Rob (Robert Murray Gordon) McConnell. Valve trombonist, composer, arranger, bandleader, b London, Ont, 14 Feb 1935, d Toronto, 1 May 2010; honorary D LITT (St Francis Xavier) 1986.
Though raised in Toronto, where he played slide trombone in high school, McConnell began his career in Edmonton in 1954 with the band of saxophonist Don (DT) Thompson. After working for three years with a brokerage firm in Toronto (during which time he began playing the valve trombone), he resumed his career first as a pianist with the drummer Alex Lazaroff's Rhythm Rockets, then (while studying 1958-62 with Gordon Delamont and playing in and writing for Delamont's rehearsal band) as a trombonist with Bobby Gimby. He also formed his own rehearsal band. McConnell worked in 1964 in New York with Maynard Ferguson's big band, then returned later that year to Toronto, becoming one of that city's leading studio players, active also as an arranger and composer. In 1968 McConnell formed the Boss Brass, which became one of Canada's most successful groups.
Throughout his career, McConnell also led small jazz groups with guitarist Ed Bickert as a constant in the rhythm section and Guido Basso, Ian McDougall, and Rick Wilkins variously on the front-line. McConnell appeared as a soloist in similar settings at several US festivals, including the 1990 Concord (California) Jazz Festival. It was through his leadership of the Boss Brass, however, that McConnell emerged in the 1980s as one of the major Canadian jazz musicians on the world stage. His orchestral writing and valve trombone playing were complementary opposites: the former was subtle, controlled, ambitious, and occasionally whimsical, and the latter, brash, vigorous, and often broadly humorous.
In 1997 McConnell reorganized the Boss Brass into a tentet, emphasizing the instrumental talents of some of Toronto's best younger players, like pianist Dave Restivo and saxophonist Mike Murley. The band's first recording, Tentet (Justin Time), won a Juno Award in 2001.
Concurrent with the downturn in studio work in Toronto during the early 1980s, and as a result of the frequency with which stagebands played his arrangements (including the eight compositions on All in Good Time, all published by Jenson), McConnell became increasingly active in the USA, Canada, and Europe as a clinician. He taught 1988-9 at the Dick Grove School of Music in Los Angeles.
The celebrated 16-piece (later 22-piece) Boss Brass recorded extensively for several labels, including the high-profile Concord Jazz. McConnell was also featured as leader on several small-group recordings for Concord. His tentet was also prolific, releasing three recordings 2000-3. In 2002 McConnell also released two big band recordings, Riffs I Have Known (Recall) and Live With the Boss (Black & Blue).
As a trombonist, McConnell appeared on recordings by a number of artists, including Nimmons 'n' Nine Plus Six, singers Mel Tormé and Dave Frishberg, vibraphonist Peter Appleyard, and pianist Oliver Jones.
McConnell was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1998, and was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1997. He won US Grammy awards in 1983 (as an artist), 1992, and 1995 (both as an arranger). He also won several Canadian National Jazz Awards.
Mutual Street. McConnell valve trombone, Bickert guitar. 1982-4. Innovation JC-0009
The Boss of the Boss Brass. Orch, Basso flhn, Wilkins tenor saxophone, Thompson piano, Bickert guitar. (1988). Duke Street DSR-31044
Others with the Boss Brass; also several CBC broadcast recordings
Dave Frishberg Let's Eat Home. 1989. Concord Jazz CCD-4402
Concord 'all stars' Live at the 1990 Concord Jazz Festival: First Set. 1990. Concord Jazz CCD-4451
Bob Florence The Bob Florence Limited Edition Treasure Chest. 1990. US Music Group USCD-680
Others with Basso, Ferguson, Nimmons, and Moe Koffman, and various pop sessions. See Canadian Jazz Discography.