Audrey Ochoa Shreds at Jazz Fest 2018

by Monika Viktorova

Audrey Ochoa needs no introduction: a staple of the Edmonton Jazz scene and well-loved trombonist and band leader, she’s been playing in Edmonton and abroad for 14 years and her last album hit #20 on the Jazz Week chart. I interviewed Ochoa a year ago before her second album’s release (check out part I and II here and here, and the review of the album’s release here), and wanted to see how the success of Afterthought had impacted her and her music. A few weeks before her set at Jazz Fest 2018, we sat down at BRU, part hipster cafe bar, part hipster craft beer bar, to chat about what’s happened since its release and what’s coming next.

The magnitude of the praise for Afterthought hit Ochoa the hardest when she got out of the blue email through her website last September. Alan Baylock, director of the famous One O’Clock Band, a big band from The University of North Texas, wrote to ask Ochoa to come and perform with them in January 2018. Worried at first it was a scam, Ochoa checked in with friends; but the invitation was very real. Baylock had heard her album on the university radio station, presumably a student and devoted fan had been playing it in heavy rotation, and decided to invite her to perform with the band. Ochoa excitedly recounts having some of her songs arranged for big band and heading to Texas and getting to play with jazz stallwarts like Chris Potter and Marcus Miller.


Courtesy of Edmonton International Jazz Festival

The only drawback to success: a gnawing sense of impostor syndrome. “They’re gonna know any second that I shouldn’t be here,” Ochoa remembered thinking, although the affirmation of the experience eventually sunk in. “I guess I’m legit and I know some stuff and I’m allowed to make [something new],” she says, describing the process of starting work on her new ‘experimental’ album. Where her first album as ‘rote’ – making music the way she thought it should be made, and the second as a devil-may-care processing of loss, Ochoa’s third album is slated to be a DIY project filled with musical experiments she’s trying out for the first time. She’s bringing in more string arrangements, a “chambery” feeling, string quartets, and more electronica. Battery Poacher, an electronic artist from Victoria who collaborated on Afterthought, is slated to make an appearance.

The major focus for Ochoa in recording her new album is developing her skills in production. “Production is a major part of modern composition”, she said, explaining being intrigued by the production of the new Kanye album. “With Kanye right now- what’s coming out of his mouth isn’t great but he knows how to layer beeps and bloops, and I want to give that some focus”, she explained.  “People are really enamored with content, and it’s the same across genres: most jazz musicians are really concerned with the language they’re using or the scale or the harmonic matrix. But you can ignore all that and just look at the production. I want to give that some focus”

Ochoa is also “really into arranging right now”, explaining that she recently arranged the upcoming album for longtime collaborator Ben Sures, and her own music for the performance in Texas earlier this year. The new album should be released later in the fall, since Ochoa’s packed performance schedule will keep her busy and out of the recording studio during the summer. Coming off of recent performances at the Beaumont Blues festival and with band Carter and the Capitals and with a slate of upcoming shows, Ochoa was poised to take on her two jazz fest performances and every jam night, which she vowed to attend.

“I don’t know how many people they’re going to fit in [Bellamy’s Lounge] or how many are going to show up on a Wednesday night”, Ochoa confessed about the venue for the first of her Jazz Fest performances this week, and the answer, unsurprisingly,  was: more than could comfortably fit, and a lot. The venue, the lounge of Jazz Fest’s official hotel, the Chateau Lacombe, was a well-lit but cozy affair that got a whole lot cozier as the night went on. The throng of the crowd, vying for every available seating and standing space, poured in so thick that it started spilling out onto the foyer, those unlucky enough to be outside the columns that served as the lounge’s unofficial border craning their next just to get a glimpse. “The great thing about jazz is you can throw it anywhere,” she remarked, and the corollary to that was evident Wednesday night: people will also crowd in to listen to it anywhere. The quartet, Ochoa on trombone, Steve Fletcher on piano, Louis Tovar on percussion and Rubim DeToledo on bass, more than packed the venue.

Courtesy of Monika Viktorova

The magic of Ochoa’s music is that it can make a quartet sound like a big brass band, and in the intimacy of Bellamy’s, her sound loomed even larger reverberating off of the walls and in on itself and the audience until we were all vibrating with it. She planned to perform a Latin Jazz set, since that was the genre of her first album, Trombone and Other Delights, and Spanish Harlem Orchestra was playing earlier that evening. She also knew the set would turn into a jam session later in the evening, the hotel serving as a community hub where artists who had performed could leave their rooms and step onto a shared musical platform. When we spoke, I doubt she could have predicted how successful the show would be, both in the infectiousness of the punchy Latin Jazz tunes the quartet performed and the stage-setting for the jam. Luisito Quintero, from Spanish Harlem Orchestra, opened the space for jamming and joined the quartet on congas for the very first number. This created a constant ebb and flow between the roles of audience member and musician, people stepping into and out of them one song to the next, as the lively tunes delighted and inspired in turn. Several amateur and professional musicians who had gathered initially to watch jumped in at various points. Memorably, Doug Beavers and Nathan Vetters brought two more trombones onto the stage, and rounded off with Jeremey Bosch on flute, combined their sound into a sizzling, sparkling delight.

Courtesy of Monika Viktorova

Seeing Ochoa live reminded me once again of her incredible stage presence: it’s not just that the trombone is a commanding instrument; in her deft hands it becomes a force of nature. When we spoke a year ago, we talked about the absence of women in jazz: how people assume women ‘can’t shred’ or praise their talent only in vocalist roles. Ochoa shatters those stereotypes like high pitched sound shatters crystal: explosively and mercilessly. We talked about the #metoo movement, and she said that it had sparked callouts in the jazz community, but that the most obvious #metoo moment in the Edmonton music scene was the closing of the Needle in response to allegations of harassment by staff. “I get that people were pissed, that ‘Oh there goes another venue’ but ….This is what consequences are. It was a physical consequence and I’m proud of it for that reason.” She also praises Edmonton Jazz Festival for promoting women in jazz without tokenizing them, citing an advertising email that had three women band leaders “…without the subtext or a byline of ‘women in jazz’ ”. And it’s true: both jazz and the music scene more generally are different today than they were a year ago. Whether it’s efforts like Ochoa’s Jazz For Kids show (June 30th at Old Strathcona Performing Arts Center) to demystify jazz for kids and adults, or a playbill that promotes women performers without making them an oddity, or it’s consequences for the harassment that’s caused many women to leave the industry and many not to ever enter: jazz is becoming more egalitarian. What better way to celebrate than fanfare on the trombone?

Catch Audrey Ochoa performing at:

Edmonton Jazz Festival, Jazz for Kids, June 30th

The Works Festival, June 30th

9910, July 7th

Street Performers Festival with Ben Sures, July 10th-14th

Fringe Festival, Late Night Cabaret, date TBA