Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival: Marianne Trudel is cooking up a spicy performance

Marianne Trudel is one of the Ottawa Jazz Festival's artists in residence.

Marianne Trudel loves to cook. But when she sets about making a meal she doesn’t follow a recipe. She likes to improvise.

It’s always interesting how life imitates art because Trudel likes to improvise on the piano too.

The Montreal-based jazz pianist will be coming to Ottawa as an artist in residence at the Ottawa Jazz Winter Festival this weekend.

Trudel will be bringing along some colleagues — Etienne LaFrance on double bass and Robbie Kuster on drums. All three will hook up with saxophonist Tony Malaby and make a musical meal together.

Trudel is a bit of a musical butterfly. She plays in a trio called Trifolia. But she also has a quartet, a quintet and a sextet. Meanwhile she’s also working on a project interpreting the songs of Joni Mitchell with fellow Montrealer, singer Karen Young.

It’s kind of ironic to be working with Young today because “probably one of the first cassette tapes I had when I started listening to jazz had Karen Young and (bassist) Michel Donato on it,” Trudel said in an interview.

“When you are a teenager and you listen to these people, they become sources of inspiration. Then you meet them on the street and you go hear them live. It’s natural that I owe them and acknowledge them that’s for sure.”

She says she loves performing with Young because “we both love freedom, we love to always be in the moment.”

When Trudel first worked with Young some 10 years ago ”she said ‘I don’t play with piano players. I don’t like it’.”

Trudel is persistent and her enthusiasm is infectious and eventually she broke through.

“Now I am very lucky. She says she feels so free with me and so supported.”

Trudel is from the town of Saint Michel de Bellechasse on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River across from Ile d’Orleans.

“Our backyard was pretty much the river. I spent a lot of time listening to the wind and looking at the horizon. That freedom becomes part of your music, part of your world view.”

Trudel discovered jazz as a teenager after studying classical piano for several years.

“I started listening to jazz at 16, but I still love classical music. It’s part of my background and my soul.

“I would say I have a romantic soul. I used to love playing Chopin and Brahms and I still play them.”

But very early on, at age seven, Trudel would be improvising.

“My mom used to tell me ‘You have to practice your Mozart for a half hour before you have fun’. I would do that and then stay for hours on the piano composing little melodies. When I discovered jazz, I realized that’s what I wanted to do.”

Her first year studying jazz at the CEGEP Saint-Laurent in Montreal, she was in a class arranging scores for big bands.

It was a great way to explore music, she said.

“All best musicians in Montreal would come and play our arrangements every Thursday morning.

“It was a lot of work and I didn’t really sleep that year, but it was so inspiring. The guys were very nice, but they were very demanding. If your chart was not well written or if it was messy, they wouldn’t play it.”

At the gathering this weekend she expects to be busy.

“I’m expecting to be exhausted by end of the three days. It’s very exciting though. It’s a great opportunity to present some of my music and to meet with other musicians to create on the spot.”

Trudel has met some of the other players coming to town at festivals but this will be the first time she’s had a chance to perform with them.

Her musical flexibility should stand her in good stead. Even if she is recovering from a broken ankle.

“Can you believe it. This has happened two years in row. Last year, it was the left foot and it’s the right foot this year, all because ion icy sidewalks.”

She’s hoping it is healed by the weekend because she’ll need that leg for the sustain pedal on her piano.

“I think it’s going to be a great mix (with LaFrance and Kuster and Malaby). It’s a bit like cooking You put in a bit of this ingredient and that ingredient and all of the sudden you have the best meal ever.” Trudel likes her food — and her music — spicy.

She says she will be presenting a lot of new music.

“I have been told my music has a broad palette of emotions and moods. Sometimes it’s floating, sometimes it’s full of hard grooves.

“I write with my heart. It’s sounds cheesy but it’s true. I sing when I compose so I think I have a strong sense of melody. At same time I have a crazy side. I like sections where anything can happen.”

She may sing when she composes, but only rarely will she sing on stage.

“I did once in Ottawa at the NAC. I also sing sometimes with Trifolia when I play the accordion. I like the mix of voice and accordion.” But that’s it.

“I’m a bit shy about my voice.”

Trudel says she always writes with specific musicians in mind which shapes the music.

“I know their personalities and so I know what could come out.”

She also likes longer works.

“I have written a 50-minute suite for Les Violons du Roy and a 45-minute piece for the Orchestre Montreal de Jazz. I like it when a piece evolves and develops in different directions.

“I like to think my music is at an intersection where jazz, classical, contemporary and improvisational music come together. I think that is what happens in my music.”

The Marianne Trudel Trio with Tony Malaby
TD Ottawa Jazz Winter festival
Where: La Nouvelle Scene
When: Feb 7 at 8:30 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.