SERVING UP A MUSICAL FEAST
Tasty jazz from the Prime Rib Big Band
Since last March, trumpeter and bandleader Ed Lister has been beefing up Ottawa’s jazz scene with his Prime Rib Big Band.
The 11-piece band has a standing gig at Irene’s Pub in the Glebe, playing the first Wednesday of every month. Lister’s band has also played two noon-hour concerts at Southminster United Church, plus shows at jazz festivals in Ottawa, Aylmer and Merrickville. Not bad at all given the cost of hiring a big band.
Next up for the Prime Rib Big Band is an appropriately meaty concert on Saturday at the Arts Court Theatre, when the music will be preceded by a Texas barbecue dinner.
We gave Lister a bit of a grilling, and he responded to our questions about his band below.
Where does your love for the big band sound come from?
As a kid growing up, I was constantly exposed to the music of Harry James, Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. My parents are big fans of the big band era so I quickly gained a love for it too. This is what sparked my interest in playing the trumpet in the first place.
What was involved in putting together your own big band?
Over the six-year period that I’ve lived in Ottawa I felt that I’d established myself well enough in the music community and that it was time to put a big band together. I wanted to get the best guys in town to be a part of this band — miraculously, they all said yes! I chose the name Prime Rib Big Band simply due to the fact that I have a huge amount of respect for the musicians in the band. At this point I’d already written seven original tunes and three covers of Ellington standards — enough to put the first show together. This band is very different from other big bands in the city, but I still hold the root of big band music close when I write for the group. It’s the endless possibilities in arranging techniques and sounds you can experiment with in the big band setting that appeals to me the most, along with the big, powerful presence you get with the big horn sections.
It’s definitely a lot of work to write for and manage this band. Having said that, it is one of the most low-stress bands I’ve been a part of. Everyone in the band is super-pro, so it all runs very smoothly. All of the writing and arranging has been done by myself (minus an arrangement that Mark Ferguson just finished up for the band). The repertoire is currently at 26 tunes since the band’s formation in March 2017. My writing style changes at the drop of a hat simply due to the fact that I’m inspired musically by so many different sounds, cultures and bands. A lot of my original material is very “through-composed” and is not shackled by form and functional harmony. I draw most of my inspiration from big band legends such as Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Kenny Wheeler.
How is it possible for a band of this size to be financially viable? Or is it more a labour of love?
It hasn’t been too bad in terms of paying these fine musicians. We treat the Irene’s monthly show as a great chance to get together and test out new material. This also eliminates the need to get together in a rehearsal room, which can sometimes feel very sterile. There is a cover charge at Irene’s and with the crowds we have been getting everyone walks away with money in their pockets. As for the festivals and bigger shows I try to ensure that everyone in the band makes enough money to make it worthwhile. Also, the festivals pretty much pay the same scale per musician as a smaller ensemble. The venues and promoters in town are pretty good for this. I also think the guys also really enjoy being in this band, so that helps a lot too.
You have a record label, several funk bands and Prime Rib on the go, plus a life outside of music. How do you balance everything ?
My days consist of writing and arranging for all the different groups and co-ordinating shows and rehearsals. I like to book shows and rehearsals well in advance. This helps me set a plan in motion and work out which show is the priority as well as being able to book a rehearsal space for big bands in time. It also helps that I’m a little obsessivecompulsive about my projects. I hate leaving things to the last minute and being unorganized.
Ed Lister (third from left in the top row) and his Prime Rib Big Band have a regular show the first Wednesday of every month at Irene’s Pub in the Glebe. The big band format offers “endless possibilities,” Lister says.