This content is made possible by our sponsors. Learn more about our OBJ360 content studio here.

How the Ottawa Jazz Festival delivers intimate concert experiences every year

Director Petr Cancura tells us what’s on tap this summer

An orchestra performs at the Ottawa Jazz Festival
photo by Brian Goldschmied

If jazz legend Dexter Gordon was right when he said, “Jazz to me is a living music,” the Ottawa Jazz Festival will be injecting a bit of life downtown for the 44th summer running.

The roots of the festival run deep. 

“It’s the second oldest jazz festival in Canada, and the second largest after Montreal,” said festival director Petr Cancura, who took the reins for the first time in January after 13 years as its artistic director. 

Despite being one of the largest festivals in the city, this outdoor concert series offers the intimate feel its fans love.

That’s why Cancura and his team are committed to maintaining the chill vibe while staying on the lookout for new acts that will attract a new generation of fans.

Performances from past festivals:

  • Sharon Jones sings a hot pink sequined outfit at the Ottawa Jazz Festival
    Sharon Jones, photo by Andre R. Gagne
  • Cyrille Aimee sings at the Ottawa Jazz Festival
    Cyrille Aimee, photo by Dan Nawrocki
  • Steve Martin plays banjo at the Ottawa Jazz Festival
    Steve Martin, photo by Jean-Marc Carisse
  • Lee Fields sings at the Ottawa Jazz Festival
    Lee Fields and the Expressions, photo by Dan Nawroc
  • Trombone Shorty performs at the Ottawa Jazz Festival
    Trombone Shorty, photo by Dan Nawrocki
  • Sarah McLachlan plays acoustic guitar at the Ottawa Jazz Festival
    Sarah McLachlan, photo by Dan Nawrocki
  • Charles Lloyd plays tenor saxophone at the Ottawa Jazz Festival
    Charles Lloyd, photo by Mike Laviolette
  • George Benson performs at the Ottawa Jazz Festival
    George Benson, photo by Jean-Marc Carisse
  • The Roots plays the tuba at the Ottawa Jazz Festival
    The Roots, photo by Andre R. Gagne
  • Angelique Francis playing bass at the Ottawa Jazz Festival
    Angelique Francis, photo by Andre R. Gagne

What’s on tap for 2024

Cancura and his team work closely with the national and international jazz communities to book a stellar lineup every year, and 2024 is no exception.

“We’re always searching for artists who are doing something authentic at the forefront of their art form,” he said. “For us, jazz represents a broad spectrum.”

That’s why you’ll find funk musicians like George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic collective playing in the same lineup as rising Icelandic star Laufey, a legacy artist like Norah Jones and a jazz legend like Al Di Meola. 

To the jazz and music aficionado, the heart of the festival may be at the NAC’s Fourth Stage and Azrieli Studio with shows by Kurt Elling, Tim Berne, Geoffrey Keezer, Darcy James Argue and many more.

An active musician himself, Cancura’s deep connections to the local music community have also helped give the local music scene a lift. His team made his peers an official part of the festival last year for the first time with The Homegrown Series. 

“It’s a week leading up to the festival that features local artists at local clubs,” said Cancura. 

The Jazz Youth Summit is taking place again as well, offering nine music students from Ottawa high schools and universities the chance of a lifetime to get mentored by jazz greats.

And, the free concert series creates opportunities to turn jazz newbies into fans — it includes about 50 performances this year.

“Some shows are at our traditional venues like City Hall during the day, but we’ve also partnered with Queen Street Fair, the Sparks Street BIA and clubs like Irene’s, Live on Elgin, Art House Cafe and Montgomery Scotch Lounge, and many more,” said Cancura. 

Keeping the vibe alive

With inflation increasing operating costs and government grants on the decline, Cancura made a bold move to find sponsors for 2024.  

“Funding is the biggest challenge we face every year,” he said. To help solve that problem, the festival engaged a Toronto-based promo firm to find sponsors to keep ticket prices in check.

With that off his plate, Cancura’s team could focus on answering the million-dollar question: “How do we sustainably grow while maintaining the intimacy that we’re known for?” 

The answer could be spreading the love of jazz year-round with new programming, so stay tuned for that.

What’s clear is the Ottawa Jazz Festival, through its sponsorship partnerships with key players in the hospitality industry, like the CAA, OLG and The Lord Elgin Hotel, does more than provide a unique, intimate concert experience. 

The festival impacts Ottawa’s economy in a big way, especially the hospitality and tourism industry. 

Last year, 180,000 people attended the festival, which included more than 20,000 tourists. Eight-five per cent of them came to Ottawa specifically to attend the festival. The total economic impact amounted to $34 million.

With Cancura at the helm, what Ottawans can expect are more opportunities to experience an amazing musical experience at the Ottawa Jazz Festival.

“We’re excited to stay as relevant in the music scene as ever and bring the best possible music to the city,” he said.