Paley-Ontology

By Sanderson, David | Winnipeg Free Press, July 7, 2015 | Go to article overview

Paley-Ontology


Sanderson, David, Winnipeg Free Press


Winnipeg's venerable jazzman about town is loading musicians into the time machine for a big-band blast from the past

For the last three decades, Ron Paley, leader of the Ron Paley Big Band, has been working on a project titled Bring 'Em Back.

The Broadway-style musical, which Paley hopes to present on the stage one day, revolves around the big-band era -- a period of time when "swing was king," he says.

"Even though the sound of horns is still prominent in today's music -- take a song like Uptown Funk for example, which we love doing live -- big bands have never regained the stature and prominence they had in the 1930s and '40s, when they were the pop music of their day," Paley continues, taking a sip of his coffee. "So basically, the idea behind Bring 'Em Back is, it's time big bands mounted a comeback."

Well, how's this for life imitating art? On Thursday, the Wood Tavern in the Norwood Hotel is bringing back the Ron Paley Big Band.

From 1981 to 1985, Paley's outfit appeared at the "Wood" every weekend, headlining the inn's Saturday Afternoon Jazz series. Since then, Paley has played the Norwood Hotel on numerous occasions -- often as the Ron Paley Trio -- but Thursday night's concert will be the first time in 31 years jazz fans will get the opportunity to see and hear the full orchestra at the cosy, 250-seat venue.

"The Norwood was the first place we ever had a true, standing gig," says Paley, who remains busy throughout the year playing concerts, weddings, corporate affairs and fundraisers. "There is a... number of people in Winnipeg who have been very important in the evolution of the big band and (Norwood Hotel owner) Bob Sparrow is definitely one of them. He gave us the opportunity to play every week and really develop as a unit. It was an amazing experience and depending on how things go (on Thursday), we're hoping it turns into a semi-regular thing again."

-- -- --

Paley, 64, has a grainy, black-and-white video on his smartphone he wants a scribe to see. It's a 30-second clip of him at the age of 10 playing Dance of the Comedians on the accordion for a CBC talent show.

"My dad was a musician and he taught me how to play (the accordion) when I was seven," Paley says, nodding in time to the melody. "I grew up listening to Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey and when I took up the clarinet in high school, I used to play along to my dad's old jazz records." (By then, Paley was also an accomplished bass guitar player and frontman of Ron Paley and the Tempos, a cover band whose repertoire included tunes from the classic-rock canon, such as the Kinks' You Really Got Me.)

After graduating from Sisler High School, Paley studied music at the University of Manitoba. In the early 1970s, he transferred to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, from where he was recruited to join Buddy Rich and his Orchestra and later, the Woody Herman Orchestra.

"I played bass and we travelled all over the States and as far away as Australia," Paley says, choosing the word "unbelievable" to describe the experience of working with Rich, once billed as the world's greatest drummer. …

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