Died April 19, 2016
Maxine Willan (pianist, arranger) was born in Perth, Western Australia. She emigrated to Canada in the 1970s and holds dual Canadian and Australian citizenship. She completed classical piano studies while still in Australia, culminating with an Association of Music of Australia Degree in Piano Performance. She moved to Canada primarily to study jazz and pop music with Darwyn Aitken and the late Gordon Delamont (Modern Arranging and Orchestration). In 1977 she was awarded a Rob McConnell Arranging Scholarship, and after continuing studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music, was named an Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Piano Teaching, Composition, and Theory.
Willan joined the Toronto Musicians’ Association in 1973, and began playing professionally as a solo pianist in clubs and hotels throughout the city. She formed an all-girl band which was active on the Toronto scene at the time, and then joined a big rehearsal band to gain experience in that musical format. During the same period she was active as a composer, collaborating with various writers on musical theatre works including Twelfth Night Blues which was ultimately staged at the Stratford Summer Music Festival to favourable reviews.
Maxine Willan released her ‘Alone and Together’ solo and trio piano CD in 1998. She has been pianist for the Swing Shift big band for more than six years, works with the Ed Vokurka Jazz Swing Ensemble, and continues to work in various venues around Toronto playing solo piano, leading her own Maxine Willan Ensemble, and working with various other small groups and big bands. She is also active as a piano teacher. She passed away on April 19, 2016.