Jazz prof inspires youth through Share the Music

Trombonist Ron Westray, Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance in York University’s Department of Music, returns to Toronto’s Massey Hall on Thursday, Feb. 23 for an innovative youth outreach program.

He will lead “Rhythm Counts”, an invitational workshop for young people, just before his former bandmates, the Jazz at Ron WestrayLincoln Center Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis, take centre stage to perform the highly-anticipated Wynton at 50! concert.

Ron Westray

Called Share the Music, the arts and education outreach program presented by the Corporation of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall provides complimentary tickets for selected concerts to youth who might otherwise be unable to attend. The program, now in its 13th season, aims to enhance and broaden students’ musical horizons by exposing them to world-class performers and related pre-concert demo-workshops by noted local performers/educators.

Westray has invited York music grad and multiple Juno Award-winning jazz saxophonist Mike Murley to co-host the 30-minute workshop, to be held in Massey Hall’s intimate Century Lounge. The session is designed to demonstrate the language of jazz and the art of improvisation, to prepare the students for the mainstage performance. Together, Westray and Murley will present an informal mix of commentary, musical demonstrations and historical highlights, followed by a Q&A. Tickets for the workshop and concert have been distributed to more than 150 music students, ranging in age from 12 to 17, at selected schools and community groups in the Greater Toronto Area.

“I was thrilled to be invited to take part in Share the Music and connect with these young people,” said Westray. “I come from the performance world, and it’s always a pleasure to have the opportunity to play, plus the chance to talk about the music with a fresh audience.”

Ron Westray playing trombone at the Lincoln Arts Center in New YorkWestray in performance at the Lincoln Arts Center

“We’re delighted to have Professor Westray on board for this event,” said program coordinator Laraine Herzog. “He’s a perfect fit, seeing as he was lead trombonist with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for so many years. His reputation as an incredible performer and educator precedes him – not to mention his connection with Oscar Peterson, a true Canadian musical hero, through his position at York University.”

Prior to joining York, Westray toured internationally with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for more than a decade, including a number of performances at Massey Hall.

“Wynton [Marsalis] deserves every honour for his immense accomplishments in building the JLCO, its reputation as one of the finest jazz ensembles in the world, and its remarkable touring reach,” said Westray. “I was in the audience when they played Massey Hall last year, and it was like seeing my family from the other side of the fourth wall. I’m looking forward to seeing these guys play once again, and to helping a new young audience develop a deeper connection to a band and a musical repertoire I feel so strongly about.”

As well as a performer, Westray is an accomplished composer and recording artist. His commissions for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra include the monumental score Chivalrous Misdemeanors – Select Tales from Don Quixote (2005) and arrangements of the works of Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman. He is well known for his collaborations with Wycliffe Gordon, and has also appeared in concert with such luminaries as Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Stevie Wonder, Benny Carter, Dewey Redman, Roy Haynes, Randy Brecker and a host of other pre-eminent artists. A regular on the New York City club circuit, he has played premier jazz venues such as the Village Vanguard, Blue Note, Sweet Basil’s, Iridium, Jazz Standard and Smalls, and is a standing member of the Mingus Band. In 2009, he joined York’s music department, where he teaches in the jazz program and co-directs the York University Jazz Orchestra.

Next month, Westray is participating as soloist and clinician at the prestigious Savannah Music Festival. On March 25, he appears as guest soloist with the York University Wind Symphony, performing Rimsky-Korsakov’s Trombone Concerto under the baton of York music Professor William Thomas.