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Volume 15 Issue 9 - June 2010

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photo jim gallowayBeat

photo jim gallowayBeat by Beat / Jazz NotesJazz Legaciesjim gallowayRob McConnell of the Boss Brass.Another death in thefamily. Less than twoweeks after the passingof Gene Lees, the rankswere thinned even moreby the passing of Rob Mc-Connell. But the legacy leftby him leaves no doubt thathis music will live on. LikeDuke Ellington, the orchestrawas his instrument andhis arrangements will be aliving memorial to his greattalent as an arranger.A native of London,Ontario, he took up thevalve trombone in highschool and began his performingcareer in the early 1950s. In 1954 he played in Edmontonwith the band of saxophonist Don (DT) Thompson. Back in Torontohe played piano in drummer Alex Lazaroff’s Rhythm Rockets andtrombone with Bobby Gimby before moving to New York for severalmonths in 1964 to play, mainly with Maynard Ferguson’s big band.On his return to Toronto he became one of the busiest studiomusicians and arrangers in town. At one point he was doing the BobMaclean Show five days a week, playing the Juliette Show, both onCBC plus any number of jingles. Whichever way you slice it, Mc-Connell was a very successful studio musician, but the real satisfactioncame from playing jazz, mostly in small group settings until heformed the Boss Brass in 1968. The band’s first engagement was atthe Savarin, an attractive watering hole on Bay Street in Toronto. Asthe band’s name suggests, it originally had no reeds. The instrumentationwas 16 pieces consisting of trumpets, trombones, french horns,and a rhythm section – but no saxophones, much to the chagrin ofthe local reed movers and shakers. Eventually McConnell repentedand introduced a saxophone section in 1970. He also added a fifthtrumpet in 1976, bringing the total to 22 members.Inevitably it took some time for the band to be recognized in theUnited States, but Times jazz critic Leonard Feather, in 1986, proclaimedit the jazz band of the year. Now this was long after the heydayof big bands and for such a group to win critical and a degree offinancial success was quite remarkable - an achievement all the moreextraordinary when you consider the fact that five Juno and threeGrammy awards were accumulated by the Boss Brass over the years.I think it’s fair to say that it was because of the Boss Brass thatMcConnell was regarded as one of the major Canadian jazz musicianson the world stage. In 1997 he gave up the unenviable tasks ofrunning a big band and formed a 10-piece group which still had theunique McConnell sound and with which he continued to work untilbad health forced him to slow down.As a person, McConnell had his light and dark sides – we allhave different facets to our personality and he was certainly no exception– and was not always the easiest of people. He could begrumpy and difficult to work with, but those of us who knew himoffstage also saw a much more gentle, good natured man in contrastto the crusty persona he could present.He had a biting sense of humour, and pity on anyone on the receivingend of it. I like to think of him as the Don Rickles of jazz.!There was also a wry side to his humour. His close friend, TedO’Reilly recalled the following little episode.“The Boss Brass did a CJRT concert at the Ontario Science Centrefor me one time, and it was intense. Setting up a 22-piece or-chestra, complete with microphone setups and sound checks washard work. To add to that, we got word that Dizzy Gillespie was goingto come to the concert. It went well, of course, but at the end ofthe hour, with an empty hall, there was Rob collecting all the music,packing his horn; and me, wrapping up mic cables and puttingequipment away. Rob stopped, shook his head and laughed, saying‘Here’s the reward of the jazz world: you the producer, me the leader– where’s the broom to sweep the floor?”Like many great artists McConnell coped with feelings of insecuritythroughout his career, using that bluff exterior he presentedto the world as a cover. Not that he was modest or insecure in his beliefin the greatness of the Boss Brass – and rightly so.On a personal note, I’m proud of the fact that in my last year asartistic director of the Toronto Jazz Festival I was able to presentMcConnell and the Boss Brass in what was to be their final performance.When I called him he really didn’t want to go to the troubleof getting the Brass together, and suggested that I hire the tentet instead.For my part, I knew exactly what I wanted, and fortunately Iwas able to convince him that a July 1 noon-hour concert in the marqueeat City Hall and free to the public would be a perfect way tocelebrate Canada Day, and that the Boss Brass had to be the band.Just before the start of the performance on that day we had a fewprivate minutes together, and it was quite clear that Rob was lessthan well. We walked to the tent and I know it was an effort for himto even get onstage, but there he was, cracking a joke, making theaudience and his musicians feel good and launching into what was tobe the last hurrah.Drummer Dennis Mackrel summed it up nicely: “Rob Mc-Connell was a giant among musicians and one of the finest arrangersof his day or anyone else’s. To listen to his writing was a lessonin excellence, and remains one of the best examples of just how highthe bar can be!”Thank you, Rob, for the musical pleasure you gave to fansaround the world and the music that will continue to inspire youngplayers for years to come. The boss is dead – long live the BossBrass.Hank JonesAs I was writing about Rob McConnell, word came in that we hadlost yet another jazz master with the passing of pianist Hank Jones.Born in 1918 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, he outlived two youngerbrothers, trumpeter, composer Thad and drummer Elvin, surely oneof the most musical families in jazz.Jones was a prodigious talent and revered by every other pianoplayer. Case in point: seven years ago The WholeNote printed apiece I wrote after spending an afternoon with Oscar Peterson. Italked about his huge talent as an accompanist, knowing when to usehis great technique and when to leave spaces, and O.P. said, “Doyou know who my teacher was? It was Hank Jones.” He then spokeFeaturing some of Toronto’s best jazz musicianswith a brief reflection by Jazz Vespers ClergySunday, June 6, 4:30 pmGORDON SHEARD TRIOSunday, June 20, 4:30 pmKIRK MACDONALD &BRIAN DICKENSONSunday, July 4, 4:30 pmBRIAN BARLOW BIG BAND (part of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival)Steve McDade, Blair Yarranton, Brian O'Kane (trumpets); John Johnson,Andy Ballantyne, Alex Dean, Perry White, Bob Leonard (saxophones);Michele Gagnon (French horn); Russ Little, Al Kay, Doug Gibson (trombones);Robi Botos (piano); Scott Alexander (bass); Brian Barlow (drums)Christ Church Deer Park,1570 Yonge Street, (north of St. Clair at Heath St.)416-920-5211 www.thereslifehere.orgAdmission is free; donations are welcome.26 thewholenote.comJune 1 - July 7, 2010

about the Jazz At The Phil concertswhen the closing of theshow would feature Ella Fitzgerald,accompanied by Jones.“Hank would be right there, playingfor Fitz and I’d soak up whateverI could, ‘cause he taughtme everything I know about it. Ilearned from Hank Jones. I’m notashamed to say that – I’m proudto say it.”Jones leaves a wonderful legacy,and although we feel sorrowwe should also celebrate his remarkablyrich gifts.Hank Jones.Happy listening and make some of it live jazz.Jim Galloway is a saxophonist, band leader and the former artisticdirector of Toronto Downtown Jazz. He can be contacted at: jazz@thewholenote.com.Music TeachersMake a Difference!We’re proud to help you promote your educationalservices. Your message will appear in 30,000 copies ofThe WholeNote, distributed to more than 1,000 locationsthroughout Southern Ontario. We offer:• Classified ads • Marketplace & display advertising• Web advertising • Online directoriesFor more information, contact education@thewholenote.com or phone Karen, 416-323-2232 x26.Students want to find you – make sure you’re ontheir map!THEAdvertisers IndexABA Music and Arts Centre 44Alexander Kats 44All Saints Kingsway AnglicanChurch 32All the Kings Voices 25Allan Pulker 45Amadeus Voice Studio 45Amoroso 43ARRAY new music centre 46Arts and Ideas Café 34ATMA 5Birthday Series 32Bloor Cinema 50Blue Bridge Festival 16Bryson Winchester 46Canadian Dalcroze Association 9Canadian Opera Company 10CanClone Services 49Choirs Ontario 33Christ Church Deer Park JazzVespers 26City of Toronto HistoricMuseums 16Classical 96.3fm 63Cosmo Music 10Counterpoint CommunityOrchestra 29Dancap Productions 7Dancap Productions 61Denise Williams 45East York Choir 31Elora Festival 57Emile Belcourt 45Festival of the Sound 17Gallery 345 29George Heinl 24Glionna Mansell Corporation62Grand Philharmonic Choir 25Grand River BaroqueFestival 13Harknett Musical Services 23Heliconian Hall 46Hymn Society, SouthernOntario Chapter 44International Womens’ BrassConference / Hannaford StreetSilver Band 19Jenavieve Moore 32Jubilate Singers 30, 45Kindred Spirits Orchestra 33Le Commensal 46Liz Parker 45LIZPR 49Lockwood ARS 46Long & McQuade 27Luminato 2Montreal Baroque Festival 57Music at Sharon 17Music Gallery 22Music Mondays 59Music Toronto 9No Strings Theatre 44Norm Pulker 46North York Concert Band 29Opera By Request 31Ori Dagan 27Oriana Women’s Choir 44Orpheus Choir 18Pasquale Bros. 46Pattie Kelly 45Peter Mahon 25Philharmonic Music Ltd. 45Roger Bergs 45Sound Post (The) 23St. Olave’s Church 30Steve’s Music Store 23Stratford Summer Music 64Studio 92 46Sue Crowe Connolly 45Sweetwater Music Festival 15Tafelmusik 4Toronto Chamber Choir 21Toronto Children’s Chorus 30Toronto Summer Music Academyand Festival 14, 60Toronto Symphony Orchestra 3Trio Moonshine 33Victoria Scholars 31Vocal Horizons Chamber Choir32Westben 59Yamaha School of Music 45Young Centre for the PerformingArts 29June 1 - July 7, 2010 thewholenote.com 27

Volume 26 (2020- )

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