MBBJE blog

Jazz Appreciation by Dave

A brief lesson in jazz appreciation for non musicians:  

1. Jazz is not simply about "making stuff up". In fact, a lot of it is reading and interpreting written music. In a big band like ours, interpretation is critical. For instance, two notes that are written to be of equal value are sometimes divided into 2/3 and 1/3 (rather then equally) in order to "swing". Also, notes can have a wide variety of brief markings on them: a dot, an upside down V, a horizontal straight line, a short squiggly line going sidewards, a longer squiggly line going down, a short comma after a note, etc. The key is to all interpret this together, typically following the lead player in each section.  

2. The bass, piano and guitar ARE largely "making stuff up" (we call it improvising). More often than not, all they have is chord symbols like this:  Cma7#11 or Eb13. From these symbols, the pianist and guitarist have to quickly figure out which notes to play - or not play - for each chord. Some chords last a while, while others can last less than 1 second. And the hardworking bass player not only has to read and understand the chord symbol, but he/she must find a note that fits the chord AND ensure that the series of notes produced makes some sort of logical sense.   The drummer is listening to all of this, keeping time AND emphasizing what's going on in the rest of the band by playing simultaneous shot notes, or improvised drum "fills" when there's a period of silence. PLUS the drummer has to "set up" a major change in the music (like an upcoming loud part, or a change in the number of beats in the bar). And sometimes there are drum solos: some of which follow the pattern of the music, some of which do not. A good drummer will play something that clearly tells the rest of the band that he/she is coming to an end of the solo, and will lead into the next part.  

3. Of course, if you are looking at a small jazz combo, all bets are off. Guitar, piano, bass and/or drums are improvising pretty much everything. There will typically be a rough sketch of the music (a one page simplified version of the melody with chords), but the musician playing the melody will almost never play it exactly as written - he/she will likely have their own interpretation. Following the melody, different people usually take improvised solos.Sometimes the order of the solos is pre-planned, other times one band member will give a subtle physical or musical signal to another when finished.  And each member of the combo will interact with each other musically... sometimes a particular musical phrase will then be echoed by other players. That's one reason we close our eyes: to listen intently to the others. The end of the tune may be predetermined, or may be created on the spot by listening to each other and "setting up" a musically-logical and satisfying ending.   And to go even further... I have even played gigs involving improvisation on music I've never seen before, with other musicians whom I have not even met prior to the gig.  

Hopefully these points can give you more insight into what's going on in the band. Or you can forget all this, sit back or dance, and enjoy the music!  

MBBJE New Home...


                     WE HAVE A HOME!!!

Looks like the band has FINALLY found a venue to host a once-a-month jazz performance of some BIG BAND JAZZ! It all starts on Sunday, March 25th from 2 – 4 PM at the Port Credit Legion ( Branch 82 ) 35 Front Street North in Mississauga. Cheap drinks, great view & amazing music! Plus………… it’s “Pay What You Can”. Please come out to support the band and hopefully we’ll be there for a long time. Future shows will be same time / same place on the last Sunday of each month.

Mississauga Needs A Jazz Venue: An open letter to all bars,clubs & restaurants


The Mississauga Big Band Jazz Ensemble has been around for over 35 years now. We perform a wide variety of big band jazz throughout Mississauga & the GTA and we’re looking for a place to start a once a month jazz program. Same day and week each month so people get know about it. A day when you’re not too busy would be ideal I think to help bring in more business for you. Tuesday night or Sunday afternoon are possible choices. A lot of our audience is seniors and we have a mailing list of about 350. We’d probably do 2 / 50 minute sets and our only requirement is an area of approximately 20’ X 12’ to set up. I know losing tables is an issue but if they would otherwise be empty, it’s something to think about. We also do music suitable for swing dancing, but that might take up additional room. The band usually gets an honorarium to cover some of our expenses, but I’d be open to any suggestions you might have ( cover charge / % of the bar ). We really are in this for the music and it would be nice to see some jazz in Mississauga. We could try it for a few months & see how things go. If you want to check out the band, there’s tons of info on our web site ( www.mbbje.com ). Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.                             

                                                                    Thanks!   Rob Boniface ( rboniface@rogers.com )

Why does the band have a conductor? by Dave

RTdgE9X8c2While it is true that many big bands don’t have a separate conductor, the MMBJE wouldn’t be where it is today without ours.

For starters, we aren’t just a typical big band playing dance charts. We DO play dances, and quite enjoy that musical outing. [We interrupt our programming for a commercial: we are available for weddings, fundraisers and parties – contact Rob Boniface. Now back to our regularly scheduled blog]. The MBBJE has always been about jazz-oriented big band music – hence the name -, and for that we heavily rely on the leadership of our current musical director Bruce Cassidy.

If you know anything about Canadian jazz, you are very familiar with Bruce’s reputation as a trumpet player, arranger, EVI master, bandleader and teacher. Those of us in the MBBJE have the good fortune of having Bruce guide us to even greater musical heights. As a trumpet player, I am additionally grateful to have someone of Bruce’s talent and experience to provide feedback and mentoring.

Over the past year, we’ve tackled some very difficult charts, including Groovin’ Hard by Don Menza, First Circle by Pat Metheny and some intriguing original compositions by members Gary Martin, Jay Boehmer and Rob Boniface. We could not have performed these pieces nearly as well without Bruce.

I doubt that most members of the audience are aware of what he brings to the band. During rehearsals, Bruce provides clear directions regarding interpretation of the music as well as the occasional tweak to an arrangement. During performances, he is more often found off to the side, but watch closely: he is in total control of the band. A slight movement of his hand or a nod of his head is all that’s needed to nudge the band back on track.

Over the years, we have been blessed by a series of wise and patient directors including Canadian jazz Don Johnston and Ron Collier. We are now benefiting from the experience and musical generosity of Bruce Cassidy, and for that, we are all truly grateful.


First Circle by Jay


The First Circle                                                                           

The MBBJE worked on Pat Metheny’s “The First Circle” this past year. (Big band arrangement by Bob Curnow.) It’s a complex piece of music in 22/8 with a manic hand clapping pattern throughout the introduction. I’ve been a big fan of the PMG since 1987 so I pulled out an old drumming exercise written by Paul Wertico who was the drummer in the band at the time.

This music brought to mind many questions about the original version of “The First Circle” that Paul had performed with Pat. Perhaps Paul would answer a few questions through his website. To my surprise, Paul replied with his phone number and suggested I call him directly with my questions. Here are some notes from our conversation.

1. The drumming exercise I was practicing had a significant notation error by the publisher. (Thanks for the correction Paul!)

2. The “count in” for First Circle is 4 quarter notes.

3. The First Circle was performed on every tour that the PMG did from 1984 to 1998.

4. Background parts (and clapping) were played during each concert by the Synclavier computer which broke down in Germany and cost $2,000 to repair.

5. The tempo of “The First Circle” could be changed and was usually increased for the end of the tune. More info at: www.paulwertico.com


Michel Petrucciani by Dave




Petrucciani was born in France in 1962.  His Wikipedia entry draws parallels with Bill Evans, Keith Jarret and Oscar Peterson.  Although he regularly performed in a trio as well as with other performers, he preferred to play solo.

A relentless performer, he was performing more than 200 times per year at his busiest. Even in the year before his death, he gave 140 concerts.

Many years ago, I owned a cassette of his 1983 solo album “100 Hearts”.  The music is astonishing.  One reviewer commented on Petrucciani’s “emotional complexity”, and I whole-heartedly agree.  Two highlights from that album stick with me to this day.

The first is a wide-ranging, 14-minute improvisation that manages to weave “Someday My Prince will Come”, “All the Things You Are”, “A Child is Born” and Bill Evans’ “Very Early”.  The second is an incredibly rich and challenging version of “St. Thomas”, a portion of which sounded like it was being played in two keys simultaneously.

Of Petrucciani, another reviewer wrote “the rapidity with which the fingers of his right hand hits the piano keys defies all understanding of that part of the human anatomy.” What makes that comment even more astounding is that he was known to break fingers during his performances.

Yes, he was only three feet tall, and yes, he was in near constant pain from his osteogenesis imperfecta (aka “brittle bone disease”). Moreover, not many genre-defining musicians are regularly carried onto the stage.  But Michel Petrucciani is so much more than these physical limitations. Search up a clip, sit back and let his music envelop you.

Mnozil Brass: the brass best band you've never heard of... by Dave

In fact, I was oblivious to their existence until a friend forwarded me their video for "Lonely Boy" (thanks Wayne!). If you see only one YouTube video this year, make it this one. In an impressive display of teamwork, Leonhard Paul controls the slides of two trombones AND the valves of two trumpets simultaneously, while four of his teammates provide the air support. As if that isn't enough, his chair is removed leaving him supported in midair by the other four players, all the while maintaining both a melody and contrasting bass line. It's a great introduction to Austria's Mnozil Brass.

Founded in 1992, their normal configuration is three trumpets, three trombones and a tuba. In addition, you will see specialty instruments from famed European brass maker Schagerl, including the custom designed "Gansch horn" trumpet featuring rotary valves mounted vertically and a unique upturned bell (sorry, geeking out a bit there). 

Besides being incredible instrumentalists, they sing Bohemian Rhapsody in seven-part harmony, whistle (in seven part harmony) and play recorders with their noses (in seven part harmony, of course). Add in the occasional animal sound, percussion toys and carefully choreographed dance routines and you start to get the picture It's as if the  horn line from the world's greatest drum corps were also Cirque du Soleil clowns.

Here are some more examples of their style:  During their James Bond medley each successive soloist "kills" the previous one, leaving him temporarily immobile on the stage; their extra-fast version of William Tell is blended with Austrian drinking songs complete with actions; and their rock medley opens with the three trumpet players singing the Bee Gees's vocal lines to Stayin' Alive and closes with the classic zombie dance from Thriller.

The leader of this motley crew is Thomas Gansch, one of Europe's leading trumpet players. He plays with symphonies, big bands and small jazz combos. Plus he's a powerful high note player AND an amazing bebop soloist. Gansch alone is worth the price of admission. But my favourite member is actually one of the trombone players, Leonard Paul.

With facial expressions ranging from the doleful to the maniacal, Paul combines an love of clowning with some very serious musicianship on both the slide trombone and bass trumpet. There are amazing videos with just Gansch and Paul, demonstrating incredible teamwork and musicianship. Their incredibly wide-ranging fantasia on "Hey Jude" is at times touching and funny, blending sweet melodies, blistering bop lines, soulful gospel choruses, trumpet pedal notes and awkward dance moves. To find some of them you'll need to search the name "Leonhard Paul", as for some reason they don't always come up with the regular slew of Mnozil Brass videos.

Speaking of videos, there are a number of them on YouTube, including a full 90 minute concert. Unfortunately they rarely tour this sound of the Atlantic, but visit their FaceBook page and sign their guestbook.

If you play a brass instrument, you will love this band. If you are not a musician, you will still come away impressed and happy. The closest I can get to the German pronunciation is "note-ZEELL brauss". But however you say it, they are amazing.

Librarian – most misunderstood member of the group by Pat

 Alas, lost in heaps of sheet music, bewildered by the pounds of scotch tape, bemused by the plethora of folders – {concert folder, regular folder, Christmas folder, rehearsal folder, to name a few}, sits the solitary custodian of the ensemble.

As an administrator, his basic instrument is the alphabet.  “V” for vocal, “X” for Christmas. To make it even clearer, the colors abound. If it’s a red “V” with a number on the chart, it means a Christmas vocal tune.  If it’s a red “X” with a number on the chart, it means a Christmas band chart.  Don’t get me started if it’s a regular old “V” and/or “X” !!   And, And… the colored folders.  Which tune goes in what folder!!!  It’s enough to drive a really smart trombone player into a tizzy.

Being a librarian really is a thankless job. For without them, there would be total chaos. Rehearsals would be pandemonium. Concerts would be bedlam.  So here, officially, I would like to say thank you to all the musical librarians out there who make musicians lives easier.

Unknown to most, they can leap tall buildings in a single bound.  I won’t mention the running start and favourable winds J


"Sinatra at the Sands" by Dave

 My all time favourite big band album has to be "Sinatra at the Sands", from way back in 1966. Recorded in front of a live audience at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, he was backed by the Basie Band, conducted and arranged by Quincy Jones. 

 For my money, this recording includes THE definitive versions of many Sinatra classics, including:  Come Fly With Me, I've Got you Under My Skin, One for My Baby, You Make Me Feel So Young, Angel Eyes, It Was a Very Good Year and Fly Me to the Moon. Even the fantastic 1974 Madison Square Gardens concert with Woody Herman pales in comparison.

 Frank was in great voice, and the band was studded with many of the legendary players associated with Basie, including Marshall Royal, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Sonny Payne, Sweets Edison and the rock solid Freddie Green. In my opinion, the only downside to this recording is some of Frank's ad lib "asides" and brief monologues, which run the gamut from lame to cringingly dated. So fast forward through those parts.

 Here's a link to the full hour-plus recording. Unfortunately, it's audio only, but it's still great:


 I hope you enjoy it, and if you're not a Sinatra fan, you will be after listening to that!

She’s more than just the disaster queen by Rosemary


She’s more than just the disaster queen




When you think about Maureen McGovern, most people see this singer as the disaster queen, after singing the theme songs from The Poseidon Adventure or The Towering Inferno. But she is much more than that.


 A few years back, I went to a Christmas concert where she shared the bill with the late great Mel Tormé. I couldn’t pass up a chance to hear Mel sing with a big band, but I wasn’t expecting much from Maureen. Boy was I surprised!


 She had a masterful ability to sing with the big band, and her vocal range and pitch were extraordinary. In fact, I enjoyed her numbers almost more than I enjoyed Mel. She’d start a song in the standard soprano range. And then she would go up an octave. And then another one, all the while not showing any discomfort.


 Perhaps the best example of her vocal calisthenics can be found on her Naughty Baby album, where she sings some Gershwin standards but adds her own twist. Check out her take on “By Strauss:”




 This is singing at its finest. Her voice isn’t just an instrument – it’s an orchestra. And that’s definitely not a disaster!