A brief overview of the Ottawa Jazz Festival!

Arya Gunde • Posted: 06-07-2023

Jazz has always been an innovative genre, embracing changes that support artists’ liberty to create. This freedom has allowed really good music to prosper, integrating vibrant cultures and high-tech machines to help artists express their truths. 

This past week, Ottawa was filled with a type of hypnotic energy as heavy rain, thick smog, and enticing sounds filled the streets. Ottawa’s 43rd Jazz Festival was central to creating such a soulful atmosphere. Simultaneously, the festival displayed why it deserves its reputation as a premier Jazz festival in North America. This year’s event took place at three separate venues: The National Arts Centre (NAC), City Hall, and the main stage at Confederation Park. The organizers also hosted late-night jam sessions at the Lord Elgin Hotel.

Late night jam session at Lord Elgin Hotel on June 29, 2023 (CHUO/Arya Gunde)

The lineup was stunning, featuring artists currently pushing the boundaries of what jazz can be, captivating audiences in the process. Legends such as Herbie Hancock, Buddy Guy, Terence Blanchard, and Brad Mehldau graced the stage to showcase what greatness looks like when consistently worked on. For some of these greats, it was likely their last time performing in Ottawa. However, the flow of time doesn’t discriminate against anyone. For groups like Kokoroko, Ottawa’s Jazz Fest marked the artists’ first visit to Canada. The festival was impressive in its commitment to scouring the globe for good music, resulting in an all-star cast from all different walks of life.  Passing the torch was a common theme throughout performances, though it was well deserved. Cimafunk, a Cuban Grammy-nominated musician, engrossed the crowd with his swagger and charisma. We chatted with one of his fans, who was pleasantly surprised to see him on the lineup stating, “It was a big surprise. I think a lot of Cubans were not expecting this. I love him.” The festival’s global reach did not let it forget about local artists, though. Angelique Francis, an Ottawa Blues singer, dazzled crowds with her spectacular stage presence and was later invited on stage by Buddy Guy to perform with him. Herbie Hancock’s drummer, Jaylen Petinaud, was the backbone of his set, prompting multiple shoutouts from Herbie while on stage.

Brad Mehldau Trio performing at the main stage on June 27, 2023 (CHUO/Arya Gunde)

We chatted with Claudia Balladelli, the cofounder of Axé Worldfest, a partner of the Jazz festival responsible for organizing talent. Balladelli is responsible for the Cimafunk and ROMMEL performances. When asked about her partnership with the Jazz festival, it was crystal clear that she is a person who cares about the broader community, “Ottawa deserves a rich variety of music styles because Ottawa has a rich variety of audience, of people, of immigrants and of Canadians.”  Claudia’s spirit for live music was evident even in the short interaction we had. She added, “I live for music, music is culture, and culture is what we need to inspire us and motivate us; it’s with us everywhere.”

Buddy Guy performing at the main stage on June 28, 2023 (CHUO/Arya Gunde)

Ottawa’s Jazz Festival is one of the city’s most celebrated traditions. For a city with the reputation of being boring, it is certainly an outlier and changing the perception of Ottawa as a whole. For 43 years, the festival has given Ottawaians and jazz enthusiasts something to look forward to in the summer, and we’re happy it is here to stay.

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