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.
As I write 155 people from the west coast jazz community and beyond have pledged their support for the project on Kickstarter that will see ten Ross Taggart compositions arranged and recorded by the Jill Townsend Big Band in Vancouver. With 8 days to go they are doing well, having reached nearly 75% of their goal.
It would be a shame if they fell short now.
For those who haven’t pledged – fans and musicians alike – here are seven reasons to consider doing so.
1. It’s a good cause. Ross Taggart was a beloved member of the west coast jazz community and this project will honour his name.
2. Under the Kickstarter crowd-funding model, the campaign must be 100% funded to succeed. Otherwise the project will receive nothing.
3. This is the first major Kickstarter Canadian west coast jazz campaign that I’m aware of. If it succeeds it could set a precedent for future campaigns that would see other local musicians receive funding for their special projects.
4. It won’t cost you much; you can pledge as little as a dollar (although I would hope you would pledge a little more than that.
5. Our provincial and federal governments do little for the arts (particularly jazz) compared to European countries like Norway; this is a way for you to support directly an art form that is starved of funding.
6. For musicians: it may seem odd or inappropriate to pledge money to your colleagues when you work so hard yourself to be part of this community and to raise funds for your own projects. But consider this: by adding your name to the list, you help create a groundswell that will see this and other jazz projects succeed under the crowd-funding model. (The list of contributors can be viewed on the Kickstarter site and your name will carry a lot of weight.)
7. For fans: if you pledge at least ten dollars, you’ll receive a wonderful recording of some great tunes and help keep not only jazz but big band jazz alive on the Canadian west coast. What better way to spend the equivalent of two fancy coffees at Starbucks?
I wish them success. You can pledge here.
Note: if you have concerns about the security of the Kickstarter site, read the security notice they issued following the news that they had been hacked recently. It may reassure you.
For those who didn’t see it, here’s the obituary for Ross Taggart that appeared in the Victoria Times-Colonist newspaper today:
January 16, 2013
TAGGART, Ross Thomas Died surrounded by family and close friends on 9th January 2013 after a brave and gallant struggle with kidney cancer. He was 45. Born in Victoria, BC, Ross showed great interest in music from an early age. At 18, he moved to Vancouver and embarked on a free lance jazz career, eventually becoming a prominent and beloved figure on the North American jazz scene. Ross lived generously and compassionately; he loved with an open heart, always, and appreciated the truly valuable things in life – art, music, drama, good food, the beauty of nature, friends and family. His unique sense of humour meant he carried the gift of laughter wherever he went. Those of us fortunate enough to have known him will miss him more deeply than words can express. His loss will also deeply affect the Vancouver/Vancouver Island jazz community whose steadfast devotion was a comfort to both Ross and his family during these dreadful last three months. In addition, family and friends alike are very grateful to the truly extraordinary Palliative Care Team at Vancouver General Hospital. A service celebrating Ross’s life will be held at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday 19th January at Cordova Bay United Church, 813 Claremont Ave. Joy he gave; joy he has found.
Radio shows in Victoria and Vancouver are dedicating their broadcasts this week and next to the memory of saxophonist and pianist Ross Taggart who died of cancer yesterday in Vancouver at age 45.
Shaukat Husain devoted his entire Straight, No Chaser program on Victoria’s CFUV last night to Taggart. In an email sent after the broadcast he wrote, “I’ve just come back from CFUV after doing a two-hour show on dear Ross whom I’ve known since he was 16 years old.” This very personal tribute will be available here in the CFUV archives from January 10-16 if you missed it.
CBC broadcasters Margaret Gallagher and Rick Cluff payed tribute to Taggart this morning on CBC Vancouver’s Early Edition. The show is archived and the tribute begins at the 2:00 hour mark. It includes clips from Campbell Ryga and a wonderful anecdote about Dave Brubeck commenting on Taggart’s playing in which he said “I’m going to have to break his hands. He’s just too good.”
Margaret Gallagher will devote this Saturday’s CBC Hot Air broadcast at 5:05pm to the memory of Taggart.
Ian McDougall Pays Tribute to Ross Taggart (1967-2013) as Remembrances Pour in from across the Country
Trombonist Ian McDougall spoke for hundreds of jazz musicians and thousands of fans on Vancouver Island and across the country this afternoon when he said, “We lost a fantastic man,” referring to the death in Vancouver early this morning of beloved saxophonist and pianist Ross Taggart.
He was speaking on CBC Victoria’s local afternoon radio show All Points West.
Holding back tears, McDougall said Taggart was “one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever met in my life,” noting that he was a kind and good man with a wonderful sense of humour he kept even as he was dying of cancer.
“He was one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever met in my life.”
McDougall first met Taggart in 1986 when Taggart, about to graduate from Claremont High School in Victoria, came to his house to audition for a big band McDougall was launching at UBC in Vancouver. He recalled Taggart pulling out his tenor sax and blowing a beautiful Coleman Hawkins solo that showed not only his incredible playing skill at a young age but also his deep respect for jazz tradition. “I’ve never forgotten that moment,” said McDougall.
Uncertain if he would get a seat in the band, Taggart then told McDougall he could also play piano just in case he wasn’t good enough on saxophone. McDougall, in fact, was so blown away by his sax playing that he’d already decided to give him a seat. “He was so humble,” said McDougall, adding that he kept that quality throughout his life.
“We lost a fantastic man.”
Taggart went on to play in some of the most influential bands on the west coast, including the Hugh Fraser Quintet, VEJI, and the Ian McDougall Sextet. He studied in New York and Toronto and shared the stage with talents like Clark Terry, Slide Hampton, Bud Shank, Phil Woods, Tommy Banks, Rob McConnell, Don Thompson, and Fraser MacPherson.
He also worked with the Arts Club Theatre in productions of “Ain’t Misbehavin”, and “Five Guys Named Moe”, Colin James, the Powder Blues, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the Victoria Symphony Orchestra, the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, the CBC Radio Orchestra, David Foster and Raffi. He was featured on numerous recordings by other artists as well as at least four of his own as a leader. He was widely regarded as one of the best players in Canada and performed internationally many times.
“A musician we all learned from, a friend we all laughed with.”
The Ottawa Citizen’s Peter Hum reported on his jazz blog today that Taggart got into jazz after hearing an Oscar Peterson recording when he was only 14. He then sold all his rock albums and bought jazz records.
Hum also reported on the many remembrances coming from across the land, including one from Mike Herriott in Toronto that recalled Taggart as “a musician we all learned from, a friend we all laughed with, and one of the most thoughtful people I’ve known.”
CBC music reported saxophone great Campbell Ryga saying he always recognized Taggart’s sound for its “grace, elegance and heart,” as well as his thorough command of “the history of the tenor saxophone.”
CBC’s Hot Air plans a tribute this Saturday at 5:05 (PST) on CBC Radio One and a memorial is planned for later this month in Victoria, Taggart’s hometown. Stay tuned for more info.