A Year with The JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band!


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.

Jules Randu

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 DownesGordon 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.


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Summer 2016 Update!

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!

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Busy 2014-15

JAZZ.FM91_YouthBigBand_2014-5_PhotoI am just getting my feet back underneath me from a really busy year!  I completed the first year of the Master’s program at the University of Toronto while directing the 7 o’clock Jazz Ensemble.  I managed to continue my regular schedule with the Toronto District School Board as well as my role as Musical Director of the 2014/15 JAZZ.FM91 Youth BIg Band (pictured above).

Big thanks to my wife Pamela for keeping things on the home front going so smoothly and to my boys Jacob,Samuel and Benjamin for putting up with my schedule this year!  Pam picked up all the slack this year and is such a great mom!

This last week proved to be an exciting- yet typical week.  On Tuesday April 28th, 2015 I did my year first year Master’s recital.  The program included half original music and half standards with string and rhythm section accompaniment.  I was lucky to have Amanda Lee, Daniela Gasi, Pamela Bettger and Ann O’Kane in the string section and along with Kevin Coady, Josh Smiley and Victor Vrankulj.


Two days later the JAZZ.FM91 Youth BIg Band was on stage at Keorner Hall for the annual JAZZ LIVES 2015 concert.  The band shared the stage with Benny Golson, Pat Metheny and Kat Edmondson and some of Toronto’s finest musicians: Mike Downes, Larnell Lewis, Robi Botos and Lou Pomanti.  


Benny Golson’s set was truly remarkable. It was a jazz history lesson!  He performed Whisper Not, Killer Joe and Stablemates and had plenty of incredible stories about his life and experiences. Probably one of the last opportunities to hear tales told from the original perspective.

Other highlights of the year include two performances at Lula Lounge that I produced which included U of T Big Band Night and Drew Jurecka with the Etobicoke School of the Arts Strings and the JAZZ.FM91 Youth BIg Band.

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A couple of weeks later the show at Lula with Drew Jurecka was a real treat!   I did a number of arrangements for this concert including big band and the ESA string orchestra.  It was certainly one of the musical highlights of my time with the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band program.  

The U of T Big Band night was a huge success with an excellent crowd out to see all three groups in action.  It was a great opportunity for all the students to hear each other play!  The University of Toronto  Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Gordon Foote played a  particularly  impressive performance that night and continues to give everyone a real measuring stick for excellence.

UofT Jazz-Mar 8-Lula v2In November the JAZZ.FM91 Youth BIg Band performed with PJ Perry for a Sound of Jazz Concert.  I was really excited about having the opportunity to work with PJ as he has been a real mentor to me for years.  You can tell the kind of musical intensity that PJ brings to his playing from the photo below.


In closing I would like to mention what a great year I had working with euphonium virtuoso Robert Miller.  Not only is he a wonderful player but one of the best private teachers that I have ever had!  Thanks for all your words of wisdom! I am already looking forward to working with him again next year!

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