Every summer, many of the world’s best jazz musicians — and thousands of avid jazz fans — gather in the city for the Ottawa International Jazz Festival.
And according to Catherine O’Grady, executive producer of the festival, this is the year of the jazz superstar.
“I am thrilled with the dynamic artists we have this year because so many of them are among the most exciting jazz artists on the planet,” says O’Grady.
“I think this is one of the strongest line-ups we’ve ever had and certainly a great representation of jazz superstars.”
Opening today and running through July 1 at Confederation Park and other downtown venues, the festival boasts a diverse roster of local, North American and international artists, including Wynton Marsalis, Buddy DeFranco and Herbie Hancock, will all play the main stage this opening weekend.
O’Grady says while she is excited about every aspect of this year’s fest, she is happy to welcome those artists that don’t get to play Canada often, like Finnish harpist and pianist Iro Haarla and Malian musician Salif Keita.
Many of the artists — including Marsalis — have performed at the Ottawa festival before, and O’Grady says she thinks it’s the positive atmosphere and appreciative audiences that keep bringing them back.
“This isn’t New York or Chicago and we can’t just walk down the street to the Lincoln Center and see these artists whenever we want, so the audiences are really grateful and appreciative,” says O’Grady. “I think the musicians generally appreciate that enthusiasm.”
One such appreciative festival patron is Pat Graham, who has been coming to the jazz fest since it was a “much smaller affair at the beginning.”
She recalls fondly seeing rising stars, like Diana Krall, play the fest before they were big names.
“She had her hair down covering her face and she didn’t even sing, but she played that piano with a fury,” says Graham.
“I have so many great memories and I love it every year.”
Graham says she’s “one of those people with the lawn chairs” who arrive early, stake their claim on the lawn in front of the main stage, and get ready to see a great show.
And she loves the late-night jam sessions too, which, this year have moved to the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
New to the festival this year is a series of free lunchtime panel discussions at the NAC Fourth Stage called Jazz Matters, which bring distinguished jazz journalists and academics together for a series of talks O’Grady thinks will be “enlightening and interesting.”
Gold Circle passes for the festival sold out in record time — three weeks after they went on sale — but O’Grady says there are still plenty of tickets available. As in past years, Canada Day concerts at Confederation Park are free.