The Bill McBirnie Duo/Quartet

10th Annual Jazz Album Nominee

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Record Label: Extreme Flute

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Home Base: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Genre: Acoustic – Jazz & Latin

Category Entered: Jazz Album

Work Submitted: Mercy (featuring Robi Botos)

Artists Featured: Bill McBirnie (Flute), Robi Botos (Piano), Pat Collins (Bass), John Sumner (Drums)

Label: Extreme Flute


Describe your nominated work: It’s a straight-ahead, acoustic jazz/Latin, flute-plus-rhythm section “blowing session.”

Why did you choose to submit this work to The 10th IMA’s? Every year, the IMAs enjoy a progressively elevated status in the music industry. In addition, there are high-profile – as well as accomplished and discriminating – judges taking part. So a mere nomination by the IMAs carries much more weight. Also, the IMAs foster a very democratic and open approach to the entire nominating and awards process, one which is responsive to good music based on its merits, and regardless of where it comes from (which is really important to a struggling freelance Indie jazz flutist from Canada).

Did you use any unusual effects or instruments in this recording? This is acoustic music so there are no effects whatsoever! With regard to instrumentation, the flute is certainly not common in this idiom. So a flute-plus-rhythm-section format definitely provides Mercy with a genuine element of “novelty”.

Were there any happy accidents while in the studio or did everything go as planned? The Mercy project was designed to be a straight-ahead “blowing session.” So nothing was really planned at all. I simply scheduled studio time for the quartet session on a Saturday afternoon and for the duo session on the following Sunday morning. Indeed, the sessions were so “unplanned” that some of the musicians on the date had never even met – much less played with each other – before. I might note that, once upon a time, the jazz industry did a lot of “blowing sessions.” However, it has become an increasingly rare practice where there is an ever-increasing opportunity to “over-produce” things. But, I have to tell you, there are some absolutely amazing musicians here in Toronto who have both the skill and the understanding to do pull this off – quite as they did here with Mercy.

Did fans help you fund this project? Jazz is a pretty narrow market segment. Accordingly, there is no public – or private – support for a recording project of this kind in Canada. So, like all my previous projects (including Nature Boy and Paco Paco), I have had to finance Mercy entirely on my own!

Who’s sitting in your audience? I like to think that my audience is cultured and sophisticated – and it both appreciates and enjoys the “thrill of the chase” that improvised jazz has to offer. In short, I like to think that my audience is “hip” – like my father – who introduced me to jazz in the first place! Indeed, I like to pretend that every member of the audience is every bit as “hip” as my father was, simply because they took the time and effort to come out and listen!

What makes your fans unique? My fans do not want to hear a lot of noise. And they want the music to make them feel better – and without a lot of needless flash and sensationalism.

Are there any songs you wish you wrote? There are far, far too many songs I wish I had written for me to even begin listing them here. However, as a fleeting thought, let me suggest the tune, “This Lullaby” (a/k/a “Baby, Close Your Eyes”), by a fellow Canadian, Carol Welsman, because this is a very beautiful piece (and one which I plan on doing on my next album!)

What artists are you listening to that would surprise your fans? Needless to say, I listen to a lot of Miles and Trane. However, I also listen to a lot of Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Etta James and James Brown!

What is your dream show lineup? Miles with his mid-50’s and mid-60s bands and Trane with his Impulse! quartet.

Have you ever hung out with one of your musical heroes? I have been fortunate enough to hang out with one of my longstanding musical heroes – and one who is also an unlikely fan – namely, classical flutist, Sir James Galway. Sir James loves jazz as well as classical music. Indeed, Sir James solicited me personally as his Resident Jazz Flute Specialist at his official web site. I can attest that Sir James is an extraordinarily good-natured and good-humored individual who has absolutely no airs or affectations about him. So, I get to kid and tease him a lot – and he relishes in it by kidding and teasing me right back! In short, he’s a real hoot to be around!

What’s you most memorable achievement to date? Any award I have won – or even come close to winning – is both memorable and gratifying to me since it signifies a measure of achievement and acknowledgment of what I do (because who in their right mind wants to put in all of the time and effort required to do this well – and then NOT be recognized for it?)

What are your guilty pleasures on the road? I don’t go on the road. Instead, I freelance locally (…and, that way, I never suffer any guilt!…)

Should music be free? Music – and especially jazz – takes a serious commitment of time and effort in order to perform well. So it always disturbs me when I encounter those who think that we play music “for fun” and/or that music out to be available – whether live or recorded – for nothing – because it costs me far too much of my time, effort – and money – as an Indie to be doing this – for nothing! Having said that, I do feel that any legitimate means of fostering interest in music (for instance, streaming and the occasional free track) is fine. However, no one – whether big or small – can ultimately afford to perform well – and, at the same time, make a living at this – for nothing!

How has digital affected your career? It has certainly enabled me to get the word out about what I do (…though amongst a plethora of other contenders so it is still very difficult to get any recognition, make a few CD sales…and also have time to practice!… 🙂

Are digital singles vs. full albums the future of music? I am from the old school and so, for example, I mount albums – NOT tracks – on my iPod. However, I don’t think that anyone can really deny that digital singles are inevitably the way of the future.

Finish this sentence: The music industry is… a tough place to be for an Indie freelance jazz flutist from Canada (…and I will testify… 🙂 However, I am very grateful for any recognition and acknowledgment that comes my way…and I am especially flattered by an IMA nomination!