideau Centre series has been pretty popular in the past. How do you feel being included in the mall setting shows?
It doesn’t really matter whether the stage is outdoors or indoors, the only thing that matters is that the show will be amazing and the audience will have a good time. However I understand from other musicians that the acoustic is excellent in there.
John Carroll: Rideau Centre, Saturday June 25 @ 2pm
What do you think this festival means to this city?
I think the Ottawa Jazz Festival at this point has become a purveyor of musical diversity while maintaining a heavy emphasis on artistry over ostentation. I know some purists may differ but it seems to have done an excellent job in keeping it's integrity in the modern festival environment. It seems like it is almost impossible for a modern festival to present one genre of music exclusively and still remain economically viable, and I think the spirit of jazz has always been informed by other genres, so I think the gradual expansion of Jazz Fest to include artists from beyond what has traditionally been regarded as the idiom serves Ottawa very well. Having a really top shelf festival in Ottawa that is still fairly midsize is also very nice and makes for enjoying the music in a unique way. I think Ottawa is lucky to count Jazz Fest among it's musical opportunities.
What are some of the acts you are looking forward to this year?
I think it's fantastic that Alvin Youngblood Hart and Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite will be playing, and am looking forward to catching their sets. Also who can't use a little John Scofield in their life.
Can you share an experience from one of the past Ottawa Jazz festivals you enjoyed?
What comes to mind for me was an evening set in the mid to late 80's, hard to recall exactly when, where the band Manteca , a sort of Latin-jazz fusion ensemble from that era was featured. It was quite warm and humid, and a rain storm was looming. Sure enough within the first few numbers, it began to pour. The band played anyway, and the music was exuberant and more than engaging enough to keep the entire audience standing in the rain for the duration , dancing in what eventually became a field of mud. Good times.
The Lee Anne Frederickson Quartet: Rideau Centre, Saturday June 25 @ 12pm
I hear you had an interesting experience at one of the festival's Late Night Jam Sessions?
Lee Anne Frederickson: I have been a fan of Carol Welsman for a long time, so I was very excited that she played at the Winter Jazz Festival last year. It was at The Fourth Stage at the NAC, a very intimate setting. I had front row seats and it felt like I was sitting in Carol’s living room and she and I were just hanging out. She gave a lovely, relaxed performance. Then we all -audience and band members- went to the ARC Hotel for the late night session. I had the divine pleasure of being able to sing with Carol’s bass player, Remi-Jean Le Blanc, and drummer Rich Irwin.
What are your feelings on people who say a jazz festival should only feature jazz music?
I hear people commenting that the Jazz Festival should just feature jazz music. But what is jazz? It’s a broad spectrum of music, spanning decades, countries, tempos and styles. My favourite style of jazz, the songs that I sing are from the Great American Songbook. But there are a lot of other songs that I love to sing that could probably be considered pop music. My piano player, Jean-Pierre Allain, a veteran of jazz music, says that his favourite singer is the one with whom he is currently playing. But his favourite singer of all time is the incomparable Sarah Vaughan. Sarah is known as one of the greatest jazz singers although she never referred to herself as such. She said she was a "singer of songs". Vaughan said in an interview: “What I want to do, music-wise, is all kinds of music that I like, and I like all kinds of music.” The TD Ottawa Jazz Festival is bringing together singers of songs and lovers of music. What can be more beautiful than that?
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