Robert Murray Gordon McConnell was born on February 14, 1935 in London, Ontario, Canada. He took up the valve trombone in high school and began his performing career in the early 1950s, performing and studying with Don Thompson, Bobby Gimby, Maynard Ferguson and music theory with Gordon Delamont. In 1968 he formed The Boss Brass, a big band that became his primary performing and recording unit through the Seventies and Eighties.
In 1988, McConnell took a teaching position at the Dick Grove School of Music in California, but gave up his position and returned to Canada a year later. In 1997, he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and in 1998 was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.
Rob remained active throughout the 2000s, touring internationally as both a performer and educator. The Rob McConnell Tentet, a scaled-down version of the Boss Brass featuring many Boss Brass alumni, has been quite successful; it has recorded three major albums, The Rob McConnell Tentet, Thank You, Ted and Music of the Twenties.
Rob McConnell & The Boss Brass became one of Canada’s most popular jazz ensembles, performing live and recording for Concord Jazz label and a variety of others. The valve trombonist, composer, arranger, bandleader, educator and recording artist died on May 1, 2010 in Toronto, Ontario, aged 75, from cancer. He left a catalogue of 33 albums recording with Maynard Ferguson and Mel Torme among others.
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Steve Wiest was born John Stephen Wiest on January 26, 1957 in Cleveland, Ohio. Taking up the trombone in his youth he attended Blair High School and played in the band. He went on to matriculate through University of Southern Mississippi and then through University of North Texas.
From 1981 to 1985, Steve was a featured trombonist and arranger with the Maynard Ferguson Band, he has been a professor for twenty-six of the thirty-four years that he has been a professional trombonist, composer, and arranger. From 2006 to 2014, he was Associate Professor of Music in Jazz Studies at the University of North Texas College of Music and during that time he was also the director of the One O’Clock Lab Band.
A three-time Grammy nominee individually, for composing and collaboratively for ensemble, Steve Wiest has in excess of two dozen albums to his name and 58 arrangements and compositions to his credit, which include 10 original compositions from his current project, The Dover Stone: Concerto for Folded Space.
His resume of performances or recordings reads like a who’s who list with Weather Report, Sarah ‘Vaughan, Bill Cosby, Buddy Rich, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy tner, Al Foster, Eddie Gomez, Slide Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Corea and the Gil Evans Orchestra on it, just to name a few.
Trombonist and educator Steve Wiest is currently in his first year as Associate Professor of Jazz Studies and Commercial Music at the University of Denver Lamont School of Music, and is the Coordinator of the 21st Century Music Initiative at the school. He continues to perform, compose and arrange jazz and big band.
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Joseph Raymond Conniff was born on November 6, 1916 in Attleboro, Massachusetts, learned to play trombone from his father and learned music arranging from a course book.
Post World War II he joined the Artie Shaw big band writing many of his arrangements. Hired by Mitch Miller, head of A&R at Columbia Records, Ray became the house arranger. During this period he worked with Rosemary Clooney, Johnny Mathis, Frankie Laine, Marty Robbins and Johnny Ray among others. In 1955 Ray wrote a top 10 arrangement for Don Cherry’s “Band of Gold” that sold more than a million copies.
From 1957 to 1969 Conniff arranged and recorded as a leader and sideman for Columbia and their subsidiary label Epic, became a bandleader and had 28 albums in the American Top 40, created the Ray Conniff Singers, toured Europe, was the first American popular artist to record in Russia and stepping out of his element he produced a couple of light jazz albums sans vocals.
Conniff’s most famous album was his 1966 release of “Somewhere My Love” written to the tune Lara’s Theme from the 1965 film Dr. Zhivago. It featured the 12 female and 13 male Ray Conniff Singers. The album went platinum, hit the top of the American and European charts and grabbed a Grammy Award.
The next three decades were equally lucrative for Ray recording mainly out of Los Angeles and finding fame touring Latin and South America. He recorded an average of two instrumental and one vocal album a year and sold over 70 million albums worldwide. He continued to record and perform until his death on October 12, 2002 in Escondido, California.
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Jimmy Harrison was born on October 17, 1900 in Louisville, Kentucky and began on trombone at age 15, playing locally in the Toledo, Ohio area. He also played semi-pro baseball but chose music over a career in sports when he joined a traveling minstrel show in the late 1910s.
By 1919 Harrison was leading his own jazz ensemble in Atlantic City, New Jersey and played in the bands of Charlie Johnson and Sam Wooding. Moving to Detroit he played with Hank Duncan and Roland Smith. After returning to Toledo, he played gigs with June Clark and James P. Johnson. He followed this period with a stint in New York City with Fess Williams.
Giving leadership of his ensemble to June Clark in 1924, Jimmy continued to play with the group, worked with Duke Ellington during this period and in 1925 was working with Billy Fowler then with Elmer Snowden, Fletcher Henderson and Benny Carter’s Chocolate Dandies. While on tour with Henderson he took ill with a stomach ailment and though he continued to play for several months with Chick Webb. Trombonist Jimmy Harrison passed away on July 23, 1931 in New York City at the age of 30.
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Ray Anderson was born on October 16, 1952 in Chicago, Illinois. An independent jazz trombonist and trumpeter he began training with the Chicago Symphony trombonists then spent time studying in California. By 1973 he was in New York freelancing and four years later joined Anthony Braxton’s group, then with Barry Altschul.
By the late ‘70s his influence was growing, he was leading his own groups, working with George Gruntz’s Concert Jazz Band and over the next twenty years began taking an occasional good-humored vocal singing two notes at the same time.
Anderson also plays the sousaphone, is a master at multiphonics and a supportive sideman has recorded and performed with David Murray, Charlie Haden, Dr. John, Bennie Wallace, Henry Threadgill, John Scofield and Sam Rivers among others. He also received a grant from the National Endowment For The Arts for a series of solo trombone concerts.
While pushing his sound into the future, Anderson has frequently returned to his early love of New Orleans music for inspiration as he continues to perform, record and tour. Since 2003 he has taught and conducted at Stony Brook University.