Tasty jazz from the Prime Rib Big Band

Ottawa Citizen - - YOU - PETER HUM phum@post­ twit­­ter­hum

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.

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