Winter jazz festival stretches into two weekends

Local singer-songwriter Megan Jerome will perform on the first weekend of the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival at the NAC. Provided photo.Local jazz lovers will be in for double the treat at this year’s TD Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival. For the first time since its launch in 2012, the festival will be extending over two weekends – Feb. 6-8 and Feb. 13-15.

“It’s just taken off,” says Petr Cancura, programming director of the festival. “It’s a perfect time to hear music. It’s cold, people want to be indoors and it’s a really beautiful experience.” 

Cancura says the expansion to two weekends and 17 shows this year is due to the festival’s growing popularity and the new focus on local talent. 

The festival’s opening weekend, Feb. 6-8 at the NAC, will feature many local musicians and is “very jazz-centric,” Cancura says. The second weekend, Feb. 13-15 at Dominion-Chalmers United Church, will include a Leonard Cohen tribute, the Juno-award winning group Esmerine, and performers from New York to Zimbabwe. 

With both venues being in Centretown this year, Cancura says it’s the community feel that makes the festival unique, adding that’s “important we keep it localized.” 

 The Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival held a competition this year, calling for special projects from local artists. Cancura says organizers received a “huge response” from the community. The winning group was FET.NAT, a Hull jazz-punk band that collaborated with a local choir and will be performing Feb. 7 at the NAC. 

Megan Jerome, local singer-songwriter, will perform on the first Friday of the festival. She says with Winterlude happening at the same time and the gap of winter jazz events, “tying it together in a festival is a really brilliant idea.” 

She adds: “The feeling of the festival is exactly what people need. It’s concentrated, it’s happening. It feels festive and I don’t even have to go outside.” 

Although overlapping with Winterlude, Cancura says the festival is not affiliated in an official way but maintains a good relationship with organizers as the two events draw some of the same crowd. 

Jesse Stewart, local percussionist and music instructor at Carleton University, has performed a series of outdoor shows at Winterlude the past few years. Although he hasn’t been directly involved in the Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival, he says it is “very encouraging” to see the focus on local talent. 

“There have been lots of changes in the jazz scene in the past few years,” he explains, adding how some popular local venues closed and many young musicians move to New York or Montreal where there’s a more prominent jazz scene. 

“But there’s another trend too,” Stewart says. “There’s a very healthy and vibrant community of musicians who stay and choose to make Ottawa their home.” 

Stewart says the music department at Carleton is “in the works” of establishing a diploma for jazz studies, as many successful jazz musicians have graduated from Carleton’s music program, including both Cancura and Jerome. 

The most positive change Stewart says he has noticed in the Ottawa jazz scene in the past few years, is an openness to experimentation in music. 

“It seems like people are taking more chances musically,” he says. 

Like Stewart, Jerome agrees it is the diversity along with a strong sense of community that sets the Ottawa scene apart. 

“If you’re one of the musicians that fit into the cracks rather than a certain category then it’s a great place for you,” she says. “It’s a real community vibe of people who are interested in people as well as the music. I think that’s a really beautiful feature of the jazz scene in Ottawa.” 

Tickets for the TD Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival are available online at with prices starting at $18.