Des Cannings and the South Coast Big Band

Faculty | Jazz Series | News

Des Cannings and the South Coast Big Band

Published

May 22, 2022
He knows how to play the trombone, tuba, sousaphone, euphonium, baritone and tenor horn, and he can compose and re-arrange music while leading big bands. 

Des Cannings seems to have done it all for a musician, and he’s only 27.

It all started for Des from a very young age when was involved in the Eros Big Band with Musical Director and trombonist of the band, the late and great Wal Gregory. 

As a young teenager Des decided to start his own band while he was studying at WollCon, and in 2009 the South Coast Big Band (SCBB) was born – a 17-piece jazz band with a vocalist. How hard could it be?

“Wal Gregory was a huge influence on me. He wrote and arranged music for the Eros Big Band, he was really prolific, over 100 charts! I just thought that was the done thing, so I just copied what he did, but for my younger friends in he SCBB, most of whom were also studying at WollCon.”

Des Cannings

The SCBB began with regional tours, performed at Jazz Festivals and private performances and had regular gigs at various clubs and in particular the Illawarra Jazz club.

“Our first ever gig with the Illawarra Jazz Club in 2009 was for 3 hours, which was quite a lot of music to prepare for a young and inexperienced group but we rose to the challenge.”

Despite his tender years, Des always believed in the success of the band and although there was a high turnover of members early on, things settled down once he had a committed group of players.

“The group is now made up entirely of professional musicians rather than high school students. It actually has evolved from a youth band to one of the best jazz orchestras in NSW.”

To celebrate the SCBB’s 10th year anniversary in 2019 they recorded a debut album called “Alma”. A mix of music written and arranged by the band members as well as musicians from the Wollongong community.

“I think it has been quite successful. It’s really cool to have an album of just Wollongong music, primarily played by Wollongong musicians. We’ve had a lot of great musicians come through the area over the years, a lot of it thanks to Eric Dunan’s work. I think it’s cool to have a recording of many of the musicians who were a part of that upbringing!”

At 27 years of age, Des has achieved a lot for a musician. He is a graduate of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Jazz Program, the musical director of Judy Bailey’s Jazz Connection, the Eros Big Band, the Wollongong Junior Brass Band and is currently a music teacher for the brass and jazz programs at WollCon. 

He considers it an honour to be the musical director of the Eros Big Band in particular, given his history with former Director Wal Gregory.

“Definitely huge shoes to fill.”

His current focus for the SCBB is a tour in June featuring guest pianist Matt McMahon, with compositions by Matt but rearranged by Des and fellow band member Deven Rahman.

“Matt is a truly virtuosic player. He’s played with almost every musician you can think of, and is most notably known for his work as musical director for Vince Jones. Matt’s compositions offer a real insight into his musical mind and I’m really looking forward to bringing his music to life.” 

The arrangements will feature some of the SCBB’s  incredible soloists, Tessie Overmyer, Mariela Mulder, Paddy Kelly and vocalist Tiana Young. 

“There’s going to be some really interesting textures within the music, drawing influences from everything from orchestral to rock.”

That concert is on at the Wollongong Town Hall on the 16th of June.

More WollCon
News & Musings