Vern drawled “Mistah Hiscock, here, has written some charts.”
Palms sweating, I gave out the music, counted off Donna Lee – “ 1-2, ah-1-2-3-4”– and guided the band through the first couple of runs, making corrections and changes as needed – kind of testing, you might say. We continued to my other chart Airegin and they played my music as easy as you’d read a newspaper. Skilled professionals, they were used to playing well-written charts by top arrangers; their experience and knowledge made the music, my music, sound good. At the end they generously gave me a round of applause.
I wrote about twenty more arrangements for Vern’s band over the next few years. He programmed them regularly alongside Vic Vogel’s charts, and always gave credit to the composers and arrangers. Always he encouraged me to write more, to be a better arranger, and he never missed an opportunity to promote jazz, jazz players, and jazz arrangers. Truly, he was Mister Jazz Ottawa. This real and rare opportunity to learn changed my life, just as surely and profoundly as Morley Calvert had done thirty years earlier.
In 2000 my 47 year route led to the Canadian Armed Forces Music Training Centre and the music of Captain James McDonald Gayfer, PhD – nicknamed “Doc”. His son, Jim Jr, and I, played in the Maple Leaf Brass Band. At his request I transcribed Doc’s country ballad Greenfields and White Hawthorne for MLBB. Reading and studying Doc’s original music scores, letters and journals, I began to appreciate his wonderful composition skills and beautiful melodies. It was an exercise in musical analysis and discovery, a demonstration of how to write for all the instruments in the band – a private master class.
In the process I discovered what Doc really wanted was just to have his music played. For the most part that wish never came true. Other than the MLBB, there are only a few bands who have performed Doc’s compositions; the Milwaukee Brass Ensemble, the Northwestern Brass Band of Oregon, and the Edmonton Wind Ensemble.
Doc’s music was the subject of my Carleton University Bachelor of Music 2004 graduating essay: A Descriptive Index to the Works of James McDonald Gayfer. I wanted to bring his music to the attention of band directors, since they select the music their band will play, and a complete compilation of his music was my project.
I transcribed about twenty of Doc’s 125 or so, compositions into brass band format, learning from all of them. The Maple Leaf Brass Band recorded a few on their Canadian Landscapes CD in 2006, ensuring that part of Doc’s music output was played and preserved. Through his music, posthumously, I better understood what to write for each player. No mystery, just a combination of music theory knowledge, inspiration, and a lot of imagination was needed to make a successful arrangement.