Born: May 23, 1953 Primary Instrument: Flute
Bill McBirnie is a jazz and Latin flute specialist based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He has studied with renowned American flutist, Samuel Baron, distinguished Canadian flutist and composer, Robert Aitken, as well as Cuban charanga legend, Richard Egues. Bill has also been solicited by no less than Sir James Galway to serve as his resident Jazz Flute Specialist at Sir James' official web site.
Bill is well known for his outstanding technique. However, he is also recognized as an exceptional improviser (notably in the bebop, swing and Latin idioms) as demonstrated by his recordings as a sideman with Junior Mance, Irakere, Memo Acevedo and Emile-Claire Barlow. Needless to say, Bill has performed and recorded extensively with Toronto's finest musicians and is a longstanding charter member of Bernie Senensky's Moe Koffman Tribute Band.
Here are a few illustrative comments regarding Bill's work:
- Dear Maestro McBirnie, This just blew me away. Great, great playing...Innovative...I have never heard anyone play like this...Great technique and music making. The scales are so even it sounds like he wrote the Taffanel scale book...Bill, when you read this, I have to take my hat off to you. This is great playing by any standard. SIR JAMES GALWAY (Galway-Flute-Chat)
- “In both duo and quartet formats, McBirnie dazzles...In every instance, his technique is flawless, dynamic and often simply jaw-dropping...McBirnie has been called Canada’s standout jazz flautist. I maintain he is one of the top two or three in the world. MARK E. GALLO (JazzReview.com)
- A distinguished flutist with a devotion that shows up in the airy sweetness of his sound at ballad tempos and in the remarkable control he can bring to rapid-fire, skittering runs on up tempo, Coltrane-inspired material. STUART BROOMER (Editor, Coda magazine)
- McBirnie has always handled bop exceptionally well. You can hear his years at the conservatory in his sound, a pure, transparent tone at rest, brightening with exertion, yet he swings like someone who grew up with a large collection of Blue Note and Prestige LPs down in the basement. He's entirely idiomatic, but also effortlessly inventive. MARK MILLER (The Globe and Mail)
- ...All beautifully recorded, unclassifiable, and virtually timeless... MICHAEL STEINMAN (Cadence Magazine)
Bill has produced two Extreme Flute projects as well as two straight-ahead acoustic jazz recordings under his own name entitled Nature Boy (featuring The Mark Eisenman Trio) and Paco Paco (featuring pianist, Bernie Senensky). Both of these latter albums have attained Top 40 spots in Jazz.FM91's and Bob Parlocha's syndicated jazz programs as well as steady air-play in their respective spin cycles. Both albums have also garnered consistently excellent reviews internationally, in Canada, the USA, Britain, Australia, France, Holland and Spain.
Bill's most recent release, Mercy (featuring Romani piano sensation, Robi Botos), has been receiving, yet again, uniformly outstanding reviews throughout North America, Europe and Australia and has also garnered the 2009/2010 Toronto Independent Music Award (TIMA) in the Best Jazz category. Mercy was also nominated as Best Jazz Album in the USA at the Independent Music Awards (IMA).
Bill was chosen Flutist of the Year by the Jazz Report Awards, nominated as Miscellaneous Instrumentalist of the Year at the National Jazz Awards and declared a winner in both the U.S.A. National Flute Association’s Jazz Flute Masterclass and Jazz Flute Big Band Competitions. He has also been a longstanding contributor to the Woodwinds column of the Canadian Musician magazine.
Awards:National Jazz Awards - Flutist of the Year
Winner of the National Flute Association (NFA) Jazz Flute Masterclass
Winner of the NFA Jazz Flute Big Band Competition
National Jazz Awards - Nominationed - (1) Record of the Year (Paco Paco) and (2) Instrumentalist of the Year
Winner of the Toronto Independent Music Award (TIMA) for Best Jazz
Bill McBirnie is one of the finest jazz flute performers in jazz today...His technique is flawless and sensual...Simply excellent!... (LEE PROSSER, Jazz Review)
Toronto's Bill McBirnie occupies the rarefied air of jazz flute with a sense of style and swing that sets him apart. There are precious few flutists who can make the instrument burn with musical intensity the way McBirnie does...McBirnie shows a range of emotional colours on both Latin and jazz standards in duo and quartet configurations...McBirnie deserves to be placed alongside Moe Koffman and Herbie Mann in the pantheon of jazz flute. (ANDY SHEPPARD, After Hours, CBC Radio)
Include Bill McBirnie as an integral player in Canadian jazz. The Toronto-based flautist has marked his credentials through recordings of his own as well as appearances on albums by Junior Mance, Memo Acevedo and Irakere...Listening to McBirnie also makes his credentials clear. He dips into the nectar of a melody and his dulcet tones rise to trigger the core of his imagination for some really fascinating improvisational flights. These facets are made abundantly clear on Paco Paco... (JERRY D’SOUZA, All About Jazz)
Bill McBirnie has a powerful claim to be Canada's best player on flute...What always stands out is his outstanding tone, agile technique and fecund imagination. (GEOFF CHAPMAN, The Toronto Star)
I highly recommend Nature Boy. The music is joyous and energetic throughout...I'm just itching to play it for some classical flutists I know. I can't wait to see the expressions on their faces when they hear Bill practically turn the flute inside out on Teaneck. (MERLIN WILLIAMS, Wholenote Magazine)
Now that the great Moe Koffman is no longer among us, there's an opening in Canada for an outstanding straight- ahead jazz flutist and, with Nature Boy, Bill McBirnie has submitted his application and staked his claim...In the liner notes, McBirnie is modest about his talents but he needn't be. He has absolutely great chops, a clear sparkling sound and enough luminous ideas to brighten anyone's melancholy frame of mind. (JACK BOWERS, All About Jazz)
...With subtle playing, mature and confident swing, beautiful and well-chosen compositions throughout, there is now nothing to stand in the way of Bill McBirnie qualifying for the outstanding reputation he has developed. (BERENGERE RICHARD, Traversieres Magazine, The Official Magazine of the French Flute Association)
With a full tone, pin-sharp articulation, the occasional witty quote and some jazz licks that pay a compliment to the listener who can catch them (and which sometimes evaporate before they can be fully identified), McBirnie demonstrates that he is an impressive performer by any standard...This album is a treasure. (DON SMITH, Night Train, 3RPP FM, Australia)
Canadian, Bill McBirnie, has good claim to be the instrument's best champion since the late Herbie Mann. A fluid player with a firm command of tone and no interest in the overblown roughness adapted by many flute players after Roland Kirk, McBirnie has his own elegant way with bop, ballads, bossa and gospel. (RANDAL MCILROY, Style Manitoba)
McBirnie is indeed a fluid player with a sound and tone that is absolutely as good as it gets. (JOHN GILBERT, ejazznews.com)
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Willing to teach:
Advanced students only.
Typically, the people who come to me are (1) classical players who are trying to cross over into jazz and (2) doublers who want to improve their flute technique for jazz purposes. My students genuinely appreciate what I have to offer because it is...singular...peculiar to the flute...and, most importantly, it is not in any books!
My clinics are of interest to both flutists and doublers who want to explore and develop the techniques necessary to play in jazz and other non-classical contexts. The focus is on how to alter your technique in order to achieve more convincing and musical results in non-classical settings. We also explore some useful ways to approach the craft of improvising.
Robert Bigio Crowns & Stoppers