My March 2011 visit to Toronto, Kingston and Montreal - Part 2

March 3, 2011 - Day 2 - Kingston

Greg Runions picked me up at my hotel in the morning to begin what was to be visits to several schools in the area. First up was an adult concert band at La Salle Secondary School. This concert band, directed by Chris Alfano, is part of a music program for adults. We read through a little concert band piece of mine, Festival Celebration. This piece was commissioned about ten years ago by Magee Secondary School in Vancouver for their annual elementary feeder band concert. I talked a little bit about the piece and the types of things I had in mind for a performance. The band also played through another piece they were working on. It is a lot of fun working with older students and the band sounded good. What a great program.

Reading through Festival Celebration

Reading through Festival Celebration

In the afternoon I visited with the Loyalist Collegiate and Vocational Institute Jazz Band. After telling them who I am, and what it is I do, I had the band play through Mike Kamuf’s nice arrangement of Watermelon Man, something they had been working on. I then worked on various performance issues in the arrangement. There are some very talented kids in that program.

I ended my first full day in Kingston working with the big band at Queen’s University, directed by my host Greg Runions. The band had been working on my piece Something For Ernie (Sierra Music Publications).  As with the earlier visits in the day, I told them a little about myself, then I worked on various things in the piece and my thoughts about how to play various sections and why I wrote them in the manner I did. This is a very fine band, full of wonderful musicians.

Working with the Queens University Big Band

Working with the Queens University Big Band

March 4, 2011 - Day 3

Friday began very early with a visit to Napanee Secondary School, which is about 20 minutes from Kingston. This was a small jazz ensemble with drums, bass, 3 trumpets, 1 trombone and 2 saxophones. In addition to the performers there was a large number of students observing. The students had been working on Mercy, Mercy, Mercy so I asked them to play it for me. Once again, after a short introduction on who I am and what I do, I worked with the students on the music. In this case rather than dealing with the written music, this session was more about improvising, in the broadest terms possible. To get to the point quickly, and without killing them with some music theory, we looped the first 2 measures. I first introduced the concept you could play a rhythmic solo using a single note, Bb in this case. I then started to add notes from the Bb blues scale and playing short 4 bar solos I slowly added a few more notes. I ended the session by having the students communicate with one another through their soloing - politely and even arguing. It was a lot of fun. I must add that the excellent bass player and drummer were very patient with this horn oriented session.

At noon Greg took me to my final high school session at Frontenac Secondary School back in Kingston. As we pull into the parking lot he tells me “by the way, this is not a band you are seeing at this school, but a string class.” Yikes! That was a little unexpected and definitely caused me a little concern. Now, I’ve always felt comfortable around string players and especially writing for them. But dealing with students is another thing altogether. I met the teacher and he filled me in on the students and what the class was about. I was then introduced to the students and again I said a few words about who I am and what I do. I then had the group play a few things from their method book.

It’s funny how you can start out a session like this wondering what you might do, and then when you hear the group you realize there are many things you can work on. I chose 2 things - sound and rhythm. As I listened to them play I could see, by looking around the room at this very large group, that some students were not doing much to create a sound. I could l also see that hand positions were an issue for some. These things I do remember from having taken class strings when I was a student at UBC. I talked about how your hand position may feel awkward now, as a beginner, but down the road having correct hand positions will help you play well and with greater ease. I also reminded them that a good sound is paramount to any musician and in any genre of music. I then talked about the importance of time and pulse and how important those things are when playing together in an ensemble and how much they contribute to a good ensemble sound. Since many of the students could only play on the open strings I had the students play the note D in whatever octave they felt comfortable. We then worked on playing together, emphasizing the importance of listening to one another. I then added the note A and I would cue shifts from one pitch to the other. Once they seemed to get comfortable grooving on D and A I then had the students improvise on the notes they knew (usually the open strings) in pairs or in groups of 3 or 4. Some were reluctant while others showed off. This session was a lot of fun for me, and something a little bit different.

Working with strings

Working with strings

I think the oddest thing about my visit to Frontenac Secondary School was meeting Fred Stride. Yes! There is another Fred Stride. The only Fred Strides I had ever known were my late grandfather and my father. This particular Fred Stride teaches english and science, but neither of us felt there was any link between us. Still it was fun to meet another Fred Stride. Fred doesn’t seem to too popular as a name these days, but I once played in a band with 3 Freds. Two of us were in the trumpet section!

Later in the afternoon I did a radio interview with Dave Coon at CFRC Radio. Dave played a couple of tracks from my big band cd: The Fred Stride Jazz Orchestra: Forward Motion (Cellar Live) and asked me about my music and the jazz scene in Vancouver. The hour just flew past.

The evening was my first rehearsal with the Greg Runion’s Big Band. The only musician I had worked with before was trumpet player Brian O’Kane. Brian had lived in Vancouver for a couple of years in his earlier incarnation as an RCMP officer. Of course I had gotten to know Greg over the previous couple of days and I met lead alto player Chris Alfano, the day before. The other players were a mix of local Kingston players with a few imports from Toronto and Montreal.

Greg Runions big band for this concert was:
Saxophones: Chris Alfano, Andrew Pitkin, Jon Stewart, Chet Doxas, Merlin Williams
Trumpets: Jocelyn Couture, Brian O’Kane, Blair Yarrington, Janet MacRae, Mike Verner
Trombones: Taylor Donaldson, Andy Sparling, John Palmer, Tim Booth
Guitar: Dave Barton
Piano: David Braid
Bass: Artie Roth
Drums: Mike Cassells
Vibes: Greg Runions

This is a good band populated with some very fine soloists. We played through Opposition Party, Gently Swaying, A Few Shades Darker, Oddly Enough, Spinny, Elegy, Input/Process (the first movement from Machina: Concerto for Jazz Orchestra) and my arrangement of Michael Brecker’s tune Peep (winner of the 2007 International Jazz Arranging Competition). None of these charts are easy to play. We also read down 3 of Greg’s pieces - The New Cure, Early Sunset and Catharine Anne. What a nice writer Greg is. This is one of the great things about traveling to another part of the country - meeting, learning about, and hearing, other like-minded musicians in the same country. This was something that CBC’s “Jazz Radio Canada” used to provide in the 1970s - a sense of a Canadian jazz community.

Greg Runions Big Band - The Friday night rehearsal

Greg Runions Big Band - The Friday night rehearsal

The rehearsal, while exhausting for all, went very well. What I really appreciated was the serious attitude of all the players and their willingness to totally dig in and play some very hard music. We finished off the evening at a local brew pub for a little socializing.

March 5, 2011 - Day 4

I had Saturday morning free. Whew! It was great to not have to rush off somewhere, I had been going steadily since I arrived in Ontario. After lunch we headed off to our 2:00 dress rehearsal. But before heading over to the Kingston Library, where the concert was being held, I went over the program and the order of pieces. It struck me that we were going to be playing a pretty intense program. So I thought it might be nice to add something like a “jazz sorbet” to break things up. Something to tap your toes to. I had brought along a couple of extra pieces with me, and seeing the trombones were a little underrepresented in the program, I decided to add my Basie-Nestico styled feature for the trombone section - Sammy’s ‘Bones.

Greg Runions Big Band - afternoon rehearsal

Greg Runions Big Band - afternoon rehearsal

Running a dress rehearsal, especially of difficult music, on the day of a performance is always a balancing act. As the director/conductor you are constantly asking yourself questions. Should we rehearse this chart all the way through, or just “tops and tails” (intros and endings)? Should I just run some of the shakier spots? How much should I fuss over exactness? When is it time to move on to another piece? Lingering too long on any particular chart can needlessly prolong the rehearsal. This in turn can cause some physical and mental exhaustion, as well as some anxiety, for the players. Time management is critical. In order to keep the rehearsal flowing efficiently I have to trust that the players will take care of things on their end. The band in front of me was excellent, so I felt confident that everything would be just fine. Another big issue with me for any performance, but especially jazz, is that the performance should have a certain feeling of spontaneity. With this in mind, over rehearsing on the day of a performance can be somewhat of a bad thing. I feel that hammering away at the music on the day of the concert can cause everyone to a be little overly cautious, and lose that indefinable “life spark” of the music in the process. I feel it is sometimes better to allow a looseness in the ensemble playing in favour of more energy and creativity. Of course this approach is not without its risks.

At the end of the rehearsal Greg and I conferred about the final program and because things were running a little longer than we had anticipated Greg very graciously decided to drop his piece Early Sunset.


Our concert began at 8:00pm in the Kingston Public Library. The hall was very nice and quite comfortable for the big band and our capacity audience.

The final program ended up being:

The New Cure - Greg Runions
Opposition Party - Fred Stride
Gently Swaying - Fred Stride
Sammy’s ‘Bones - Fred Stride
Elegy - Fred Stride
Oddly Enough - Fred Stride


Catharine Anne - Greg Runions
Peep - Michael Brecker - arr. Fred Stride
Input/Process - Mvt I from Machina: A Concerto for Jazz Orchestra - Fred Stride
A Few Shades Darker - Fred Stride
Spinny - Fred Stride

There were many great moments throughout the concert - some fabulous ensemble work, some exciting and creative rhythm section playing and some stunning solo work. A couple of the memorable solos for me were David Braid’s solos throughout the evening, Chet Doxas on Gently Swaying and Brian O’Kane, particularly on Elegy. Brian seemed to be featured on almost every chart, albeit unintentionally. At one point I joked about this with the audience and welcomed them to “The Brian O’Kane Show.” Without missing a beat Brian leaped out of his chair and did a little dance. A very spontaneously funny moment.

Greg Runions Big Band - the Concert

Greg Runions Big Band - the Concert

Still, even after cutting one of Greg’s charts, the concert was still running a little long. It can be difficult to control the lengths of sets in a jazz performance due to extended, or open, solos. Then there is my talking about the music. Well, I tried to keep my comments on the shorter side, but…          After the first 3 tunes in the second set Greg felt we should drop another piece, to avoid going over time and incurring additional staffing expense for the hall. Besides, it was beginning to feel to me like we had “said enough.” Greg left the choice up to me. The problem was do I finish softly with A Few Shades Darker, or something a little more rousing like Spinny. Well, I decided on the softer side and Spinny was cut. Another big consideration for making this choice is that A Few Shades Darker always gets a great reaction from audiences.

A had a great time in Kingston and Greg was an absolutely fantastic host. The band was wonderful to work with and all of the outreach sessions in the various schools were a lot of fun. I hope I get an opportunity to visit with my new friends in Kingston again.

Greg - thanks for inviting me.

My March 2011 visit to Toronto, Kingston and Montreal - Part 1

It has been quite a while since I posted anything on this blog. I’m finding it much harder to commit to blogging than I thought (an age thing?).

Anyway, early last summer I received an email from a Greg Runions inquiring to see if I would be interested in coming to Kingston, Ontario to perform my music with his big band. Of course I said yes. Greg successfully found some funding, particularly through the SOCAN Foundation Composer Outreach Program and the Canada Council Project Grants for Small Ensembles, and I headed east on March 1, 2011.

Since I was heading east I thought I would contact a few colleagues in Ontario and Quebec and let them know I would be in the area. Maybe I could add some teaching or performing to my dates with Greg. I ended up receiving invites to give some jazz arranging and composition master classes at Humber College in Toronto, the University of Montreal and McGill University. Trying to coordinate these various sessions with my visit to Kingston took a little time, but I eventually had it all worked out.

After taking the redeye out of Vancouver on Tuesday, March 1, I landed in Toronto very early Wednesday morning (6:00am). Overall it was a nice flight - reading, watching tv, listening to my ipod (I never have much luck trying to sleep on planes). The only downside? You know the guy across the aisle is snoring loudly when you can hear it through your headphones. Yikes!

March 2, 2011 - Day 1 - Toronto

My first stop on this trip was at Humber College. Denny Christianson, the head of the program, picked me up at the airport and we headed over to the college. Before our session was to begin Denny took me on a tour of their new recording and midi facilities. All I can say is WOW!! I wish I had those resources when I was a student.

The head of the jazz arranging department, Gord Sheard, had me give a lecture/demonstration of my master class Resonant Voicings for the Big Band. To illustrate the lecture effectively Humber was kind enough to provide me with their very fine big band, who comfortably read through all the examples. I discussed the various types of voicings the students were hearing and why certain guidelines should be considered in order to create full sounding, or resonant, voicings, particularly for the brass and the tutti. The students watching could also follow along with a rather extensive handout. The lecture/demo was followed by a short question/answer session.

At the end of the session I met up with John MacLeod and we briefly talked about writing and the importance of basic technique to help any aspiring writer realize their own musical sounds. I have met a few younger jazz writers over the past few years who seem to think that traditional big band writing techniques are no longer relevant and that they could even be a hinderance to their own creativity. Well, technique never hurt Bartok or Bob Brookmeyer. Even Maria Schneider has a solid grounding in the traditional techniques, which is one reason her music sounds so good. Learning the basics does not mean that you will be locked into the tradition, anymore than learning to play the trumpet from a classical teacher will harm any jazz aspirations. It’s what you do with that technique coupled with your own curiosity and imagination. John also laid his new big band disc on me John MacLeod and His Rex Hotel Orchestra: Our First Set. What a great band! I have long known about John’s playing skills, but his writing was new to me. He is one great writer.

John MacLeod and His Rex Hotel Orchestra

John MacLeod and His Rex Hotel Orchestra

I followed up the Humber session with a really nice visit with my old friend Paul Read, an excellent composer and arranger (as well as saxophone and piano). By the way, you should pick up Paul’s great new recording - Paul Read Orchestra: Arc-En-Ciel (Addo Jazz Recordings). Great writing and playing throughout.

PRO - Paul Read Orchestra

PRO - Paul Read Orchestra

After my visit with Paul I took the train up to Kingston, which was not an unpleasant trip, arriving around 8:30pm. By now I was exhausted - I hadn’t slept since the night before I left Vancouver. Greg Runions picked me up at the station and after a quick bite to eat I headed to my hotel room for a good nights sleep.

Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music


I have an upcoming concert here in Vancouver performing the sacred music of Duke Ellington. This is one of the biggest jazz concerts I have ever done, involving a 17 piece big band, 2 solo singers, a choir and a tap dancer. In order to enhance the concert experience for the audience staging is being added, along with a large television screen capturing the various performers. Last year was the first time we performed this music and there were close to a 1,000 people attending the concert at Saint Andrew’s Wesley Church on Burrard Street.

Of course a concert of this size needs considerable help to make it all happen. To celebrate an anniversary, raise awareness and, most importantly, to raise funds, The First United Church joined with us in this presentation.

This years concert is on Friday, November 19th, 8 PM at St.  Andrew’s-Wesley United Church, Vancouver. Tickets available by calling Natalie Lanoville at 604-681-8365 – ext: 104 or purchase online. For more information click here

This years featured performers:

Fred Stride Jazz Orchestra
Fred Stride, Conductor
Jens Christiansen, Lead Alto Saxophone/Clarinet
Aaron Hardie, Alto Saxophone/Clarinet
Bill Runge, Tenor Saxophone
Mike Braverman, Tenor Saxophone/Clarinet
Chad Makela, Baritone Saxophone
Derry Byrne, Lead Trumpet
Kent Wallace, Trumpet
Chris Davis, Trumpet
Tom Shorthouse, Trumpet
Dennis Esson, Lead Trombone
Rod Murray, Trombone
Jeremy Berkman, Trombone
Ross Taggart, Piano
Andre Lachance, Bass
Bernie Arai, Drums

Singers - Dee Daniels and Marcus Mosely
The Sacred Music Gospel Choir
Alex Dugdale - Tap dancer

I sincerely hope you will be able to join us for an evening of great music and to help the First United Church with their great cause.

Below is a little blurb from some of the promotional material.

The first time I heard Duke Ellington on record in the late 1960s I realized this was something different. Seeing him perform on his last 2 visits to Vancouver in the early 1970s was equally enthralling. His piano playing, his grace moving about the stage, his introductions to his music, hearing the wonderful performers in his band play his music was an unforgettable experience. Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s I played in many rehearsal and professional bands and it was always a wonderfully rewarding experience when one of Dukes original scores or a new arrangement of one his standards was called. His music seemed to be timeless to me. It also seemed to draw out the best in the players around me, encouraging, if not demanding, us all to play out and to express ourselves in a manner that was a deeper than many musical experiences.

Having performed several of his big works - The Tattooed Bride, Harlem: A Tone Parallel, Such Sweet Thunder, The Far East Suite, Black Brown and Beige as well as countless performances of his smaller works, it is a natural progression for me to his last big important works - The Sacred Concerts. In Duke’s Sacred Music his deep spiritualness fused with his musical imagination is simply irresistible to those of us that have long admired his music.     Fred Stride

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First United Church. First United Church has been proudly serving the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood for 125 years.

The case for Bob Graettinger and other musical experimenters of the late 1940s

I wrote this short little essay a few years ago for an email group I belong to, so I thought I might post it here.

When the big bands of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw and Harry James were at their height of popularity in the late 1930s and early 1940s they primarily played popular tunes designed for their dancing and light entertainment value. With the rise of other popular forms of music, especially vocalists, and the waning public interest in big bands as entertainment vehicles, some of the surviving bands of the mid-to-late 1940s began to experiment with music that was designed to be listen to. This change in musical direction also accompanied a gradual shift in performing venues, from ballrooms to concert halls. The biggest names to go in this direction were Duke Ellington, Boyd Raeburn, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman and of course Stan Kenton.

Removing many of the necessary musical requirements to please the dancing public composers and arrangers, by the late 1940s, became free to try writing jazz music that incorporated elements such as irregular rhythms, the absence of a bass line or a steady pulse from the drums, original melodies that were not singable, dissonant harmony, different types of ensemble voicings, longer sections for improvisation. While some of the music written during that time is forgettable, or rather more graciously heard as “noble experiments,” there are many memorable pieces including George Handy’s The Bloos and Dalvatore Sally, George Russell’s Cubana Be Cubana Bop, Eddie Sauter’s Hangover Square, as well his exquisite arrangement of Summertime, Ralph Burn’s Summer Sequence, Gil Evans’ arrangements of La Paloma and Spanish Dance, Duke Ellington’s The Tattooed Bride and The Clothed Woman, Bob Graettinger’s City Of Glass and the many compositions and arrangements of Pete Rugolo and Stan Kenton, including the Prologue Suite and Artistry In Percussion. I hear the musical explorations of that time as being very liberating and that these musical experiments, failed or not, deserve to be seriously considered for what they helped to give to the future of jazz arranging and composition. Consider the mere idea of a Fugue For Rhythm Section (Pete Rugolo) let alone its intrinsic value.

While European musical developments after WWII had a long musical history to build upon, or reject, jazz composers had no extensive history of big band music as a form of ‘art music’ and were creating something quite new. Duke Ellington’s large scale work Black, Brown and Beige from 1943 was criticized for its failings in relation to European composition. But, there was no structural model, or tradition, for Duke’s new ideas. The same can be said about the work of Pete Rugolo, Eddie Sauter and Bob Graettinger.

Despite the mixed results of Graettinger’s work for Stan Kenton, I feel that both his compositions and his arrangements of standards are the ultimate in musical liberation for their time, akin to the work of Charles Ives, another musical anomaly. Yes, Graettingter’s music is audacious and sometimes totally overwhelming in sound. However, judged in its place in time it should be, if not loved, appreciated for what it helped bring to jazz composition and arranging.

By the late 1950s this tendency to incorporate concepts of classical composition into jazz music was finally given a label by Gunther Schuller - Third Stream Music. While this term does tend to evoke the late 1950s, the idea is still with us in the present work of Bill Holman, Bob Brookmeyer, Jim McNeely, Maria Schneider and many other contemporary composers and arrangers. These writers have moved away from the formulaic chorus forms of jazz to a more European model of compositional ideal - that of musical development. On top of this they bring the rhythms of jazz, space for improvisation and opportunities for self expression by the performers. With more time (roughly 60 years) modern jazz composers have developed a greater sense of control and balance in their work. Those musical experiments of the mid-to-late 1940s are what we have built many of our present day big band compositional and arranging aesthetic values upon. I am very grateful to our preceding masters for having shown us a way.

UBC Summer Music Institue 2010 - Week 2

The students attending the senior week of the UBC Summer Music Institute ranged from about 14 to 70 years old. For this years senior jazz band, aged 14 to 20, we ended up with 7 saxes, 4 trombones, 5 trumpets, 2 drummers, 3 basses, 2 guitars and 1 piano.

Given that this is a summer camp I tried to have all the kids playing as much as possible. This did mean, as horrible as it sounds, that I had all 3 bass players reading through the charts at once, but with only one of them running through an amp. Both guitar players, each running through his own amp, played at the same time, with the more experienced student playing sustained chords and single note lines while the other played in the Freddy Green style. Multiple drummers always presents a problem. While I’m not big on adding extra percussion, such as shakers and tambourines, on swing tunes, there were a few charts where I had one of the drummers playing congas. For the last 3 days I added a second drum set and 2 more bass amps. To show the students how it can work with multiple drummers I played them some Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland recordings, which featured both drummers, Kenny Clarke and Kenny Clare, playing at the same time. The big thing to avoid when doing this is duplicating the cymbal work. The best combination is for one drummer to play with brushes with no hi hat pedal work and the other as normal.

For the first day and a half I simply handed out charts, reading them down and making comments as we went. Sight reading seems to be a big problem for many high school students and I tried to help them with this essential skill. I feel there are several components to successful reading skills, which I constantly pointed out:

  • Feel the pulse, like it becomes a part of you, or allow the pulse to make you feel like moving, nodding or dancing.
  • Always know where beat one is.
  • Play with confidence. This means to not hide behind soft, inefficient playing. It is always better to play out and loudly step in a hole, or miss read a pitch or rhythm, than to hide and try to follow someone else. Strong confident playing is easier to correct than weak playing.
  • The more reading you do the better you get. I’m sure that if I were to hand out the same charts at the end of the week the students would fair much better.

Besides helping the students learn to play large ensemble jazz I also want them to experience music that they probably do not play in their school program. In addition to the charts we performed we also read through: Lullaby of the Leaves - arranged by Francy Boland, Chunga’s Revenge - arranged by Fred Stride, Sax-Accord - Fred Stride (we had a very nice sax section), Old Man River - arranged by Bill Holman, Michelle - arranged by Chico O’Farrill, Stereoso - Bill Holman, Ring of Fire - Fred Sturm, Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue - Duke Ellington, Waka Jawaka - arranged by Fred Stride, Perdido - arranged by Duke Ellington and Opus In Pastels - Stan Kenton.

For the last 3 days of the camp I had the band playing the Clark Terry/Jimmy Hamilton Perdido Line as an ensemble warmup. This was a great way to get the horn players playing with the proper jazz/swing articulation, as well as helping them learn to play together. I would sometimes have the rhythm section stop and have the horns continue on. It is interesting how a horn section quickly begins to focus as a single unit when you take away their rhythm section crutch.

As the week went on I had the bass players and drummers pick out the charts they might like to play, and we went down to a single bass player and drummer for most charts. For the Saturday afternoon concert I knew I had to do at least 2 charts for each bass player and one with all 3. I also had to do a similar thing with the drummers. Since the guitar players were working very well I left them alone to play together on every tune.

On the last day of the “camp” we were given from 40 to 45 minutes to perform the music we had been working on. Beginning the concert program was a concert band, directed by John Van Deursen, made up of very young students from Taiwan. We followed with our set and the Senior Concert Band directed by my colleague at UBC, Robert Taylor, ended the program. All three groups were excellent.

Here is a rundown of the charts we performed on the final day.

Don’t Get Sassy - Thad Jones; adapted/arranged by Mike Carubia

This is a wonderful simplified version, for young jazz players, of the Thad Jones classic. Like the original, this chart in Bb instead of the original Db, includes some challenging ensemble work. The tutti melody includes broad gestures as well as a little figure that requires the horns to play lightly, almost catlike. The solo section is fairly loose in structure and allowed a fair degree of latitude to include several soloists. While a Bb blues scale can be used throughout the solo section, a couple of our soloists worked on playing through the changes. Keep in mind that the summer institute is not an honour band so for many of the students it is their first foray into more advanced literature and solo work. Some soloists had never played an improvised solo before. For me, given the very short time frame, I prefer to encourage the students to play out, or speak up, be pleased with their playing and to not feel that a good jazz solo is measured by the number of notes per bar or displays of virtuosity.

Dragonwyck - Gene Roland; transcribed/adapted by Fred Stride

I’ve always enjoyed Stan Kenton’s Adventures in Blues recording. The entire disc was written by multi-instrumentalist/composer/arranger Gene Roland, who is also featured on both soprano saxophone and mellophonium. Several of the charts had always seemed like they would adapt easily to younger players. Dragonwyck is one of my favourites so I started with that one. The A sections of the tune are quite simple and are great for the beginner soloist. The bridge however, requires use of the diminished-whole tone scale [aka the altered scale]. I did spend some time explaining this particular scale, to more than a few glassy-eyed students.

Malaguena - Ernesto Lecuona; arranged by Bill Holman; adapted by Fred Stride

I wrote this version of this Stan Kenton/Bill Holman classic, which is down a fourth from the original, in 2003 or 2004. I’ve used it with many ensembles since. The kids love playing this high energy chart. We had strong leads in the trumpets and the trombones, as well as a fine rhythm section, so it seemed like a no- brainer. I also had both drummers playing on this one. Drummer #1 played the part as normal while #2 played with felt mallets during the inro and added cascara-type playing throughout the latin section. The 2nd drummer did not play during the swing section. I also had all 3 bass players playing, except for the swing section where we went down to a single player. Multiple players on a walking bass line is not a good idea.

The Shortest Dissonance Between Two Points - Les Hooper

This one doesn’t seem to be particularly popular, but is, nevertheless, a typically excellent Les Hooper chart. I’ve never played or heard a bad, or even mediocre, Hooper chart. Les is a consistently first rate writer. This chart features bass throughout and so was a natural as a “bass section feature.” All three bass players played on this one, both melody and improvised solos. The horn parts are not hard to play, but do require work with blend, tuning and especially releases.

One Big Happy Family - Les Hooper

I did not intend to feature a Les Hooper set. But as I went looking through my library for a fairly easy-to-play blues, I ended up with this one in my hands. I always like to include something that I can get multiple soloists playing on, especially something that is harmonically straightforward, like a blues. I also wanted something that I could put together quickly and that would be relatively easy for the band, something they could relax on, as many of the other charts were tough on the face and brain. This chart fit the bill perfectly. This also seemed like the perfect choice to have my rehearsal assistant, Adam Gough, get his feet wet directing. He did well and the kids obviously liked him, he has a bright future ahead of him as a music educator. One of the enjoyable experiences during the week was watching one of the kids in band do an impersonation of me helping Adam with his directing.

After Six - Fred Stride

For roughly the past 10 years, of the 18 years the UBC Summer Music Institute has been in existence, I have been writing originals and arrangements for the camp. The main reason is write things that high school students will not have not played before and for me to deal with the challenge of writing with the limitations of your average high school student in mind. This year I thought I would write something in 7/4, not fast, using straight 8ths (latin?) and somewhat modal. I also wanted to have the horns start the piece playing a groove on a single pitch (G), which would become a pedal point against which I could set a melody, then eventually add the rhythm section. The resulting sound for this section of the chart is one of a somewhat busy and rhythmic texture. It then struck me that a contrasting section would be most welcome and should feature a single horn section, possibly voiced, over a simple groove. I then played with these ideas throughout the chart.

Harmonically this piece is quite different from your average high school jazz chart. The first chord that is heard is a C/Ab. These types of chords have quite a dark colour, which appeals to me. With this dark hue happening along with the rhythmic texture I felt the B section should at least start with a lighter, or sunnier, harmony, something from a major key source. I ended up with Fmaj7/G. Of course I’m never one to stay too long in a single harmonic territory, so I made my way back to the darker sounds of the A section, giving the chart an AAB form of 12,12 and 22. To help tie it all together the end of the B section uses the final 6 bars of A.

The solo section, which is not based on A and B, uses a combination of chords from both A and B. I also decided that since these chords are unusual for high school students I should spend a little longer on each one. I also felt I should not use the C/Ab types of chords, that I should restrict myself to using those chords that involve familiar scales and modes, Bb natural minor for the Bbmin7(b6) chord, D dorian for Fmaj7/G, B natural minor for Bmin7(b6) and F lydian for Cmaj7/F.

After Six - Solo changes

After Six - Solo changes

To be honest I didn’t think we would get too far the first time through, but the kids really surprised me, especially the drummer. They got the overall concept of the alternating bars of 4/4 and 3/4 quite quickly which allowed us to work on phrasing and the overall feeling of the piece.

Finally, I’ve never felt that great coming up with titles so After Six seemed convenient as a working title. So, on the last day of the camp I asked the students if they could think of anything better and one of them suggested Before 8, which I thought was quite funny. But, after some discussion they all seemed to agree that After 6 was a good title, as you could read other things into it.

Black Friday - Walter Becker, Donald Fagen; arranged by Fred Sturm

I simply love Fred Sturm’s writing, whether it is for pros or young students. A number of years ago I acquired a disc of Fred’s arrangements of Steely Dan tunes for the HR Big Band in Germany. Black Friday was a perfect vehicle for our 2 guitar players. There is a significant amount of written lines for them to deal with and the solo section is over an E pedal, giving them quite a bit of room for solo work. The first few times we went through the chart both guitarists were playing their favourite rock/blues licks for their solos, but I put a challenge before them of forbidding any such licks and for them to play a little more freely, to go for harmonic colour. They were encouraged to think of E only as a home base and as a place of resolution, not as a chord. They were set free to journey anywhere in their solos and solo exchanges. They were both wonderful and rose to the challenge, of course I let them use their distortion and delay pedals. Another challenge in this excellent chart is the first trumpet part which presents several high F#s and one high G# above high C. It’s amazing, that when a piece of music is this well written, that playing those notes down the octave did not harm the energy level of the chart at all.

For the 18th time I had a great time working with the kids at the summer institute. It was obvious they really wanted to play challenging music in a great band. Pushing them hard and not allowing them to settle for anything less than their absolute best never seems to be a turn off for them. They definitely came through on the final concert. The energy on stage was exhilarating. I’m already looking forward to next year.

For more information about the UBC Summer Music Institute click here

After Six - Score - page 1

After Six - Score - page 1

UBC Summer Music Institute 2010 - Week 1

I just finished up 2 weeks of teaching at the UBC Summer Music Institute which my now retired colleague at UBC, Marty Berinbaum, started 18 years ago. While there have been orchestra, choir and junior string programs over the years, the centerpiece of the camp has always been bands.

The camp is set up for day campers or overnighters. Most of the students are local, with a few coming in from other parts of the province. For the last 8 or 9 years we have had a group of students from Hong Kong and this year we had a large group from Taiwan.

My job at the camp (or “institute” for those wanting to avoid saying “band camp”), has always been working with the jazz students. For the first week I worked with students ranging in age from 12 to about 14 or 15. This years intermediate jazz band consisted of 5 saxophones, 5 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 guitar, 2 bass players and 3 drummers, with a junior councilor (a senior high school student) in each of the horn sections. I played piano only when it was really necessary. I needed to be free to direct and teach. The philosophy of the summer institute is to help students better their musical and ensemble skills. This is what is foremost in my mind as I work with my students.

On the first day, Sunday, I had the band read through various charts so I could get a feel for what we might be able to play during the week and possibly perform at the Friday afternoon concert. Choosing repertoire is always a tough thing. Showing up for the first rehearsal I have no idea what the students might be able to play. You ask yourself a hundred questions. Can the drummer read? Can anyone read? Can the bass player read chord symbols? Can the first trumpet play above the staff? Can anyone improvise? So, I come prepared with a wide range of styles at varying levels of difficulty.

I like to have the students play as wide a range of repertoire as possible, particularly things they are not likely to play in their own school bands. As I pass out new music I play recordings and tell them a few things about the bands they are hearing and especially about the composers and arrangers. On that point, it’s been interesting over the years to note that many young musicians never look up at the top right hand corner of their part.

We began each day around 8:50 a.m., attendance was taken, decisions were made regarding recreation activities (swimming, playing games, practicing, going home, hanging out at the dorms, etc), then it was right into the music.

The daily rehearsals centered on specific pieces and the usual issues attached to playing ensemble music: reading and interpreting swing rhythms, jazz phrasing, articulations, attacks, releases, sound, falls, bends and balance and anything else that may show up as we play. I also like to spend time helping them learn to tune. The smaller number of students in the jazz band (as opposed to the concert band) allows me the luxury of having the time it takes to talk about this important performance issue. I go through the entire horn section, one player at a time, and deal with the common tuning issues as they occur. The rhythm section gets to take a break (supervised of course). The students learn to try to absorb the sound of the principal pitch source (a piano, which is very difficult, or another horn, which is much easier), to listen and try to hear the same pitch colour in their mind, take a big breath and play out. They then learn to listen for wobbly sound waves or “beats” that might indicate they are out of tune. I also talked about the confusion that can happen during this process, how easily we can become confused. Am I flat or sharp? Equally important is for them to learn to not listen to those around them telling them if they are flat or sharp. They need to learn to trust their own ears. As each student tunes I never tell them if they are sharp or flat, only that they need to make an adjustment (happily, most young players can tell when they don’t match the pitch source). I encourage them to experiment with their tuning and to follow the old adage “when in doubt pull out.” This procedure helps a player clear the air and clear up a confused state of mind. The resulting very flat, and out-of-tune, playing can be quite amusing.

When the students see that most cannot tell the difference between flat and sharp they begin to become comfortable with the process. Any young player can learn to tune properly given patience and confidence and the constant reminder from the director to not accept anything less than in tune playing. This constant reminder gets them to listen and adjust when necessary. This reminder has the added benefit of keeping them involved with the music even when they have a rest. Once a tuning session has ended and they play they start to hear the difference and begin to want to play in tune all the time. They become a little more conscious of their sound. What I have observed over the years is that the students quickly take this issue very seriously and will take it upon themselves to tune before their performances without being asked or for me to even be involved.

The musical portion of each day gave way to the recreational activities at 3:00 p.m., except Tuesday when the faculty performed for the students and their families. This “concert” is always eclectic. The students hear solo flute, opera arias, brass quintet, solo marimba, a jazz quintet and pretty much anything you can think of in between. All of this is crammed into less than an hour and a half.

I neglected to make note of all the charts we read through earlier in the week, but here are the charts I chose for the final concert.

Easy Money - Benny Carter; arranged by Michael Sweeney.

This chart, which I recently learned is out of print, is a great, non-stressful, opener. The main melody, as in the original version for the Basie band, is in unison and octaves and gets everyone playing together right off the bat. This was the line I used to work on the legato-slur combinations jazz players use in their swing phrasing. This is an excellent chart for the young jazz player. I hope it comes back into print.

Manteca - Dizzy Gillespie; arranged by Fred Stride

I wrote this arrangement about 10 years ago. This chart allowed me to have both bass players on the latin groove and shifting to a single player for the swing sections. I was also able to have 2 drum sets going with the 3rd player playing various percussion during the latin sections. While multiple drummers takes more care and attention, it does allow more players to be involved and stop kids from sitting around. After all, this is a summer camp and I want to keep everyone involved as much as possible.

The Minor Goes Muggin’ - Sy Oliver; transcribed/adapted by Fred Stride

I’ve always loved Sy Oliver’s writing. The original version of this chart written for Tommy Dorsey had him playing a solo rendition of the melody. Our version, down a minor 3rd, assigned all the trombones to the melody. For some reason the trombone players liked playing this one.

Watermelon Man - Herbie Hancock; arranged by Mike Kamuf

This is a new arrangement of a classic tune. I heard it in Calgary last February and pickup a copy when I got home. A nice feature in this chart is the horns-alone chorus. This section was fun and forced the students into providing their own inner groove, without the aid of the rhythm section.

Blue Monk - Thelonious Monk; arranged by Michael Sweeney

I always try to put something on every program that is not too hard to play. This is one such chart. The only tricky aspect is the across-the-bar-line triplet figure in the melody. While this sounds a little daunting, it always seems to come together without too much pain. It just requires patience and diligence from the players and the director. I had the students sing the phrase quite a few times, then had them try to play what they heard in their mind, from when they sang the phrase. I realize this is fairly close to Professor Harold Hill’s ”think system” (from The Music Man), but this way of learning helps remove the intellectualizing of the concept and gets them closer to feeling the phrase, which is when the best music is played. This is also a great chart for assigning solos to those that missed out in the other charts, or those that are soloing for the first time.

Do Nothin’ ‘Til You Hear From Me - Duke Ellington; arranged by Sammy Nestico

There are no real solos in this beautiful ballad treatment of this Ellington classic (which started out life as Concerto for Cootie). This chart can be played as either a slow swing ballad or with even quarter notes. I choose the latter this time out. There is a short written piano melody on the bridge of the second chorus which I reassigned to the guitar, who then went on to improvise a beautiful solo.

Chameleon - Herbie Hancock; arranged by Michel Sweeney.

This chart made for an exciting program closer and also allowed me to have both bass players and all 3 drummers play at once. I talked to the drummers about taking care to not duplicate what another drummer was playing, especially any cymbal work. They also moved the lead spot between them, on their own I might add. The lead drummer was the player who played the main groove and ensemble figures. This worked like a charm and seeing 3 drum sets on stage at once is an impressive site.

The band really peaked on the concert. They were concentrating and trying to play everything as they had in rehearsal. Another wonderful Intermediate Jazz Band concert.

For more information about the UBC Summer Music Institute click here

Stan Kenton - 1976

I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a BMus in May 1976 and, typically for most young people just finishing their schooling, I was trying to figure out what to do next. So, at the urging of my dear friend Brian Fairholm we decided, along with another friend, Rodger Owens, to attend the Stan Kenton Jazz Clinic in Sacramento, California. Brian had attended a Kenton Clinic at York University in Toronto the year before and was full of enthusiasm for attending another one.

The clinic was held at the University of California at Sacramento and we were housed in the dorms with the sound of the Kenton ’76 LP seeming to come from of every room. It seemed everyone was into the experience. We then had to audition for placement in one of the many big bands. Tim Hagans, who was about the same age as me, handled my audition.

Besides playing in one of the bands we also took theory and arranging classes. I ended up in the advanced arranging class with Hank Levy (I still have the class handouts). I don’t remember too much, but I do remember Hank as being a very nice person and quite open with his knowledge. I was happy just sitting there, soaking it all in.

At the beginning of the week all the students were encouraged to write something for the Kenton band to play sometime later in the week. I remember the reading day as being a marathon event, with far too many arrangements of Barry Manilow’s I Write The Songs written in the Kenton style. Yikes! A number of other students just wrote a single chord. I guess that was enough for them.

Typically for me (even then), I wrote an epic. It was one of those slow-fast-slow things. I had written a tune just before leaving Vancouver and I wrote the arrangement during the clinic, being inspired by the Kenton band. In the double time section I included space for some solo work by Jeff Uusitalo and Tim Hagans. I remember handing out the parts and Dick Shearer, on noticing Uusitalo’s solo spot, telling me that he could solo as well. Of course he was smiling as he made the comment.

The chart came out fairly well and after I collected my parts and started to leave the stage Stan motioned me over and congratulated me on my chart. I was in heaven.

In front of the stage was a table. I don’t remember everyone that was sitting at the table listening to the student charts but I do remember Bob Curnow. He motioned me over and asked me what I was up to and was I going to school. Little did I know that many years later I would get to know Bob fairly well and that he would publish some of my big band music.

Here is a picture of me conducting the Stan Kenton Orchestra in the summer of 1976. Seated in the chair attentively listening is Stan Kenton with Dave Bardhun playing piano. The saxophones are Terry Layne (alto), Roy Reynolds (tenor) is behind Ramon Lopez (congas) and Alan Yankee is on the end playing baritone. I cannot remember the other visible saxophone player’s name. Gary Hobbs is the drummer and John Worster is playing bass. You can just make out Tim Hagans, Steve Campos, Dave Kennedy and Joe Casano in the trumpet section (I’m standing directly in front of Jay Sollenberger). The tuba/bass trombone player is Doug Purviance and Dick Shearer is just barely visible. I have a cassette of my chart around somewhere.

Fred Stride conducts the Stan Kenton Orchestra

Fred Stride conducts the Stan Kenton Orchestra

On the last day of the week long clinic all the student bands were to perform a few tunes (I remember our program included Jerry Dodgion’s arrangement of Marian McPartland’s Ambiance and Pat William’s Mr Smoke). Well, there were so many bands (20 I think) performing on the final day that the Kenton band never played their final concert. Still, while that was a bit of a disappointment, we did get hear them play quite a bit during the week, especially their rehearsals of the music for their upcoming recording - Journey to Capricorn.

That week was a great experience. I loved every minute of it and it is burned into my memory.


Have you ever gone to a concert knowing you will hear some good music, but then when its over you feel like that you have just had one of the best listening experiences ever? Well, that was my experience last Sunday evening at The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts. On the first half of the double bill was drummer Terry Clarke’s trio with Don Thompson (bass) and Phil Dwyer (tenor sax). Both Don and Phil moved over to the piano on occasion, but this was essentially a chord less trio. Terry has long been one of my favourite drummers and I looked forward to hearing his group.

They did not disappoint. Their playing was excellent throughout the set, particularly the bass-less ballad, where Don had moved over to the piano. They ended their portion of the program with an exciting performance of Sonny Rollins’ Freedom Suite. My only quibble was the sound man had added a little much “high end” on the cymbals which tended to detract at times.

After an intermission, which is never much fun in the cramped lobby of the Centre, a new Steinway piano and Chick Corea entered. I’ve seen Corea perform several times over the years, but always with a band of some sort. This time he was on his own.

I had never heard, or at least I don’t remember hearing him, address the audience. He was very casual and funny, sometimes referring to his performance as personal practice time. Well, if that is what it is like to hear him practice…

I could run through all the titles, but I don’t know if that is really necessary. What hit me most was the range of expressiveness he has. His impeccable time and rhythmic sense, his beautiful touch and melodic inventiveness and his impressive harmonic vocabulary.

Besides playing some of his own music, including some wonderful improvisations on some of his Children’s Songs, Chick also played tunes by Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and Bill Evans and Alexander Scriabin. Actually I feel a little uncomfortable referring to Scriabin’s piano work as a tune. Anyway, I guess we tend to forget that players, like Corea, who write and play their own music, can also play the classics. But in the case of these standards he did not play straight up versions following the form. In each case he deconstructed the original structurally, melodically and harmonically, breathing some great new life in to them. Of course I never mind hearing yet another version of ‘Round Midnight, or any of the other tunes he played. Corea’s solo piano versions of these very familiar tunes were something else.

At the end of his performance I wanted to run home and practice. I was truly inspired. Sunday, June 27, 2010, will go down in my book as one of those great, memorable concerts I have attended over the years.

Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass

On the heels of my Rob McConnell post here are Rob and The Boss Brass in California in 1981.

Thank You Rob!

I have been very lax about getting off my butt and posting something to my blog. There always seemed to be something else to do, particularly writing music. Well, the recent passing of Rob McConnell has finally caused me to write something.

Thinking about Rob’s passing and listening to his music again has brought a few things to mind.

The day after I heard of Rob’s passing I hauled out my large collection of Boss Brass recordings and spent the entire day listening once again to some of my all time favourite big band arrangements - Just Friends, Body and Soul, Street of Dreams, Out of Nowhere, Portrait of Jennie, My Bells, Easy To Love, Autumn In New York, You Took Advantage of Me, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, A Time For Love, Take The “A” Train, Blue Hodge, Louisiana. In fact, I’m having a difficult time stopping this list. They are all great. Let’s just say that, much like one of my other favourites, Bill Holman, Rob never wrote anything less than a great chart.

I cannot remember when I first heard the Boss Brass. I could have been, and probably was, one the early brass ensemble pop LPs Rob recorded for the CTL label. But, it could also have been a Jazz Radio Canada program. Jazz Radio Canada, a CBC program that ran once a week nation wide in the 1970s, featured Canadian jazz groups in either live or studio sessions. I was addicted to the weekly program. Coincidentally, this was also the program on which I got my first professional writing gig, contributing arrangements for a Bob Hales big band program in 1976.

Listening to the weekly broadcast, it seemed there was an abundance of great big bands in the Canada, at least it seemed that way to me. From Vancouver we heard Bob Hales and occasionally Doug Parker, Edmonton had Tommy Banks. Other names escape me for the moment but I would be sure to have heard bands from Calgary and Winnipeg. From Quebec we heard Vic Vogel. There were groups from the Atlantic provinces and from the Toronto area we heard the big bands of Phil Nimmons and Rob McConnell. This program created a strong sense of Canadian jazz. It made us all aware that there were other players and writers out there creating some great music.

Of all of those bands, the one that struck me the most was the Boss Brass. I was probably 19 or 20 years old and, unlike my peers, I had grown up listening to the old big bands - Harry James, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman (yeah I know, I was a little weird). So the great sense of swing and the strong contemporary sound of the Boss Brass really grabbed me. I was a major fan from the first note I heard.

For starters, I was struck by the sound of Rob’s band. The virtuosity of the ensemble work, led by the stellar trumpeter Arnie Chycoski. Of course I simply loved the beautiful flugel horn playing of Guido Basso, who is blessed with a singular sound and style that is immediately recognizable (by me singling out 2 trumpet players you can probably guess my instrument of choice). No less wonderful were the saxes, playing those seemingly impossible solis, the beautiful trombone section led by Ian McDougall and the great rhythm section, particularly drummer Terry Clark.

I remember catching the Boss Brass on a CBC television special, probably in the mid 1970s, in which they played things like Mr. Tricky Nervous and Come Back To Jesus, Or I’ll Kill You which were never committed to disc. We also heard A Time For Love and That’s Right on the program (to be honest I only remember these exact titles because I recorded the program on cassette).

While all of Rob’s recording are great, there are 5 Boss Brass recordings that stand out to me:

The Best Damn Band In The Land was my favourite easy listening Boss Brass CTL recording, and my first BB disc. Of all Rob’s early CTL LPs this was the jazziest, featuring a wonderful, but short, chart on Louisiana and an exquisite Santa Claus Blues.

The Jazz Album. The first Boss Brass jazz LP was an lp I eagerly anticipated and it didn’t disappoint. Great charts and playing throughout, but Rob’s arrangement of Body and Soul was a standout. This arrangement has it all - a great reharmonization of the original tune, a sax soli using rich 5 part writing, great ensemble lines and a powerful shout. While I think it’s a highlight of the recording I understand, from several sources, that Rob didn’t care too much for this chart. Portrait of Jenny is another great arrangement and features wall to wall Guido Basso.

Big Band Jazz. What’s not to like about this 2 disc recording? This was a limited direct to disc LP set (mine is #01204). While there are a couple of very minor performance glitches, they take nothing away from this great set. I played this disc over and over and over and over and over and… Every arrangement is a gem. I would class this as one of the best big band recordings of all time. The opening track of Just Friends with the unbelievably together stop time tutti, the tricky trombone line coupled with the bass, the solos and the big, powerful shout. Then there is Street of Dreams, Dirty Man, A Tribute to Art Fern, and Porgy and Bess Suite. Writing about the quality of all the arrangements, and the fantastic playing on this recording, could easily take up multiple blogs.

Present Perfect. First of all, the sound of this lp was fantastic. Rob always had first class engineers and the recordings were always sonic delights. You Took Advantage of Me and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes are real high points on another album full of highlights.

The El Mocambo: Live In Digital. This was the first time I saw the band in person and provided a real “ear opening” experience. The band was at this club in Toronto for about 10 days and I was there almost every night. The virtuosity of the ensemble work was as stunning live as it was on disc. The dynamic range, even when I considered my previous experiences listening to Count Basie and Stan Kenton live, was breathtaking. Without microphones I could still hear every woodwind part. The entire band moved and breathed as one single entity.

All the subsequent discs, including those by the tenet, are equally wonderful, but the ones mentioned here are some of the first recordings I acquired so they have a strong place in my own musical identity.

Despite the great tradition of big band music, Rob McConnell managed to develop a big band style and sound that was all his own. Even his earliest recorded arrangement, that I am aware of, for Maynard Ferguson of Come Rain or Come Shine has some of those now classic McConnellisms - beautiful harmonization, great lines, great voicings, a great dynamic range and a superb sense of structure. Rob never wrote simple arrangements, consisting of a melody chorus followed by a long solo section with a few simple backgrounds and a return to the melody. His charts always had something substantial for the ensemble. Rob would often follow his opening melody chorus with some new, often virtuosic, ensemble writing. His charts would often have multiple climaxes. I found the same qualities in his own solo work, within his big band or small groups. Even the wonderful duet recording with Ed Bickert, Mutual Street, is loaded with great musical drama.

Certainly Rob, like all of us that write for big bands, borrowed and learned from the masters. However, I have always been impressed by someone that can create something singular, an identifiable sound, while still acknowledging the past. Rob, like Bill Holman and Bob Brookmeyer, fits this category. However, while Holman and Brookmeyer seem to want to reach beyond their past accomplishments, Rob seemed content to remain within his sense of the tradition. This does not mean that any one of these three writers is better artistically than the other. But rather there is, in my mind anyway, a place for all of them. Good music is good music.

If one had to single out one distinctive feature of Rob’s writing it would probably be his sense of harmony. His harmonic work really reminds me so much of pianist Bill Evans, always full of beautiful tension and release. He also maximizes these harmonic colours by using rich, full ensemble voicings along with a great sense of orchestral colour, especially with the additional french horns and woodwinds.

It’s not only Rob’s manipulation of harmony that allows him to stand out, he also had an equally deft hand with melody. And, although not known as a composer as much as an arranger, Rob’s own tunes, that are scattered throughout his recordings, were always a highlight. Even his larger scale big band jazz originals were always tuneful. Check out the beautiful middle section of That’s Right.

Finally, on top of all of Rob’s qualities as an arranger, composer and player, there was always Rob’s sense of humour, which would often come out of nowhere in the music. A favourite moment is the return of the melody in Louisiana where he changes key after the first bar.

As much as I love the sound of any good big band, it’s the writing that always seems to draw me back repeatedly, to listen over and over. To this day, after almost 40 years, I can still hear the sounds of those early Boss Brass recordings vividly in my mind and I know those sounds have had a very big effect on the big band music I create for myself. I have been told I am a harmonically oriented writer, who loves to write virtuosic ensemble passages. Well, I’ve always known where that came from. Now you do.

I know I will go on for the rest of my life enjoying the sounds of Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass.

Thank you Rob!

Let’s see, where is that CD with Phil Woods?