Audrey Ochoa’s rising star

Edmonton trombonist is one of five finalists in this year’s Stingray Rising Stars competition at the Halifax Jazz Festival

“I kind of feel like it found me.
“I kind of feel like it found me." - Audrey Ochoa on her choice on picking up the trombone at age twelve.

If you’re not familiar with the name Audrey Ochoa you will be by the time this year’s TD Halifax Jazz Festival is over. Along with the Sam Wilson Quintet, Malleus Trio, Ethan Ardelli Quartet and Zamani, she is in the running for this year’s Stingray Rising Stars contest.

Launched in 1998 as Galaxie Rising Star, the Stingray Rising Stars continues its mission to discover, encourage, promote, and champion new and up-and-coming Canadian artists. Sponsored by Canadian multi-platform music service Stingray, the company’s Rising Stars program has benefited over a thousand Canadian musicians across every genre

“As a Canadian company and member of the music community, Stingray is committed to promoting local talent. We are thrilled to be renewing our support of the TD Halifax Jazz Festival,” says Mathieu Péloquin, senior vice-president, marketing and communications for Stingray in a media release.

Chosen in a combination of peer assessment and online voting during this year’s festival, the winner not only takes home the title, but also a $3,000.00 cash prize to help advance their career.

For Edmonton-based jazz trombonist Audrey Ochoa, although winning the Rising Stars contest will be additional validation as an artist, it won’t come at the cost of her July 13 performance on the Waterfront Main Stage.

“It’s significant to win any award or competition period,” she says by phone from Edmonton. “But in terms of our actual performance, we’re just going to do what we’ve been doing for the last two years and hope people like it.”

Considered as one of the most powerful trombonists in North America, Ochoa began playing the trombone as many young musicians do, in her junior school band.

A member of a musical family where her father played trumpet, mom played accordion, and her sister the saxophone, it was the trombone that was one of the “leftovers” in the family basement.

“I kind of feel like it found me,” she says with a laugh of her discovery at the bottom of the instrument pile.

“I tried to like trumpet when I was in the fifth grade with my dad as my teacher, but that just wasn’t really working out. But the trombone was still brass, it had a cool slide, and I didn’t have to be compared to my dad.”

It’s perhaps easy to understand why Ochoa did not want to be compared to her father Romeo Ochoa, who had his own career as a musician playing with the likes of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and Canadian music icon Tommy Banks.

But the familial connection has obviously rubbed off on Romeo’s daughter. Not only has she recently received the Edmonton Music Prize for her second album “Afterthought”, she continues to fight against the misconception that the trombone is primarily found in the hands of men.

“I’ve been asked this before, and there are have been women trombone players throughout jazz history,” she says when asked if she felt she was breaking boundaries as a female trombone player.

“It’s funny too because in Edmonton, the second trombone in the symphony here has been a woman, Kathryn Macintosh, for twenty years at least.”

Ochoa also points out that the trombone doesn’t always get the credit it deserves within the jazz genre, which could be another reason both female and male trombonists don’t always get their due.

“The trombone isn’t really the instrument that developed jazz language,” she says. “You sort of give that credit to saxophone players and trumpet players. Trombone players were like the fun sidekick in terms of language developers.”

Not that jazz was necessarily the genre Ochoa saw herself playing when she first picked up the instrument at age twelve, she just wanted to play trombone as much as she could. It would be jazz that would afford her the opportunity.

“You’ll play more notes in one concert if you’re a jazz musician than if you’re in a symphony,” she says with a laugh. “And with jazz you just get more of a feature in commercial and Latin music and jazz music. Plus you can be a soloist as opposed to being in a concert band or as a symphony player. So, jazz was just a natural fit.”

While Ochoa does supplement her jazz career as a music teacher, her own music is becoming increasingly a full-time job.

“Between jazz playing, commercial band, musicals, and all that sort of thing, it keeps you quite busy,” she says.

There is little doubt part of keeping busy as a musician has also come from writing for her past two albums, and her third album “Frankenhorn”, which is set to be released in March of next year.

Halifax audiences will even get an opportunity to hear a couple of tracks off the yet to be released album during her festival concert. She will also perform with her trio some of the greatest hits from her previous two albums.

With the Halifax Jazz Festival the end of a long tour which has taken her literally from coast to coast, Ochoa is looking forward to some time to unwind once she wraps at the festival. Like most rising stars though, she isn’t one to relax too long as she looks to the future.

“I’m working with a different group of fellows to do sort of live electronica show because that’s something I am starting to get into,” she says. “I really want to get into performing electronica live with the trombone. I like it. I think it’s fun.”

Audrey Ochoa will perform on the Waterfront TD Main Stage on July 13 at 2:30pm. For a complete schedule of the Stingray Rising Star performances and other acts at this year’s TD Halifax Jazz Festival visit halifaxjazzfestival.ca.