“... for a few years now the time between the solstice and July 1st has meant time to enjoy great music more. It’s TD Ottawa Jazz Festival time here in Canada’s capital, and that means the city is swarming with world class jazz musicians from every corner of the globe and some of the most open-minded, respectful jazz fans you’ll ever find. This finely tuned machine thrills these fans at more than half a dozen venues across downtown with every variation of the music you can imagine.” – Joel Hurd, North Country Public Radio
“Ottawa jazz festival a success inside and out” – Peter Hum, Ottawa Citizen
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.
Catherine O’Grady took over as Executive Producer of the Festival in 1996, and with the combined efforts of the Board of Directors, the contribution of the community, and good management practices, the Festival has since become financially solvent and has seen an audience increase of 300%. The Festival’s big break came with the programming of Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra during the 1999 Festival.
2000 – 2009
That was followed up with two major sold-out concerts at Southam Hall of the National Arts Centre as 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.
It exists to advance the appreciation and knowledge of all music, in particular jazz, by programming music that richly underscores the continuing creativity and diversity of the artists and the music itself.
2010 – 2019
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.
By presenting great music to our audience from both emerging and established repertoire, we aspire to make the arts inclusive in people’s everyday lives, thereby adding an intrinsic richness and purpose. In 2011, the Festival’s total attendance was 295,000, proving just how popular a destination it is for tourists and local audiences alike.
The Festival experienced a passing of the guard as Jacques Émond retired in 2010 and Petr Cancura was appointed as the new Programming Manager early in 2011. Petr is only the second programming manager in its 32 years.
The TD Ottawa Jazz Festival is the premier music event to take place in downtown Ottawa and we are proud to be part of the continuing tradition of bringing jazz to the National Capital Region. Set on a bold path, trailblazing the most dynamic programming and innovations the Festival continues to present the finest musicians from across Canada and around the world in all genres and inspirations of Jazz.
Unfortunately, the 2020 TD Ottawa Jazz Festival was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 40th anniversary year will instead be celebrated in 2021 when the Festival will present hundreds of musicians from across Canada and around the world in an array of vibrant concerts.