Life Among Giants: A collection of great standards featuring Brenda Brown

Brenda Brown

When one releases their work to the public, it is usually tacitly accompanied by that person’s great desire that those who choose to can find out more about what prompted and influenced the work of the artist. For many years this opportunity was furnished by having room on an album cover or insert in the form of good old-fashioned liner notes. But now in the days of streaming, downloads and small physical packaging, room for liner notes has been greatly reduced. What follows are the liner notes I hoped to have included with Brenda’s record, and of course, couldn’t. I’m lucky that I have this page here on my website in which I can tell people how lucky I feel to have been involved in this project, and to express my thanks to all who played a part in the creation of what is for me, the biggest thing I’ve ever done.


A word about Life Among Giants by the producer:

As I write this I have just finished reading of the passing of Doris Day. Of all the singers that influenced me in the writing of arrangements and my production values of this album for Brenda Brown, Doris Day is first and foremost, and so without delay, thank you Doris Day from the bottom of my heart. What a truly wonderful legacy you left us with.

For me this recording is about two things – one the chance to showcase a brilliant vocalist as you will hear in Brenda Brown, and the other is the opportunity for me to pay homage to the many wonderful musical influences that make me the musician I am – the great arrangers, the great composers, the great producers, the great instrumentalists and the great singers and the great teachers. They range from people long dead whose musical impacts are still felt daily, up through the years to current musicians from all over the world whom I admire, and include the many colleagues and friends I am blessed to work with regularly, and whom I feel are world class. There are those who’ve helped me, advised me, set me straight and given me room – I can’t name you all, but you know whom you are and how I feel about each of you. All of you were and are my teachers, and without teachers, our lives are less than complete. My life is full of riches from you all, and I thank you deeply.

Brenda Brown performs at the
KW Jazz Room
Photo: Darrell Raymond

While the list would fill many pages, some influences I feel are noteworthy are the great arrangers like Nelson Riddle, Henry Mancini, Frank Comstock, Jerry Gray, Billy May, and Canadian greats like Rob McConnell, Rick Wilkins (thanks for the harp writing lesson Rick!), and Eddie Graf. Then there are the composers and lyricists like Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin and so many more.

I would be remiss if I did not make mention of the incredible opportunity afforded me to work with such a truly formidable talent such as is embodied in recording engineer Jeremy Darby and his fabulous studio Canterbury Music Company. To me, working with Jeremy is akin to rubbing shoulders with recording royalty, as the list of whom he’s worked with over the years is a veritable Who’s Who of talent. Thank you Jeremy, it’s been a marvelous experience! Let’s do it some more!!

I’m so thrilled at the contributions each musician has made to this recording - each of you pulled out all the stops to make this a very special production. A huge thank you special mention to all the special guests - my friends Canadian song-writing and vocal icon Alfie Zappacosta for his singing on “Folks Who Live On The Hill”, mallets whiz Michael Davidson for the polishing touch on several tunes with your glockenspiel, and killer vibes playing on “When You’re Smiling”, the gorgeous oboe work by Merlin Williams and the beautiful solo on “Splintered Dream” by composer and jazz guitar master Reg Schwager. My goodness Reg! Eight takes to choose from, and each one was stunning! Deciding which to use was one of the hardest decisions to make for this record. Last but most certainly not least, I got to add the special shimmer and shine by asking to play someone I’ve admired for years when I’d watch her perform with various symphonic groups since I was a child, harpist extraordinaire Erica Goodman. Thank you to all of you.

A good strings section is one of the finer things in music – lush, warm, soaring, evocative – and so much an enormous part of the grand studio recordings from the 40s up to the present day that are part of the inspirations I spoke of earlier. My friend and virtuoso violist Claudio Vena (who’s list of accomplishments is long and impressive, including being the former conductor of Burlington Ontario’s Symphony on the Bay), was without a doubt the perfect person to handle choosing the right players and conducting them during the recording, drawing from them a performance that is truly special. Thanks so much to all the strings and Claudio for such musical interpretations of my arrangements, and a special thanks to Claudio for your guidance as I prepared the arrangements for the recording. I couldn’t have done it without you.

The core of all good bands is the rhythm section, and in this case special mention is due. The foundation is created with the spark of a good string bass, and is everything to this kind of music, but the efforts are rarely lauded. Lewis Mele has handled that chair with an authority and musicality second to none. An unbeatable combination is attained when you mix his talents with those of someone I feel is the best big band drummer on the continent, Terry Clarke. Terry brings true history and experience to this recording that is unmatched by anyone. The Harmonic pulse of the rhythm guitar is so important, and again, hardly ever recognized. A big tip of the hat to guitarist Phil Disera who unfalteringly laid down the 4 to the bar like no one else can. Thanks gentlemen!

Saxophones – ably lead by Kurt Lund, one of the finest lead alto players anywhere. Never one to be heard directing his section by anyone but the actual players, his leadership resulted in one of the finest performances I’ve ever heard from that section – the pencils were certainly worn down to nubs by the end of rehearsal! Thanks Kurt!

The same accolades apply to the trumpets – Stephen Crowe is in my opinion so very under-rated, and is the best lead trumpet player this county has seen in a very long time. His soft spoken humour-laced section leading speaks for itself as his playing commands the entire brass section to spectacular brilliance. Some remarkable brass work awaits the listener of this record. Thanks Steve!

What can I say about the trombones (aka the manually operated tubular pitch approximation devices)? Well, in this case they’re lead by the one and only Daniel Douglas – one of my best friends and a world class musician who shares my love of the history of this kind of music, and knows how to exhort his section mates to punch it up when required, and be romantic and smooth when needed. Thanks Danny!

Then of course, there’s Brenda Brown. Where do I start? A truly lovely person with an enchanting voice, she graces these classic songs (and a few new classics too!) with beautiful and unique interpretations, revealing a startling maturity of concept usually heard only from such vocal stars like Doris Day and Jo Stafford. I’m blessed to be able to work with her, and even more blessed to have her as a friend.

Brenda Brown
Photo: Glen Brown

In closing, I think it safe to say that music by nature is a melting pot of influences, and in this case I am the melting pot to which all these ingredients and more have been added, and the opportunity to use all these elements in a recording of this nature is truly the dream of a lifetime for me. How lucky I am!! Thank you to Brenda for trusting me with your dream and allowing me to follow my heart with the arrangements and production.


Album Credits

All selections produced, arranged and conducted by Ross Wooldridge

Mixed by Ross Wooldridge and Jeremy Darby at Canterbury Music Company, Toronto Ontario Canada

Recording Engineer Jeremy Darby

Recording Assistant Julian Decorte

Digital Editing by Ross Wooldridge

Strings conducted by Claudio Vena

Strings Contractor Claudio Vena

Digital preproduction by Phil Disera and Blue Hat Studios