Petr Cancura says, tongue in cheek, that he has been looking for some divine intervention with the weather gods to make the sun shine on the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival this summer and avoida deluge of the kind that dampened spirits and ticket sales in 2017. But seriously there’s no doubt the festival, which runs from June 21 to July 1, could use a break on the weather especially with an event that features some stellar performers playing under the night sky on the main stage located this year on Marion Dewar Plaza at Ottawa City Hall.
The lineup that includes jazz legend Herbie Hancock, bluegrass queen Alison Krauss, DeeDee Bridgewater, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and Chris Botti, back with his trumpet for another turn on the big stage. That venue has moved as the City of Ottawa is completing project to prevent sewage from running into the rivers and a good chunk of that is 30 metres below Confederation Park, where the festival’s main stage is usually located.
“The main stage has come together really nicely this year,” said the festival’s programming director. “It’s often the hardest part.”
It depends on who is touring, who is available, who is affordable and who fits the festival’s programming, he said.
“Herbie Hancock (June 30) we have been trying to get for years. He just doesn’t tour a lot. This band he is bringing is young and virtuosic. It will just be an amazing show.”
Cancura says he has been trying to bring Alison Krauss (June 26) in since he joined the festival a few years ago.
“She is such a unique voice and that penetrates genres. She used to win fiddle competitions as a kid and she can really hang her own. Every year we have offered on her.” Her Ottawa show will feature a jazzier sound rather than full-on bluegrass, Cancura says.
The band Lake Street Dive (June 23) has moved up to a main stage from a late night show the last time they were here, Cancura noted.
“The funny story there is I went to school with all those guys. The bass player was my roommate for three years. I know them really well.”
DeeDee Bridgewater (June 24), who started with Ray Charles, has made her mark as a jazz singer, but this time she’s bringing an eight-piece band which is “kind of her Memphis project” that tilts towards the soul, R&B side of her musical personality.
There are a few gaps on the main stage, June 25, 27 and 29, that remain to be filled. Stay tuned, he says.
Tanya Tagaq, the talented groundbreaking Inuit artist Tanya Tagaq will make couple of appearances. One on her own on the late night stage (June 28) and a second show with the Norwegian Sami performer Mari Boine (June 26).
These shows are part of a theme in the festival that is focussed on artists from the Arctic Circle.
There are a few series that run independently of the main stage. One of those is the Discover series that is running in the NAC’s Fourth Stage. (This by the way is the only venue available in the centre this summer as work is ongoing in the other halls.)
He says this is one of the most important series because the people in there are the ones leading the way in the jazz idiom.
“This has happened throughout the history of music. if somebody does something that is groundbreaking, which is far from the mainstream, it is the mainstream folks who list to the new work and bring it front and centre.” It’s an important renewal, Cancura believes.
There are a lot of European bands in the series, he says, adding that there are ensembles from 12 different countries playing in the Fourth Stage. He noted the Norwegian band A Novel of Anomaly (June 26) as one to watch out for and another Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset (June 23). And from New York, the Dan Weiss project called Starebaby (June 29) is worth checking out.
The festival is also using the First Baptist Church, corner of Laurier and Elgin, as a venue for a slew of shoes including a group put together by Halifax jazzman Jerry Granelli, whose A Charlie Brown Christmas show has become a bit of a regular event in Ottawa. His band has some locals sitting in including Cancura and two guitar players worth catching; Robben Ford, who played with Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell and George Harrison, and Snarky Puppy’s Bob Lanzetti (June 27).
There is an all-Canadian lineup that takes the main stage at 6 p.m. each night with acts such as the Joe Sullivan Big Band (June 22), the female trio Duchess (June 24) and Ottawa’s own The Commotions (June 29).
There is a lot of local content in the festival including Kellylee Evans who’s reprising a late night Ella Fitzgerald tribute with Cancura called Swing, Swing, Swing (June 22). There will be dancing. Later in the festival she will be playing with her own band (June 30).
In piecing together the festival puzzle each year, Cancura says he also tries to make connections between the main stage event and the late night shows running right after.
It doesn’t always work, of course, but Cancura says there are a few shows that do make that connection.
For example, right after Alison Krauss is a show featuring the Jerry Douglas band. The Nashville dobro player is part of Krauss’s legendary bluegrass band Union Station.
“This is one of those nights when Jerry might show up for a tune or two during Alison’s set” and vice versa.
The same sort of possibility may happen on the Herbie Hancock night. The late night act is keyboard whizkid Cory Henry, who was in the band Snarky Puppy for many years. Cancura says the two players know of each other and added knowingly “I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some guesting.”
There is another new stage, called the Ontario stage, that will be set up in Confederation Park close to Elgin and away from the construction zone. It will feature local acts, but no names pencilled in yet. And the popular late night jam sessions will take place in the Lord Elgin Hotel.