“Ottawa loves its festivals, and 2020 is no different. Rising to the challenge of broadcasting from home and reaching audiences virtually, TD Ottawa Jazz Fest has been online blowing minds all week. They have dubbed this season "Tenacity" because it turns out that you can't lock artists down, and you can't stop the music.” – apt613.ca (June 2020)
“The festival’s new initiative to strive for gender-balanced bookings helped to bring not only diversity but also some cutting-edge musicians and a specially commissioned concert to the NAC.” – Peter Hum, Ottawa Citizen (June 2019)
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.
June 2020 - Plans were well under way: media announcements were made, Festival passes were sold, infrastructure was booked… all in heightened anticipation of the 40th anniversary of the 2020 TD Ottawa Jazz Festival. Even after the state of emergency was declared due to COVID-19 on March 17, we were confident that plans were still full throttle for the Festival as staff continued to work from home.
It was with a heavy heart that organizers had no choice but to cancel the 2020 Festival when the City of Ottawa extended its ordinance forbidding group gatherings.
But musicians are among the most resourceful and creative people in the world. They thrive in the unknown. Rise past a challenge. Express themselves in the moment.
Lock them down. Their art will flourish. As the old adage goes, ‘the show must go on’… Tenacity was about flourishing, creating in the moment, extraordinary collaboration and overcoming adversity with art.
Embellished by stunning visuals from local animators, twelve free pre-recorded and live performances were streamed free on Facebook and YouTube, in our first every virtual festival called TENACITY.
Nov 2020 - Miss live, in-person shows? We did too. With the easing of the province’s COVID-19 restrictions, the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival was delighted to be able to present four in-person, as well as live streamed shows, from Nov 13 – 15 at Arts Court Theatre with strict COVID-19 safety protocols in place to a limited audience.
Mar 2021 - Due to the second state of emergency declared by the Government of Ontario on January 12, the 10th TD Ottawa Winter Jazz Fest was postponed from Feb 4 – 6 to Mar 4 – 6. Six shows were streamed free featuring artists: Rebecca Foon, Ranee Lee, Jazzlab Orchestra, Jim Bryson, The Kirk MacDonald Generations Quartet and Ron Sexsmith. Recorded under the creative video direction of noted videographer, Jean-Marc Abela, along with a top-notch production team, this virtual concert extravaganza rivaled any in-person concert experience – almost!
Aug 2021 - Nimble and resilient, the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival continues to astonish the community by presenting some of the industry’s most exciting and ground-breaking artists whether in-person or virtually. From August 19 – 22, we invite you to adventure with us into an extraordinary world of 17 stunning visuals and world class sound recording. Incomparable Canadian artists will join us on this virtual journey with renowned Montreal video designer Jean-Marc Abela (Montreal Symphony Orchestra) and award-winning local sound engineer, Ross Murray.
And if permitted, we are committed to present a series of free live in-person shows at various venues around the city featuring the finest local talent Ottawa has to offer. See Executive Producer Catherine O'Grady's interview on CTV Morning Live.
Lineup announcements coming very soon!