Roy Coran (1929-2013), a local musician, arranger, and composer formed a 10-piece big band in 1951 to provide live dance music at various venues in the former cities of Fort William, ON and Port Arthur, ON. A year later, he opened a music store on Simpson Street and it was here that the big band held its first rehearsals. Its repertoire was comprised of commercial or stock “big band” arrangements from the “Great American Songbook”. The musicians in this band were all members of the American Federation of Musicians and held full-time jobs elsewhere. During the late 1950s, the band regularly played for Saturday night dances at the Exhibition Auditorium, and on Friday evenings during the summer months at the Chippewa Park Pavilion. Occasionally, under Roy Coran’s leadership, the band backed up visiting acts for the Canadian Lakehead Exhibition’s stage show, or entertainers as part of a Shrine Circus show, or even a Christmas show provided for Great Lakes Paper workers’ families held at the Fort William Gardens. In the late 1960s when big bands went out of vogue or were becoming too expensive for hire, the Roy Coran band was reduced to a quintet or quartet.
In the mid-1970s, however, Roy Coran invited some of the best musicians in Thunder Bay to rehearse and play the big band music of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and Artie Shaw. This newly constituted band began performing concerts at the Thunder Bay Public Library, senior citizen homes, and by the late 1970s it began the tradition of being the opening act of the “Summer in the Park” concerts. These free public events were generously supported through the Music Performance Trust Fund of the American Federation of Musicians.
The Roy Coran Big Band is presently comprised of eighteen to twenty of Thunder Bay’s finest professional musicians under the Artistic Direction of Mr. Ted Vaillant. To keep the genre of big band music alive for generations to come in Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario, the band has begun producing a series of educational performances for elementary and secondary school students sponsored by the Ontario Arts Council. These concerts are intended to familiarize students with big band music, jazz, and the art of improvisation. In response to overwhelming support by the people of Thunder Bay, the Roy Coran Big Band presents its annual concert season for 2019-2020. The band is proud to continue the tradition, and honour the legacy of its founder, Roy Coran, as an integral part of Thunder Bay’s diverse artistic and cultural landscape.