Guido Basso was born into an Italian-Canadian family in Montreal, Quebec on 27 September 1937. Beginning at the age of nine he eventually became a child prodigy on the trumpet after studying at the Conservatoire de Musique de Montreal.
Vic Damone heard him when he was working with Maury Kaye’s dance band at Toronto’s El Morocco. Thoroughly impressed, he took him on the road with him in 1957/58. Basso then joined Pearl Bailey and Louis Bellson’s band for an extensive North American tour including recording with them at the Flamingo, Las Vegas. Some of his fellow sidemen included Juan Tizol, Earl Swope, Herb Geller, Aaron Sachs and Big Nick Nicholas.
In 1960 he settled in Toronto, becoming a first-call studio musician on trumpet and flugelhorn. He once said: “You attack the trumpet and make love to the flugelhorn.” He was the musical director for two CBC TV series – Night Cap (1963/67) and Barris And Company (1968/69). In 1969 he co-starred with Peter Appleyard on Mallets & Brass. He also led big bands for CBC’s In The Mood (1971/72) and Bandwagon (1972/73).
Beginning in 1975 he organised concerts at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition featuring visiting luminaries such as Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Woody Herman, Count Basie and Duke Ellington. He also formed a small group with Rob McConnell and Ed Bickert to work in local venues such as George’s Spaghetti House and the First Floor Club.
Equally at home in the jazz, pop and classical fields, as an in-demand session musician he played on more than 200 albums. He once told Bill King in an interview: “I wanted to be a jazz musician but a better lifestyle won out. I have to be able to afford it to play jazz”.
In 1968 he became one of the galaxy of stars recruited by Rob McConnell for his well-named Boss Brass. He recorded no less than 29 albums with the band until his last session with them in 1998, including dates with the Hi-Los (1978), Singers Unlimited (1980), Phil Woods (1985) and Mel Tormé (1986). The McConnell band won three Grammy awards over the years.
Any McConnell album featuring Basso is replete with his solos and tracks like Greenhouse, Just One Of Those Things, Jobim Medley, The Back Beat, Love Of My Life, A Child Is Born, Sophisticated Lady and Close Enough For Love are fine examples of his work with the Boss Brass. One of his most outstanding performances with McConnell is Portrait Of Jenny from the 1976 Jazz Album which can be heard on YouTube. He is centre stage for the eight-minute duration in an intimate statement of subtlety and lyricism.
He can also be heard soloing on two McConnell Tentet CDs: Lush Life from the 2000 Just In Time album and Thou Swell, Always and Indian Summer from the 2002 Music Of The Twenties CD. Indian Summer includes a tribute to the Gil Evans 1958 Summertime arrangement and McConnell’s sleeve-note said: “Guido did a killer imitation of Miles.” His harmon, which he rarely used, really clinches it here.
After he left the Boss Brass, Basso worked in local clubs and hotels with his own small groups featuring a mix of jazz and Latin American music. His final recording was Solstice/Equinox in 2016, with vocalist Diana Panton.
He became a member of the Order of Canada in 1994. The citation said: “He is an advocate of the arts and an inspiration to young musicians. He is generous with his time and talent running workshops and clinics, lending his name and expertise to worthy causes.”
As a pillar of the jazz community he received a number of awards over the years: in 2012 he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame; in 2016 he received the prestigious Oscar Peterson Award from the Montreal International Jazz Festival; the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences awarded him a Juno for his 2003 album Turn Out The Stars and another for his 2004 Lost In The Stars.
Guido Basso died from natural causes on 13 February 2023. He is survived by his wife, Kristin. His daughter Mia Basso Noble pre-deceased him in 2013.