Jill Townsend Big Band



Date 11 August 2006 Venue Vancouver East Cultural Centre

Reviewer Ed Farolan


Big Brass Band indeed! Remembering those big bands of the 40s—Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey—I wasn’t born yet, but in my childhood in the 50s, I remember these bands still playing on the radio with vocalists like Frank Sinatra and Jo Stafford who started their careers with these big bands.So nostalgia comes into the picture with the band but not with the music. Townsend’s band has all-new compositions mostly from the band’s guitarist Bill Coon and Townsend herself, who conducts the band.

Originally from Nova Scotia, Jill came to Vancouver in 1995 and established her band in 2000. It has released its first CD, Tales from the Sea, and recently, the band has been nominated for best “Large Jazz Ensemble” by the National Jazz Awards.

Featured soloists include Juno award winners Brad Turner (Trumpet), Campbell Ryga (Saxophone Alto) and Ross Taggart (Saxophone Tenor) as well as drummer Dave Robbins, bassist Jodi Proznick, and trombonist Dennis Esson .

Last 11 August’s programme presented new works by Townsend and Coon. Coon’s “From a Whisper to a Roar” was a loud piece, and I was wondering whether it was more appropriate to play it for an outdoor event, instead of the enclosed, relatively small venue of VECC.

I enjoyed Townsend’s nice and easy “Eagle’s Dance” followed by “The Canoe Trip” inspired, according to her, as she sat sipping a drink and watching eagles fly above her at Sunshine Coast’s Gambier Island. Brad Turner’s solo in these two pieces was just fantastic.

Taggart’s crazy and humorous “Don’t Call Before 10” was the butt of jokes with some bantering from the audience because he arrived late, and I wasn’t sure whether Townsend was joking (because the piece wasn’t listed in the programme) when she introduced it just about when Taggart took his place in the band.

I happened to bump into Taggart during intermission and I asked him if indeed that was his composition, and he said “yes” and that Townsend wasn’t kidding. He apologized for his lateness saying he took a nap and woke up ten minutes before eight, and rushed like mad to get to the venue. (He was around thirty minutes late.) The show started late, because I guess they were waiting for him.

Another piece I enjoyed was Coon’s “Path to Nowhere,” which has the soft Brazilian beat to it, sort of bossa nova. I was imagining Astrud and Joao Gilberto perfect for vocals for this bit. Coon did the guitar solo for this opus.
The only non-original composition performed by this band was Van Heusen’s ever-popular “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” beautifully arranged by Townsend. This brought smiles to an audience composed mostly of baby boomers.
Coon’s “Anamnesis,” which Townsend introduced as meaning “Remembrance,” was another nice, cool work of art.

It was almost 10 pm, and the band had only played half of the selections listed in the programme, but it ended with Blues music where others in the band who hadn’t done solos had each his two or three minutes on the spotlight.

From a gender point of view, this was an all-male band (with the exception of Proznick) but under the direction of a woman. A truly unique situation, as bands are traditionally led by men, but this is the 21st century, and it’s talent, not gender, that counts. I must say I was impressed by the uniqueness and originality of this band, and proud to say that here in Vancouver, we do have this world-class jazz band directed by Jill Townsend.

© 2006 Ed Farolan