Jill Townsend Big Band Releases Legacy: The Music of Ross Taggart: Island Jazz Exclusive Interview with Jill Townsend
About eighteen months ago Cory Weeds of Cellar Live Records in Vancouver proposed to Jill Townsend that her big band record an album of Ross Taggart originals to honour Ross who was only forty-five when he passed away on January 9, 2013.
The album was funded as a Kickstarter project and was launched June 30 at two concerts in Vancouver.
Many Islanders helped fund the project because Ross Taggart, who was born and raised in Victoria, was beloved on both sides of the water.
The album, which features some of the west coast’s greatest jazz musicians, can be purchased now at Cellar Live.
I recently interviewed Jill about the project by email. Here’s what she had to say.
IJ: Eighteen months after it began, your Ross Taggart project is finally done and the CD’s are on their way to project donors. How are you feeling now that it’s complete?
JT: Exhilarated, exhausted, satisfied, grateful to have been part of this project, and happy that it’s completed!
IJ: How did the launch in Vancouver go?
JT: The audiences for both shows were very receptive, and the band played beautifully. It was an emotional evening for sure, but here we were, celebrating Ross and his music, and celebrating the final result of this project.
IJ: How do you feel about the recorded results? Any favourite cuts?
JT: I’m very happy with the recording.Thanks to everyone in the band, and of course Chris Gestrin deserves special mention here; he did a fantastic job of recording, editing, mixing and mastering the CD. Each tune has a story of course- Legacy is one of my favourites, and TV Lunch was a tune I thought would work well for big band. Light at the End of the Tunnel is a gorgeous arrangement by Bill Coon, and is one of the highlights for sure. Bill Runge also contributed a lovely chart of Open Book.
IJ: You knew Ross Taggart’s music before, but what discoveries did you and Bill [Coon] make as you dug into the tunes and began arranging them for big band?
JT: Well, the fact that there were so many compositions to choose from to begin with! It was a somewhat difficult process at first to go through the boxes of music, but as we played through his compositions, we chose the tunes relatively quickly that we each wanted to arrange. Ross’ compositions’ are imaginative, colourful, joyous, and poignant. He wrote so many tunes for friends, or an event that took place, or something personal to him. Every note counts in Ross’ music.
IJ: How did your arrangements evolve as you took the charts to the band and started working with them?
JT: My goal for arranging is to have the chart finished and completed to my own liking before bringing it to the band. I’m not a fan of making too many changes afterwards. However, the benefit of rehearsal allows for a few quick fixes or changes. With any large ensemble, the timeline is always tight between rehearsal and performance!
IJ: Tell us about the recording process. How many days, how many takes, etc.? Challenges? Crazy moments? Inspirational moments?
JT: It was just after Christmas when we recorded, and took place over two and a half days, so really only three sessions plus a little extra time. That was challenging in itself, as it’s a busy time for most musicians. We had a lot of music to record in a short amount of time, so the sessions were very focused.Yes, there were some crazy moments for sure, but you know, that’s all part of the process when you have 17 or 18 musicians & personalities in one room!
IJ: You and Cory Weeds decided to go with donor funding through Kickstarter. Having been through it now, how do you feel about that approach to album funding? Do you recommend it?
JT: Absolutely! We had overwhelming response to this project, and being able to donate online made the process easier for contributors near and far, and across the globe. Also, contributors received project updates, so they were involved in the process as each stage of the project unfolded.Thank you to Cory Weeds, and to all of our contributors!
IJ: In the absence of decent government funding for independent jazz projects in this country do you think this is the way of future?
JT: Well, it’s one way for sure, and was a positive experience for us. Grant funding is still available, and as always, musicians have to be resourceful in finding various ways to present their music.
IJ: Any chance of getting the band over to Victoria for a performance of Ross’ music?
JT: Of course, I’d love to bring the whole band over to Victoria! At this point, Bill and I are planning to come over in early 2016 and perform some of the charts with Monik Nordine and the Monday Night Jazz Orchestra.
IJ: What’s next for Jill Townsend?
JT: We’re performing with Dr Lonnie Smith (B3 organ) in December, so I’m excited about arranging some new charts for that project.Planning to record another CD of original music by (guitarist/composer) Bill Coon and myself in the not-too-distant future, and there are a few other things simmering..which will be announced closer to the time. Check out jilltownsend.ca for future performances with the band.
Vocalist Melinda Whitaker, who moved to the Island from Vancouver a few years ago, performs this Friday night (May 24) at Hermann’s with the Brent Jarvis Trio and guitarist Henry Young. Island Jazz posed five questions to Melinda so we could get to know her a little better. Here’s what she had to say:
1. If you could take only one jazz album with you to a desert island, which one would it be and why?
I’d take Seattle jazz vocalist Ernestine Anderson’s “Never Make Your Move Too Soon” with Monty Alexander on piano, Ray Brown on bass and Frank Gant on drums. Ernestine is my all time fave. She is soul incarnate.
2. What was your worst gig ever?
I was playing a gig with top drawer jazz players when we were confronted by inebriated, furious guests who were expecting a heavy metal band. Thankfully the piano player defused hostilities with the now legendary remark, “Don’t worry, we’ll play something with a lot of the same notes.”
3. What was your best?
That’s got to be when I was opening for The Ray Brown Trio at the Vancouver Jazz Festival, 2001.
4. How has your move to Vancouver Island worked out musically for you?
To my delight, I’ve found Vancouver Island to be a musical oasis. Some of the country’s top jazz musicians have chosen to make their homes here, and I count myself fortunate to be sharing the incredible Island vibe. Every player but one on my recently released album Lucky So-And-So!, produced by iconic jazz Islander Phil Dwyer, is from the Island and all are West Coasters. In a very real sense it’s a Pacific Northwest tour de force. So I’m happy to say that my move to Vancouver Island has, in your words Rick, given me the ‘expansive musical sandbox’ of my dreams.
5. What should Victoria fans know about guitarist Henry Young?
There is literally nothing that jazz guitarist Henry Young has not accomplished in his career. He spent decades touring with the legendary Nina Simone and has played with some of the biggest names in the industry, Ray Charles and Roberta Flack among them. Add musical director, composer, arranger and recording artist credits and he brings a brilliant depth of technique and soul rarely accessible to jazz aficionados these days.
The show gets underway at 8pm. Tickets are $25. You can read more about Melinda at melindawhitaker.com
I’ve been meaning for a long time to highlight Kerilie McDowall’s jazz radio show Rhythm’a’ning broadcast in Nanaimo on CHLY.
What better occasion than her two hour interview with bassist Ken Lister recorded on April 29. It’s a great interview with a wonderful mix of music. I encourage you to have a listen.
McDowall, a former jazz guitarist and composer, describes her show as an eclectic mix of new sounds with “fun ventures into the past.” You can tune in live on Mondays from 5-7 pm at 101.7 FM in Nanaimo or on the internet at www.chly.ca
Nordine, who hails from Salt Spring and teaches at VIU in Nanaimo, recently moved to Victoria, providing an opportunity for Island Jazz to sit down and ask a few questions about Departure and its musical direction.
IJ: How did Departure get started?
MN: Departure started out as a writing project when I first showed up in Nanaimo. I still have the first recording I made with James McRae and Phill Albert. We each wrote a few tunes and jammed them at James’ place, then recorded with Rick Salt in Nanaimo. Each of us had unique offerings, and from the original sessions my tune “Instep” remains and also Phill’s tune “Sireusly Mean”. “Instep” later morphed into a different kind of tune when Sherry Clayton (drummer) and I used it as a vehicle for improv. She was working out a funk feel in 3/4 and I brought my melody to her feel – just thought it might work, and it did!
IJ: Why did you call yourselves Departure?
MN: We needed a name. Phill suggested Departure after Departure Bay. James and I liked it… Afterward I realized it had other connotations, and liked that too.
IJ: Tell us more about those connotations.
Point of departure. Departure physically from one location to another. Departure from the norm. hmm…… there are a few. I think this band is definitely a spring board for me and that’s how I’d like to make it work. As a point of musical departure.
IJ: What’s the group about musically?
MN: When Brent joined me in this endeavor it became a different kind of band. Partly because of his personality and set of skills, and also because with a chordal instrument things are just different. Brent and I had talked about doing a project together in past years, and base it on original material. So that’s what it became about at that point. It was my suggestion to bring in the Fender Rhodes and I knew that he was into the sound of that instrument… and in fact owns 2 Rhodes keyboards: one for gigs which stays “in the box” and the other set up in his studio. With the Rhodes there is the “throwback” to other bands, specifically Chick Corea. Curiously, we don’t cover any Chick. We’ve been covering Keith Jarrett a bit maybe because of my influence… its hard to say. Brent wrote a chart for “Questar” and I brought in a few others that we’ve not recorded yet. So we’re an original jazz quartet with a fusion influence is the easiest way to describe it.
IJ: What do Ken Lister and Buff Allen bring to the group?
They each bring their own thing to it. Buff is the nicest drummer to work with musically that I could dream of. He’s just an amazing accompanist, very intuitive and easy to communicate with. He really has a gift. And as far as the sound of the drums, it’s like a beautiful palette. Ken is new to the group, so with Ken, there’s this wonderful solidness to the time. With his fluidity it’s just so easy to play with him – I don’t have to work at all on time – its all taken care of. Ken is the ultimate sideman. I’m hoping that over time we’ll hear more of him in the sound of the band.
IJ You say you are fusion influenced. For some traditionalists “fusion” is a bit of a dirty word. Care to comment?
MN: Fusion is what jazz is. Jazz originates from the fusion of European and African music. It couldn’t have happened any other way. So if fusion is a dirty word then jazz is dirty stuff, because as I said the origins are a fusion of styles, and ever since it began it’s just drawn from everything around it because its an improvised art form. It even brought classical influences in with the arrangers such as Gil Evans to bring it full circle and rock and roll came from jazz and blues in the first place so why not use it in jazz?
You can learn more about Departure, sample some of their music and buy their album here. Better yet, catch them live on Sunday night (Hermann’s, 8pm, $15). Highly recommended.
Qualicum Beach enjoys one of Vancouver Island’s most innovative and active music scenes, thanks in part to the efforts of musicians like Ron Hadley, who coordinates music programming for The Old School House Arts Centre (TOSH). One of the TOSH programs, the annual Harvest of Music Festival, gets underway on Friday, October 2. Island Jazz sat down with Hadley to learn more about this event, which will feature some class jazz acts, including Phil and Ben Dwyer, the Sara Marreiros Quintet, guitarist Darryl Jahnke, and a special Quintet Concert Tribute to guitarist Wes Montgomery.
1. What is the Harvest of Music Festival?
This year it is six days (October 2-7) of concerts/workshops featuring superb musicians from all over the world in a wide variety of genres. There are noontime concerts, two Saturday afternoon creative dance and mime/masked movement workshops, a Sunday afternoon solo piano recital and special evening events in the gallery of The Old School House Arts Centre. There will also be performances Read more…