Friday, July 19, 2024

Laufey charmed a crowd of jazz neophytes at the Ottawa Jazz Festival

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The Chinese-Icelandic crooner Laufey gave a superb performance at the Ottawa Jazz Festival on Friday in front of an audience of starstruck fans delighted to have someone like Laufey making music that soothes their anxieties in a turbulent world. 

How else to explain the phenomenon that is Laufey? Judging by the long sold-out tickets and the number of fans emulating her style by wearing white boho skirts and bows in their hair, the show was hotly anticipated by a significant chunk of the Gen-Z population, many of whom discovered her on TikTok, heard she was touring and then realized that Ottawa has a jazz festival.

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It was not only the biggest jazzfest show of the year, if not ever, but also by far the youngest and most diverse crowd I’ve seen at any edition of the Ottawa Jazz Festival. 

Some 10,000 music fans were packed into Confederation Park to see the 25-year-old Laufey Lín Bing Jónsdóttir, a trained classical musician, present a repertoire of songs inspired by the American songbook tradition. Faithful to the style, her latest album, Bewitched: The Goddess Edition, blends elements of jazz, pop and classical music, topped off by lyrics about boys and romance that any teenager can relate to. 

It was Laufey’s second appearance in Ottawa following a pair of solo jazzfest concerts at one of the indoor stages at the National Arts Centre last year. She was popular then, but she’s well on her way to superstardom now, with a string of sold-out concerts on her Bewitched tour schedule and a stop at the alt-rock Lollapalooza fest this summer. 

Laufey at the Ottawa Jazz Festival
Laufey sold out Jazzfest Friday night as thousands of young people flocked to Confederation Park to catch the young jazz sensation. Photo by JULIE OLIVER/Postmedia Photo by JULIE OLIVER /Postmedia

In a frilly pale skirt and black top, Laufey was an elegant and gracious hostess whose polish reminded me a bit of Diana Krall. A first-class musician, she performed with the assistance of a skilful backing band and a string quartet that made the sound even more lush. There was also a grand piano on the stage that allowed Laufey to demonstrate her multi-instrumental versatility, shifting between guitar, cello and piano. 

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Still, her most appealing asset is her voice, a warm soprano that seems to commiserate with every heart-breaking situation possible while offering hope for a better future at the same time. The setlist read like my high-school diary, with poetic titles like Dreamer, Promise, I Let You Break My Heart Again, Bored, Lovesick and Letter to My 13-Year-Old Self. 

Laufey plays guitar on stage at the Ottawa Jazz Festival
Laufey demonstrated her musicianship at the Ottawa Jazz Festival by playing guitar, piano and cello. Photo by JULIE OLIVER/Postmedia Photo by JULIE OLIVER /Postmedia

The approach drew a wholesome, under-20 set to the downtown park, and their love for Laufey was evident. They sang along, raised their phones to capture the moment and shrieked for their favourite songs. 

To fit everyone in, chairs were not encouraged, although not everyone got the message. Beer sales were slow, and interactions were friendly and polite. In fact, the whole spirit of the night left many of us older folks feeling a little more optimistic about the future.

To illustrate how nice the crowd was, many showed up early to get close to the stage, but subsequently let themselves be won over by Ottawa singer Kellylee Evans and her all-star band, which included her daughter on vocals and local hero Ed Lister on trumpet.

“I know you did not come to see me,” said Evans during her opening set, only to be countered by one young man in the audience shouting, “I did!” 

A little surprised by the warmth of the reception, Evans was delighted to be back at the festival she considers her home, and did a great job showing the jazz neophytes that Laufey isn’t the only artist with a comforting voice and uplifting spirit.

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