Niagara-on-the-Lake newcomer Ross MacIntyre says pursuing a career in music was always his only option.
And he has travelled the world for gigs, performed on Juno Award-winning albums and stood in for notable lead bassists. Most recently he has been contracted to play the double bass on a show-by-show basis for the Shaw’s Festival Theatre orchestra.
“I had a teacher once who said, ‘If you can see yourself doing anything else with your life outside of music, then do that. But if your only option is to play music and there’s just nothing else you can do with your life, you can’t see yourself in any other field, that’s when you do – music.’ ”
“I was definitely one of those people from the beginning — no question,” MacIntyre says. “I found it. This is it. This is the whole thing.”
As a 42-year-old working musician, he says he thinks he’s on the right path. Apart from a few part-time jobs throughout high school, he’s only ever worked in the industry – and he intends to stay the course.
“I mean I’ve never really had any other marketable skills, other than music, so I can’t really see myself doing anything else.”
He plays the bass, an instrument he initially chose “out of necessity,” he says, though he adds that over time he’s fallen in love with it.
“There was a band that needed either a drummer or a bass player. Bass looked easier to carry, so I just kind of chose that.”
He went from playing electric to double bass and started playing in orchestras and jazz bands, he says. He’s a jazz musician by trade – he earned a degree in jazz at the University of Toronto. But he says he enjoys playing any style.
MacIntyre dove into music early with piano lessons at age four. But it was his immersive arts education at Cawthra Park Secondary School in Mississauga where he resolved to make a living as a working musician.
“I was in that arts high school so there was a bunch of other like-minded young musicians. We were very motivated to go out and make money playing music,” he says.
He landed his first gig at about 15, he says, while playing in a band with friends.
“We went out to the coffee shops in Mississauga and asked if they wanted to have a live jazz band, and most of them said no, but a couple of them said yes.”
He says watching some of his friend’s parents make a living as professional musicians showed him it was something that could realistically be done. Being a “rock star” was never the goal, he says.
“There’s not too many famous rock and roll bass players out there anyway – it’s kind of the nature of the instrument. You kind of have to do a whole bunch of different things and play with a whole bunch of different musicians,” he says.
He says that spontaneous mindset is important for any musician to have. In an industry where “every day is different,” he says you never really know what you’re going to get walking into a new venue.
“The career of a jazz musician is very similar to jazz music itself, because it requires so much improvisation and adaptability and more often than not when you’re playing jazz the music will go somewhere that you didn’t expect it to. But it’s still good,” he says.
He says he enjoys the challenge of being under pressure in spontaneous situations; it’s a good fit for him.
His ability to lean into spontaneity helped when we got a call to fill in for a “Phantom of the Opera” performance at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto, he says.
“Their bass player had a medical emergency, so I got a call to play with about 25 minutes’ notice. I lived half an hour away from the theatre so I had to get there as fast as I could.”
He says he went into the pit with the other musicians and had to sight read a concert he had never played before.
“It was a real challenge and something that I really enjoyed. I enjoyed being under that pressure. And then, after I did it and didn’t make too many mistakes, it was a really good feeling.”
And while a certain amount of adaptability is important, he says he wouldn’t have gotten very far without hard work.
“I actually really enjoy practising and I always have, so ideally I would put in a couple hours a day. It doesn’t always work out with two young kids, and just the reality of life,” he says.
He has two young children with his wife, Stacey MacIntyre. As soon as he discovered he was going to be a father six years ago he says he started practising “like crazy.”
“I’m more motivated to become more successful in music. Before I had kids, it was just me that I had to worry about. But now there’s other people who are depending on me getting work and feeding them and putting them through school.”
Throughout his career so far, MacIntyre says he’s been lucky to have the opportunities he’s had. He says he’s performed with many incredible musicians over the years, adding that he’s most proud to have worked with Heather Bambrick and Matt Dusk.
“They are two people I work with the most,” he says.
He’s not certain of his exact goals long term, but he plans to continue working hard to improve his skills. Right now, he says he’s happy to have the opportunity to work at the Shaw Festival and to become a part of the community in NOTL.
“I have a friend who says, ‘If you take care of music, music will take care of you.’ So, I kind of take that to heart and try to be the best musician I can be,” he says. “Hopefully, it’ll all work out.”