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British saxophonist Nubya Garcia (June 29)

Apt613 Contributor Picks: Best bets at Jazzfest—06.21.19 to 07.01.19

By Leah Geller and Stewart Wiseman on June 19, 2019



The 39th iteration of the Ottawa Jazz Festival takes place from Friday, June 21st to Monday, July 1st and again brings many of the biggest names in jazz to the capital. Featuring an eclectic collection of acts ranging from household names like Norah Jones and The Roots, to international newcomers like KLEIN and Dakha Brakha, to staples of modern jazz like Brad Mehldau and Larnell Lewis, this year’s jazz festival features a show for every music lover.

Now, since its origins, the world of jazz has been dominated by men. As jazz writer Chris Robinson puts it, “[Jazz music’s] gatekeepers are, and have always been, disproportionately male.”

Look no further than the Montreal Jazz Festival, whose leadership is completely male (and white at that). Or a popular jazz blog, ironically called “Do the Math”, where, at last glance, only four of its 54 musician interviewees were women. This, despite a long and illustrious list of women who have participated in jazz since the beginning. If you don’t believe me, just check out the trailer for The Girls in the Band.

Sherrie Tucker’s book Swing Shift explains how “…whole bands of dedicated and talented women musicians were dropped from—or never inducted into—our national memory.” In Linda Dahl’s book, Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazz Women, she outlines the many barriers to female jazz musicians, including a predominance of male booking agents and presenters.

Thankfully, the Ottawa Jazz Festival, led by Executive Producer Catherine O’Grady, is doing its part to change that. They are proactively highlighting female jazz talent in the 2019 lineup, with more than one half of ticketed concerts led or co-led by women.

“This year we had to do it,” she explains. “We had to try and make women a priority. Not just as leaders, but wherever we could find a place for women as players, arrangers, composers.”

With concerts scattered over ten days across the Marion Dewar Plaza (TD Main Stage), Confederation Park (OLG Stage), and the National Arts Centre (NAC), sorting out which artists you want to see may be challenging. Thankfully, we’ve compiled concerts below (listed by date) highlighting the must-see acts of this year’s Ottawa Jazz Festival.

Judith Hill

Stewart Wiseman: Judith Hill first gained notoriety as the backup singer of choice for Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, and has now emerged as a powerful R&B star on her own. After gaining widespread fame from The Voice and 20 Feet From Stardom, winner of the 2015 Grammy for Best Music Film, Hill has released two soulful albums that at their finest moments evoke Diana Ross and Mary J. Blige. Hill’s arresting voice and commanding stage presence made her a favourite of Prince, who co-produced her 2015 album Back In Time shortly before his death. Judith Hill will make her return to Ottawa as she kicks off the 39th edition of the Ottawa Jazz Festival on Friday night.

📍 TD Main Stage
🗓 8:30 PM, Friday June 21, 2019
🎟 Tickets: $42 day pass incl. Les Anormales, Baritone Madness, The Suffers


Stewart Wiseman: Arriving from Luxembourg as part of the music:LX series, Jérôme Klein will be showcasing his new minimalist project, KLEIN. Combining electronic samples and drumbeats with post-bop influences, Klein’s trio constructs multi-textured atmospheres that the audience can get lost in upon each listen. Featuring Pol Belardi on vibraphone/bass and Niels Engel on drums, KLEIN’s meditative music is the perfect soundtrack to a summer Sunday night.

📍 OLG Stage (Confederation Park)
🗓 10:30 PM, Sunday June 23, 2019
🎟 Tickets: $20 single ticket

= Jazz Orchestra + Christine Jensen

Leah Geller: Montreal-based composer, band leader and saxophonist Christine Jensen is recognized around the world for her cinematic and beautifully crafted compositions. She has toured internationally, often performing and creating with her sister, Ingrid, one of my all-time favourite trumpet players. Jensen has won two JUNO Awards, for her albums Treelines and Infinitude, while her 2013 recording Habitat won a rare five-star review by Downbeat Magazine. In Tuesday’s concert, she leads an 18-piece orchestra which, to be honest, may overwhelm the NAC’s intimate indoor Studio space. No matter what, Christine is a talent worth experiencing.

📍 NAC Studio Stage
🗓 7:00 PM, Tuesday June 25, 2019
🎟 Tickets: $30 single ticket

Norah Jones

Stewart Wiseman: Norah Jones returns to Ottawa for the first time since Bluesfest 2012 for a night of infectious melodies and jazz ballads. Norah Jones’s latest album, Begin Again, was released in April and compiles the pianist’s singles released over the last two years, including a collaboration with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy on “A Song With No Name”. Jones’s concerts routinely provide a warm blend of pop, jazz, country, and soul, and her headlining performance is certain to be one of the highlights of this year’s Jazzfest.

📍 TD Main Stage (Marion Dewar Plaza)
🗓 8:30 PM, Tuesday June 25, 2019
🎟 Tickets: $60 day pass incl. Rebecca Noelle, The Easley Quartet, Donna Grantis

Donna Grantis

Stewart Wiseman: You need to be a pretty special guitar player to play lead in Prince’s band, and for the last years of his life Donna Grantis provided the blistering guitar solos on Prince’s 3RDEYEGIRL albums and tours. The Toronto-born Grantis will be playing songs from her acclaimed debut album DIAMONDS & DYNAMITE, on which she rotates between contemplative pieces such as “Mr. Majestic” and heavy shredding jams like “Trashformer”, where she exchanges guitar licks with Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready. Make sure the heavy rock fans in your life do not miss this show!

📍 OLG Stage (Confederation Park)
🗓 10:30 PM, Tuesday June 25, 2019
🎟 Tickets: $20 single ticket

Brad Mehldau Quintet

Stewart Wiseman: A member of Joshua Redman’s revered quartet in the mid-1990s along with Christian McBride and Brian Blade, genius pianist Brad Mehldau has been at the forefront of modern jazz for over thirty years. Mehldau has been particularly active of late, releasing three albums in the past two years, the most recent of which, Finding Gabriel, received a perfect five-star review from the Times of London. For his Summer 2019 tour, Mehldau has put together a modern jazz supergroup, featuring trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, saxophonist Joel Frahm, bassist Joe Sanders, and drummer Leon Parker. Each member of the quintet is a renowned soloist in their own right, and with this much star power, Mehldau’s set will surely be a highlight of the festival.

📍 TD Main Stage
🗓 8:30 PM, Wednesday June 26, 2019
🎟 Tickets: $52 day pass incl. Ferguson/Tremblay/Young/Clark, Audrey Ochoa Trio, Paris_Monster

Cyrille Aimée: A Sondheim Adventure

Leah Geller: Where does a jazz writer turn to when she wants to know which Jazzfest performer will be the year’s standout? That would be my neighbor Camille, a clarinettist and singer who studied jazz performance at McGill. She never steers me wrong.

This year, Camille is raving about the French singer Cyrille Aimée, whose voice reminds me a bit of Kat Edmonson, Barbra Lica and even Sarah Vaughn with its light, sweet and vintage-y sound. Aimée’s performance in Ottawa will pay tribute to Stephen Sondheim, the great American composer and lyricist for musical theatre.

📍 NAC Studio Stage
🗓 7:00 PM, Thursday June 27, 2019
🎟 Tickets: $30 single ticket

Terri Lyne Carrington & Social Science

Leah Geller: Jamming with Dizzy Gillespie and BB King at just 10 years old. A full scholarship to Berklee College of Music at 11. And in 2014, she was the first woman to receive a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Jazz Album. Terri Lynne Carrington is true groundbreaker—as a performer, recording artist and musical director.

Carrington has played alongside musical legends such as Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, Stan Getz and the magnificent Esperanza Spalding. Expect music infused with social commentary, integrating neo-soul, acid jazz, hip-hop, indie rock and soul.

📍 TD Main Stage (Marion Dewar Plaza)
🗓 8:30 PM, Thursday June 27, 2019
🎟 Tickets: $42 day pass incl. Alison Young Quintet, Only A Visitor, DakhaBrakha


Stewart Wiseman: Although saxophone and trumpet are more traditional instruments to hear at a jazz festival, DakhaBrakha’s performance might be the first Ottawa Jazz Festival show to feature the darbuka, tabla, garmoshka, bugay, and zgaleyka. Hailing from Kiev, Ukraine, the quartet first formed as a Ukrainian folk music group in 2004 before evolving into the haunting rhythmic force they are today. With pulsing drums and dark melodies, DakhaBrakha is sure to trance the OLG Stage audience into a frenzy.

📍 OLG Stage (Confederation Park)
🗓 10:30 PM, Thursday June 27, 2019
🎟 Tickets: $20 single ticket

The Larnell Lewis Band

Stewart Wiseman: Although Snarky Puppy won’t be stopping by this year’s iteration of the jazz festival, their long-time superhuman drummer Larnell Lewis will be joined by his sextet for a set at the NAC. Already established as an in-demand session drummer, Lewis released his debut album as a soloist, In The Moment, last year, which earned him a Juno Award nomination for Jazz Solo Album of the Year. Truly a modern-day innovator, on In The Moment Lewis played bass, drums, guitar, keyboards, melodica, percussion, piano, synthesizer and vocals, in addition to writing and producing himself.

📍 NAC Fourth Stage
🗓 6:00 PM, Friday June 28, 2019
🎟 Tickets: $25 single ticket

Donny McCaslin

Stewart Wiseman: Right before leaving us for a better world in 2016, David Bowie released the hauntingly beautiful Blackstar, which introduced mainstream audiences to the evocative playing of saxophonist Donny McCaslin and his ensemble. McCaslin was instrumental in shaping the sombre tones of the album, as heard on his epic solo on “Blackstar” and the opening of “Lazarus”. Ever the collaborator, McCaslin’s latest album, Blow, includes contributions from Sun Kil Moon and Gail Ann Dorsey, and expands on the art-rock inspired by Bowie. With a stacked Friday lineup at the Ottawa Jazz Festival it will be hard to choose which act to see, but McCaslin’s set could be the best under-the-radar performance of the festival.

📍 NAC Studio Stage
🗓 7:00 PM, Friday June 28, 2019
🎟 Tickets: $30 single ticket

Omara Portuondo and the NAC Orchestra

Stewart Wiseman: Many music fans first discovered the beauty of Omara Portuondo’s voice from Wim Wenders’s seminal document of the Cuban music scene, Buena Vista Social Club. Twenty years after the documentary’s release, Portuondo remains one of the most recognizable Cuban musicians around the world. At age 88 Portuondo continues to be as active as ever, having released a new album, Siempre Tu Voz: Homenaje a Benny Moré en Su Centenario [Always Your Voice: Homage to Benny Moré in His Centenary], last month. North American fans best catch her June 28th performance, as Portuondo has announced that this will be her final international tour.

📍 TD Main Stage (Marion Dewar Plaza)
🗓 8:30 PM, Friday June 28, 2019
🎟 Tickets: $46 day pass incl. The Shuffle Demons, Oleg Butman & Natalia Smirnova Trio, Cha Wa

Photo: Johann Sauty

Nubya Garcia

Leah Geller: In March of this year, Garcia got a five-star review for a performance in her hometown of London. No mean feat. Lucky for us, there’s no need to travel to see this top-notch tenor saxophone talent, who leading the new wave of London jazz.

Garcia’s music has been described as both party-friendly and technically proficient, built upon serious musicianship, yet filled with funk, soul, afrobeat and latin funk references. Her following is growing and she seems to be able to draw both the cool kids and seasoned jazz fans. My guess is that her concert will be fun, it will be good and it will be interesting.

📍 NAC Fourth Stage
🗓 4:00 PM, Saturday June 29, 2019
🎟 Tickets: $25 single ticket

Laila Biali

Leah Geller: Anyone who listens to CBC Radio’s Saturday Night Jazz will recognize the warm and soothing voice of Laila Biali, host of the weekly show. Her singing voice is equally endearing and she’s not shy to re-invent unexpected classics like Coldplay’s “Yellow”, David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” or Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”.

📍 OLG Stage (Confederation Park)
🗓 7:30 PM, Saturday June 29, 2019
🎟 Tickets: $60 day pass incl. Mack & Ben, The Roots, DJ Questlove

The Roots

Stewart Wiseman: The Roots have established themselves as the quintessential alternative hip-hop ensemble for over 25 years, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Fronted by one of hip-hop’s masters of flow, Black Thought, with the legendary Questlove on drums, the Philly collective remains the standard for summer party concerts. The Roots are coming off an epic set at their annual Roots Picnic festival in Philadelphia, where they played their pivotal 1999 album, Things Fall Apart, in full for a first time. Cross your fingers that they’ll treat the Ottawa crowd to a similar 20th anniversary performance!

📍 TD Main Stage (Marion Dewar Plaza)
🗓 8:30 PM, Saturday June 29, 2019
🎟 Tickets: $60 day pass incl. Laila Biali, Mack & Ben, DJ Questlove

DJ Questlove

Stewart Wiseman: Once the last horn sounds from The Roots’ performance, be sure to sprint across the street to catch Questlove’s DJ set. Having gigged as the personal DJ for events hosted by Barack Obama and Prince, Questlove brings his encyclopedic knowledge of music to each of his DJ sets. The Roots’ drummer carefully crafts playlists that range from The Clash to Beyoncé, and his DJ set is guaranteed to have fans of all ages dancing. Do not bring your lawnchairs.

📍 OLG Stage (Confederation Park)
🗓 10:30 PM, Saturday June 29, 2019
🎟 Tickets: $20 single ticket

Helena Deland

Stewart Wiseman: Celebrate Canada Day with one of the most exciting new artists to emerge from Montreal over the last few years, Helena Deland. After releasing four volumes of her EP collection Altogether Unaccompanied in 2018, Deland has received major international coverage for her synth-tinged melodies. Deland’s dreamy vocals have captivated Montreal audiences for the last few years, and Jazz Festival attendees will be able to hear this up-and-comer for free!

📍 OLG Stage (Confederation Park)
🗓 4:00 PM, Monday July 1, 2019
🎟 Tickets: Free!

The TD Ottawa Jazz Festival runs from June 21 to July 1 at Marion Dewar Plaza (City Hall), Confederation Park, Mercury Lounge, Queen St. Fare and the National Arts Centre. Visit for tickets and the complete schedule.