What began as a weekend of outdoor jazz in Major’s Hill Park back in 1980 has evolved into one of the National Capital Region’s most highly anticipated musical events of the summer.
The Ottawa Jazz Festival was founded in 1980 by local musicians Bob Misener and Tony Pope –subsequently joined by the late Bill Shuttleworth – who wanted to throw a summertime jazz festival to celebrate and develop the popular jazz scene in Ottawa. Jazz festivals were still a relatively new phenomenon in Canadian cities, and there really was no grand design behind Ottawa’s first edition.
The Festival grew quickly, attracting such international names as Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Herb Ellis, Bob Brookmeyer, Wynton Marsalis and Milt Jackson. Larger and larger crowds came out each year, and the Festival began to stretch beyond traditional jazz and attract new supporters. Expanding beyond its outdoor venue the Festival ventured into indoor satellite events and the late night jam sessions that are so popular today.
By the mid-1980’s the Festival’s organizational direction was shaped by Programming Manager Jacques Émond and Doug McNab took over the volunteer brigade. More and more big names were booked, including Sonny Rollins, Jack DeJohnette and Ornette Coleman. In 1989, the Festival moved to its own stage in Confederation Park.
In the 1990’s, the Festival’s programming began to reflect Jacques’ love of big band music and West Coast jazz, and the Festival’s loyal fan base grew to trust and appreciate his choices, as well as the broad spectrum of artists he would bring to the Festival each year. Jacques is also well known for his ability to spot up-and-comers, and brought such artists as Diana Krall, D.D. Jackson and Dave Douglas to festival-goers long before they were signed to major labels or featured in mainstream media. The Festival’s focus on Canadian talent has also never wavered, and features approximately 300 domestic artists in the lineup each year.
Two major sold-out concerts at Southam Hall of the National Arts Centre were part of the Festival’s 20th anniversary celebrations, which featured the first year-round jazz programming. In October 2000, there was a performance by the Buena Vista Social Club, followed by the return of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in 2001. Tickets for each event sold out in record time and the Festival has never looked back.
In 2010 the Festival celebrated its 30th anniversary of consecutive programming, boasting the largest loyal audience of its kind in eastern Ontario.
Over the years, the Jazz Festival has presented some of the most dynamic jazz artists on the scene, from the traditional to the avant-garde, such as Aretha Franklin, Herbie Hancock, Salif Keita, Dave Brubeck, Mavis Staples, Roy Haynes, Toots Thielemans, Branford Marsalis, Béla Fleck, Kenny Werner, Stanley Jordan, Sonny Rollins, Terence Blanchard, Diana Krall, D.D. Jackson, Maynard Ferguson, and John Mayall – to name only a few.
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