Meet the Band

Alf Warnock

Alf, originally from Glasgow, Scotland, has been an enthusiastic amateur musician for many years. Childhood piano lessons gave way to playing guitar in a teenage rock and roll band. He had to lay this aside so he could focus on his education and professional career. During his career as an acoustician, music remained a hobby with a focus on traditional Celtic dance music. He leads two ceili bands playing Irish reels, jigs and polkas on tenor banjo. He also plays guitar and mandolin in a group that plays 18th century English Country dance music. Since retiring in 2006, he has renewed an early interest in jazz guitar which has become his main focus now that he plays with the Grey Jazz Big Band and whenever new opportunities arise.

allanAllan MacKenzie

As a Maritimer growing up in Charlottetown, he played the piano to grade 8 before picking up the clarinet at age 15. During his engineering studies at Dalhousie University, MacK played in Dixieland and dance groups, and later was a founding member of the Dixietech Seven before moving to Montreal. In the late 60’s, he played the clarinet in Montreal’s Blackwatch Band while holding down the 1st clarinet chair in Montreal’s first amateur symphony orchestra under the direction of Dennis Brott. In 1980, he moved to Ottawa, where he expanded his horizons to encompass Dixieland and mainstream jazz clarinet/sax. After playing with various groups, including at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, he became Halifax-based again. From 2000 to 2013, he formed a new jazz quintet called Moments Notice and played with the Sackville concert band and two jazz orchestras. After playing in the Atlantic Jazz Festival, this competent and experienced reader and improviser brought his talents back to Ottawa. He is currently playing dixieland, big band and concert band music with several groups.

bengBen Greenberg (Baritone Sax)

Ben got his first taste of performing at the age of five, when he won first place singing “ On the Good Ship Lollipop “ at the Rialto Theatre in Ottawa.
The Prize was 18 bottles of chocolate milk delivered one a day! As the winner, he went on CBC and won again, this time 2 pounds of chocolates .
At the age of 14, he saved up money working on the Byward Market and went to a pawn shop on William Street to buy a trumpet and settled on a clarinet.
He taught himself to play with the use of a fingering chart and at the age of 16 he entered the Ottawa Music Festival on clarinet and he won first prize.
A year later, he entered the Festival again and won the clarinet Open Class. At the age of 17, he played at local clubs ( Copacabana Club, Standish Hall, Gatineau Club , Chez Henri ) on clarinet and sax during the height of the “ Swing Era. “ He later played background music for the NFB and was on a weekly CBC radio show on which Fred Davis ( later on Front Page Challenge ) also played trumpet. After a break of 30 years to pursue business interests, Ben returned to music in 1990 and played broadway shows at the Centrepointe Theatre as well as with local bands. He joined Grey Jazz Big Band in 1996. on baritone sax.

Bill Luxton

Bill, our MC and male vocalist has been part of the Ottawa entertainment scene for over forty years. He spent 26 years as an announcer and host with CJOH television, that is now CTV Ottawa.  He hosted Morning Magazine, Family Brown country, the Amazing Kreskin and co-stared in the long running kids show “Willy and Floyd”. On stage he has played leading roles with the Ottawa Little theatre, Upper Canada Playhouse, Just for Kids theatre and the Orpheus Musical Society. With his deep baritone voice Bill delights with his fine interpretation   of the classic ballads of the Great American Songbook.

 

Dean Tronsgard

During the 27 years of performing with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Band, Dean spent 25 of those years as a featured soloist on trombone, euphonium and as a vocalist. He was also the principal trombonist and in charge of the trombone section for those last 21 years. Since the demise of the RCMP Band, Dean has been a regular euphonium soloist with the Maple Leaf Brass Band, and is one of that band’s original members. He is also trombonist with the North Winds Brass Quintet. Some of his past experiences include working as the lead trombonist in the Moxie Whitney and Champ Champagne orchestras and on trombone and euphonium in the pit orchestras for numerous shows such as the Ice Capades, the Garden Brothers Circus and at the National Arts Centre. He plays lead trombone in the Grey Jazz Big Band and is the principal trombone with the Legacy Brass Band of the Salvation Army. Dean also works as a brass clinician and brass music teacher.

Don Jacobs

Don, our drummer, hails from North Bay where he began his drumming career as a teenager touring northern Ontario with the Vibrations band, which performed live on a weekly TV program.  Don enjoyed a 32-year career as an elementary music teacher as well as playing in a variety of bands in bars, dances and shows. After moving to Rockland to be close to family, he became a regular with Cy Smith and his group. Some time later he was delighted to be invited to join the Grey Jazz Big Band playing swing era music charts.  Don’s musical talents have been sought out by groups such as the Maple Leaf Brass Band, Velvet Touch, Jim Glover’s Bytown Band, Trillium Dixieland Band, Coro Vivo Choir, Ottawa Community Concert Band and a terrific group of young violinists in the upbeat band, Arc-En-Son, lead by Nathalie Charette from Rockland.

Doug Jacques

Doug is an Ottawa native who started trombone at Nepean High School back in 1958, and has been gigging in advance jazz, blues and dance bands ever since. He broke down and took a few lessons in his late 40’s and finally learned how to blow his trombone without hurting himself. He has since quit the day job and become a Gentleman of Leisure, with the goal of working his way through Arban’s Trombone Method before he dies. Some notable musical groups with whom he has played include: Ottawa Youth Orchestra, The Starfighters, The Company, Capital City Jazz Band, Vanguard Jazz Band, Magnolia Jazz and Blues Band, Hong Kong Brass Band, Discovery Bay Jazz Band, Souper Jazz, Standing Room Only, Cuppa Soup Combo and, of course, the Grey Jazz Big Band. He currently lives in gentile poverty in Ottawa’s West End.

 

Gordon Price

Gord, our lead alto sax player was born in Montreal and attended high school in Burlington, ON.  His earliest musical influence was his mother who played the piano, which he started learning at age 7.  He began learning the clarinet when he was eleven and the saxophone in Grade 9. He played in the Burlington Town Band, the high school band and the dance band before joining  the RCMP Band. He studied alto saxophone with noted professor Gerald Danovitch of McGill University and is proficient on soprano, alto and tenor saxophones as well as clarinet and flute. He has played in various bands including the Ottawa University Dance band, the National Ballroom Orchestra, the Champ Champagne Orchestra, the Bill Jupp Big band, Super Big Band, Schteev und die lederhosers, the Jim Glover Dance Band, The Grey Jazz Big Band, the Centralaires Concert Band and he conducts the Silver Swing Big Band. Gord has played at both the Ottawa and Montreal International Jazz Festivals on numerous occasions.

Jim Gayfer

Jim, our bass trombonist, began his lifelong love of the trombone in Victoria where he took lessons from influential teachers. While his peers were listening to pop music, Jim listened to recordings featuring the trombone especially Henry Mancini whose compositions featured the talented Dick Nash. In 1970 Jim   began his long and successful career in the renowned RCMP Band and developed a particular fondness for the music of the big band era.   Some of the prominent teachers he studied under were Arnold Jacobs (Chicago Symphony), Ted Griffith (Montreal Symphony) and Ian McDougall of the Boss Brass. A freelance musician on tenor and bass trombone as well as baritone horn, Jim is a founding member of The Brass Brats, a children’s entertainment group, as well as the North Winds Brass Quintet and the Maple Leaf Brass Band.

Jim Glover

Jim hails from North Battleford, Saskatchewan and Victoria BC. He studied the piano and the baritone but was particularly interested in playing trumpet in a dance band. Jim spent 25 years as an aero electrical, electronics and radar technician in the RCAF all the while playing in and conducting dance bands at or near RCAF bases across Canada and in France. He played in the Governor General’s Foot Guards Band and currently plays in the Centralaires Concert Band and in the Valley Concert Band. For a number of years, Jim was the musical director of the Ottawa Community Concert Band. In addition to playing trumpet in the Grey Jazz Big Band and the Silver Swing Big Band, Jim leads his own dance bands, plays piano and arranges music. And last but not least Jim is the manager the Grey Jazz Big Band.

John Mitchell

John G Mitchell was born in Oshawa but spent his formative years in Deep River and in Ottawa. His earliest musical influences were Louis Armstrong and Bix Biederbke. John started musical instruction in Grade 6 with various teachers studying trumpet, cornet and flugelhorn. He plays with the Silver Swing Big Band and the Grey Jazz Combo in addition to the Grey Jazz Big Band. Following retirement from Hewlett Packard he enjoys playing in and managing the Trillium Dixieland Band along with playing in the Cuppa Soup Combo. He played in the Manotick Brass for 5 years and plays in the Ottawa Community Concert Band.

 

johnmJohn Merritt

John, our Music Director has played trumpet for more than 45 years. He studied at the Royal Conservatory Toronto, Humber College Toronto and at the University of Ottawa. He is comfortable in many styles and musical settings. As a freelancer he has played with the Ottawa, Kingston, Nepean, Pembroke Deep River and Hull Chamber Orchestras, the Ottawa Pops Orchestra, and Ottawa Jazz Orchestra. He worked as a sideman for Haygood Hardy, Rich Little, Natalie Cole, Richard Berry. He has played at Ottawa Jazz festivals, C.B.C. Radio and Television and numerous engagements in many styles. As a teacher and conductor John has worked with the Ottawa Youth Orchestra Academy, Nepean Symphony School, Deep River Summermusic and Ottawa School Board. He has conducted/directed numerous jazz and classical groups, musical theatre productions and bands of all dimensions. John taught music at Ashbury College for 23 years.

Kay Denison

Kay, our pianist, began her professional career 60 years ago when Tommy Gorman, NHL superstar hired her to provide organ music for all sporting events taking place in Ottawa during the 50’s and 60’s.  This included hockey games, horseshows, wrestling and horseracing. For thirty years she played for the Ottawa Winter Fair horse shows. During the 60’s she provided the musical background for the Silent Film Festival at the National Library. She’s played for heads of state including her majesty Queen Elizabeth, and Presidents Kosygin and Gorbechov. She’s played for many special events involving the Governors General from Georges Vanier to Adrienne Clarkson. She’s performed on the organ in many lounges and hotels in Ottawa and also in Burlington Vt. and Banff Alberta.

Ken Gray

Born in Ottawa, Ken grew up on a farm southeast of the city in a musical family. His mother played piano at community gatherings and singsongs while his father was church organist and choir director for 37 years.  Ken took piano lessons as a youngster but moved on to the alto and tenor saxophones while attending Ottawa Technical High School. He has been playing regularly in dance bands since then with a break when he was a busy traffic controller at Dorval Airport. He’s played in a Dixieland band and other combo groups including a 30-year stint in the Bill Jupp Stage Band. He’s been a member of the Grey Jazz Big Band for over 20 years. One of his musical highlights was playing God Save the Queen in the Aberdeen Pavilion just behind Her Majesty and Prince Phillip.

Mary Frances Simpson

Mary Frances, our female vocalist, hails from the Toronto area (Oshawa) where she began her professional career as a vocalist on television. She performed on CBC Toronto in ‘Country Hoedown’, the ‘Music Makers’ with Jack Kane and in ‘Nimmons’n Nine’. In Ottawa she performed on CBC in ‘Neither Rhyme nor Reason’ and on CJOH in ‘Segue’ and ‘Lunch Party‘ with Bill Luxton and Les Lye. On the radio, she performed in ‘Meet Mary Frances’ on CFRB Toronto and on Big Band Shows in Ottawa. She’s performed in clubs such as the Bon Soir New York on 5th Avenue, the Duvernay Hotel in Gatineau, Club 70 Ottawa and the New Edinburgh Pub. She sang with The Moxie Whitney Orchestra at the Royal York and at the Banff Springs Hotel. She played lead roles in Orpheus productions of ‘Funny Girl’ and ‘Pajama Game’. Mary is retired from the Superior Court of Ontario where she was East Regional Manager of Judicial Services.

MarkL_cropMark Leighton (Bass)

Mark grew up in Ottawa and started playing tuba as a teenager switching to oboe and bass at Ottawa Technical High School. He has played in various concert and stage bands through the years. Stu Smith was his music teacher in High School and Mark also learned to play the Baritone Sax. He worked at CJOH- TV for 32 years to supplement his income as a musician and is now semi-retired. Mark has been studying music theory and orchestration at the University of Ottawa since 2007. He has played with the Centralaires Concert Band, the Nepean Concert Band and the Ottawa Community Concert Band. He has also played with the Swingshift Big Band, and the Rockland Dixieland Band among others. Currently he plays bass with the Grey Jazz Big Band.

Paul Caron

Originally from Trois-Rivières, Paul was attracted early on to Dixieland jazz and big band swing, especially Glen Miller and Benny Goodman. He got his start on the clarinet   playing in the municipal concert band and playing saxophone in a small dance band before setting out on a career as an educator in the Ottawa area. Many years later, he undertook more advanced clarinet studies and is currently principal clarinettist with the Parkdale Orchestra. He plays in the Centralaires Concert Band and in the National Capital Clarinet  Consort. In addition to playing lead tenor in the Grey Jazz Big Band, he plays tenor with the Trillium Dixieland Band and the Jim Glover Band. He enjoys listening to and playing jazz.

 

Robert Cleall

Bob, as of September 2013, has stepped aside, after years as musical director of Grey Jazz and will continue to contribute as a member of the trumpet section. He was born in London, England and spent his formative years in the South London and Battersea area. He received his musical training at the prestigious Royal Military College of Music, London, known as Kneller Hall and mastered the trumpet, flugelhorn and tenor saxophone. He was a member of the British Coldstream Guards before moving to Canada to join the RCAF Central Band. In Ottawa, he played with the NAC Orchestra in accompanying Tony Bennett, Henry Mancini, Cab Calloway, Mel Torme and Donna Summer among others.  After retiring from the RCAF Central Band, Bob became an instrumental music teacher/ band director at the secondary school level.  He served 10 years with the West Quebec Regional School Board and 20 years with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. For several years, he was one of the lead trumpeters with the Centralaires Concert Band of Ottawa.

Rod Digney

Rod was educated and raised in Calgary. After an aborted start on the violin at age 10, he began playing the trombone in Grade 7 and was soon playing in an RCAF Reserve band, junior orchestras, small dance combos and professional stage shows. Later he enjoyed two summers touring with the prestigious National Youth Orchestra of Canada. Graduation brought Rod to Ottawa in 1966 for a career in aviation with the NRC and later Transport Canada. He joined the Governor General’s Foot Guards militia band, Ottawa Civic Symphony and CBC studio orchestra. In 1974 he switched musical genres and began a continuing attachment with the enduring APEX (Dixieland) Jazz Band. Since then he has also played with the National Press Club Band and the Bill Jupp Big Band. He came to the Good Companions in 2005, playing first with the silver Swing then with the Grey Jazz Big Band.

Thomas Pratt

Tom grew up in Windsor and his early musical influences were the big bands of the swing era he heard on the radio along with his high school band director who played a pivotal role in encouraging him to   pursue his musical interests.  He took a limited number of formal lessons and describes himself as largely self-taught, which speaks to his innate talent. He is proficient on the trumpet along with the French horn. He enjoys playing classical music, meeting new musicians and trading ideas on technique. In addition to playing in the Grey Jazz Big Band he plays in a brass quintet and in the Centralaires Concert Band of Ottawa.