John Kofi Dapaah offers a gift of music for the holidays

Ottawa's John Kofi Dapaah is about to release a new album of Christmas music.

A couple of years ago the Ottawa impresario Roland Graham asked John Kofi Dapaah to put together a Christmas show that would be “a bit unique.”

Dapaah is a classical and jazz pianist, who tried — and succeeded — in combining the two worlds to create a different take on Christmas music.

The program became a bit of a hit and every holiday season since he has performed it with his trio (Jamie Holmes on drums and J.P. Lapensee on bass) along with singers Roxanne Goodman and Michael Curtis Hanna.

The audience reaction has always been positive to the music and indeed folks have demanded a recording of the music. So, guess what, Dapaah has delivered.

The CD is called Have Yourself A jazzy Little Christmas. It was recorded with producer Normand Glaude at his Morning Anthem Studio in Rockland, Ontario. The tracks were laid down this past summer and it’s being released soon. In fact the album will launch on Dec. 14 at Ottawa Pianos.

The album contains mostly tradition Christmas standards with Dapaah’s special twist.

On Joy to the World “I combined some of Bizet’s Carmen with the usual music.” O Holy Night just features bass and vocals giving the carol a blues-y feel.

Why do that?

“I feel that as an artist, there is always something to be done get better and explore different themes and settings. I like changing things up anyways. I try to bring a perspective from both jazz and classical music into different projects.

“That is how I naturally think and work at my craft.”

Roxanne Goodman

He likes breaking down the wall between musical forms. He is first a classically trained pianist.

“When I first started incorporating jazz into my musical programs I found that those in the audience who weren’t that familiar with the music started opening up to it.

“When I play jazz I will incorporate a classical phrase or two into an improvisation. Someone will usually ask ‘Where was that from?'” He’ll explain that it came from a piano sonata by Mozart perhaps or Beethoven.

Michael Curtis Hanna

The teacher in Dapaah believes this helps listeners learn to appreciate more about the music that is all around them. “It opens them up to the possibilities. These are thing to which I am naturally drawn as an artist and I try to bring the audience along with me.”

Dapaah and Jamie Holmes and J.P. Lapensee have known each other and worked together for many years, starting at Carleton when all three were students. Dapaah and Goodman also met at Carleton when he was a student and she was a voice teacher.

He met Michael Curtis Hanna, through Roxanne, after Hanna moved to Ottawa a few years ago.

Jamie Holmes and J.P. Lapensee.

This kind of interchange between performers in Ottawa is really at the heart of the local music community. Musicians flow through different groups, forming and reforming for specific projects. It makes for interesting synergies all over town.

Dapaah certainly has the talent to move to a larger city, but he’s decided to stay. he is married with one child.

“Even if I do move to another place, Ottawa is and will always have the sense of home.” His family has travelled the world. His father at one time worked in Japan before moving here.

“I love working here. The community of music lovers is great.”

There are challenges, he said, especially in the classical world for a person of colour, he said. In part because, he said, people may not expect to see black performers playing Bach, whereas they are used to seeing black pianists playing jazz, blues or rock.

“But it is opening up more and more. Times are changing and of course he’s pretty persistent.”

He teaches, he plays gigs, he does what he can to make ends meet.

“I don’t see this as a struggle because it’s what I have always wanted to do. I find that I’m moving to a place where I get to perform more often.

“It does get tiring sometimes, but really it gives me so much joy to be doing what I’m doing. Not everyone has the chance to get to do that.”

One the hardest parts of his work as a musician is the business side of it all. It’s something he has learned by doing, there were many opportunities for that when he was in music school — although that is changing now.

He did figure out that when he was in school and is pretty successful at marketing his career. It helps that his partner is a social media whiz.

“Everything is online. As artists and musicians if we don’t move with the times, we may get left out. You have to engage.” He’s on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube like most artists are.

Having just turned 30, Dapaah says by 40 he wants a bigger solo career, more recordings, but he also wants to establish his own music school to develop his own thinking about piano instruction. Right now he has three different venues where he gives instruction to his students.

“It’s building on everything that I have learned from my own teachers. I have had training in classical, jazz and gospel, all these different forms of music. I try to incorporate that into my teaching. I find that this keeps the students engaged.” Just learning Bach and Mozart is enough, There needs to be a mix of styles to keep the attention of his charges, he says he has found.

He says that so far he has been able to juggle his many tasks so that none is suffering.

“I still have time to perform and practice and teach.”

Have Yourself A Jazzy Little Christmas
The John Dapaah Trio with Roxanne Goodman and Michael Curtis Hanna
Where: Ottawa Pianos and Keyboards, 1412 Bank St.
When: Dec. 14 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets and information: 

In town: A second concert will be held Dec. 21 in the Church of the Ascension, 253 Echo Dr. at 7 p.m. Tickets and more information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.