Monday, June 18, 2012

The Heat Is On

In the dead of winter, especially in the dead of a winter in Eastern Ontario, it can seem like a long time between jazz festivals. But, now, with the temperature in the high 20s (Celsius) and rising, comes the most-anticipated week in the whole year.

This year, I'm starting my jazz festival celebration early by emceeing an event to honour the man who booked the Ottawa International Jazz Festival for many years: Jacques Emond. Tonight, Jacques will be receiving the Jazz Journalists Association JAZZ HERO award in conjunction with this year's Jazz Awards, which will be held in New York City later this week. As a concert promoter and radio host, Jacques has been a tireless champion of jazz for decades; the kind of local hero who exists in communities throughout North America. The JJA—and hopefully a few dozen friends here in Ottawa—are delighted to give him a little recognition, and encourage others to give a word of thanks to all those other heroes out there who keep jazz alive at the community level.

On Thursday, a double bill of blues journeymen John Mayall and Robert Cray kicks off this year's edition of the Ottawa jazz fest, which promises a number of highlights.

I'm particularly looking forward to the new quintet co-led by Dave Douglas and Joe Lovano, which I'll be reviewing for DownBeat's digital service. Inspired by their time working together in the SF JAZZ Collective, the band has its debut in Kingston next week before coming to Ottawa. It then hits the European festival circuit prior to its U.S. debut at the Newport Jazz Festival.

As excited as I am about catching early shows by this new group, it means I'll be missing what might just be the overall highlight for many people at this year's event: an all-star group led by the great New Orleans songwriter Allen Toussaint, featuring Christian Scott, Don Byron and Marc Ribot. I'm predicting that this is the show people will be buzzing about after the festival.

I know I've said this before about the Ottawa festival, but this is a particularly great year for catching some of jazz's best drummers. A short list: Eric Harland, Joey Baron, Brian Blade, Tom Rainey and Jack DeJohnette.

There's no shortage of great guitarists, either: Kevin Eubanks, Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell and Pete McCann.

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