Photo: Nellie McKay, who will be playing her first Ottawa show on Thursday at TD Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival 2019.
A Broadway singer. A guitar wizard. A New York City saxophone legend. Aretha Franklin brought to life. A Quebec composer without peer in Canada. An indie rock-jazz mashup. The pianist from two of the most influential jazz bands of the last quarter century.
No, those aren’t the weekend entertainment listings from a New York City newspaper.
You can have all of that – and much more – without leaving town and brighten your dreary winter at the TD Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, which runs Thursday through Saturday at La Nouvelle Scene, 333 King Edward Ave.
The winter festival, now in its eighth year, not only offers a respite from the cold it features an all-embracing mix of international and top local talent and an array of styles that covers the spectrum from pop and rock to ballad singing and lush harmonies to straight-ahead jazz and on-the-spot improvisations.
Leading off the three-day festival Thursday at 6:30 p.m. will be Nellie McKay, a singer, composer, pianist, actress and free spirit playing her first Ottawa show in seven years. McKay’s live performances are legendary: a blend of cabaret songs, standards and her own compositions tossed together with lively political commentary, humour and stories from her life on Broadway and in the film world.
Also not to be missed is Kevin Breit, a genre-bending Canadian guitarist whose latest recording, Johnny Goldtooth and the Chevy Casanovas, has been nominated for a 2019 Juno for Best Instrumental Album. Breit, also an in-demand session musician, has played on albums that have won 13 Grammys and accompanied musicians as varied as Jane Siberry, Ian Tyson, Norah Jones and Bill Frisell. Breit and his Bona Fide Scroundrels play Friday at 9 p.m.
Along with award-winning Montreal pianist Marianne Trudel and NYC saxophonist Michael Blake, Breit will also be part of the festival’s first-ever Artists-in-Residence series. The three musicians will each play with their own bands during the festival, but also perform with each other in four distinct collaborations designed to showcase their unique creative skills.
At her own show Thursday at 8:30 p.m., Trudel’s highly melodic trio will be joined by Tony Malaby, a probing A-list New York saxophonist equally at home playing avant-garde or mainstream jazz. And at his 6:30 p.m. Saturday show, Blake will perform in an intimate trio setting with cellist Peggy Lee and legendary drummer Jerry Granelli, probably best known for his revival of Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas music.
For music-lovers looking for hypnotic rock-infused jazz, the quartet led by Montreal bassist RJ LeBlanc promises to be the show of the festival. LeBlanc’s all-star band of youngbloods features Nir Felder, a NYC guitarist NPR has called the “next big voice in jazz,” along with Canada’s leading Cuban pianist Rafael Zaldivar and the explosive Quebec drummer Sam Joly. The quartet plays Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Perhaps the festival’s biggest name is Joey Calderazzo, an award-winning pianist in his own right who has occupied the piano chair in the bands of saxophone heavyweights Michael Brecker and Branford Marsalis. On Saturday at 9 p.m., Calderazzo will perform with his trio featuring two of New York’s finest rhythm players, bassist Orlando le Fleming and drummer Donald Edwards. It promises to be a show that will please jazz aficionados and casual fans alike.
And there is much more:
A tribute to Aretha Franklin by the 33z, a collective of some the area’s top musicians, including Kellylee Evans Ed Lister and Petr Cancura. That show goes Friday at 6 p.m
Vancouver’s Pugs & Crows, a Juno-winning band whose music is virtually impossible to categorize – post-apocalyptic indie punk chamber jazz, anyone? – but whose concerts tend to leave audiences breathless, perform Friday at 10 p.m
Megan Jerome’s Together Ensemble, an Ottawa band that sparkles with soulful songs drawn from vintage and contemporary roots and jazz, performs Saturday at 8 p.m.
Winter Jazz Jams, led by two Ottawa jazz institutions – pianist Steve Boudreau and bassist John Geggie – will take place Thursday and Friday nights at 11 p.m. The jams are free.