Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

November/December 2008: Ross Porter


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Ron Paley offers a lot to the city he loves—he’s a busy jazz pianist, composer, arranger, and teacher, and a mentor to a lot of emerging players.

November is a big month for Ron. On November 16, he’ll team up with bassist Dave Young and drummer Terry Clarke, to pay tribute to the late, great Oscar Peterson. Young and Clark toured and recorded with Peterson, and the trio will be playing Peterson’s original compositions.

I asked Ron if he’d ever met Oscar Peterson, and he said, “Once, for about a minute! I’d been commissioned to arrange Peterson’s “Hymn to Freedom” for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir for the Royal Visit. Peterson and his quartet were playing. I was introduced to him at the dress rehearsal and he said, ‘Is everything alright?’ I thought that was such an intuitive thing to say—I learned a lot from that one-minute meeting!”

Ron is well-known in Winnipeg and beyond as the leader of the Ron Paley Big Band. The band plays a mixture of dance music and jazz, and has been delighting people for a good long time now. I asked him how he’s kept his big band in business for so long. “Well, we’ve been rehearsing every Thursday for 32 years—it keeps us playing! When I was on the road, I got it literally drummed into me by a drummer.” Exactly what got drummed into you, I wondered. His answer? “Big-Band-itis.”

The Ron Paley Big Band plays throughout the summer at the Lyric Theatre in Assiniboine Park, and plays often around the city and beyond. They will hit the stage in the Jazz Under the Rooftop series at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in November.

The last time the band toured was a couple of years ago with Ron’s arrangements of Rodgers and Hart songs for the very successful Royal Winnipeg Ballet production of A Cinderella Story. Ron is anxious to hit the road again soon. He’s hard at work on a big band musical called Bring ’em Back—no doubt that will have a lot of toes tapping.

By all indications, Big-Band-itis is incurable. Ron is hoping that’s the case, and legions of fans are hoping so too!

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