One of the reasons I started this blog was to bring profile to the great jazz artists that have failed to gain the recognition they so deserve for their contributions to the Canadian jazz scene. I vowed to bring them to the forefront of our consciousness and to highlight their recordings, contributions and compositions at every opportunity.
Jazz trombonist Bob Stroup is a fine example of a musician, composer, arranger, educator and bandleader whose body of work significantly impacted the industry. Yet there is a dearth of information available to us about Bob Stroup, an appalling oversight in my opinion.
Bob passed away in 1996 but his music lives on in the hearts of all who worked or studied with him, or listened to him play. Amongst Bob’s impressive body of work are the many compositions and arrangements he wrote, with the walls of his basement studio lined from floor to ceiling with charts for trios to symphonies in genres from country to classical. Bob played hundreds of gigs throughout his time in Canada, both as a leader and a sideman. All who worked with him stood in awe of this man’s great talent, he invariably raised the level of quality emitted from the bandstand to stellar limits.
Alumni of the Woody Herman, Glen Miller, Harry James and Tommy Dorsey Orchestras (not to mention his small ensemble work with the likes of Lionel Hampton), Bob was brought to Edmonton from his birthplace of Michigan by Canadian pianist Tom Banks (now Senator Banks) in the early 70’s. His work with Banks earned them a Juno in 1978, while his trio recording with long time compatriots George Koller and Tom Doran earned him a Juno nomination for Live in Jazz City. Bob recorded the trio once more with Reunion and his final recording, Live at the Yardbird Suite featured Marvin Stamm, fellow Woody Herman alumni.
Known for his sweet, soulful tone and burning bebop chops, Bob was also a killer vibes player and a highly accomplished saxophonist, flautist and pianist… there wasn’t an instrument made the man couldn’t play with greatness when he chose to, but no matter how facile he became he never stopped at improving his sound and technique.
Bob might best be known for his work as an educator, he was an inspiration to both students and hobbyists of music. He was famous for bringing big name artists to perform with these ensembles, regardless of whether they were community, college or professional orchestras.
I had the privilege of working with Bob in many different manifestations and with a variety of players, from Bob’s Big Band to the Edmonton Symphony, in a trio setting with Brian Buchanan and in quintet at the Banff Springs Hotel, just to name a few. My favourite still remains the small combo settings where Bob would be featured as a soloist, the man was a poet of jazz trombone and always challenged us to new heights with his playing. I was blessed to have had the opportunity to record with Bob in his final months of life and dedicated Easy Living to him as a sign of my gratitude for all the beautiful music he shared with me.
I have many wonderful musical memories of Bob, but perhaps the one that resonates the loudest are his words “practice, practice, practice,” descriptive of his commitment to being the finest musician he could be and undoubtedly was.
I spent an afternoon with him just hours before he died, and he told me “I just want to be a jazz guy”. Dearest Bob, you showed us all what that means and you live on in every note we speak.