From Paris to New York and beyond, jazz venues are often popular fixtures of capital cities across the globe.
Ottawa has its share of jazz and blues clubs–such as the Rainbow Bistro, Options Jazz Lounge and GigSpace–but for the most part, the city is made up of music venues that feature the occasional jazz night or jam session rather than catering specifically to the jazz genre.
A genre that can simultaneously incite hope and anxiety in the souls of its fans with an open cadence or a strategically-placed minor shift, jazz seems to have gone the way of the dodo in Canada’s capital. Along with that uprising feeling, songs such as Billie Holiday’s version of “Blue Moon” and Thelonious Monk’s “Japanese Folk Song” have been primarily relegated to movie soundtracks, while others such as Miles Davis’s “Freddie Freeloader” seem to be almost entirely forgotten by much of today’s generation.
So where did jazz go? And if it is still around, where is it hiding?
“A common complaint in Ottawa is that there [aren’t] enough music venues, but I’m not convinced that that is the case,” says Stacie Sivyer, Rainbow Bistro co-owner and manager. “There are quite a few staple music venues in town.”
An example of a designated jazz club within a city of bars offering the occasional jazz night is Options Jazz Lounge at the Brookstreet Hotel & The Marshes Golf Club in the city’s west end. Nearly ten years ago, Options chose to rebrand themselves as a jazz bar, rocketing them into the epicentre of the Ottawa jazz scene.
“In the beginning, live jazz was offered solely on Friday and Saturday nights,” says Nyle Kelly, general manager of Brookstreet Hotel & The Marshes Golf Club. “However due to the popularity, we soon began featuring a different artist each night of the week providing a considerable variation for the Ottawa jazz community.”
Holding the torch within this community for the past 40 years has been TD Ottawa Jazz Fest–a festival which has garnered year-over-year popularity despite the city’s lack of a large and openly accessible jazz scene. The festival has become so popular, in fact, that it has been held twice annually since 2012.
Although Petr Cancura, Ottawa Jazz Fest’s programming manager, says it isn’t without some changes to both the scene and the music.
“It has changed,” says Cancura. “But it has become more popular and what people want to see today is a very organic thing. It’s not what it used to be in the ’60s. It’s not even what it used to be 20 years ago.”
In keeping with this sentiment, for several years running, Tin Men and the Telephone have showcased their unique musical flavour to Jazz Fest. During this year’s show on Jan. 31, the Dutch group certainly brought Cancura’s words to life: jazz is changing.
Operating as a trio (or in the case of this year’s show at SAW Galleries, a duo) from Amsterdam, Tin Men and the Telephone are best described as a timely and interactive multimedia jazz collective.
Taking many of their musical and thematic cues from the audience through a mobile application called Tinmendo, they create beautiful, soul-shattering pieces of audiovisual art that are deeply rooted in current events and jazz tradition.
Hauntingly talented jazz musicians, Tin Men and the Telephone seamlessly blend improvisational give-and-go skill with beatnik, slam poetry-reminiscent activism. At once they are both progressive and traditional.
Which begs the question: is this style the future of Ottawa jazz as well?
So far, Tin Men and the Telephone are a unique and occasional addition to the Ottawa jazz scene. But with the trend of the city’s venues catering to various types of music at once, there is no reason why the nation’s capital shouldn’t see some crossover like this in the future.
The only catch is that there must continue to be artists and audiences who appreciate the analog value that jazz can bring to a digital world–even when those two worlds collide.
“Jazz and blues are much more of an art,” says Cancura. “If your value system is based on how many views on YouTube you have or how many listens on Spotify, then jazz never held up.”
For the meantime, jazz has a bit of a fugitive status in Ottawa. It is constantly changing its identity, slipping from venue to venue and it carries different values than those often held by the mainstream music scene.
Most importantly, jazz music is still very much alive in the capital. You just have to know where to find it.