Another significant Canadian contributor to jazz is gone. Barely more than a week after Gene Lees died comes news that Rob McConnell lost his long struggle with cancer Saturday in a Toronto hospital. A valve trombonist, arranger, composer and leader, McConnell made his Boss Brass one of the significant big bands of the latter part of the twentieth century and into the first decade of this one.
Here he is with the Boss Brass on a visit to the US west coast in 1981. Rob introduces the piece and soloists. “Jimmy” is pianist Jimmy Dale. Terry Clarke is the drummer, Don Thompson the bassist. A complete list of the band members runs at the end of the clip.
The Toronto radio station Jazz.FM91 has posted a biography, as well as news about the McConnell documentary that it will air and stream on the web this evening. To read a star.com obituary, go here.
Rob McConnell, RIP
After reading the previous piece about Diana Krall, it saddens me to read of Rob McConnell’s passing on the next page. McConnell is a good contrast to Krall in regard to your discussion of whether Krall is a sellout. It is not an unusual story in Canadian music.
One artist heads south, and makes it big. Gets everything she probably set out to get: stardom, rock star husband, sex-kitten-piano-virtuoso image. The other stays in Canada, eschews potential stardom in order to stay home and enrich the local scene. He gets recognition internationally, but remains significant more in a local context. Depending on where you sit, both are lauded and criticized for their respective paths.
Krall–sellout, or glowing success?
McConnell–lost potential, or picture of integrity?
Rob McConnell was an unusual jazz musician in Canada, achieving recognition, never selling out in any way, and enriching the music scene in Canada thanks to his dedication and pure passion for jazz. He will be remembered for that.
Devra Hall Levy says
Arranger Johnny Pate posted a ‘radio’ tribute to McConnell last December. It’s still online and I’ll be listening while remembering Rob.
Richard Carlson says
I grew up in the Buffalo area and got much of my start in loving jazz in the late ’40s from Toronto AM radio—and of course Joe Rico out of Niagara Falls. While I yearned for New York in my early ’60s college days, I could be proud of my hometown area when people like Sammy Noto would emerge and become Stan Kenton featured artists. But what was this? Sam was recording with Rob McConnell, and becoming a wonderful fixture in the band? This was going too far! Canadians were supposed to come down here. We don’t go up there.
But Rob’s hot and ferocious band could draw talent like that, and rightly so. Phil Woods recorded an album with them. Mel Torme never sounded better. And what about the Hi-Lo’s who even brought them down to the States for live appearances with them, especially at Monterey?
Rob gave everything for the band, and kept the music alive after most other working groups that size had perished long ago. In fact when the Boss Brass (I hated that name—but understood…) was formed, big bands were gone. I loved the charts, I loved the humour (sic), I loved this guy.
Paul Smith says
Thanks for posting the info. about Rob. Sad to hear of his passing, though. One of my great regrets is that I never had a chance to hear the Boss Brass live. I’ve been a fan for years (Listened to “Live In Digital” just this morning). I had chance to play with Rob at the 1985 NAJE Convention in Dallas with the DePaul University Big Band! (I still have a tape) Also had the opportunity to study trombone with Ian McDougall, so I always felt connected somehow. Anyway, great band, great charts, great valve trombonist, great musician, great jazz artist, etc. Fortunately, his music will survive. It is up to us to pass it on to our students,etc.
Dennis Mackrel says
Rob McConnell was a giant among musicians and one of the finest arrangers of his day or anyone else’s.
To work with him was an honor and a pleasure that unfortunately a younger generation of musicians will never get to experience.
To listen to his writing was a lesson in excellence and remains one of the best examples of just how high the bar can be!
Dale Sorenson says
Rob’s first album to hit the States was “The Jazz Album” and our jazz radio alerted Los Angeles to his talents. I’ve followed him since, and have all his albums. Kenton was always tops for me, but Rob’s band right behind. Great thrills hearing him at Donte’s and Carmelo’s in the 80’s. Told him once what great pleasure the band had brought. His reply, in typical McConnell humor: “it’s been a big pain in the neck for me.”
Years ago, to begin the day on Saturday mornings, I would play his long “The Waltz I Blew For You” until inevitably the tears would run down my face for the sheer joy of the music. Listen to it on You Tube. I suppose I will now have a marathon listening session of all his great stuff. Thanks for all, Rob.
Ty Newcomb says
The Waltz I Blew For You is my hands down favorite Big Band chart. Sammy Noto’s solo on the album and in this rare and wonderful live version are truly stunning and amazingly totally dissimilar.
Hal Strack says
Oh my, we lose another of our stalwarts! In 1981, Howard Rumsey called me on what I believe was a Sunday morning, and said that I should get down to his “Concerts By The Sea” establishment as soon as possible. On arrival, I found that the audience portion had been compartmentalized into private niches facing the stage, where the Rob McConnell band was ensconced, having just come south after a performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival. I was paired with “Tora, Tora, Tora” author C S Forrester and his wife in our compartment. We were there from about ten in the morning until midnight, while the band was video-recorded as it played. Meals were brought in and served. I understood from Howard that Artie Shaw was in another of the cubicles for the full time.
That day was one of the greatest musical experiences of my life. The band, from top to bottom, was incredibly adept and impressive. Part of Paul Desmond’s “Canadian rythmn section,” Ed Bickert and Don Thompson, were in the band. Arnie Chycoski was the strong lead trumpet. Sam Noto played jazz trumpet, and Guido Basso flugelhorn. Ian McDougall was the excellent lead and jazz trombonist, in addition to Rob on valve bone. Moe Koffman was lead and jazz alto, as well as soprano. The other alto man, Jerry Toth, played a little like Paul on solos; I believe that he did “Wendy”. Gene Amaro and Rick Wilkins were the two accomplished tenor men. All of the instrumentalists soloed at great length, each outstanding in their own way. There were twenty one players, all told, I do believe, including two French horns. Quite an aggragation! I wonder what was done with that very extensive, lengthy video? But what a memory!
(Part of that video “The Waltz I Blew for You,” is the clip in the piece above. –DR)