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Bill studied with renowned American flutist, Samuel Baron, Canadian flutist and composer, Robert Aitken, as well as Cuban charanga legend, Richard Egues. McBirnie is known for his excellent technique and he is also recognized as an accomplished improviser, notably in the bebop, swing and Latin idioms as illustrated by his recordings as a sideman with Junior Mance ("Here 'Tis", Sackville Records) Irakere ("Afrocubanismo Live", Bembe Records), Memo Acevedo ("Building Bridges", Jazz Alliance), Emilie-Claire Barlow ("The Very Thought of You", Empress Music) and Cache ("Blended" and "The Toronto Sessions", Indie Pool) . He has performed with many of Toronto's foremost musicians including as a longstanding and charter member of Bernie Senensky's Moe Koffman Tribute Band.
Here are a few illustrative comments regarding Bill’s work:
"Dear Maestro McBirnie, [This] just blew me away. Great, great playing...Innovative... I have never heard anyone play like this...Great technique and music making. The scales are so even it sounds like he wrote the Taffanel scale book...Bill, when you read this, I have to take my hat off to you. This is great playing by any standard." (Sir James Galway, Galway-Flute-Chat, Message #507, Sunday, December 25, 2005)
“In both duo and quartet formats, McBirnie dazzles...In every instance, his technique is flawless, dynamic and often simply jaw-dropping...McBirnie has been called Canada’s standout jazz flautist. I maintain he is one of the top two or three in the world. “ (MARK E. GALLO, JazzReview.com, May 2010)
“A distinguished flutist with a devotion that shows up in the airy sweetness of his sound at ballad tempos and in the remarkable control he can bring to rapid-fire, skittering runs on up tempo, Coltrane-inspired material.” (Stuart Broomer, Editor, CODA, Toronto Life, April 2004)
“McBirnie has always handled bop exceptionally well. You can hear his years at the conservatory in his sound—a pure, transparent tone at rest, brightening with exertion—yet he swings like someone who grew up with a large collection of Blue Note and Prestige LPs down in the basement. He's entirely idiomatic, but also effortlessly inventive.” (Mark Miller, Globe and Mail, page R6, Thursday, December 19, 2002)
“...All beautifully recorded, unclassifiable, and virtually timeless...” (Michael Steinman, Cadence Magazine, July 2004, page 109))
In addition, McBirnie has produced two Extreme Flute projects ("Desvio" and "Scratch It!") as well as three straight-ahead acoustic jazz recordings under his own name entitled "Nature Boy" (featuring The Mark Eisenman Trio) and “Paco Paco” (featuring pianist, Bernie Senensky). These albums have consistently attained Top 40 spots at Canada's premier jazz station, Jazz.FM91, and in the USA on Bob Parlocha’s syndicated jazz program and remain in their regular spin cycles. All have garnered excellent reviews internationally—in Canada, the USA, Britain, France, Australia, Greece and the Netherlands.
McBirnie's most recent release entitled, "Mercy" (featuring Romani piano sensation, Robi Botos), has also garnered critical success as well as the 2009/2010 Toronto Independent Music Award (TIMA) in the "Best Jazz" category.
McBirnie has been chosen Flutist of the Year by the Jazz Report Awards, nominated as Miscellaneous Instrumentalist of the Year at the National Jazz Awards as well as being the only winner in all three of the U.S.A. National Flute Association's jazz flute (1) Soloist, (2) Masterclass and (3) Big Band Competitions. He has also been a longstanding contributor to the Woodwinds column of the Canadian Musician magazine and was recruited personally by James Galway to serve as his resident Jazz Flute Specialist at his official web site.
- d'Gama Rose, Raul (2010-02-15). "CD/LP review: Mercy". All About Jazz. Archived from the original on 27 February 2010. Retrieved 2010-04-18.