Trombone Shorty

By bringing up Trombone Shorty, I’m probably veering dangerously off-topic, but he really cannot go unmentioned. The people need to know!

Trombone Shorty (real name – Troy Andrews) is a jazz musician from New Orleans, who at the young age of 27 has played with virtually every major jazz artist on the planet. You can find videos of this guy playing in Wynton’s band at the age of 9! He is not only a trombone player, but also quite a good trumpet player and singer. His group is a fusion between second line, funk, rap, jazz and calypso. This fusion of styles is really hip, makes for a great show, and he always makes the audience a part of his performance. I love his musical choices and performance style because he is playing fantastic music (he updates older music so that it is as cool now as it was then) and doing it in a way that is relevant to almost any audience, not just people who also attend serious, formal concerts.

I think the most notable aspect of his playing (technically) is that he will start a tune on the trombone, playing the head. Then he will move to the trumpet and play over changes. This really blows my mind because as a music education major in college, I had to play all of the brass instruments and it is no easy feat to transition between instrument like that! He is also a great improviser, has solid high chops, and can circular breathe for a really long time (which draws in the trumpet jocks…). Speaking of trumpet jocks, in case anyone is wondering, he plays on an Edwards custom trumpet and is an Edwards performing artist.

Here he is, updating a REALLY old standard.

My Most Favorite Brass Quintet Chart – “Vuelta del Fuego”

During my time playing with the Sandia Brass Quintet in Albuquerque, NM, there was one piece that always stuck out as a group favorite. Introduced to us by one of our coaches, the always cool Richard White, “Vuelta del Fuego”, by composer and trumpeter Kevin McKee is a piece that acted as a perfect soundtrack to the New Mexico culture and landscape. The translation of the title is “Ride of Fire”. Of the piece, McKee says, “The idea for Vuelta del Fuego came from a love of that Mexican “Zorro” sound that mixes over-the-top romance with unabashed flair and swagger.” Richard always said that it sounded like the sun rising over the Sandia Mountains, eating a green chile breakfast burrito, and bad Albuquerque driving, heh.

Wait, is this Albuquerque? Seems about right to me.

I think McKee was going more for this, rather than the former…

Anyhow, off topic. It is not an easy piece, but it is playable by a decent college brass quintet and well worth the work, being both really fun to play and a big crowd-pleaser. Go here to listen to a great performance by the All-Star Brass Quintet, including Ryan Anthony (on trumpet), who also says, “In all my years of playing brass quintets, I can honestly say that Vuelta del Fuego ranks on top of my most favorite pieces to play.”

Elliot Carter’s Brass Quintet (1974)

Professor Manning asked the class to listen to Elliot Carter’s Brass Quintet and respond to some questions he had about it. The specific recording was Classic American Brass by the American Brass Quintet. Here are my thoughts:

1. What is the affect of this music? (How does it make you feel?)

Honestly, I am not big fan of the piece simply as listening and am not sure how I would say that it makes me feel. Academically, the piece is very well constructed, with very interesting use of very individualistic solo passages juxtaposed against sudden loud and full ensemble entrances. Carter does a good job of showing off various extended techniques and interesting tone colors, both with individual players and in ensemble. I am very impressed by the technical prowess of the American Brass Quintet in playing the piece.

I suppose that one definite feeling that I have while listening to the piece is one of being unsettled.


2. How did the Carter create that affect?

One musical elements that contributes to my feeling of unsettledness is the lack of a feeling of meter. It is not that there is no meter, rather that the meter is obscured by a lack of a constant, re-occurring downbeat, signifying the beginning of a measure and constant time. Thus, it becomes possible for one to feel rhythmically disoriented. Another musical element that contributes to this feeling (for me) are the quiet, eerie long notes played by individual instruments separately but at the same as different, rhythmic material. The pitches in the rhythmic passages do not fit with the long note in terms of tonal functional harmony, so to me, there is this unsettling feeling that makes me think, “This long note doesn’t belong.” It is not pitch alone that causes this feeling, though. It is also the dynamic level – very soft in comparison with the louder, rhythmic material. Also, the tone of the long notes is rather dead (no vibrance and little energy). For me, this creates a creepy affect, like something bad is about to happen. I am not sure if it was Carter’s intention to create that affect, also, I am probably just projecting ideas from film onto something that is probably not intended to serve as programmatic music. Another way the unsettling affect is created is by having the quintet suddenly enter together on very loud, but harmonically dissonant chords. To me, this is startling. At the same time, it does sound very impressive – sort of imposing, I guess.


3. What measure do you think would be the most difficult to perform and why?

I don’t think that there is any one measure that is the most difficult, however, there are many solo passages that are very fast and angular. I think that these are the most challenging for the individual player. As an ensemble, the greatest challenge would be keeping steady time so that parts that are played together have perfect precision.


4. Should this piece be studied in future ABEL classes as a landmark work? why/why not?

Often, I prefer not to listen to music like this, so in a way I would prefer not to study it as a landmark work (or have others study it). At the same time, it is clearly a well-constructed, thought out piece worth taking seriously. Also, it has clearly served as an influence for many other composers of brass quintets. These things justify it being studied as a landmark work.


5. Compare and contrast this to Davison’s Brass Quintet, also written in 1974. Davison studied with Walter Piston, Howard Hanson and Alan Hovaness. Who where Carter’s influences and how do you think that lead to his own style?

A few of Carter’s earliest influences were Stravinsky and Ives. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, who taught him that every note was important, and that there should be no fluff in his writing.

Our Brass Quintet Heritage

As musicians, it is important to know our history; the people and ensembles that came before us and built something from which we all benefit. Because of this, I really appreciate it when ensembles offer a history of the group. When an ensemble is marketing itself, the only concern is who the current members are. But for anyone who is really interested in brass quintet playing, for example, it is also nice to be able to see who the former members are. Both the American Brass Quintet and the Canadian Brass acknowledge former members on their websites.

I really like the diagram below, because it clearly lays out the members, the length of time they played with the group, who else they played with in the group, and on the American Brass Quintet website, you can click on a musician’s name and read their biography. This is a wonderful way for the current quintet to pay tribute to the musicians who came before them. In many ways, these former members are responsible for the jobs that the current members have. Obviously the current members had to do the work to get into the quintet, but thanks to the players that came before them, they did not have to do the work of forming the quintet or building a legacy.

A similar diagram can be found on the Canadian Brass website. One thing that I like about    the Canadian Brass is that they seem to really celebrate the personality of each individual member of the group. As such, when a musician leaves the group, it seems like they really are still part of the CB legacy. The CB have also laid out the Discography section of their website in the form of a timeline so that it is easy for someone to see which members played on what recording.

President’s Own Tuba Euphonium Quartet

As you can probably see I am a big fan of the D.C. military bands. I was fortunate to grow up and start college on the East Coast, and have had numerous opportunities to see military music ensembles perform live. Also, I believe that a musician can make a great career with the military. While I was at Messiah College (in Grantham, PA), the Tuba Euphonium Quartet came to give a master class and concert. Of course, being the trumpet chauvinist that I was at the time, I was really bummed out about having to listen to a concert of two euphoniums and two tubas play. Fortunately, they far exceeded my expectations.

These low brass players were incredible. They performed a very eclectic mix, from orchestral transcriptions to Latin/Jazz tunes, and most notably, Metallica’s “Orion”. The first euphonium played the guitar solo from “Orion” note for note, which is quite a feat on the guitar, but even more difficult on a brass instrument. Somehow, though, it sounded really easy when he played it. It was really incredible!

The Army Brass Quintet

The Army Brass Quintet, a division of “Pershing’s Own”, is comprised of some of the best brass musicians in the Army. While the group has gone through numerous personnel changes since it began in 1972, the quality of their playing has only improved. An interesting trend in personnel is that the trombone players for the group (currently the great Matt Niess, formerly Harry Watters) have often come out of the Army Blues (“Pershing’s Own’s” Jazz Band), rather than the Concert Band. I would also like to make note of two of the most recent former trumpet players, Woody English (who played in the quintet for more than 20 years) and Denny Edelbrock (a member of the quintet for at least 30 years and executive director of the National Trumpet Competition!). Both are world-class players who have performed in honor of presidents, international dignitaries, and fallen American heroes; please check out their bios. Also, an article about Woody’s retirement.

The first time that I saw the Army Brass Quintet, they played their own soundtrack to an old black and white movie. This was really stunning. The horn player at the time had composed a soundtrack, which seemed very stylistically appropriate for the time period of the movie. Also, the musicians switched back and forth from their instruments to garden hoses. This created a great contrast between the movie and music, and was quite entertaining.

The quintet’s webpage has some good information about the group and you can listen to some pristine recordings from their album Encore! Below, check out some videos. The first features Harry Watters as a soloist and Denny and Woody on trumpets. The second one isn’t really seasonally appropriate (Christmas in April), but I like it!

Mnozil Brass

I was very fortunate to be at Mnozil Brass’ very first U.S. performance, and let me tell you, this concert was unbelievable. It was literally the most musically perfect, exciting, and memorable performance that I have ever experienced. In the summer of 2006, the International Trumpet Guild Conference was held at Rowan University, so my best friend and I drove out to South Jersey (a place no God-fearing individual should ever go) to attend. It was my first time at the conference, and by the time that Mnozil performed, near the end of the week, I had already been dazzled by many fantastic events, including performances by the American Brass Quintet and my favorite jazz trumpeter, Arturo Sandoval. Being a very young player at the time, I was not aware of this group. I later realized that most of the people at the performance had never heard of Mnozil before since it was their first time in the U.S.

From the moment they started playing until the moment they stopped, I could not believe the sounds that I was experiencing. The level of mastery that they have on their instruments as well as the show that they put on is simply amazing. There is not another group in the world putting on a show like theirs. Also, there is not a single weak player in the group who is a “weak link” – every single member can play virtually anything. For any doubters out there, trumpet virtuoso Jens Lindemann had this to say about them on the Trumpet Master forums (another place that no God-fearing individual should ever go): “It is as ingenious as the Canadian Brass was when they started on the scene forty years ago. Mnozil’s time is now!” Check out another video below. Apparently it is useful to be able to sing!