Obituaries, July 14, 2022
This week we acknowledge the passing of composer/conductor Bramwell Tovey, musicians Jack Zaza and Owen If, composer Monty Norman, and producer Bil VornDick.
By Kerry Doole
Bramwell Tovey, a noted Juno-winning composer, conductor and artistic director, died on July 12 (one day after his 69th birthday), of cancer.
After spending much of his career in Canada, Tovey was most recently the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra principal conductor and artistic director, and that organisation reported the news on July 13. “We are all heartbroken,” executive director David Beauchesne said in a statement. “Bramwell Tovey was a dear friend and colleague and a person of uncommon ability, warmth, humor, sincerity and kindness. The youngest student and most revered guest artist received the same level of his care and attention. His death is a profound loss to our organization and community and to musicians and audiences around the globe."
In addition to his position at the Rhode Island Philharmonic, Tovey was also music director of the Sarasota Orchestra, and principal guest conductor of the Orchestre symphonique de Québec and the BBC Concert Orchestra.
Tovey was born in East London and began playing music in Salvation Army bands, then eventually got the attention of Leonard Bernstein.
"Tovey went on to transformative tenures as music director at Canada’s Winnipeg Symphony, where he founded a groundbreaking New Music Festival, and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, where he grew audiences, won a Grammy, led international tours, and helped found the VSO School of Music, whose building now bears his name," the announcement from the RIPO said.
"Along the way, he won a Juno award for his work as a composer and became the founding host and conductor of the New York Philharmonic’s Summertime Classics Festival as well as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Principal Guest Conductor at the Hollywood Bowl."
In Canada, Tovey was best known for his fruitful tenure as music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) from 2000 to 2018. Their CBC Records album of violin concertos by Samuel Barber, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and William Walton, featuring soloist James Ehnes, won a Grammy Award in 2008 for best instrumental soloist performance with orchestra.
As a composer, Tovey won a Juno Award in 2003 for best classical composition for his Requiem for a Charred Skull. Calgary Opera commissioned his opera The Inventor, written with playwright John Murrell. He also wrote a trumpet concerto, Songs of the Paradise Saloon, for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and John McCandless.
Tovey first conducted the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra in October 2016 and took over as its principal conductor in 2018.
"The Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2022-23 season will be dedicated to the memory of Bramwell Tovey and will celebrate his joy of music and passion for music education," the orchestra's news release said. "A memorial fund will be established in Bramwell Tovey's name to support the Rhode Island Philharmonic Music School and its impact on future generations of young musicians in Bramwell's adopted state. Details on the fund and how to express condolences will follow."
Accolades received by Tovey include the Oskar Morawetz 2015 Prize for Excellence in Music Performance and the Prix d'or of the Academie Lyrique Française for his recording of Jean Cras's 1922 opera, Polyphème. In 2013 he was appointed an honorary officer of the Order of Canada.
Jack (John Peter) Zaza, a renowned Toronto session musician and composer, died on June 24, age 91.
A Globe and Mail obituary noted that Zaza, "the youngest of ten children, began playing musical instruments in his childhood. He combined his remarkable intelligence and extraordinary musical talent with his exceptional work ethic and went on to have a legendary career in music, which spanned over 70 years. He was well-known and highly respected for his mastery of multiple instruments which he performed professionally in live music venues as well as recording studios."
"In addition to his impressive and extensive discography, Jack's legacy includes his work on the Executive of both the Toronto Musicians' Association Local of the American Federation of Musicians and the Recording Musicians Association. His contributions have benefited countless recording studio musicians in Canada, and he will be remembered as a wise mentor and teacher."
Zaza was a highly versatile musician, playing the recorder, English horn, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, alto flute, harmonica, harmonium, shakers, harmonica, accordion, mandolin, and mandocello on albums by Gordon Lightfoot, John McDermott, George Hamilton IV, John Herberman, Anne-Marie Murray, Howard Baer, and countless others.
Peers and those he mentored paid tribute on social media. Noted studio owner and engineer Jeremy Darby posted that "before most of you realized you wanted to play an instrument, there was a gifted session musician, composer, teacher bandleader who changed the Canadian music scene."
Stringed instruments wizard Kevin Breit recalled buying a mandocello from Zaza, and musician Henry Heillig posted this on Facebook: If memory serves, Paul Mills produced the first Sharon Lois and Bram or Eric Nagler record I worked on. Jack was on that session and sometime later I realized he could have played ALL the instruments on the tracks. Years later, on a wedding gig, the bandleader’s teenage son joined the band for a set on sax. He was out of tune and painful to my ears. But Jack sat beside him on the stand smiling and was totally encouraging to the youngster. What a truly wonderful man he was, a role model not just in talent but in attitude!"
Sources: Globe and Mail, Facebook
Owen If (born Ian Rossiter), drummer of popular British band Stereo MC's, has died, at age 63. On its Facebook site last week, the group posted this: "With heavy hearts, we have to announce the peaceful passing, after a long illness, of our friend, brother, comrade and original Stereo MC’s Rhythm Doctor, Owen If (Ian Rossiter). His legacy of talent, commitment and good humour will always be with us. Peace, Love and Tears RIP. Rob, Nick and Cath."
Stereo MC's are an English hip hop/electronic dance group which formed in Nottingham, England, in 1985. They had an international Top 20 hit with their single Connected. After releasing eight albums for Island Records, K7, Graffiti Recordings, and Pias, they formed the label Connected with Terranova to release their own material and that of other artists within the house/techno/electronic medium.
The debut Stereo MCs' album, 33-45-78 came out in 1989. In 1990, Elevate My Mind was the first British hip hop single to reach the United States R&B record chart. Having supported Happy Mondays on a US tour, in the emerging UK alternative dance scene, it took an alliance with the Jungle Brothers to ensure chart success for Supernatural (1990). 1992's mainstream breakthrough Connected, a UK Albums Chart #2, contained the hit singles Connected, Step It Up, Creation, and Ground Level, and won them BRIT Awards for Best Group and Best Album. Source: Wikipedia
Monty Norman (Noserovitch), a noted English composer for musicals and creator of the James Bond theme, died on July 11, at age 94.
The Guardian notes that "he was a prolific contributor to British musicals in the 1950s and 60s, working with directors such as Peter Brook and Joan Littlewood. Among his successes as a composer, lyricist or both were the musicals Expresso Bongo, Irma La Douce and Make Me an Offer. However, his best known and most lucrative composition was the James Bond theme, the brief staccato phrase written for Dr. No in 1962 – and included in subsequent films in the James Bond series."
Norman has been credited by the theatre historian Adrian Wright as the creator of "some of the most interesting and provocative scores in British musicals."
Norman’s James Bond theme, adapted by him from a song composed for an abandoned musical of VS Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas, was recast by John Barry and the guitarist Vic Flick in the contemporary, rumbling, twangy way, and reached No 13 in the charts in early 1963.
Because Barry would write music for many later Bond films, the theme was sometimes mistakenly attributed to him. Norman’s actual royalty income from the theme was much larger, reportedly reaching more than £600,000 between 1976 and 1999.
Born into a musical family, Norman took lessons with Bert Weedon, a leading dance band guitarist and author of several instruction books for the instrument. Weedon advised Norman to concentrate on singing and introduced him to a vocal coach, Laurence Leonard.
He joined various small jazz combos as a vocalist and eventually found employment with several of the leading dance band leaders of the era. He was initially employed by Cyril Stapleton, followed by Stanley Black and Ted Heath. During the mid-50s, Norman appeared at the London Palladium, sang on radio and toured in variety shows with Benny Hill and other comedians.
As a sideline, he began to write songs and when one of these, False Hearted Lover, became a minor success, he decided to focus on composing rather than performing.
Norman entered controversial territory with Belle or the Ballad of Dr. Crippen, based on a notorious murder case. The show closed after only six weeks – but one of its backers was impressed enough to offer Norman work on a film he was producing. The backer was Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and the film was Dr No. Norman returned to the stage with such later shows as The Perils of Scobie Prilt (1963), the Yiddish show Pinkus (1967), Stand and Deliver (1972), So Who Needs Marriage? (1975), and Songbook (1979), written with the playwright Peter Nichols and staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1982.
Norman also wrote music for film and TV series. His work won the Ivor Novello songwriting award, Evening Standard and Olivier awards for West End theatre and a Tony nomination for best Broadway musical. Source: The Guardian
Bil (William Thomas) VornDick, a veteran Nashville-based producer/engineer, died on July 5, at age 72, less than a week after he’d been diagnosed with cancer.
Music Row reports that "he was a producer/engineer who was renowned for his recording-studio skills, particularly in folk, bluegrass, Americana and acoustic music circles. VornDick worked on albums that earned more than 40 Grammy nominations and nine wins. His clients included Alison Krauss, Doc Watson and Charlie McCoy. He had served two terms as the chairman of the Nashville chapter of Audio Engineering Society (AES)."
While still a student and playing guitar in rock bands in Virginia, he sold some songs to Cedarwood Publishing on Music Row. Chet Atkins urged him to move to Nashville and helped him enroll in Belmont University.
In 1979, he became an early graduate of Belmont’s music-business program, and then country superstar Marty Robbins hired him as his studio’s chief engineer. VornDick subsequently became the chief engineer at Stargem Studio, the founder of The Music Shop and the owner of Music Row Audio and Mountainside Music Group Productions.
He became particularly associated with the “new acoustic music” genre that emerged in the 1980s, working with Béla Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Craig Duncan, Alison Brown, Mark O’Connor, Vassar Clements, Edgar Meyer and David Grier, among others.
Following his Grammy-winning work with Alison Krauss, he worked with a bluegrass who’s-who, including Peter Rowan, The Dillards, The Country Gentlemen, New Grass Revival, The Nashville Bluegrass Band, Del McCoury, Doyle Lawson, Claire Lynch, Rhonda Vincent, and Dan Tyminsk.
He also had credits with mainstream Nashville country artists, including Lynn Anderson, Trace Adkins, Jo-El Sonnier, Janie Fricke, Marty Stuart, Gene Watson, Asleep at the Wheel, and Sweethearts of the Rodeo.
Bil VornDick was an active participant in the Nashville music community. He did advisory and/or instructional work for MTSU, Belmont, Folk Alliance, the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA), the Recording Academy, MerleFest, Telluride, South Plains College, AES, Kerrville Folk Festival, Vol State and more. He campaigned to save RCA Studio A from demolition, promoted popularity charts for roots music and championed health insurance for music people.
In recent years, he became widely admired in the Americana field. That genre’s Jim Lauderdale, Maura O’Connell, T-Bone Burnett, Jesse Winchester, The Fairfield Four, John McEuen, Leon Redbone, Robert Earl Keen, Webb Wilder, Robin & Linda Williams, Hazel Dickens and Charlie Haden all worked with him.
In 1998, he produced the epic Clinch Mountain Country, a 36-song tribute that featured the legendary Ralph Stanley dueting with Bob Dylan, Vince Gill, Dwight Yoakam, Patty Loveless, Porter Wagoner, Ricky Skaggs, Connie Smith, the Kentucky HeadHunters, George Jones, and more notables. It was named Rolling Stone’s Top Country Album of the Year, got nominated for a Grammy and earned two trophies from the IBMA.
Canadian roots artist, producer and label head Steve Dawson posted this on FB: "Bil VornDick was a great technical mind and a very nice feller to be around as well. In our interview, he had some great tales about working for Marty Robbins, the teaching he was doing, and recording many albums for Bela Fleck and Jerry Douglas. Bil also made those crazy Aura pedals that model dobros and acoustic guitars through your pickup, and pretty convincingly, I gotta say! We made some records together and I always learned alot, especially about recording acoustic instruments from watching him, and bugging him about what he was up to. He was a real presence in the Nashville community and will be missed."