Born in London, Ontario, McConnell took up the valve trombone in high school and began his performing career in the early 50’s performing with saxophonist Don Thompson Edmonton, Bobby Gimby and fellow Canadian Maynard Ferguson. He also studied arranging and composition with Gordon Delamont. In 1968, Rob formed The Boss Brass, a big band that would become his primary performing and recording unit through the 1970’s and 80’s.
A unique musical voice, cutting wit and meticulous leadership on the bandstand were just a few of McConnell’s trademarks.He was consummate professional, a perfectionist and difficult task master- an arranger of the highest order and one hell of a trombone player. For all of us that knew and worked with Rob, he made our lives richer in the process.
McConnell was an extraordinarily talented arranger, a lyrical trombonist and a bandleader with a reputation for perfection and artistic drive that made The Boss Brass the renowned band it became after it’s debut in the late 60’s. A unique musical voice, cutting wit and meticulous leadership on the bandstand were just a few of McConnell’s trademarks.
In 1988, Rob took a teaching position at the Dick Grove School of Music in California , but gave up his position and returned to Canada a year later. In 1997 , McConnell was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and in 1998 was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada.
“A trombonist, bandleader, composer/arranger, songwriter, and the music educator, he wore many hats and all contributed to his great body of work and his unwavering devotion to the music he loved”, stated Neil Portnow, President/CEO of the Recording Academy, which puts on the Grammys.
His sense of storytelling and humour infused his dynamic career, which will be remembered and appreciated for generations to come! “Rob was one of our greatests gifts to music. His stature, talent and importance in Canadian jazz should rank him with Oscar Peterson”, said Ross Porter, President and CEO of Jazz. FM91.
Rob McConnell passed away on May 1, 2010 at the age of 75. Heartfelt condolences go out to the family, friends and all who have loved his music.
“The Best Damn Band In The Land” may have been coined by Rob McConnell himself, for one of the dozens of albums he recorded with his legendary big band, but it wasn’t an undeserved boast. The Boss Brass set a standard and defined the Canadian sound for big band music for decades.
McConnell assembled the original Boss Brass from Toronto studio musicians. The instrumentation of the band was originally 16 pieces, consisting of trumpets, trombones, french horns and a rhythm section, but no saxophones(woodwinds). McConnell introduced a sax section in 1970, and expanded the trumpet section to include a fifth trumpet in 1976, bringing the total to 22 members.
Rob McConnell and The Boss Brass has played to acclaim at all the major festivals around the globe. In its heyday in the 70’s when the Boss Brass played in clubs in Los Angeles, famed musicians and band leaders from the area, like Nelson Riddle, would flock to the shows. “They could even be seen lining up night after night to hear the band”, said Boss Brass Trumpeter, Guido Basso.
Awards and honours for McConnell and the band were numerous, with a phenomenal 17 Grammy nominations and three wins for Best Jazz Big Band, Best Arrangement and Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist. They were also recognized at home with three Juno awards in 1978, 1981 and 1984.
McConnell and The Boss Brass collaborated with many jazz greats over the years including The Singers Unlimited, Mel Torme, and Phil Woods.