For Petr Cancura, building the program of the annual TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival is always a question of who is available in the annual late June time slot all the while staying true to the identity of the 37 year old event.
So it is with some reason, he says, that he is feeling some certain satisfaction with this year’s lineup.
“It’s a really strong jazz lineup. I think it’s partially because we are that (a jazz festival) and we do that really well and the audience responds to that. We are the second biggest jazz festival in Canada.
“We still have that something-for-everybody vibe but the jazz lineup is super strong.” Note that Kenny Rogers (yes The Gambler on his ‘Final World Tour’) is playing the main stage, as is Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, the Downchild Blues Band and Serena Ryder. British soul songstress Joss Stone is back after many years, and Mavis Staples makes what seems to be an almost annual stop. Oh and Leslie Feist will close the festival which runs from June 22 to July 2 in Confederation Park and other nearby venues.
Cancura is a “jazzer,” playing saxophone professionally in his own bands and teaching as well. He moved back to Ottawa a few years ago from New York and has taken a place as program manager with the festival. But he’s also a fan and he says he’s really chuffed about several concerts on this year’s list.
First mention is the appearance of the Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra on the main stage. This is not a tribute concert to Haden, the legendary double bass player who passed away in 2014.
The Liberation Orchestra is one of Haden’s longest running ensembles, Cancura says. It started in the 1970s as a vehicle for the revolutionary music coming out of the Spanish Civil War.
“As the years went on,” Cancura says, “Haden started stacking the band with the best in jazz. Carla Bley, who has been the pianist and arranger for the orchestra for many years, will be in Ottawa. This is really close to the lineup on the last record Haden did. In fact it might be the exact lineup,” he said.
The night before is a true tribute to a legend by the Ray Charles Orchestra under the guidance of the legendary soul jazz saxophonist Maceo Parker, who is also known for his long working relationship with the late James Brown.
Other “names” in jazz include the duet of Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan and an appearance by the quartet Hudson, featuring drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Larry Grenadier, keyboardist John Medeski, and guitarist John Scofield. These men have played the festival before but never as Hudson.
The legendary pianist Kenny Barron will also do a solo show in the NAC Theatre, which offers a bigger venue for a few select concerts. Hudson will also be in that space.
Cancura is also excited about the appearance of the Donny McCaslin Group. The band McCaslin is bringing includes the drummer Mark Guiliana who will play a separate set with his own quartet a few night later. This should be a treat for hipsters and fans of the late David Bowie. McCaslin’s band was featured on Bowie’s last album Blackstar which was released just as Bowie’s death was announced to the world.
Cancura also mentioned the return of The Bad Plus. Their last album It’s Hard was released last August and it breaks down pop, riock and R&B tunes. The Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara will appear with the Colombian jazz harpist Edmar Castaneda. That’s a real harp folks, not a harmonica. This one promises to be a pretty unique show.
In a nod to the 150th, the Jazz festival is partnerning with the NAC’s Canada Scene festival to put some Canadian jazz content into the mix of that six-week festival. These smaller shows will be in the NAC’s backstage space. David Occhipinti, from Toronto, Gordon Grdina, from Vancouver and Quebecer Jean Derome are some of the acts, Cancura said.
And it’s also worth mentioning a visit by the ensemble In Orbit featuring saxophonist Jeff Coffin, guitarist Michael Occhipinti, bassist Felix Pastorius, son of the legendary Jaco Pastorius, Nashville/Toronto pianist Tom Reynolds and drummer Davide Direnzo. Coffin is based in Nashville, Tenn., and is known for his work with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and the Dave Matthews Band.
Late night at the festival will feature some more unique shows including the return of Russian jazz in the form of Igor Butman and his Moscow Jazz Orchestra. The next night, Cancura noted, will feature the Robert Glasper Experiment. Glasper has a jazz background but his band ventures far afield including … gulp … hip hop. There’s more hip hop with Nomadic Massive coming down the 417 from Montreal. There’s some South African stylings from Shabaka and The Ancestors, and some youthful glamour with the rising young jazz/R&B singer Kandace Springs, who has just released a record on Bluenose that is gathering a lot of attention.
Finally, Cancura is personally keen to see Jacob Collier, a young Brit who picked up two Grammys this year for his album In My Room. His 2011 homemade split-screen video went viral on YouTube. That caught an audience and finally led to a deal with Quincy Jones’s management company. In My Room was recorded, arranged, performed and produced entirely by Collier in his home in London. He’s a one-man band for the digital age.
The festival annually takes some heat for not being ‘jazzy’ enough. So Mr. Cancura you say there is more jazz this year, is that a response to the critics or is that just the direction you want to take?
“That’s our own desire to take the festival that way.
“I’m a jazzer but I love all these influences. I love Jacob Collier, I love folk music, I love all this stuff. I don’t personally buy that the festival has to be 100 per cent jazz, but it has to have an identity.” And that identity, he insists, is jazz.
There are many, many more shows booked so for more information on who all is coming to the 2017 edition of the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival and the variety of ticket options, please see ottawajazzfestival.com.