According to Music Africa Awake Reporter:
We want to share with you an interview about by social media The Ottawa Citizen, the outstanding flutist Bill McBirnie during a presentation at GigSpace a month ago.
We followed McBirnie interesting race, which presents a Smooth Latin Jazz, but it’s always good to know more scrutinizing our musicians.
Of course with the premise of Sir James Galway on McBirnie “This just blew me away. Great, great playing ” and Jazz Caribe in our program and on our websites is very often.
(1) Tell me about your development as a flutist — your initial interest in the instrument, your studies, and some of your professional milestones.
BMcB: I started out on the piano but I really didn’t take to it, and I actually grew to dislike it. So I gave it up after a couple of years, but not long thereafter asked my parents if I could have a “flute” (when what I had really wanted was a recorder, simply to whistle around on a bit).
But I didn’t say anything about it as I realized, I had better start trying to play it — or my father would get angry with me, for sure! Anyway, once I started to play it, I was completely captivated, and my parents couldn’t stop me from practicing. The flute was a real life-changer for me, and I know now how very fortunate I was to have found something that enabled me to become focused and highly motivated, so early in my life…and it has never left me!
I also tried to play the clarinet for a couple of years in high school, because I had visions of perhaps becoming a studio musician one day. I was coming along well enough on clarinet, I suppose, but I did not like either. In fact, I grew to dislike everything about it — the mouthpiece, the reed, the ringed keys, the weight of it in my hands, everything! So I decided to give it up and focus on what I was really interested in, and not bother with the distraction of having to spend time on an instrument that I simply did not connect with.
I practiced the flute very diligently, and I was extraordinarily patient, with the littlest things (like getting my scales to be absolutely perfect) so by the time I was in Grade 9, I was quite good and, at that point, I had the good fortune to be taken on by Robert Aitken as a student. Robert agreed to teach me immediately after my little mini-audition at his home in Toronto. After a few months, he sat me down and told me that I really should pursue a career in classical performance, which I ended up not doing. However, I learned an enormous amount from Robert about music in the two years that I studied with him, and we have always kept in touch over the years, even though I ultimately moved in an entirely different musical direction.
My jazz studies started in my early 20s, and they have always been rather ad hoc, involving a lot of solitary confinement and experimentation as I tried to get away from my “classical approach” while, at the same time, maintaining a strong sound and technique on the instrument. However, both my older brother, Jim, and pianist/educator Frank Falco were enormously helpful to me in terms of developing an understanding of melodic/harmonic relationships and the basic theory surrounding how to improvise.
In terms of professional milestones, I guess a few of the most important for me to date have been getting to record with Junior Mance in 1991 (Here ’Tis on Sackville records), playing and recording with Emilie-Claire Barlow over the course of about two and a half years, serving as Sir James Galway’s resident “jazz flute specialist” since 2005 and actually performing with Sir James and Lady Jeanne at Koerner Hall in October of 2014 and, in addition, working a lot with Bernie Senensky over the past 15 years or so in various capacities, including as a member of his Moe Koffman Tribute Band and, in addition, on two of my own recording projects, Paco Paco and Find Your Place.
But I really have to say that every gig, especially in the past couple of years or so, has been really good, regardless of the calibre of the player or the rate of pay, which, in the freelance world, is often astonishingly poor! That has been because the musicians have always been fun to play with, the music is great and/or, the audiences are really appreciative. Especially meaningful are those at retirement residences on the gigs I do with pianist, George Marton.
BMcB: From as far back as I can remember, my mom was there to develop my interest in classical music and my dad was there to develop my interest in jazz. So when I was growing up, I was always hearing both, not to mention all of the incredible pop, rock, folk, R&B and soul music that I grew up with as a child of the ’60s.
However, by my early 20s, I concluded that I really did not want to be “script-bound” as a classical player, that I really wanted to learn how to improvise, and jazz was the place I had to be if I was going to do that. So I took up jazz very seriously with help from my brother, Jim, and with some lessons from Frank Falco, who was, and still is, absolutely amazing. At the same time, I spent a lot of time altering my flute technique to get a more authentic feel and to get away from an essentially classically-oriented approach, which was something that no one could show me how to do, and there are no books on it either, so I was very much on my own. Although I was a pretty accomplished flute player at that point, learning how to improvise and how to modify my technique really felt like I was starting all over again.
But I was determined, and patient with the process, and I kept at it over a very long period of time (and all while I was working a day job).
A day job?
BMcB: I worked as an accountant (CGA) for most of my life, so I was always trying to fit music into my rather packed schedule with included the CGA studies themselves (and those took about five years alone), along with work, practice, family and…”real life!” So my days were very long, but I always tried to practice, every day, even if not for very much.
(3) Who are your musical heroes, on your instrument and/or in jazz, and why?
BMcB: As you might expect, Peter, this is a very difficult question for me to answer. However, a quick response would include: Bach, Coltrane, the Beatles, Miles Davis…and Aretha Franklin! As for the flute, there are very few who necessarily had a big influence because I tend to listen to other instrumentalists and vocalists instead. But I can say, for me, Paul Horn was the most dominant influence on the instrument and, further, that Paul affected my approach, both as a jazz and as a classical player!
The classical flutists who made a big impression on me were Jean-Pierre Rampal and, of course, Sir James Galway. It will likely be a generation or two before we see the likes of a Sir James again!
(4) You are also giving a clinic at Long & McQuade on Saturday afternoon about flute and improvisation. What are some of the ideas that you will share with beginning improvisers and what, if any, information would you pass on that is specific to your instrument in jazz as opposed to brass or woodwind instruments?
BMcB: I will likely stress melody, and examine some soul/R&B types of things at the clinic, because it is interesting to hear the flute in those kinds of situations and, in addition, it is easier to start the process of learning to improvise by reference to those idioms.
I have been working on a clinic format that I would like to deliver at the NFA (National Flute Association) convention in the U.S. at some point. However, I think that, for this occasion in Ottawa, I will be guided by the those attending and the types of questions they ask. In any case, my answers will be relevant to jazz and classical players, and relevant to any instrumentalist.ments?
(5) What should listeners expect to hear from you with pianist Mark Ferguson and bassist John Geggie on Saturday night?
BMcB: I am not sure what to expect myself, Peter! Mark has sent me a few of his tunes, so we’ll undoubtedly do two or three of those. In any case, I like my sidemen to be comfortable, so we will likely do a mix of standards, swing, bebop and Latin. I doubt that we will rehearse. But I am not at all worried about whatever we end up playing because both Mark and John are outstanding musicians, and Ottawa is as lucky to have them as I am be to playing with them at GigSpace!
Mr. McBirnie has a busy schedule the next few days in Toronto: Lula Lounge, Hugh’s Room, The Salty Dog, Pearson Convention Center (Brampton), Church of the Incarnation, Jazz Bistro, are some of the sites that will host the great flutist.
Here is the excitement generated by live performances of Bill McBirnie…gozalo!: