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Dan Tepfer's Natural Machines. Photo provided.

Colin Stetson, Becca Stevens, Joel Frahm headline the Ottawa Winter Jazz Fest

By Greggory Clark on December 4, 2019



Becca Stevens, a frequent collaborator of Snarky Puppy and David Crosby, will headline the closing night of Winter Jazz Fest on Saturday, February 1 at 9pm. Her Wonderbloom record, which is about to drop, also features star arranger and festival favourite Jacob Collier. The in-demand multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Stevens is leading a 5-piece band at the Ottawa Art Gallery’s Alma Duncan Salon. “Her band is amazing,” says Petr Cancura, the festival’s programming manager. “Really heavy, impressive and cool.”

American tenor sax player Joel Frahm is the straight-ahead jazz headliner of this year’s lineup. “I don’t usually say this, but he’s really one of the most virtuosic straight-ahead saxophonists I have every heard… just destroying it,” exclaims Cancura. Joel Frahm shreds—like really shreds—and he features in two concerts at the festival. On Thursday, January 30 he’ll duet with pianist Adrean Farrugia at 6:30pm in the Arts Court Theatre. The Joel Frahm Trio headlines on Friday night, February 1, at 9pm in the theatre.

“He’s been on a lot of pop and rock and famous r&b gigs,” says Cancura, “He’s played with everyone. Joel Frahm is kinda one of the unsung heroes of the saxophone.”

Recounting the story of a late-night jam in Ottawa last summer, Cancura said “Joel is really nice… Like when he was here with Brad [Mehldau] he came to the jam session… where you know he could play for four hours straight if you let him! But he kept bringing up the younger players, being super nice and very supportive. He’s a really sweet dude.”

Montreal-based American saxophonist Colin Stetson heads a sizeable contingent of experimental musicians in the 2020 lineup. He and Mats Gustafsson will play a baritone vs. bass saxophone duo show on Friday, January 31 in Club SAW at 10:15pm. They have an excellent live album together, Stones, that was recorded at the 2011 Vancouver Jazz Festival. Stetson performs solo on Saturday night, February 1 in the Alma Duncan Salon.

Other jazz musicians playing in experimental projects include local band FET.NAT, whose latest record Le Mal was shortlisted for the 2019 Polaris Music Prize; French-American pianist Dan Tepfer, who developed an algorithm to improvise with him on a Yamaha Disklavier player piano, and Tin Men & The Telephone, an acoustic piano trio from Amsterdam whose live show will ask audience members to connect to the venue’s wifi…

A handful of the 2020 lineup, like cellist Clarice Jensen, were chosen specifically for a 3-day summit on creative music and digital strategies being hosted by Ottawa Jazz at Arts Court. These panels and presentations, integrated with the festival, will deal with technological solutions for struggles being faced by the creative music scene in Canada. The daytime events will be free, but due to limited space, the summit will be invitation. Delegates visiting from Europe and other parts of Canada are attending for the conference.

Grammy Award-winning Canadian bandleader and Snarky Puppy drummer Larnell Lewis had his summer festival show at the NAC 4th Stage postponed by almost 8 hours because of a missed connection and travel delays. A lot of folks stayed up late to see Lewis’s band, who arrived directly from the airport to perform at 10:30pm. But those who missed out due to the last-minute rescheduling will surely be happy to see Lewis on the bill for Winter Jazz Festival. The 6-piece Larnell Lewis Band plays Arts Court Theatre at 6:30pm on Friday, January 31.

Winter Jazz Fest will unfold at Arts Court for the first time in its eight years of festival history. “It has so many cool venues inside,” says Cancura, “it might be the best venue we’ve had so far.” The historic courthouse turned arts centre houses Club SAW, Arts Court Theatre, ODD Box, and connects to the Ottawa Art Gallery.


Thursday, January 30

  • Adrean Farrugia / Joel Frahm: Blued Dharma, 6:30pm at Arts Court Theatre
  • Mats Gustafsson, 7:45pm at Club SAW
  • Elliott / Boudreau Quartet, 8pm at ODD Box
  • The 33z Play Stevie Wonder, 9pm at Arts Court Theatre
  • Clarice Jensen ‘For This From That Will Be Filled’, 10:15pm at Club SAW

Friday, January 31

  • The Larnell Lewis Band, 6:30pm at Arts Court Theatre
  • FET.NAT, 7:45pm at Club SAW
  • Jean-Michel Pilc / Roddy Ellias: Free Spirit Duo, 8pm at the ODD Box
  • Joel Frahm Trio, 9pm at Arts Court Theatre
  • Colin Stetson & Mats Gustafsson, 10:15pm at Club SAW
  • Tin Men & The Telephone, 11pm at Arts Court Theatre

Saturday, February 1

  • Colin Stetson, 6:30pm at the Alma Duncan Salon
  • Dan Tepfer’s Natural Machines, 7:45pm at Arts Court Theatre
  • Quartetski: John Cage’s Four6, 9pm at the ODD Box
  • Becca Stevens Band, 9pm at the Alma Duncan Salon
  • Allison Au Quartet, 10:30pm at Arts Court Theatre

Visit for the complete schedule. TD Ottawa Winter Jazz Fest will take place at Arts Court and the Ottawa Art Gallery from January 30 to February 1, 2020.