The Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra presented With A Little Help From My Friends, The Beatles Songbook to a sold out audience this past Sunday afternoon, April 23rd, 2023. Artistic director for this Beatles program and lead alto saxophonist, Neil Watson, took the microphone in between songs to not only introduce each piece and soloists but added a lot of interesting Beatles facts and anecdotes.
Some of the arrangements for this show already existed; like All My Loving, (arranged by Chico O’Farrill, originally for the Count Basie Orchestra), A Hard Day’s Night (also arr. Chico O’Farrill) and Norwegian Wood (arr. By Bill Holeman for The Buddy Rich Big Band). The remaining pieces in the program were commissioned arrangements by musicians of the WJO and Winnipeg community. To name just a few of these great arrangements, we heard a Lee Morgan 1960’s shuffle version of Can’t Buy Me Love by Niall Cade, a Disco re-imagining of Elenor Rigby by Fred Stride, and a beautiful, meditative interpretation of Across the Universe by Greg Crowe. Vocalist and guitarist Jaime Buckboro was the perfect match to sing these arrangements. With his seemingly effortless range, his voice was heard soaring high above the lush and full big band harmonies. The concert ended with a standing ovation and Hey Jude was played as an encore which got the audience singing and clapping along.
After the concert, Neil Watson had a few more thoughts on how he felt the concert went:
“Before immersing myself in preparing for my show I was a very casual Beatles fan. I was familiar with their big hits but that's about it. As I dove into their history and the deep cuts from their records I found myself fascinated with the meteoric rise of the band, and all the trappings, and the inevitable strain on the band members, that came with that sort of fame. I also discovered how much great music they wrote...way too much to cover in one concert. I wanted to tell their story through the music and I think we achieved that.
I was also really impressed with the arrangements we came up with: all the arrangers stayed true to the spirit of the music but came up with a unique WJO take on the songs we chose.
Finally, I had never met our singer Jamie Buckboro before rehearsals for this show (although some in the band knew him well) and what a voice! Jamie was a blast to work with, and sounded amazing singing the Beatles' music. I'm so glad he was available, and willing to tackle our new arrangements.”
If you missed the live show WJO plays the Beatles songbook, it was recorded and will be available to stream between May 5-26th, 2023. Find tickets here.
All photo credits go to Keith Levit Photography.
The Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra would like to send a big thank-you to the Music Performance Trust Fund for their support in helping us to provide four free school concerts to over 850 students yesterday, April 17th, 2023. We performed for music students, prospective music students and some from the general student population representing five different schools in the Winnipeg area. The pieces chosen presented an overview of the history of jazz from its beginnings over 100 years ago to the present day. We also performed some music that the student jazz bands are currently working on. All in all, it was a fun day spent performing and sharing music with young music lovers.
The Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra plays the Beatles Songbook this SUNDAY, April 23, 2023, at 2:00 pm Winnipeg Art Gallery is SOLD OUT! Thank-you to everyone who bought tickets to come to the concert. We will also have an online streaming version available for purchase if you missed out on tickets. We are very excited to present this music, here are some behind the scenes videos and interviews from some of the arrangers involved in this project.
Check out this video from arranger Greg Crowe:
Here is an interview with Neil Watson, Alto saxophonist and curator for this program:
Why did you choose the Beatles music to put into big band form?
Paul McCartney and John Lennon were a magnificent song-writing duo. Their harmonies were sophisticated, inventive, and perfect for big band interpretation. WJO is certainly not the first to do this. Count Basie recorded not one but TWO albums of Beatles material (one of which - Chico O'Farill's arrangement of All My Loving - we'll perform) and Buddy Rich recorded Norwegian Wood (WJO will also perform that arrangement).
Do you have a favourite Beatles tune and what significance does it have for you?
A favourite Beatles song changes depending on my mood. I do have favourite recordings. I like Rubber Soul and Revolver because I think they had really found their voices. The song-writing is adventurous and draws on many influences but doesn't sound over-produced (I'm going to offend some of you here *sorry*) like their later records.
Is there a moment, a piece, a musician’s solo, in this concert that you are looking forward to?
Niall Cade, Richard Gillis, Greg Crowe and Brady Gill are all arranging their favourite songs for this show. I'm very excited to hear those. Also it's so interesting to see what songs they've chosen: Greg has chosen The White Album as his inspiration for example, and Brady gravitated to Abbey Road. Everyone has a different "favourite" and really shows me that the WJO may have to explore a Beatles Songbook: Volume 2 sometime in the future.
How long have you been working with the WJO and what advantages has it brought you?
I've been working with the WJO for 15 years now? Yikes. The best thing about working with this group is getting the opportunity to play with 15 other fabulous musicians so often. That, and having an opportunity to hear arrangements I've done and concert ideas I've had come to life is a marvelous gift.
Are there any other things you feel would help people to know about this concert or the WJO?
We're going to tell the tale of The Beatles: their ups and downs, their incomprehensible rise and their (perhaps inevitable) breakup. It's a fascinating story and they have so many great songs we can use as a backdrop. Will your favourite be on the set-list? Let us know!
Here is a short interview with saxophonist and arranger Niall Cade:
Here is an interview from arranger Brady Gill:
Is arranging the Beatles music for a big band any different than the jazz arranging you might be more familiar with?
Arranging a Beatles song for big band was a little different than writing standard jazz arrangements, in that I wanted to stay true to the song that people would be familiar with, so I kept the form from the original intact and used a lot of Paul McCartney’s bass lines.
Which song(s) did you arrange for this concert and why did you choose these particular songs?
I arranged the medley from Abbey Road. Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight, The End. I think the song is a really good opportunity to exploit the dynamic range of a big band. The medley begins reserved and subtle and moves into distorted guitar solo (in this case, Alto Saxophone) and then back again. There is a great recording called Music for Montserrat, a benefit concert at Royal Albert Hall in 1997, with Paul McCartney live with symphony orchestra, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler.
Were you a Beatles fan before you started arranging music for this concert?
I have always appreciated the Beatles and after digging into this project I would consider myself a fan.
How long have you been involved with the WJO?
I’ve had groups perform in the pre-show and have known Richard Gillis for quite a while but this is the first time an arrangement of mine will be performed by the WJO.
Here is a review of our latest album Voices: A Musical Heritage 2022. Read on to hear what Jack Bowers from All About Jazz has to say about this latest release.
February 8th , 2023
No matter where in the world one looks, there is musical history worth exploring and celebrating—which is what the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra sets out to affirm on its sixth album, Voices: A Musical Heritage. Winnipeg is the capital of Canada's Manitoba
Province, and Voices pays tribute to the area's rich and expansive musical fabric via a series of eight compositions designed to exemplify some of Manitoba's far-flung heritage: First Nations, Metis, Ukrainian, Jewish, Chilean, Brazilian, Nigerian and
As with any album based on enduring themes, it is best to separate purpose from result and appraise the music on it own merits. In that respect, the WJO performs brilliantly, with no nuance or accent overlooked or undervalued. In other words, the ensemble is fully invested in the enterprise from the outset and plays with awareness and passion. Unison passages—even the most demanding—are easily mastered, while soloists are ready and able to add contrast and color when needed. Soloists' names are not given, which is the album's lone miscue.
As for the music, it spans the gamut from singular to swing, always with an impressive discernment of its own. The session opens on a Ukrainian motif with "Keeyn," the first movement of John Stetch's three-part Parallel Steppes suite, based on the Ukrainian folk song "Chorni Ochka Yak Teren," whose contrapuntal and chorale-like formats lead to the enchanting "Ochka," based on a second folk theme, and the dynamic up-tempo "Yaseni" (or Yaseny), whose sax soli, virtuosic piano discourses and hopak and kolomiyka rhythms bring the suite to a close.
Rodrigo Munoz' "Homenaje" which uses delightful Latin rhythms including the Chilean cueca to make its point, was written as an homage to the important Latin American musician and activist Victor Jara, Jeff Presslaff's "The Living Mind" as a paean to the pentatonic scale, developed in ancient civilizations and still used in various musical settings to this day. Henry Onwuchekwa composed and Richard Gillis arranged the colorful and light-hearted "Oriri," which means "party" in Onwuchekwa's hometown
in Nigeria, a marked contrast to the austere landscape painted in Gillis' Icelandic "Shadows," which follows. The orchestra nails each one, as it does Marco Castillo's luminous salute to the Amazon rain forest, "Choro para Amazonia"; Andrew Balfour's tantalizing bow to the Ojibway culture, "Ishpiming"; and Michelle Gregoire's ardent "Bison Hunt," the album's closest
brush with mainstream contemporary jazz. But jazz isn't the essential point here; reverence is. The WJO is honoring Manitoba's vast musical narrative and doing so as tastefully and proficiently as it can. Mission accomplished. And if you'd like to sample
another superb album in the same vein, check out the Saskatchewan All-Star Big Band's Saskatchewan Suite (Chronograph Records 094).
Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra
The Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra (WJO) is Canada’s first community-based, non-profit professional jazz orchestra. Founded in 1997 (registered charity in 2000), the WJO has matured to become an important part of Winnipeg’s cultural landscape, reflected in the ongoing support the organization receives from the Manitoba Arts Council, the Winnipeg Arts Council, the Winnipeg Foundation, and other sponsors. The mandate of the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra is to be an instrumental force in the promotion and development of big band jazz in Manitoba and beyond, through performance, composition, recording and education.