Posts Tagged ‘Joe Sullivan Big Band: Northern Ontario Suite’

My March 2011 visit to Toronto, Kingston and Montreal - Part 3

March 6, 2011 - Day 5 - Montreal

Sunday was my travel day to Montreal - during a heavy snowfall. Jocelyn Couture drove me, along with tenor player Chet Doxas and trombonist Taylor Donaldson. All I can say is it proved to be a bit of a white knuckle trip. Jocelyn is very good driver, but coming from the west coast where we don’t get a lot of snow, the speed of the trip took me aback. I ended the day by having dinner at my good friend Ron Di Lauro’s place. What a great cook! Jocelyn Couture and Aron Doyle joined us. It was great see to see Aron again. Aron had been a student of mine at UBC when I first started working out there over 2o years ago. Another connection with Aron is that I had worked a fair bit with his jazz pianist father Bob when I was just starting out as a working trumpet player. Bob Doyle is one those all to common unsung great musicians that exist everywhere, but go unrecorded, and often unappreciated. Bob was always very nice to me, as well as encouraging. I guess it helped that I knew more than a few old tunes.

March 7, 2011 - Day 6

My first day in Montreal was fairly light. I had the morning free to spend a little time reading the new Thelonious Monk bio by Robin Kelley. What a great read! I love the way Kelley weaves the historical-social background into Monk’s story. One of the best jazz musician biographies I have ever read. After lunch I met up with Ron Di Lauro and we made our way to McGill University for some sessions with a couple of the big bands.

Since McGill big bands 1 and 2 rehearse at the same time it was decided that I would spend about 45 minutes with each group. I started out with the schools top big band, directed by Gordon Foote. Gordon had asked me to bring 1 or 2 things with me for the band to read through. One of the pieces I brought along was The Spanish Tinge. This is an aggressive and uptempo number that shifts between 3/4 and 4/4, which at one point has the drummer playing in 4/4 while everyone else is in 3/4. What can I say about the quality of this “student” band? The band read it down like they had been working on it for weeks, or even months. I was quite impressed by their overall musicianship. This is a very professional band in both skill and attitude. There are some great players coming up. I finished off this 45 minute session talking a little about my music and answering a few questions.

I then moved across the hall to spend a little time with Ron Di Lauro’s band, McGill’s number 2 big band. This band was working on 3 student compositions/arrangements. But instead of dealing directly with the band and performance issues, I ended up giving a little critique and advice to each of the writers.

After the big band sessions I met up with the folks that are developing a new virtual music-minus-one - The Open Orchestra. My connection to this research project is through my work as an instructor at UBC, which is involved in the development of the project, and that two of my big band pieces are being used in the project - Something For Ernie and Among The Pyramids (both published by Sierra Music Publications). This is a great idea, which is still in the development stage, a 21st century version of the old “play along” recording. In this case the student sits at computer console and through the use of an additional 3 video screens is actually placed into the band. For example if the student plays first trombone they would see the director and the rest of the band from that vantage point. They would also hear the sound from the rest of the band coming at them from the same perspective - the first trumpet would be coming from behind, the drums to the right and the saxophones in front, just as in a real band. For more info go to click here and click here

The Open Orchestra - The student perspective

The Open Orchestra - The student perspective

I then went out for dinner with Ron Di Lauro, Chris Lane, my old trumpet playing friend, who drove up from Ottawa, and writer/trumpet player Joe Sullivan and his wife. I had a great time meeting Joe and discussing jazz arranging and composition. By the way Joe has a terrific new big band CD out - Joe Sullivan Big Band: Northern Ontario Suite (Perry Lake Records).

Joe Sullivan Big Band

Joe Sullivan Big Band


March 8, 2011 - Day 7

On Tuesday morning Ron picked me up and we made our way to the University of Montreal for a jazz composition/arranging session and a big band rehearsal. Two things concerned me about this visit - the University of Montreal is French speaking school and while I did take 5 years of French in high school like most Canadian students, I do not speak any French. I wasn’t particularly good in my high school French class and I haven’t used the language since. The other thing was they left the approach/topics up to me for the writing session. Well, I should not have been concerned, the students were wonderful and accommodated me by speaking in English. As far as a topic went I thought I might play some excerpts from a couple of my recordings. I started with a few things from my big band CD The Fred Stride Jazz Orchestra: Forward Motion. I talked about the pieces, the inspirations for the pieces and how I set about putting those ideas into a musical form. Then, while the track was playing I would point out a few things. I felt by starting the session this way I would show my creative jazz side. I followed this up by playing a few things from my CBC recording Showboat which is a jazzy orchestral disc. My main purpose in playing things from this disc was to emphasize the importance of a broad technique. I played them everything from straight up orchestral pops, an imitation of Mozart, to a blending of Robert Farnon, Ravel and Bartok in an arrangement of All The Things You Are (Showboat - CBC Records). That particular arrangement, which I originally wrote in 1985 for a CBC project with Symphony Nova Scotia, always gets a strong, positive reaction.

Showboat-2

With the University of Montreal Big Band we worked on Opposition Party and part of the commission I wrote for the 2008 SOCAN/IAJE Phil Nimmons Established Composer Award - By All Accounts: Out There… This piece was premiered at the final IAJE Conference in Toronto in January 2008 and Paul Read’s Orchestra had the “misfortune” to be chosen to play this beast. Maybe I should start writing in 4/4 again? This piece, which is not for the faint of heart, is an uptempo work that avoids II-V relationships and never settles on a particular meter for too long, even changing metre in the middle of phrases. The UofM sounded very good, and its great to see and hear bands that take your difficult music seriously and strive to play it well.

The afternoon jazz composition and arranging session at McGill was very well attended and extremely satisfying. I took the same approach here as I did at the University of Montreal earlier in the day - playing excerpts from the same cds and making comments as the music played. The session ended with a question period. Interestingly, in all 3 writing master classes (Humber, UofM, McGill) I was never asked how to voice such-and-such chord. All the questions were general in nature with a few dealing with esthetics.

March 9, 2011 - Day 8

For my final day in Montreal I met up with clarinetist/tenor saxophonist James Danderfer, who is from Vancouver and working on his master’s degree at McGill. We wandered down a very cold Saint Catharines Street slowly making our way to Old Montreal. I know, I’m a west coast wuss. I’ll take the rain over the cold. We stopped in at a nice bistro for some breakfast then made our way to a museum. I love museums and art galleries and the Pointe-à-Callière Museum of Archaeology and History did not disappoint. The museum is built on the foundations of some old structures, including the Custom’s House which my great-grandparents would have visited when they came to Canada from England in 1906. We then had lunch at another great cafe then walked back to my hotel, then it was off to the airport and home.

While this trip did cause things to pile up at home I am really glad to have visited all the various schools, to have heard some great playing, made some great music with Greg Runions and his big band in Kingston and to visit with some old, and now some new, friends. I have to do this again.

Finally, a huge thank you to Greg Runions for making this trip happen in the first place and to Denny Christianson and Gord Sheard at Humber College, Ron Di Lauro at the University of Montreal and McGill and Joe Sullivan and Gord Foote at McGill University.

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