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Ross Taggart's Legacy remembered by Jill Townsend and Bill Coon

06/27/2015 09:00 EDT | Updated 06/27/2016 05:59 EDT
Victoria-born Ross Taggart was a much-loved saxophonist and pianist who touched many lives before he passed away in 2013 at the age of 45. 

Besides being a skilled musician, Ross was also a talented composer. 

To honour his memory, the Jill Townsend Big Band has just released an album of his music, newly arranged by two of his closest friends and collaborators, Jill Townsend and Bill Coon.

Hot Air host Margaret Gallagher sat down with Townsend and Coon in advance of their Tuesday night release of Legacy: The Music of Ross Taggart at Pyatt Hall.

Jill, why did you decide to do this project?

I have to give credit to Cory Weeds who facilitated the Kickstarter project. When he presented the idea, it made so much sense. It was a way to pay tribute to our friend Ross, so how could you say no to that?

Bill, how would you characterize Ross as a musician?

He was a very generous musician. He had a beautiful, warm sound. He was ready for anything. I always think of Ross asking me what I want to play. If I'm on a gate where there's not a set list, he'll say, "What would you want to play? What tune do you want to play?" "Well, let's play Green Dolphin Street." Then he'll say, "Well, what key do you want to play it in?" That typifies Ross to me. He was ready for anything.

Jill, you became so close that at one point, the three of you actually shared a house?

We did. That was a great experience, because I got to know Ross even better. We shared this common laundry room where we would leave each other little jokes. He used to draw amazing pictures. He had all these glittery stickers. He left the funniest things on the sink, which we used to call the credenza. Every time you went down there, there'd be a different surprise waiting for you.

What was it like to immerse yourself in his compositions at this point?

Jill: It was a fantastic experience and such a great way to get to know his music better, because I hadn't played his compositions ever before. Just to get inside the music a little bit and get to know it, and try to imagine what he was thinking.  Also, the titles of his tunes are very interesting. It was a really positive experience.

Bill: I felt like we were collaborating with Ross. It sounds a little weird, but I do feel that there were times where I'd be playing the piano, and Ross would be there. Whenever I would get stuck, I would think, "Would Ross like this?"  And then I would realize, "You know what? You've got to make yourself happy. You can't second guess Ross. He's not here. You can't ask him." The collaboration was, "Here's Ross' fantastic composition. I have some ideas. Let's put these both together and see what happens."

There's always so many stages when somebody passes away, even if you know that it's coming for a while, because Ross had been ill for some time with cancer. Each chapter is a way of getting to the next step. It must be strange coming to the end of this one, Jill.

There were some hard moments during it, but also joyous moments. Now it is a really joyous feeling, because we're at the point where we're celebrating his music. I'm sure Ross will be with us that evening. A lot of ups and downs. The CD is finished, but we're still going to be playing the music and celebrating Ross forever. It's an interesting place to be right now.

The album is called Legacy. It's been two and a half years since he passed away. What do you think Ross Taggart's legacy is, Bill?

Ross had a love for life. He really had a love of living, and a love of music, and a love of people. He gave so much to so many listeners and musicians, but he also gave a lot through his teaching. That's part of his legacy — all these people who saw him as a mentor, and to whom he very generously gave his ideas, his musical experience.

There are two shows playing June 30 at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra's Pyatt Hall, beginning at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Tickets are $25 plus service charge.

To hear the full episode of Hot Air, listen to the audio labelled: Legacy, the music of Ross Taggart.

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