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Rob McConnell, Musician and Big Band Leader, Dies at 75

Rob McConnell, a jazz trombonist, composer and arranger who led one of the few successful big bands to emerge in the 1960s, died on May 1 in Toronto, where he lived. He was 75.

The cause was cancer, said his wife, Anne Gibson.

Mr. McConnell’s ensemble, the Boss Brass, was unusual in several ways. For one thing, it was a critical and financial success despite being formed in 1968, long after the heyday of big bands had ended. For another, it was based in Canada, a country better known as the birthplace of jazz musicians who gained fame elsewhere.

The instrumentation of the Boss Brass was uncommon as well. Unlike virtually every other big band in the annals of jazz, its original configuration consisted entirely of trumpets, trombones, French horns and a rhythm section, but no saxophones. Mr. McConnell later added a five-piece saxophone section, giving his ensemble yet another distinction by making it considerably bigger than the average big band.

Mr. McConnell and the Boss Brass recorded prolifically, mostly for the Concord Jazz label, and were probably best known for the two albums they made with the singer Mel Tormé. Mr. McConnell won the last of his three Grammy Awards in 1996 for his arrangement of “I Get a Kick Out of You” on his second collaboration with Tormé, “Velvet & Brass.”

Robert Murray Gordon McConnell was born in London, Ontario, on Feb. 14, 1935, and was a busy studio musician and arranger in Canada before forming the Boss Brass. In 1997 he broke up that band and formed a 10-piece ensemble, with which he continued to work until 2006. The Boss Brass briefly reunited in 2008; its last concert was at the Toronto Jazz Festival on July 1, 2009 — Canada Day.

Mr. McConnell’s first wife, the former Margaret Bowman, died in 2005. In addition to Ms. Gibson, he is survived by a son, Brian; two daughters, Jennifer Vaandering and Robin McConnell; a brother, Dan; a sister, Marion Bienvenue; and seven grandchildren.


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