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"The Personalities Come Through" - Composer/Arranger Fred Stride to conduct the SJO (April 29/2023)

Updated: May 11, 2023

by Scott Roos

members of the SJO performing last month at their "Rhapsody In Blue" concert (photo by Deanna Roos)

Fred Stride is looking forward to working with the SJO once again (photo courtesy of Fred Stride)

On Saturday, April 29th, the esteemed Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon will play host to the Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra (henceforth referred to as the SJO) for their “Pictures at an Exhibition Reimagined” concert program. It will be the SJO’s final concert of the season and will feature guest arranger and conductor Fred Stride. Stride, who resides in Vancouver, has spent decades within the Canadian jazz scene as a musician, composer/arranger, conductor and educator. This will be Stride’s third time working with the SJO and he’s excited for the opportunity as he is for every opportunity and chance that he has to work with a big band.

“I've stood in front of a lot of ensembles and played in a lot of them. But I keep coming back to the big band. It's where I live and breathe,” Stride told NSMZ in a brief telephone conversation.

Essentially, Stride relishes the uniqueness that individuals bring into the big band setting. It’s the idiosyncrasies of the musicians themselves that shape the overall tone colour of the collective. It’s something that Stride genuinely believes to be unachievable in the more compositionally controlled context of classical music.

“The personalities come through (in a big band)….Going and playing this music in Saskatoon - it's not going to sound the way it does in my head and I welcome it. I'm always fascinated by what (the musicians in front of me) can bring to the music and make it sound like it was written for them.”

In terms of the music itself, Stride's version work's off Modest Mussorgsky’s original piano composition which was completed in 1874 as opposed to Maurice Ravel’s likely more well known and familiar 1922 orchestral arrangement. The end result is an elongated selection of songs due to the spots where Stride has allowed for improvisational solos. He’s not a huge proponent in making the pieces unrecognizable, though. There's a generous modicum of reverence and respect given to Mussorgsky. At least within the context of the jazz idiom, of course.

“I tried to make it what I thought it would sound like if ‘Pictures’ was written by a contemporary jazz composer,” Stride explains, ”That's how I did it. It's not always a swing beat. I don't reharmonize much except if I inserted a solo section. I tried to use language that was related to what Mussorgsky was using.... A lot of the written stuff I'm using is his basic harmony, maybe just filling it out a bit more.”

When it comes to his own personal compositional influences Stride is quick to say that he takes a little bit from “everyone” although he did list greats like Bill Holman, Thad Jones, Billy Strayhorn, Rob McConnell, Ralph Burns and Eddie Sauter when pressed for an answer.

“These are all people who's writing I just totally love and took things that I heard, like anybody that writes or creates, you take concepts or techniques or something that were tried and worked on in the past and then you kind of sort of play with them and they become a part of your own language,” relates Stride.

The concert will start at 7:30 with the Saskatoon Youth Jazz Orchestra, under the direction of Nick Fanner, opening the proceedings. Tickets can be purchased here:

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