Composer, arranger, trombonist Rob McConnell passed away May 2010 and with him went the big soul of Toronto's jazz community. A McConnell event was just that—a must-attend full-house occasion.
Jazz has always been about supreme musicality and big personality. Only on those rare days will people flock to see a charisma-challenged player. McConnell was stand-up funny, fierce, engaged, demanding of both his band and audience and at all times entertaining. That era is gone in Toronto. It's ‘play by the numbers’ or else these days.
I never got to know Rob that well, often a catch an over-the-shoulder hello. I wasn't part of the previous two decades travelling buddy ensemble, yet we had great conversations and good laughs. Unfortunately, I attended his funeral and was thoroughly disappointed. What should have been a celebratory victory lap got derailed by an overly pious religious ceremony. This wasn't the McConnell we witnessed in real life and on the bandstand. There was no joy in the cathedral.
This conversation took place March 5, 1987 - 23 years before his passing, when there was so much going on in his life. He seemed invincible.
"McConnell has led several smaller ensembles during his career, incorporating the talents of the most revered musicians, including Guido Basso, Rick Wilkins, Ian McDougall, and always, the brilliant guitarist Ed Bickert. He did considerable solo work, too, appearing by invitation at important American festivals, including the prestigious Concord (California) Jazz Festival in 1990. He formed his fiery The Rob McConnell Tentet in 1997, featuring several charter members of The Boss Brass and showcasing the techniques of some of the best young players on the current jazz scene. But it was through his leadership of The Boss Brass that McConnell's place as one of Canada's most highly regarded musical artists was assured for all time." Jazz.FM91