Martin Loomer to helm Jim Galloway’s Wee Big Band in jazz festival
If Martin Loomer was feeling any pressure taking the helm of Jim Galloway’s Wee Big Band for a gig in the June 18-29 TD Toronto Jazz Festival, he’s showing no signs of it.
He’s seated in the corner of a large sectional couch at his Bathurst and Dupont area home, the colour orange accented throughout — from an old rotary phone to the collared shirt he’s wearing. Apropos, perhaps, considering he is arranger and head of big band The Orange Devils.
Loomer shares that everything he’s learned over the years, music wise, was from Galloway, a Toronto jazz scene mainstay and former festival artistic director.
Galloway, who died in December, left a significant impact on Loomer, who joined the Wee Big Band in 1979.
“For me, personally, Jim was a major influence, not just on my career,” says Loomer, himself having earned a reputation as a big band arranger who specializes in recreating earlier stuff. “His philosophy: he wasn’t so concerned with ‘I’m a big artist and people should shut up and listen to me’. He was more like, this music is supposed to be happy and uplift their spirits.”
Loomer was brought on board as both a guitarist and arranger to a band of 16 musicians — five saxophonists, seven brass members, and four-person rhythm section. He is one of only three to have been active with the band for more than 35 years.
All the more reason for current jazz festival artistic director Joshua Grossman to ask him to be part of the tribute.
“I was the logical person, because I was the main arranger for the band, I’d been there since day one and I’m leading my own band right now,” Loomer reasons, and notes that Galloway’s widow, Anne Page, and ex-wife Rosemary Galloway have both been supportive of the move.
With an extensive repertoire of over 300 songs, Loomer has the tough task of whittling it down to an hour’s worth of high-intensity big band jazz, reminiscent of the Harlem scene.
On the playlist, of course, will be compositions by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Andy Kirk, Chick Webb and Jimmie Lunceford.
“We’ll play some of the things the band’s been playing for the last few years,” Loomer says. “And I’m going to bring back some of the things the band hasn’t looked at in 20, 25 years.
“If it’s going to be a tribute it would be nice to do something from the very first Colombia album.”
Jim Galloway’s Wee Big Band, under the direction of Loomer, is set to take the Toronto Star Stage for 12:30 p.m. June 22 at Nathan Phillips Square.