Ottawa Jazz Festival improvises its way into a new year
by Allan Wigney
The rainy season is upon us. And with it comes the Ottawa Jazz Festival. (The season traditionally returns in time for SuperEx, but at least we won’t have to worry about that this year.) Prepare for 11 days of adventurous sounds to defy even the rainiest of nights.
True, it’s a different kind of jazz festival this year. But, thankfully, there has been little debate over the ratio of jazzers vs. rockers on this year’s schedule. Robert Plant has no business appearing at a prestigious jazz festival, you say? Tell that to organizers of the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival. Plant was there, screaming blues-rock to attendees likely covering their heads with their lawnchairs to seek shelter from the music rather than the rain. He has since sung at the Montreux Jazz Festival (several times) and recently wowed ’em at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. It seems 42 years after Led Zeppelin strutted onto the stage at Newport, music lovers have learned to deal with it. Even in Ottawa.
Besides, Plant has long performed in the jazz tradition, offering original interpretations of songs heavy on improvisation, and striving to never repeat himself. The same can be said for k.d. lang and Elvis Costello; moreover, the former recorded the dandy album Shadowland, a collection of standards that was as much jazz as it was country vocal, 33 years ago. Costello, for his part, placed an aching version of the jazz standard My Funny Valentine on a single in 1978, and seeks new ways to present his songs with each live performance.
Small wonder efforts to stir outrage over these rock and roll intruders have failed to gain traction. After all, jazz remains a music that celebrates freedom in all its forms.
(Blues, on the other hand, is a music born of the struggle of a people for dignity and human rights, and a chronicle of the suffering that went with it. Interestingly, the only bluesmen you’ll see headlining a festival’s main stage lineup this year are James Cotton and Lucky Peterson ―at the Jazz Festival. Go figure. Choose your battles well, folks.)
There will be jazz at this year’s festival. The real thing. Finding it, however, may involve leaving the park to seek out the likes of vocalist/keyboardist Megan Jerome (Rideau Centre, June 25 at 2 p.m.) or guitarist Ilan Bar-Lavi (Mercury Lounge, July 2 at 10:30 p.m.). Better, park yourself at the NAC, where jazzers abound, or at the always cool jam sessions in the ARC Lounge, where stalwart musicians John Geggie, Nancy Walker, Nick Fraser and Ethan Ardelli will improvise late into the night.
See, plenty of jazz for everyone. Starting tonight, with jazz festival veteran Robert Plant.
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