“One word–Joy”: SesayArts in Conversation with Ross Wooldridge ~ Arpita Ghosal



Sesaya specializes in music and arts education.

Ross Wooldridge (photo by Greg King)

Ross Wooldridge (photo by Greg King)

The St George Music Knights Series continues this Friday with “Benny & Artie Swing: A Benny Goodman-Artie Shaw Tribute Concert” featuring Clarinetist Ross Wooldridge and Guitarist Roberto Rosenman, previously featured here.

When I visited Wooldridge’s website, I was struck by the first line of text: “They don’t make them like that anymore.” Woooldridge specializes in jazz (swing music in particular), and is referring to the musicians he reveres, like Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw. But really, this phrase can just as easily describe him. He’s a superbly accomplished clarinetist…and also a saxophonist, flautist and pianist. He’s also an arranger, composer and copyist. And a producer, a conductor and a transcription specialist. And when he’s not performing or recording, he teaches. It’s easy to source his many skills and accolades (the link to his website is included below).  So there’s absolutely no doubt that the audience of Friday’s concert are in for a toe-tappingly lively evening of swing music.

Interestingly, what struck me about Wooldridge is less his vast resume than his passion for music. And his wit. He responded to my interview questions with such candour, grace and warmth that I’m presenting them as he gave them. Judge for yourself . . . but as far as I can tell, they really don’t make them like Ross Wooldridge anymore.

  1. The St George Music Knights concerts are for audiences of all-ages. What should young people know about the clarinet and swing music to be able to enjoy and appreciate it?

The clarinet can be a very joyful instrument and, when combined with the happy energy in swing music, the combination is unbeatable!!

  1. Have you ever been thrown off while performing live? How did you recover?
Ross Wooldridge (photo by Greg King)

Ross Wooldridge (photo by Greg King)

I have not been thrown off so much, but I have thrown off others… here is a funny story:

I had been running very late for a gig and when I ran through the door to the venue the band had just started the first tune.  The song’s introduction was fairly lengthy which gave me just enough time to assemble my sax and come in at the right moment.  The music had a very specific stop in the arrangement where I was supposed to start playing my solo… The audience was watching with great interest… would I be ready?  I was moving very quickly and just got ready in time.  The music stopped, and I started to play… and..

Nothing.  Not a sound…

I had neglected to remove the storage liner from inside the body of my sax, which completely prevented me from making a sound.

The band (and most of the audience) fell apart laughing… the music ground to a halt as the band members were doubled over in uncontrolled mirth…

I made a big show of pulling the liner out of my sax – kind of like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat – and since as they say “the show must go on”, I counted the band back in and we continued on.

A very funny moment that could have been very embarrassing if not for the injection of humour to help recover.

  1. In my research, I saw that you are not only a musician but also a producer, arranger and teacher. How do these jobs influence and inform each other?

A musician is all of those things together – we do our best to produce an attractive sound and a musical performance, we use our musicality to arrange and produce the music we hear in our heads for others we perform for, and we attempt to pass those aspirations on to those we teach and mentor with the hope that they will carry those aspirations forward.

4. What do you hope people will be talking about when they leave your show?

I hope people will be talking about the history of the music I play for them and how music is so good for the soul.

  1. If you could invite any 3 people to dinner, who would they be? Why?

This would be a thank you dinner:

  •  My father – who passed away too early in my life to allow me to thank him properly for all that he taught me and inspired in me.
  • Artie Shaw – to thank him for inspiring me to continue with music by taking up the clarinet.  This was as a teenager, when I was going through a difficult time in my life and had stopped playing piano.
  • Art Tatum – to thank him for inspiring me to resume playing piano, and just to try and get a lesson!!
  1. Sound Bites:
Ross Wooldridge (photo by Greg King)

Ross Wooldridge (photo by Greg King)

a) My favourite musicians (past and/or present) and why?

The list is very long — I will do a top 5 which includes 3 composers:

  • Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw – two brilliant clarinetists who excite listeners equally but have entirely different playing styles.
  • Frederic Chopin, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy — I believe that it can be argued that their stunning, harmonic approach to composition were in part responsible for how jazz music evolved.

b) Why jazz?

For me as a performer, jazz is the most emotionally satisfying music – I can experience and transmit joy.

c) My most unusual or memorable gig 

I am very lucky – almost all my gigs are memorable!!  I have tremendously talented friends and colleagues who I get to perform with regularly.  How great is that?!

d) How I picked my instrument 

I have played piano since I was a toddler… When I was about 13 I discovered Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman records in my parent’s record collection.  When I expressed my admiration my mother produced an old metal clarinet from the closet.  I was enthralled, and spent hours in the basement playing along to those records.

e) What I love about playing

One word – joy.

f) Something about me that might surprise you 

 I am not just a lover of jazz – like Duke Ellington said (and I paraphrase), there is great music in all styles.  I love good music from heavy metal to bluegrass, punk to opera.

  1. You can have the last word. 

To our government: music and art are constantly on the chopping block in our schools.  Budgets for arts and music are systematically being reduced and seconded for other things. Don’t chop them away. Winston Churchill was asked during WW2 if the money being used to fund arts and music should be funnelled into the war effort, to which he responded with “then what are we fighting for?”

News You Can Use

Who: Ross Wooldridge, clarinet and Roberto Rosenman, guitar

What: Benny & Artie Swing: A Benny Goodman-Artie Shaw Tribute Concert

When: Friday, December 4, 2015, 7:00 PM

Where: St George on Yonge, 5350 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON

For information and tickets: [email protected] or 416 225 1922

FYI: RossWooldridge.com

Cool to hear: Ross Wooldridge and the Galaxy Orchestra

© 2015 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya

Posted in Interviews, Theatre and tagged , , , .