Arrangers and Composers

ABOVE: 1958, Gordon at Jericho Beach prior to the 1958 band trip and playing in the Kits band in England in 1936

Gordon Delamont

Other than trumpet lessons from his father and casual help from Gordon Edwards (a composer he admired), Gordon had had virtually no formal training in the matter of writing music. He had, however, always been interested in the principle behind the fact. He found himself becoming more and more interested as to the ‘why’ of this fact and all of the other facts that he had encountered, in arranging for Richards, for Bogart and for his own orchestra. So, believing that the best way to learn any subject was to write a book about it, he decided to do exactly that.

At that time, books which purported to teach anything in twenty lessons were very popular so he decided to adopt that format and write a book called ‘Learn Modern Arranging in Twenty Lessons.’ Around this time he had encountered pamphlets by Dr. Maury Deutsch of New York which used the harmonic overtone series as a point of reference. While he didn’t know very much about the harmonic overtone series, he had begun to suspect that it was a major factor in music generally. So he made plans to go to New York. He studied – two lessons a day for two weeks with Dr. Deutsch. When he returned to Toronto he wrote the book.

Soon he was disenchanted with the ‘Twenty Lessons’ format of the book. There wasn’t nearly enough information. He did not want it to appear as a formal book. Instead he approached Art Dedrick, the president of Kendor with a proposition. He suggested that he would write a totally new book on arranging and, when it was completed, he could publish it if he liked it. Dedrick accepted his offer. Gordon wrote the book – which was probably ten times the size of his ‘Twenty Lessons’ opus, over the next two years, while continuing to make a living teaching and playing trumpet professionally. It was a productive period of his life but ultimately took its toll on his health, which was never robust anyway. Fortunately, Mr. Dedrick liked the book and published it. He said that he hoped the book would still be selling ten years from then.

After the success of his arranging book, it was not too difficult to have Kendor publish further texts that he would write over the years. These included two large books on harmony, a book on melody, one on modern counterpoint and one on the twelve-tone technique. Gordon based his own teaching process on these books. They are used in the curriculum, or at least as required reading, in the music faculties of a large number of universities and music colleges throughout Canada and the United States and some other countries where North American styles of music are taught.

The fifties was an exciting time for those who were interested in the development and writing of jazz music. The decade saw the development of jazz composition which was labeled ‘third stream’ music by the American composer Gunther Schuller. It was music which was an amalgam of jazz and ‘classical’ elements, and took divergent avenues. Spearheading jazz composition in Toronto were two men who Gordon was fortunate enough to have as his students, Ron Collier and Norm Symonds. Both of them organized groups to provide vehicles for their music and with which they could experiment.

In the last years of the fifties, Gordon found himself becoming more interested in jazz composing, rather than just dispensing, as a teacher, approval and criticism. Taking a cue from Collier and Symonds, he organized a group of musicians to use as a vehicle to write for. He had excellent success playing concerts, making television appearances, etc. He wrote a large body of music during this time, much of it published, some of it recorded.

In 1967, Gordon was commissioned by the Ontario Government to write a twenty minute work for twenty musicians for use in the Ontario pavilion at Expo 67. The piece, which became his favorite, was called ‘Ontario Suite.’ Kendor subsequently published the ‘Ontario Suite’ in a slightly different format than it was originally written. The published form received its premiere at Kleinham’s Music Hall in Buffalo, New York, on a program with the tuba virtuoso Harvey Philips, and the man who Gordon believed to be the greatest technical master of the trumpet the world had ever seen, Carl (‘Doc’) Severinson. Excerpts on Gordon Delamont from The Life & Times of the Legendary Mr.D.

1998-Ron-Collier-Kits-Reuni

ABOVE: 1998, Ron Collier conducting a Kits alumni jazz band at a reunion

Ron Collier

When Ron Collier was in the Kits band from 1943 through 1950 he was known as Ron Colograsso. Ron had headed to Toronto after the 1950 Kits band tour, where he eventually studied with Gordon Delamont. Ron was now a composer/arranger. He wrote for almost every combination of instruments imaginable: solo flute with piano, strings, woodwind groups, brass groups, full orchestra, concert band, big band, studio orchestras. Ron studied first with Gordon Delamont in Toronto from 1951 to 1954. He was the first Canadian musician to get a Canada Council Grant which he used to further his studies in New York City with George Russell from 1961 to 1962. Throughout the 1950’s he played trombone with several Toronto dance bands including Mart Kenny and his Western Gentlemen. He played free lance with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the National Ballet and COC Orchestras, as well as with CBC Radio and various TV groups.

During the fifties and sixties, he and his group were highly visible, presenting concerts with symphony orchestras in various parts of the country. His activities led to opportunities for him to write dramatic backgrounds for television and movies. For Collier, jazz composition led him into more commercial fields. He had a ten piece ensemble in the early 1960s and on occasion, (like at Expo 67), he had his own big band. Ron led the Expo 67 big band and those of us Kits boys who were lucky enough to be in the Kits band at the time will remember the thrill of arriving in Montreal only to discover one of our own was leading the hottest band at the Fair. I was on that trip and I remember the excitement. I didn’t know much about it at the time but a lot of the band was comprised of members of the Boss Brass including Arnie Chycoski who if you haven’t already can read about in my blog titled Brass Hero.

The Duke Ellington Connection (1967)

At Mr. Lou Applebaum’s suggestion the Canadian Association of Publishers, Authors and Composers (CAPAC) decided to approach Duke Ellington to ask him to come to Toronto and record, as a soloist, some music written by Norm Symonds, Ron Collier and Gordon Delamont. He readily agreed to this. They decided to use a medium size jazz orchestra under the direction of Ron Collier. Both Ron and Norm added a large string section to the orchestra. On the day of the rehearsal and recording, they felt it might be a good idea to talk to Duke ahead of time, so that they could give him an idea of what was going to be required of him. So Symonds, Collier and Delamont arranged to visit Ellington in his downtown hotel room on the morning of the day they were to make the recording. After years of adulation they were somewhat excited by the prospect of meeting the legend himself. They knocked on the door and, with the exception of a nylon stocking on his head, he was as naked as a jay-bird. His first words were: “Come into the valley of the giants.” For the rest of the morning, despite appearances by waiters, press people and others, he remained in the unadorned condition that he was in when he had initially opened the door. He ordered breakfast sent in which, as I recall, consisted mainly of a steak and a pitcher of hot water.

Eventually, it became time to go to the recording studio, although they had not found an opportunity to discuss the music with him. The striking clothing was, of course, the original genesis of the ‘Duke.’ He donned some casual but striking clothing. The rehearsal and recording session itself they will never forget.

Three or four months later, Gordon was awakened quite early on a Sunday morning by the telephone. He picked up the receiver and a voice said This is Duke.” Still half asleep, he tried to think of someone he knew called ‘Duke’ and asked “Duke who?” The answer was a simple “Ellington, man.” After exchanging greetings he said, “Get some paper and a pencil and write down these titles.” He proceeded to rattle off about a dozen song titles and then said, “I want you to do an arrangement of each of these for my band. We are doing an album for Reader’s Digest and the rehearsal will be a week from Tuesday at a New York address.”

Gordon didn’t accept the assignment but suggested Ron might be interested. He was left with the sharply etched memory of being awakened by a phone call from Duke Ellington with a request to write music for him.

Ron had fretted about the assignment to write some arrangements for Duke Ellington He worried about trying to duplicate the Ellington sound. Finally, he wisely decided to write the music as he himself heard it and discovered, at the rehearsal in New York, that it came out in an Ellington style anyway. The Ellington sound was due to the way the men played the music, and not just from the music itself.
A year later in Detroit Ron conducted an orchestra with Ellington as guest soloist in a performance of ‘Aurora Borealis.’ Ron composed two charts for the record and recalls that trombonist Lawrence Brown, one of his inspirations on that instrument, looked at the part and announced, “I’m not ganna play that! I don’t have the chops!” The solo got reassigned to alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges, and the record got made.
Ellington again called on Ron when he was putting together a concert at a Benedictine Monastery in Oregon. Ron arranged the music and conducted the orchestra himself. Later, Ron did the orchestrations for Ellington’s ballet suite ‘The River.’ Ron was occasionally frustrated by Duke’s working methods. Ellington would give him single melody lines with chords. When he asked what he wanted. Duke said, “You know what to do!” If you listen to the Detroit Symphony’s recording of River Suite on Chandos CD 9154 you could see Duke was right! Ron became almost Duke’s alter ego, taking over the duties that Billy Strayhorn had performed for Ellington over many years.
In 1972, Ron accepted the composer in residence position at Humber College which led to a permanent position. on wrote prolifically for big band while at Humber College. Part of this was necessity. Material had to be written to fit the smaller ensembles at the beginning of a program. He also wrote as a creative outlet and produced such works as ‘The Humber Suite’ and ‘Four Kisses.’ Ron’s connections with Duke led to Ellington’s visit to the college in 1973. It was quite an auspicious first guest for their music program. After Ellington’s death in 1974, the college named the scholarship award for ‘best arranger’ in Duke’s honor. Duke died about a week later. Excerpts on Ron Collier from The Life & Times of the Legendary Mr. D.

 ABOVE: Bob, left and Bob playing sax at a Kits band reunion with Ron Collier

Bob Buckley

Bob Buckley was on the 1962 Kits Band trip. In the mid ‘60s after the Kits Band trip and a few TV shows, Bob organized a rock band he called ‘Spring.’  The 1970s were his ‘jingle’ period. And in the 1980s he wrote film scores. Today he divides his time between writing band music represented by Hal Leonard Publishing and creating live stage shows combining music, dance, circus-arts, magic and story telling with his wife choreographer and show designer Marlise McCormick. “I remember in 1971 John Lennon had the number one record, with ‘Imagine.’ We had the number two record, with ‘A Country Boy Named Willy’ and Paul McCartney had the number three record, with ‘Maybe I’m Amazed.’ We were sandwiched between the Beatles, who were my heroes at the time. It was pretty nice!

We opened and played with The Who, The Doors, Led Zepplin (on their very first tour before they became famous) and Janis Joplin. So we played with a lot of big names, as an opening act. I put together another band later which eventually became known as ‘Straightlines.’ Between Spring and Straightline, I was writing hundreds and hundreds of radio and television commercials. The Root Bear commercial was one of them. The inspiration for that was actually the Pink Panther Theme. We couldn’t use the saxophone, so we used a tuba. There was lots of stuff for MacDonald’s, Coke, Pepsi and lots of jingles for airlines.
Then in 1986 I decided I needed a change and submitted a score for the first totally computer-generated animated TV series of all time. I was the only one who submitted an orchestral, Star Wars, John Williams type, big robust score. It was a show called ‘ReBoot.’ I must have done around fifty of those shows. It became the number one animated cartoon show on television, all over the world. That would be 1994. I’ve done projects for Disney and MGM. I really am excited though, about writing for the movies. There I have the opportunity to write some pretty innovative music because it is attached to visuals. Excerpts from The Life & Times of the Legendary Mr. D.

ABOVE: Marek, left and Marek playing clarinet in the Kits Band c1970.

Marek Norman

“We had all heard many stories about Gordon Delamont – the brilliant, highly-respected musician/arranger who, throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, carved out a wonderful career in Toronto. Gord was instrumental in guiding many of this country’s finest composers and arrangers: Ron Collier, Rob McConnell, Don Thompson, Moe Koffman, Hagood Hardy, Paul Hoffert, Brian Barlow and Ed Henderson.”

In 1977, at the age of 25, having spent a number of years experimenting with composition (choral/orchestral works, musical theatre and pop song writing), Marek had reached a plateau of creativity… repeating himself, falling prey to formulaic structuring – basically, stagnating. Determined to remedy this trend, he decided to venture further afield, leaving his beloved Vancouver for Toronto. It was only days after his arrival in Ontario that a particular opportunity presented itself – (one which would help steer his career course from that point hence): to be accepted as a private student of Gordon Delamont. It was not an easy exercise. Hopeful applicants were first required to ‘pass muster’ by presenting themselves, (along with a good many examples of their work), at the quiet, suburban home/studio, of Canada’s leading authority on advanced harmonic technique and arranging. Excerpt from The Life & Times of the Legendary Mr. D.