Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
McBirnie, Bill (William Whitten)
McBirnie, Bill (William Whitten), flute specialist, author, educator; b. Toronto, Ontario, 23 May 1953. At the age of two, the entire family--consisting of father John, mother Nadine (who played piano), elder brother Jim (who continues to play piano), elder sister Gaelagh (who played vibraphone) and twin brother Rod (who continues to play drums)--moved to Port Colborne, Ontario where his father established a medical practice and the family was raised.
Bill took lessons on piano, flute, clarinet and theory with local teachers. However, he became quite serious about the flute at an early age and, while still in high school, began studies with Robert Aitken of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. He played with the St. Catharines Symphony throughout high school and spent the 1970 season with the National Youth Orchestra touring Western Canada. He then moved to Toronto in 1972 to attend university. After obtaining a B.Com. in 1976, he resumed his musical studies and took up jazz theory and improvisation with Frank Falco of Toronto, Ontario. He has also studied Latin idioms with the Cuban charanga legend, Richard Equez, at the Banff Arts Centre. He became a regular woodwind columnist with the Canadian Musician magazine commencing in the early '90s. He was also voted Flutist of the Year in the annual Jazz Report awards in 1999. He continues to perform, record, teach and write including hosting clinics performing effectively in non-classical environments. He is well known and respected for his highly musical approach to improvising in a broad range of idioms as well as his exceptional technique on the entire family of flutes.
At an early stage in his studies, Bill became restless with the piano and announced to his parents that he wanted to play the flute--without knowing precisely what a flute was. However, this capricious request was soon followed by an uncommon devotion to the instrument. Bill's interest in jazz was being fostered in a family ensemble known as "The McBirnie Jazz Quartet Plus One", a group that participated from time to time in jam sessions at the Colored Musicians' Union Club in Buffalo, New York, not far from his home town of Port Colborne, Ontario. Bill's interest in improvisatory idioms was augmented during his adolescence in no small measure through the encouragement he received from occasional invitations to sit in with the likes of Herbie Mann, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody and others. After such broad musical exposure, it is hardly surprising that his present facility is so decidedly comprehensive; be-bop, swing, Latin, funk, pop and avant garde---all are within the scope of his unusual competence. Indeed, Bill can place himself meaningfully in virtually any musical context. Although he pursued studies in business (in the course of which he obtained a Bachelor of Commerce degree and, ultimately, a professional accounting designation), his proficiency in that quite unrelated discipline has never hindered his activities as a flutist in a wide variety of settings. His work runs the gamut from live performances (including those with his own jazz quartets and duos) to radio broadcasts and a miscellany of recording sessions. More recently, he has been performing in a variety of prominent club and festival venues. As well, Bill has recorded with eminent artists such as Junior Mance, Memo Acevedo, Irakere, Brenda Carol and Da including his own recorded flute projects under the banner, Extreme Flute.
In an instructional vein, Bill conducts clinics with emphasis on performing in non-classical contexts. He is also a featured woodwind columnist in the Canadian Musician magazine. Bill's facility on the entire family of flutes and piccolo is exceptional--pure, fresh, strong, and fluid. In performance, he exhibits a sensibility and a conviction that is genuinely compelling. Accordingly, it is little wonder that, over the years, his workmanship has earned him the respect and admiration of listeners and critics alike.
Extreme Flute: Desvio (1998), Scratch It! (2002); Bill McBirnie and The Mark Eisenman Trio: Nature Boy (2003)
The Junior Mance Quintet: Her T'is (1992); Memo Acevedo: Building Bridges (1993); Da: Sarava Criola (1995); Afrocubanismo! (with Irakere) (1999); Brenda Carol and Clairvoyance: Live at Hothouse Cafe (2000)
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