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Caroline Gibson and Marcie Campbell with Mark Ferguson, Lucas Haneman, Ken Seeley and Jeff Asselin. Photo courtesy of GigSpace's Facebook page.

Tiny venue GigSpace a big draw for jazz listeners

By Bruce Burwell on January 23, 2019



A year ago I had a Goldilocks and the Three Bears kind of jazz concert experience over three consecutive nights. The first night I went to a concert at a very large venue. The next night I went to a concert at a medium sized venue. The third night I went to a show at a teeny-tiny sized venue. All three shows featured nationally known, Juno Award winning, audience-wowing sorts of talent. But it was the show at the teeny-tiny venue that I enjoyed the most. And GigSpace Performance Studio was that teeny-tiny venue.

GigSpace is located at 953 Gladstone just a block west of the Gladstone Theatre and Preston Avenue. It’s in an older strip mall next to the Enriched Bread Artists building. I took a quick (very quick—it’s very small) tour of the facilities and saw the music practice rooms, the jam band room, the bar and the performance area. The intimate performance space features 46 movable seats, a low stage and a grand piano.

Apt613 talked to Marilee Townsend-Alcorn and Tim Bedner at GigSpace. Townsend-Alcorn is artistic director and Bedner is a music teacher, composer and performer.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Apt613: You’re doing music lessons here, you have an art gallery, recording studio capability along with the performance space. Are all of these equally important to you or did you start off with one thing and then just keep adding?

Marilee Townsend-Alcorn: We had a music school on Carling for five years and we had a large room for workshops. We had a lot of great players come through and host workshops and then we started looking for a larger space. We own Alcorn Music Studios between my husband and I, Mark Alcorn. GigSpace performance studio was set up as a not-for-profit with charitable status.

The Ethan Ardelli Quartet. Photo courtesy of GigSpace’s Facebook page.

You have this performance space with 46 seats and when I look at your concert listing it looks sort of irregular. You will have a couple of concerts in one weekend and then have a gap of a couple of weeks. How do you curate and schedule the concerts?

Tim Bedner: What takes precedence first is the students and the recitals on weekends or sometimes we just need some time off since we chose this labour of love. I get emails from folks from all over the United States, Canada, Europe that are interested in playing this sort of venue and from Toronto to Ottawa to Montreal to Quebec City. And depending if we have an open weekend we work folks in. It’s nothing preplanned. It’s just first come, first served, and once the spots are filled up, that’s it. And touring folks come last minute and they realize, oh, there’s this place in Ottawa we could play, and we like to leave some of those calendar spots free to get those folks because we snag some really big names that way.

“It’s nothing preplanned. It’s just first come, first served, and once the spots are filled up, that’s it.”

MT: So many musicians are coming through from the west coast, and the space’s word of mouth has spread to the point that this has become a destination. They used to bypass Ottawa because there was not an affordable performance space. And we have an acoustic grand piano that we tune and maintain. We have a listening audience, which is a really big thing to the artists. People don’t talk during performances. So it’s very special.

So is it pretty much all jazz that you’re scheduling? If I had a string quartet or whatever and I wanted to come in here would that be possible?

TB: We’re open to many things and if you look at some of the pictures on the walls, we’ve had some blues and classical performers from Montreal and Toronto coming through. You’re right, it’s heavier towards the jazz, because we have a lot of input from that genre.

“You’re right, it’s heavier towards the jazz, because we have a lot of input from that genre.”

So when David Occipinti says can I come through we can say yes. There’s less issue for singer songwriters in Ottawa. They can play at Irene’s or wherever. And so the jazz people that fall between the cracks, we work with those folks because they often can’t play at Irene’s because of the demographic that books there.

And are there any upcoming concerts you’re particularly excited about?

TB: All of them. All of them are great. Bill McBirnie is one of Canada’s premiere jazz flute players coming at the beginning of April. San Kirmayer is a wonderful young guitarist from Montreal. Also there’s two unbelievable pianists that live here in Ottawa, Mark Ferguson and Steve Boudreau. They’re going to be doing the concept of two pianos playing together. We’re actually going to have two grand pianos up on stage and they’ll play together doing the work by Bill Evans—Conversations with Myself.

Upcoming shows at GigSpace

GigSpace is at 953 Gladstone where it shares the space with Alcorn Music Studios. All of the shows mentioned can be viewed on their events page. Tickets are generally $25 and seating is first come, first served. Due to the small size most shows sell out in advance.

For more about GigSpace, check out this 2012 article written by Alessandro Marcon.