I am really looking forward to having Ron Westray as a special guest with the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band on Monday March 5th, 2018 as part of the JAZZ.FM91 Sound of Jazz Concert Series.
Tickets available here:
Ron Westray was born in Columbia, SC, in 1970. From 1994 to 2005 he was a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (New York), directed by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. As lead trombonist and arranger, he participated in most of the concerts, tours and recordings of this band during twelve years. A long-time collaborator of pianist Marcus Roberts, he also played, toured and recorded with many other musicians such as Wycliffe Gordon, Benny Carter, Roy Haynes, Randy Brecker, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, or the Mingus Big Band, to name but a few. As leader or co-leader, he has released several critically acclaimed albums, e.g., Bone Structure (with Wycliffe Gordon, 1996), Medical Cures for the Chromatic Commands of the Inner City (2008),Live from Austin (with Thomas Heflin, 2011), Jimi Jazz (2014), or Magisteria (2015). From 2005 to 2009, he was an Assistant Professor of the Jazz Studies Department at the University of Texas at Austin. Since 2009, he occupies the Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance at York University in Toronto (Canada), where he is an Associate Professor in the Music Department of the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design.
First of all let me say that the kids JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band are extraordinary to work with! They are focused, hard working and generally come to rehearsal each week ready to learn and make progress through some very difficult repertoire!
They have just enough ego that they can stand up and express themselves and execute (as musicians need to do) but not so much ego that it impeded their relationships with other band members . I try to express to them early in the year that they are now part of a group where they are amongst the finest young players in the country and can leave any ego at the door!
Another important quality in these sorts of kids is that you don’t need to constantly repeat an instruction to them. They will mark it with a pencil or simply put it in the memory band! If a musical phrase is not being played correctly I can usually correct it by singing, playing or drilling the phrase a couple of times and then that particular problem will likely not appear again for some time.
This year our first concert was with world renowned trumpet player Randy Brecker. I found some interesting charts for the group from a colleague of mine Paul Ashwell. This music was the most complex music that I have had the group play from the start of the year! We ran sectionals every week and met with some great clinicians to help us prepare: Pat Labarbera, Brian O’Kane, Ted Quinlan, Mike Downes, Gordon Foote and Earl MacDonald.
The YBB kids are very conscience about knowing their parts and being prepared for rehearsal. I had many stories from parents about kids coming home this year and practicing for another couple of hours (after rehearsal) because they were not happy with their work at rehearsal.
The latest news from JAZZ.FM91 is that we have started a Seminar Big Band for the students that did not make the Youth Big Band this year. This is proving to be a very successful program as the kids are sounding better and better every time that we meet and are likely going back to their school programs as better players with more information to help their school programs sound even better.
It certainly has been an interesting couple of years going back to do my Master’s Degree at the University of Toronto as a mature student with seventeen years of teaching experience. I am truly grateful for the opportunity provided to me by the Faculty of Music and completely amazed to have been able to complete it without any interruption to my regular work schedule.
Of course none of this would have been possible without my wife Pam picking up all the extra family duties and my mom for helping with some extra meals and driving the kids to their various events.
I would like to thank a few people from the University of Toronto for making it a success for me! I did spend quite a bit of time working, reflecting and researching on jazz ensemble rehearsal techniques and general music pedagogy. Gordon Foote and Cam Walter were excellent mentors and created lots of interesting projects and assignments that were very beneficial for me.
I spent two years studying with Robert Miller who is a virtuoso euphonium player and teacher! He managed to find some great studies that really helped to build my confidence and skill level on the trombone. Kelly Jefferson helped me work on the original tunes and arrangements for my final recital which I was pleased with!