The Tu-blog: A Spotlight on the Tuba at Ottawa Jazz

By Keith Walton

It seems tubas are everywhere you look these days, whether holding down the bottom end of a proliferation of New Orleans brass bands, featured with the house bands of late-night talk shows, or in bands that draw from the Balkan traditions.  A versatile and colourful instrument, the tuba (and its heavy duty counterpart, the Sousaphone) is a switch hitter: able to take part in the rhythm section in the bass role, or stepping out into the front lines with surprising agility.  It is also a valued colour in the jazz composers’ palette.

The 2016 Ottawa Jazz Festival is no exception, and features the tuba in a variety of settings:

the_boxcar-boysJune 23, Main Stage: Toronto’s Boxcar Boys are a smaller group that draws on various folk traditions and features washboard, accordion and fiddle along with the traditional brass band instruments. Their tuba player, Nicholas Buligan, is also a trumpeter.  The author has had the good fortune of playing with this group on several occasions.

June 23, OLG After Dark: The Flat Earth Society is an avant-garde jazz orchestra from Belgium that will be performing a soundtrack to the 1919 silent film The Oyster Princess.  The band has a bass player, and tubist Berlinde Daman sits with the horns, playing melodic and ensemble lines.  Charles Mingus, Slide Hampton, Stan Kenton and many others have made use of the tuba in this fashion.

June 23/24, Laurier Music Series: The No BS! Brass Band from Richmond, Virginia, with Stefan Demetriadis on tuba, “redefine what a brass band can do”- NPR. Their music combines traditional the New Orleans sound with elements of funk, rock, soul, and free jazz.

June 25, NAC Back Stage: Banda de Los Muertos.  A hybrid of traditional Mexican folk music and German polka, Banda music was responsible for a raft of sousaphone thefts from California schools as musicians wanted to join in on the popularity of this music.  Co-founder and “Souzaphone” player Jacob Garchik brings this ensemble to the festival straight from New York City.

Fanfare Ciocarlia Ottawa JazzJune 28, OLG After Dark: Devil’s Tale: Adrian Raso & Fanfare Ciocărlia represent the Balkan brass style.  In fact, they are the original source and have been largely responsible for popularising the style.  Out of the gypsy tradition, their music is incredibly fast-paced and intricate.  They boast not one, but two tuba players (Monel Trifan and Constantin Cantea) and Laurentiu Ivancea on baritone horn, essentially a half-size tuba.  Their cover of “Born to be Wild” was featured on the Borat soundtrack.

July 1, Main Stage: The National Arts Centre Orchestra takes the stage for a free Canada Day Concert, and we would be remiss not to mention long-time principal tuba Nick Atkinson.  One of Canada’s premier orchestras, they will be performing a selection of old and new selections in Confederation Park.

July 2, Main Stage: Also from Toronto, the FOG Brass Band are a six piece group that includes piano and electric guitar alongside Jay Burr’s tuba.  Trombonist Tom Richards also moonlights on sousaphone with the Heavyweights Brass Band.  Led by composer/trumpeter Rebecca Hennessy, they will be recording their first full-length CD later this year.

With such a varied roster, there is certainly a tuba for everyone at this year’s Ottawa Jazz Festival.  Once an anomaly on the jazz scene, the instrument is showing no signs of going anywhere.

The author will be playing tuba as part of the house band of the inaugural Jibber Jazz Jam at the fountain at Confederation Park.  All are welcome to bring their instrument and join in: 4- 5 PM, June 25, 26, 29, 30 and July 2 and 3.