By Taymaz Valley
Odyssey Showcase, in partnership with the National Gallery of Canada, is organizing a star-studded night titled Gift of Jazz: From Africa to New Orleans to The True North Strong and Free. It will be held at the National Gallery on Thursday February 15 and Friday February 16 as a tribute to Black History Month, celebrating the tour de force that is jazz music.
From its conception in the 1920s, jazz has been influencing music genres as diverse as rock, hip hop, house and drum & bass. Even some classical composers have become fans of jazz with its improvisational compositions and instrumental solos. Early classically trained admirers included Aaron Copland, John Alden Carpenter, and the modernist Igor Stravinsky. The biggest name in the American symphonic music, George Gershwin, was an adamant jazz enthusiast.
Gift of Jazz features many well-known faces from the Ottawa music and television scene, including the truly wonderful Deborah Davis, and talented CTV Weekend News anchor Stefan Keyes who is sure to amaze with his powerful singing voice. The much-admired jazz and gospel singer Michael Curtis Hanna, son of the venerated jazz master Sir Roland Hanna, will also be featured, bringing together some of the classic jazz songs that set the stage for this global phenomenon. The Canadian connection with jazz history will be explored throughout the show with dramatized enactments by some very talented actors, and the bilingual narration of Stefan Keyes.
This multifaceted show will also feature Ottawa’s very own English Poet Laureate Jamaal Jackson Rogers, who manages to inspire and leave the audiences in awe with his historical and contemporarily significant, rich and relevant style of spoken word poetry. Former World Tap Dancing Champion Darin Kyle and Hailey Lamont are set to put on a fabulous show with their skilful steps, twists and hops, bringing even more flavour to the already sensational show. The music will be performed by some of the city’s best musicians, organized by musical director Peter Beaudoin and accompanied by Ed Bimm, Rene Lavoie, Martin Newman, Gino Scaffidi and the wonderfully fast and furious congas star Arien Villegas.
This will be an important show, not only because history of jazz music is the history of modern music, but also because jazz has evolved with the spirit of inclusion. If we were to lose its essence, we would lose a part of us that is irreplaceable. With the advent of recorded music and radio, a shift took place that saw music moving away from live venues to the recording studios. This meant that producers, managers and the labels selling records worldwide were given more influence. As Michael Hanna put it “artists soon learned their freedoms of expression were being cooped for producer selling models and later found more open minded and expressive ways to get their word out though concert promotion and live performances and festivals.”
We are seeing a trend in contemporary music that is similar, with more artists choosing to put on performances, rather than exclusively concentrating on streaming services. Confirming, Stefan Keyes points out that “technology cannot replace live and direct interaction,” because, “as television sets did not replace the thrill of sitting amongst a crowd to watch a sporting event,” music in a similar fashion must “be experienced in a more immersive setting.”
Being fully engaged is the key, because with encompassing performances we are undergoing an immersive experience that brings the fusion of the arts into life, as in the root “mousike” meaning “art of the Muses”. There used to be a synthesis of the arts, and they should be seen as equally captivating, whether you see the arts as Mimesis (imitating) or Diegesis (narrating). This fusion of the arts should be performed on the stage to result in active stimulation, away from the passive secondary listening that the digital streaming has condemned music to. Peter Beaudoin says that “jazz has no limits and that is the spirit by which it was conceived”, so we need jazz to pave the way to our reconnection with the grandeur of music once again.
Gift of Jazz: From Africa to New Orleans to The True North Strong and Free will be performed at the National Gallery of Arts Thursday February 15 from 6-7:30pm and Friday February 16 from 12-1:30pm. The show will be bilingual in French and English. Tickets are available online for the Thursday and Friday performances and range in price from $20 to $40. The doors will open shortly before 6pm on Thursday and 12pm on Friday.