If you’ve been performing multiple shows per season in the same city for 14 years and are still selling out venues then you’re clearly doing a lot of things right! The Ottawa Jazz Orchestra, led by Adrian Cho, kicks off it’s 14th season on December 21st. Over the season there are six different programs and nine performances at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage. New this season are Saturday matinee shows. Several of this season’s shows are already sold out.
Apt613 talked to Adrian Cho about the past, present and future of the OJO. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Apt613: It’s been 14 years since you started the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra. Can you tell me a bit about the original motivation? And what that first season was like?
Adrian Cho: Actually it becoming the orchestra was sort of an accident. Originally I just wanted to present some interesting programming. The first thing I did in 2005 was a show called “The Magic of Miles Davis” at the Fourth Stage and that was very well received. It was just with a sextet. Then the next year I decided to do two shows, one at the Fourth Stage and one at Dominion Chalmers. And for the show at Dominion Chalmers I used quite a large ensemble. It was probably at least 15 or 16 musicians and that was also very well received.
Then the following year it became the Impressions In Jazz Orchestra. And that’s the name that we used for five or six years. I’ve always just wanted to do interesting programming and of course there were a lot of jazz orchestras around the world doing big band music. Jazz is such a huge genre and there’s so many things that you can do. We’ve done a lot of programs where it’s not maybe strictly jazz, but sometimes it’s like a bit of a hybrid of jazz and something else, like classical music. And we’d often get classical musicians in from the NAC to come join us.
After the first couple of seasons was it fairly consistent in terms of program and the size of the orchestra?
We use different size ensembles for every show and it keeps it fresh. So it’s not always a big band. We do some small group things, some larger group things. I would like to say that generally I have the artistic idea of what we want to do, but the reality is that it is sometimes dictated by finances and other things. So as an example, in the early days we did some ridiculously hard things. We did the Gil Evans Miles Ahead suite and Sketches of Spain. I mean, that’s crazy stuff and it takes a lot of rehearsals and we couldn’t pay the musicians very much at that stage. So now in the last 10 years we scaled back in that we are doing shows that we can do with just two rehearsals.
For the coming season is there anything you’re particularly excited about?
We’re starting the season with an album launch. It’s Diane’s [Diane Nalini, Adrian’s spouse] fifth album, she hasn’t recorded an album in 10 years. It’s a big deal. it’s also pretty different. She had asked me if I wanted to play on the recording and I wasn’t available. I’m not playing in the band, it’s the first time that I’m not on stage so I’m going to take photos instead.
We’re doing music from the Great Depression… if you think about what was happening at the time and yet what they were able to come up with to help deal with all the hardship it’s quite incredible.
I would say there’s so much to be excited about. I think the second show we’re doing is exciting—“Lessons from Miles.” We’re talking about Miles Davis music and the messages behind it. But I would say maybe the most interesting thing to me is the March show. We’re doing music from the Great Depression, which I think is interesting because there’s one way to look at it as like, “Oh my God, it’s the depression”. But the music is fantastic. And if you think about what was happening at the time and yet what they were able to come up with to help deal with all the hardship it’s quite incredible. And it was in the formative years of jazz, only a decade or so after jazz had been born. And so that’s really exciting music to play and listen to.
You talked a bit about next year. Do you have any other longer term plans for the OJO? Is it going to be around for it’s 20th anniversary, 30th anniversary?
I hope we’ll be around and I’ve looked at it over the years, because it’s an incredible amount of work. And sometimes I wonder why am I still doing this? But the thing is, if we don’t, we would never have a chance to play or to listen to this music live. So it’s definitely worth doing. And so, yeah, I hope it’ll be around for another five or ten years.
The Ottawa Jazz Orchestra season kicks off with matinee and evening performances on December 21st and goes until May 2020. You can get full season details and buy tickets at the OJO website. In a post next month, Apt613 will be talking again to Adrian Cho and focussing on his other talents.