Hugh (Alexander) Fraser. Pianist, trombonist, composer, teacher, b Victoria, BC, 26 Oct 1958; hon LLD (McMaster 2004). Hugh Fraser's father, Ken, was a percussionist with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in the late 1930s. The younger Fraser studied 1977-9 at the Vancouver Community College with Dave Robbins and 1979-80 at the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, NY. In 1980 he formed the big band Vancouver Ensemble of Jazz Improvisation (VEJI or, familiarly, 'Veggie'), which won the open class at the 1981 Canadian Stage Band Festival (MusicFest Canada) and did a residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts the following winter.
Fraser continued to study at the Banff Centre Jazz Workshop during the 1980s with Dave Holland, Dave Liebman, Don Thompson, Kenny Wheeler, and others. In 1986 he began teaching trombone and arranging there, and in 1991 was appointed head of the jazz program. In a career that has found Fraser moving freely between Vancouver, Banff, New York and London, England, he also studied with Slide Hampton in New York and again 1987-8 with Wheeler in London. He played trombone in a Wheeler orchestra that toured Europe in 1990.
In 1987 Fraser formed a quintet from within the ranks of VEJI: Campbell Ryga (alto saxophone), Phil Dwyer (tenor saxophone and piano, replaced by Ross Taggart in 1989), Chris Nelson (bass, replaced by Ken Lister), and Buff Allen (drums, replaced by Blaine Wikjord in 1988 and later by Dave Robbins). Fraser himself performed on both piano and trombone. A vivacious hard-bop-based group, the Hugh Fraser Quintet won the Concours de jazz Alcan at the 1987 Festival international de jazz de Montréal (FIJM); the resulting album, Looking Up, received the Juno Award for jazz recording of the year in 1988. The quintet appeared at the 1987 Paris Jazz Festival and has toured in Great Britain and often in Europe, as well as appearing at New York's Blue Note club. It has travelled widely in Canada and in 1990 undertook its first US tour. Beginning in the late 1980s, the quintet began playing in Cuban and Central and South American venues annually. They undertook an Australian tour in 2004. VEJI, meanwhile, has appeared regularly at the du Maurier (Ltd) International Jazz Festival, Vancouver, performed in 1982 and 1985 at Jazz City and travelled in 1986 to the du Maurier International Jazz Festival, Toronto, and the FIJM. It has subsequently appeared at such Canadian festivals as the Ottawa International Jazz Festival. Fraser has appeared as trombonist individually or with other ensembles in Canada, the US, Cuba and Europe.
The Fraser bands' repertoires are largely original. By the early 2000s, Fraser had composed over 200 jazz works, including many commissions, eg from the Canada Council, Toronto Jazz Orchestra and Montreal Jazz Ensemble. About half of his compositions have been recorded; notable among these are Concerto for Jazz Orchestra; Sanctus Agnus Dei; Irenerosnesity (dedicated to Renee Rosnes); and Up for It (all for quintet); Looking Up (quintet and orchestra); and Mass in C Minor for Jazz Orchestra and The Freeabin Suite (both on VEJI Now!). A portion of the Sanctus, revised for big band, won the 1990 BBC/Mechanical Copyright Protection Society trophy for best jazz orchestra composition in the United Kingdom.
Additional Teaching Appointments
Fraser has held a wide number of teaching appointments in Canada and abroad, including at the Royal Academy of Music in London from 1988 (where he was head of jazz composition 1993-9), and at the University of Ulster 1992-8. He became head of jazz studies at the University of Victoria in 2003, and in 2001 set up the diploma jazz program at the Victoria Conservatory of Music. He also leads a wide range of workshops, eg, at the Banff Centre.
Jazz Report named Fraser its Canadian trombonist of the year in both 1996 and 1998. The recording In the Mean Time won a Juno in 1997, as did Looking Up in 1988.