Gregory McClary is a composer, arranger and pianist based in Toronto, Canada. In his many roles as jazz arranger and performer, electronica producer, and live sound technician, he has acquired a diverse set of skills. Together, they form the basis for his remarkably versatile approach to composition. Drawing from the influences of classical, jazz, Latin-American dance, and contemporary electronica, he has absorbed aspects of many styles and entwined them to create a distinct and authentic voice in his music. He recently graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music from York University.
Gregory has been playing and writing music for his entire life. Beginning piano lessons at five years of age he laid the foundation for a prodigious switch to trumpet in high school band. This formative period in his musical development instilled a love for playing in large ensembles, as well as facilitating his first exposure to jazz performance and improvisation. This experience culminated in his participation in the Calgary Youth Orchestra, and subsequently the Calgary Youth Jazz Orchestra. Unable to enrol in high school band after transferring between schools, Gregory soon discovered a passion for producing beats and exploring scratch-turntablism with the hip-hop group Jonny Sootentai. While exploring this medium, Gregory’s efforts were recognized with an Honourable Mention for a remixed entry in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s 2001 “Hockey Night in Canada Theme Song Contest” (Open Category).
Seeking to grow beyond the musical conventions of contemporary popular music, Gregory returned to the piano once again and enrolled in Mount Royal University’s Music Performance Diploma (jazz stream). While attending this program, he discovered a passion for jazz composition and arranging. Fascinated by the elegance and flexibility of jazz harmony, Gregory excelled in these courses, and began to consider pursuing a career in this field. During this time, he also began working as a live sound technician at The Distillery Public House, where he would continue to work for the next five years, developing an intimate understanding of acoustics and the characteristics of amplified sound equipment. In today’s music industry, these skills prove not just useful, but essential, given the pervasiveness of such technologies in contemporary music.
Since graduating from Mount Royal University, he has seized every opportunity to exercise these skills. After a brief period teaching piano and playing with local latin-jazz septet, “Cumako,” he moved on to become Music Director of The Centre for Spiritual Living, and soon after, founded a ten-piece swing band, The Distillionaires, catering to Calgary’s swing dance set. Although not financially viable as a weekly engagement, this act was a popular part of The Distillery’s booking schedule, and was reassembled for a reunion concert to celebrate one of the venue’s anniversaries under it’s present ownership. Following this reunion, The Distillery invited Gregory back to coordinate a Faith No More tribute concert, arranging parts for a string quartet and baritone saxophone, in place of the synthesizer/keyboard in the original instrumentation.
Building upon the insights that these diverse experiences had fostered, Gregory had an enormously productive year reconciling these influences in several innovative projects. In late 2010, he produced an electronica album, applying the relatively young idiomatic devices used in mashups and remix production to a selection of standard jazz tunes. Drawing from the experience of working as a jazz arranger, his remixes showcase the beauty and energy in what is often perceived as relatively inaccessible music. Meticulously programmed bass and percussion parts unashamedly transition between wildly contrasting styles, ranging from straight ahead swing to classical to electronic dance genres. While writing for strings in the Faith No More tribute concert, Gregory began to appreciate the elegance of contrapuntal writing and developed a fascination with classical music. This revelation served as the catalyst for Altruism, a four movement work for string quartet, which consumed all of his spare time in early 2011. This pursuit conveniently dovetailed with his acceptance to York University, where he was able to focus on classical composition while concurrently developing his musicianship as a jazz pianist.
Upon returning to school, York presented ample opportunities to pursue the recently discovered interest in classical composition. In his second and final year, Gregory’s efforts were recognized and he was awarded the Kondor Fine Arts Award. In addition to an ambitious course-load, Gregory worked as the Assistant Music Director and Pianist for Vanier College Productions’ Show Choir. This ensemble performs choreographed choral renditions of music ranging from musical theatre to classic rock to contemporary pop music. During this time, Gregory also participated in the second annual Media Music Concert, a performance organized by the Music Students’ Union at York University, contributing and performing a stylized arrangement of music from Pixar’s Up for piano and string orchestra.
This diverse background in music has bestowed an uncommonly versatile character to Gregory’s writing. Whatever the instrumental forces available, he writes with a unique compositional approach that draws from a wide variety of influences. A lifelong student of music, he continually endeavours to expand his voice by embracing challenging and stimulating musical projects at every opportunity. Gregory is currently working on a series of mashup-style arrangements drawing from opera literature, developing orchestral pieces that will be accompanied by dubstep backing tracks, and composing for intermediate wind band and chamber ensembles.