Tuesday, April 20, 2010

For Further Reading

I've already met the blogging requirement, so I just wanted to throw in a few more groups that fit into my theme in case someone is interested in furthering their knowledge of non-traditional tuba playing.

Tuba Gooding, Jr. plays sousaphone in The Roots.

Sotto Voce is the world's foremost professional touring tuba quartet. They have recorded multiple albums and established themselves as premier chamber musicians. Euphoniums: Demondrae Thurmon, Mark Carlson. Tubas: Nat McIntosh, Mike Forbes.

Boom Pan is an Israeli surf-rock band, applying tuba sensibilities to the style of The Chantays.

Other groups are out there. Keep searching!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Side Show Tim

After I literally blew my competition away with Horsepower, I totally weirded them out by bringing in Cerberus - our class' weirdest brass ensemble and a prime example of eccentric tuba playing.

Cerberus is a UI faculty brass trio (trumpet, horn, and tuba) that specializes in improvised music - soundpainting, free idiom, jazz, and everything else. Cerberus regularly collaborates with other musicians, as well as poets and dancers. Cerberus' proteges comprise Latitude - a motley assortment of student improvisers on a wide range of instruments. John Manning handles the tuba chores with Cerberus and has also composed pieces for the group.

If I Hit the Lottery

Bebop trombonist, composer, arranger, and bandleader JJ Johnson has a list of musical accomplishments a mile long and his biography is a who's who of jazz music. On my in-class listening, I regretted that I did not have time to include one of Johnson's most under-rated projects, the Brass Orchestra. Johnson's Brass Orchestra was a transfigured big band with trumpet, horn, trombone, euphonium, and tuba sections. In addition, the band had an enlarged rhythm section including harp and timpani. The group only recorded one album (to my knowledge) that included compositions and arrangements by Johnson, Miles Davis, Robin Eubanks, conductor Slide Hampton, and others. Beyond Johnson, the band included some heavy hitters: Jon Faddis, Eubanks, Jim Pugh, Steve Turre, Dave Taylor, Joe Alessi, Doug Purvivance, Rufus Reid, Freddie Santiago, and others.

Bruce Bonvissuto and Alan Raph played euphonium, joining Howard Johnson and Andy Rodgers on tuba.

His Eye is on the Sparrow

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, one of the best-known Dixieland bands in the world, was founded by Preservation Hall Jazz band owner/proprietor and tubist Alan Jaffe. Since his death, his big-haired son Ben Jaffe has operated the hall and both tuba and bass with the band. Ben has wisely ditched his father's helicon in favor of a custom-painted sousaphone, seen below.

The band's line-up seems to be perpetually changing, but the average age of the band members somehow remains around 70. Check out a great video of what I consider to be the best combination of players (including my personal favorite, Sing Miller) in the middle of an outrageous dance party.

Opa Cupa

American fans of Eastern European tuba playing need not fret if they are unable to fly to Bucharest to catch a Fanfare Ciocarlia show, as NYC's own Slavic Soul Party! is suitably fantastic. The band has released four albums, tours occasionally, and has a standing gig at Barbes every Tuesday. Ron Caswell plays tuba in the band alongside trumpets, trombones, saxophone/clarinet, drums, and a truly gifted accordion player. Brass enthusiasts would also be interested to know that the band often incorporates trubas of varying tessituras in their music. Check out their site for some wild photos of excursions and fill your ears with glorious American-made Balkan goodness.

Kan Marau La

Fanfare Ciocarlia (roughly, Skylark Band) is a Romanian Roma band that is beautiful total chaos. They are best known for a very fast (200+ bpm), high-energy sound, with complex, rapid rhythms and solos. They are also known for using no sheet music in their performances, randomly blasting their horns in the middle of songs, and for playing old, battered instruments onstage.

Since being convinced to leave their village of Zece Prajini in 1996, the twelve-man assemblage of brass, woodwinds, and percussion have played over 1000 concerts in over 50 countries. The majority of their lyrics are in Romanian, but the group borrows musical elements from Roma, Balkan, Muslim, Slavic, and Indian music (also, a fabulous cover of the James Bond theme). Western audiences might recognize them from their contribution of "Born to Be Wild" in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan or their collaboration with electronica-dance artist [dunkelbunt].

FC is interesting from a tuba stand-point in that the group uses a two-tuba system: a BBb helicon and an F helicon playing separate parts for maximum tuba density and intensity. I particularly enjoy their album Queens and Kings, which includes interesting collaborations with people who I can only assume are popular Eastern European musicians that happen to have singing voices modeled after Western cartoon characters. Either way, this band is awesome.

Hard Times

"Why would I like a band called Bonerama?" she asked incredulously, obviously misinterpreting the moniker. Indeed, the New Orleans-based funk band Bonerama is best Googled with your SafeSearch on, but that hardly dampens my enthusiasm for the group.

According to the band biography, the band was conceived by trombonists Mark Mullin and Craig Klein while they were playing in Harry Connick, Jr.'s big band. Bonerama is fronted by four trombonists backed by guitar, drums, and Matt Perrine on sousaphone and bass. The group plays New Orleans standards, originals, and (my favorite, of course) classic rock covers.

You can check out Bonerama's website and learn how they plan to revolutionize live music's funding issues by incorporating supporters into the band through the Boner Donor program.

I should note, as well, that Iowa's own Dana Telsrow plays sousaphone in Iowa City's most prominent Bonerama-tribute band, the BBQ Mansion Brass Band.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Chaal Baby

I don't often get to endorse bhangra-funk bands, in part because I didn't even know what bhangra-funk was until I was flipping through the New Yorker (it's hard work being a journalism snob) and came across a blurb about Red Baraat. Red Baraat is a nine-piece band that combines bhangra (Indian wedding music) with second line sensibilities. Led by Sunny Jain on the dhol (the dhol!!!), the group has been a smash-hit on the world music scene, in part to John Altieri, the group's sousaphonist AND rapper (yes, rapper).


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Kool Kube

In compiling a survey of ensembles that use tuba in a non-traditional role, I have to remind myself that ensembles consisting entirely (or nearly entirely) of tubas are by default fair game. As a result, I present the Modern Jazz Tuba Project.

This group is modeled after a big band, but instead of the usual horn sections, the voicings are played by three euphoniums and three tubas (the current tuba roster is Joe Murphy, Richard Perry, and R. Winston Morris). This unique timbre is backed up by a traditional rhythm section.

Based on Harvey Phillips' and Rich Matteson's collaboration in the Tubajazz Consort, MJTP handles a variety of jazz styles and many original tunes. I don't often like "tuba music" per se, but I think they're pretty darn good

Candy Lips

I specifically did not mention any of the music of Clarence Williams in my last post, and similarly chose not to include the fabulous work of jazz tubist Cyrus St. Clair either. The pianist Clarence Williams is not a particularly well-known individual outside of the early jazz community and this is a shame, given that he contributed immensely to the development of musicians like James P. Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Sidney Bechet (who, rather strangely, played sarrusophone in one of Williams' many bands), and others.

Anyway, Williams was perpetually reinventing his band with various incarnations on the same theme of "Clarence Williams and..." with the accompanying group being everything from the Blue Five, the Washboard Four, his Jug Band, or (my favorite) his Bottomland Orchestra. I intend to use the name Bottomland Orchestra when I form my own tuba-centric band. Williams was apparently a fan of the tuba, as it was nearly always included in the instrumentation. This was due, no doubt, to the unprecedented jazz tuba chops of Cyrus St. Clair. Some of Williams' best tunes for tuba include Candy Lips (a no-brainer), Red River Blues, and Black Snake Blues. Following those links will take you to discographies where you can listen to the tunes and discover your own favorites.

Also, Candy Lips would have been a good name for our 'all-girl' tuba quartet from last year.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sugar Foot Stomp

The tuba was a regular member of early jazz bands (i.e. 1900-1940 pre-Ellington-era big bands), functioning as a bass member of the horn section and also a bass rhythm instrument. While I could name groups ad nauseum, I'd recommend any of the trumpeter/cornetist King Oliver's groups such as the King Oliver Orchestra or King Oliver's Dixie Syncopators. Many tuba players left their mark with these groups including Joe Tarto (otherwise known from the Whiteman Band, "Big Joe and his Tuba", and other such projects), Min Leibrook, and (included in this list due to his wildly improbable name) Bass Moore.

It is strange to think of the tuba being played alongside musicians who are considered true jazz auteurs - King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, James P. Johnson, Jelly Roll Morton, Joe Venuti, etc. However, this was once common practice and if you spend enough time perusing www.redhotjazz.com, you'll have the opportunity to listen to untold jazz tuba playing (even occasional solos!).

I should also mention that Iowa City is fortunate enough to be home to one of the leading early jazz revival groups, Mutiny in the Parlor. Unfortunately, their tuba player really sucks big moose ass. Contact me directly if you'd like to hear this fine, fine group.

A Wild Night in Odessa

Klezmer music has long been a sanctuary for off-the-cuff tuba playing, so this compendium needs to include my favorite klezmer ensemble, The Klezmorim (a name meaning, simply 'musicians' in Yiddish). The Klezmorim has had a number of tuba players involved with the group since forming in 1975, but none more prominently than Donald Thornton (who plays a beautiful solo doina on the album Metropolis). Mr. Thornton, interestingly enough, has extensive experience in the worlds of classical and academic music as well. Something tells me that playing in The Klezmorim is equally, if not more rewarding. Abi gezundt! Don't be a meshuggah; check out the band.

Additionally, ABEL's own John "Professor Mofo" Manning can be heard performing with Iowa's premier klezmer ensemble the Java Jews. As you might have guessed from their c. 1996 website, the Java Jews aren't your typical schlemiels. John, wonderful goy that he is, previously appeared with the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra and Naftule's Dream.

Wonder Pets

Earlier this week, I took ABEL's eardrums to the limit with a 102.8 decibel recording of Horsepower - appropriate given that Horsepower is an ensemble that uses the tuba in a nontraditional role (actually, several tubas!)

Otherwise known as the sousaphone section of the Virginia State University marching band, Horsepower regularly performs as a stand-alone group in throwdowns with other HBCU sousaphone sections. Under the coaching of The Gentleman, Horsepower has assembled a repertoire of original 2, 3, and 4-part fanfares like this deafening rendition of Wonder Pets. The fanfares are typically taught by ear and carefully guarded against the espionage of rivals.

Current Topic Paper

If, for some bizarre, otherworldly reason you wanted to read my current topic paper, here it is. For a bibliography, contact me directly.

By Patrick Bigsby

The careers of musicians, cultivated in a conservatory or a basement, are linked directly to public taste. To quote one of America’s most versatile entrepreneurs, “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” While P.T. Barnum likely intended this remark as a tongue-in-cheek observation of some of his customers’ baser instincts, a Barnum scholar would also know that this quip contains valuable advice from the prince of humbugs: entertainers must be prepared to be flexible in the face of a fickle audience.1
In an era where professional orchestras and wind bands, under financial pressure, are contracting their cores or even folding, brass players need to be prepared to broaden their focus in order to stay relevant to music consumers. Often this means collaborating with another established artist and transcending genres.
Arguably, the brass world’s masters of collaboration are the Dirty Dozen of New Orleans funk fame. Since incorporating in 1977, the group has recorded or performed live with a diverse swath of musicians including Dr. John, Dizzy Gillespie, Branford Marsalis, Elvis Costello, DJ Logic, Norah Jones, Danny Barker, Widespread Panic, Modest Mouse, John Medeski, Dave Bartholomew, Eddie Bo, Olu Dara, and Robert Randolph. Although the Dirty Dozen could be considered a premier ensemble in its element, the market share for New Orleans jazz is miniscule in the context of commercial music. By appearing with and backing popular acts with established followings, the Dirty Dozen gain sympathetic ears in otherwise untapped audiences. This, in turn, translates into name recognition, tour attendance, and album sales.
Brass players’ desire to branch out isn’t a new concept (though reassessment in many academic circles is overdue). Tom Malone and Alan Rubin of the Saturday Night Live Band found new exposure via Jake and Elwood Blues and Stax Records. Both went on to play extensively with rock and blues bands such as The Band, The Rolling Stones, and Blood, Sweat and Tears. Another SNL alum, Howard Johnson, leveraged his collaborative ability so successfully that he brought the tuba ensemble into the blues spotlight. Johnson, a renowned jazz musician, was joined by three other tubists on a live album recorded by Taj Mahal. By being willing to expand his musical palette, Johnson combined the blues (a popular, even profitable tradition) with tuba quartet (an eccentric, even unmarketable tradition) and enhanced brass’ commercial viability indefinitely.3
Outside of the United States, similar trends are occurring. “Cinnamon Girl” rocketed to the top of the dance charts in 2008 by virtue of its popularity in European clubs. The tune features the danceable hooks of Dutch indie electronic artist [dunkelbunt] - a musical innovator in his own right – and the raw energy from the Balkan brass group Boban I Marko Markovic Orkestar. Much like their peers in the Dirty Dozen, Boban’s troupe could be called the top act in Balkan music (they, along with Fanfare Ciocarlia, made significant contributions to the heavily modal soundtrack of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan). However, the worldwide clout of European pop music fans far outweighs Balkan brass enthusiasts and the collaboration was no doubt a profitable undertaking. [dunkelbunt] has also released singles with Fanfare Ciocarlia and the Amsterdam Klezmer Band.4
Mexican brass aficionados, however, might see this trend working seemingly in reverse – pop singers using the musical credibility and popularity of banda (and related styles) ensembles to enhance their own music-making. Popular Mexican singers Selena, Juan Gabriel, Michael Concepcion, and Vicente Fernández have all recruited brass bands to back them on either albums or tours.2
Brass educators should take particular notice of the validity of collaborating with pop artists. Many students envision careers sitting in the back row of orchestras, performing ceremonies with premier military bands, or releasing solo and chamber albums. These are lofty and worthwhile goals, but likely also unrealistic in a world where classical concert attendance is dwindling and recorded music is sold piecemeal. Versatility and open-mindedness must become the mantra of the next generation of brass players. They must simultaneously hold fast to a traditional skill set grounded in musicianship while looking for performance opportunities beyond typical settings for their instrument. Perhaps a difficult balance to strike, but, after all, that’s show business.

Gasoline Serpent

I am reluctant to pigeonhole Devotchka into any kind of existing genre, but given their origins backing the mind-blowing Dita Von Teese, I'll call them a burlesque band. Their music incorporates American pop with Mariachi, Balkan, folk influences, but Devotchka likely reached the widest swath of mainstream music fans when they provided the score to the plagiarized snoozefest Little Miss Sunshine.

Jeanie Schroder plays sousaphone in the band

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


No collection of ensembles that employ unconventional tuba playing would be complete without a plug for one of the most recognizable New Orleans jazz-funk groups, the Dirty Dozen. The octet combines the tradition of New Orleans street playing with straight-ahead bop, and Parliament-esque beats.

One reason for the group's unique sound is, in my opinion, their choice of bass-oriented instrumentation. Outside of the two trumpeters, all the remaining instruments are from a lower tessitura: tenor, baritone, trombone, sousaphone, guitar, and drum kit. In accompaniment, the band produces relentless, interlocking grooves. As soloists, each member is a risk taker with a different style than his bandmates.

Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen was the group's original sousaphonist and his energetic playing made that role into one of the band's trademarks. Kirk Joseph later played with the group, taking a leave of absence due to tour fatigue and eventually returned to record with the group numerous times. Julius McKee has also appeared on albums and currently tours with the band (I have been fortunate enough to see him live) and is, to my ears, the best sousaphonist yet to play in the group. McKee has been featured on NPR and in Bass Player magazine (as a sousaphonist!)

Since incorporating in 1977, the group has recorded or performed live with a diverse swath of musicians including Dr. John, Dizzy Gillespie, Branford Marsalis, Elvis Costello, DJ Logic, Norah Jones, Danny Barker, Widespread Panic, Modest Mouse, John Medeski, Dave Bartholomew, Eddie Bo, Olu Dara, Government Mule, and Robert Randolph.

You can listen to the Dirty Dozen cover Stevie Wonder. Maestro Wonder is no easy cover.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Up a Lazy River

Sam Pilafian is a household name for tuba players - adoration well deserved given his musical and pedagogical contributions. However, many tubists are unaware of Prof. Pilafian's collaboration with jazz guitarist Frank Vignola in the group Travelin' Light. TL specializes in early jazz standards (some of their work can be purchased at Amazon ) of the Carmichael, Berlin, etc. variety.

I can't locate a YouTube video of the group, but I do enjoy this duet by Sam Pilafian and Catalin Rotaru.

Opus Four

While the ITEA's professed view of the tuba in jazz indicates a renewal of popularity, acolytes of Charles Mingus know that the tuba never really went away to begin with. Mingus' legacy in jazz as a bassist, bandleader, and composer is nothing short of monumental (he was the only person ever fired by Duke Ellington), so it shouldn't surprise anyone that blazing a new trail was par for the course with Mingus, who notably included a tuba in his big band horn section - a role currently filled in the 14-piece group by Earl McEntyre.

Other notable tubists who worked with Mingus include Bob Stewart and, originally, Howard Johnson (who famously manufactured a wah-wah mute out of a toilet seat per his boss' request). Mingus also scored for tuba in his somewhat cryptic masterwork "Epitaph".

While I have neither the time nor energy to devote to discussing the significance of Charles Mingus, I can direct you to NPR for an engaging profile.

Listening Presentation

Here, in no particular order, is what we heard on my listening day.

ABEL LISTENING – Patrick Bigsby

1.) Mini Overture – Witold Lutoslavski – Triton Brass Quintet
2.) Bolero – Ravel – BLAST! (Star of Indiana)
3.) Sinfonietta Mvmt I Allegro – Janacek – Michael Tilson Thomas, London Symphony Orchestra
4.) Prague/Ride on in Majesty/Go to Dark Gethsemae – Moravian Trombone Choir of Downey
6.) Passameze from Terpsichore - Praetorius – ABQ
9.) Brass Bonanza – Hartford Whalers/UConn
10.) Kazi Baba – Boban I Marko Markovic Orkestar
11.) Missy Sa-Sa – Slavic Soul Party
12.) Music for Brass Octet Mvmt I Allegro – Anthony Plog –
13.) Tómame o Déjame – Banda el Recodo

For further information, feel free to contact me.

Historical Perspective Paper

In case anyone really wanted to read my paper:

A Historical Perspective on Moravian Trombone Choirs
By Patrick Bigsby
February 15, 2010

"In my opinion, the trombone is the true head of the family of wind instruments, which I have named the 'epic' one. It possesses nobility and grandeur to the highest degree; it has all the serious and powerful tones of sublime musical poetry, from religious, calm and imposing accents to savage, orgiastic outburst. Directed by the will of the master, the trombones can chant like a choir of priests, threaten, utter gloomy sighs, a mournful lament, or a bright hymn of glory; they can break forth into awe-inspiring cries and awaken the dead or doom the living with their fearful voices."
--Hector Berlioz
Hector Berlioz, beyond being one of the most influential composers of the Romantic era, is known to music historians for his 1843 orchestration textbook, Grand Traité d’Instrumentation et d’Orchestration Modernes. Assuming Berlioz’s expertise on the various instruments of the orchestra, his aforementioned endorsement of the trombone should be considered high praise.
But further analysis of the trombone’s character and history reveals it was destined for success well before Berlioz issued his affidavit. For starters, it was among the first fully chromatic wind instruments, was manufactured in various sizes to correspond with the human voice, and was capable of a wide dynamic range. For these reasons, the trombone came into favor with church composers and musicians – no more so than in the Moravian Church.
Students of European history will recall that that the Moravian movement arose following John Hus’ protest against Roman oversight of Christian outposts in what is now the Czech Republic.2 Although Hus was executed in 1415, his vision came to fruition with the formal organization of the Moravian Church in 1457.
Music played a key role in Moravian services and it was common for each parish to have their own posaunenchor, or brass ensemble. Instrumental music became particularly prominent in Moravian traditions; at a time when most Christian faiths emphasized vocal music, Moravians saw the various trombones as analogous to human voices and quickly found them to be more portable than a pipe organ. While these groups could have any variety of brass instruments, it was typical, as the term indicates, for trombones to predominate. The ensemble’s duties including calling the congregation to services, announcing holidays, mourning deaths, and other various ‘public address’ performances.1
When Moravians began to settle in North America in the eighteenth century, the trombone choirs came with them, marking the beginning of what is likely North America’s oldest brass tradition. Composers from inside and outside the church began to write both sacred and secular for the trombones and these works joined the older chorales and hymns as part of the standard oeuvre.1 Major composers for the group include Antes, Cruse, Leinback, Gregor, Wolle, La Trobe, Graun, and Forsyth.4
The instrumentation of the modern posaunenchor contains all sizes of trombone imaginable, from sopranino in Eb through the BBb contrabass.5 It stands to reason that makers of the high-end harmony trombones like Miraphone and Thein are manufacturing these instruments with Moravian music in mind given that they are rarely called for elsewhere in Western music. The Moravian Trombone Choir of Downey (California), one of the most prominent such ensembles in America, utilizes a twelve-player system of one sopranino, two soprano, three alto, three tenor, two bass, and one contrabass trombone. This arrangement effectively balances to the middle tessitura of the group, emphasizing the most idiomatic trombone timbre.3
Today, Moravian trombones can be found in roles that are very similar to what John Hus could have heard. The aforementioned Moravian Trombone Choir of Downey, founded by Jeffrey Reynolds, is a leading proponent of new music for the ensemble and has commissioned or arranged several works. Reynolds, who served as the bass trombonist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for nearly thirty years, also recorded several traditional Moravian pieces with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Trombone Ensemble.4 Another active performing group is the Bethlehem Area Moravian Trombone Choir (Pennsylvania). Located in America’s best-known Moravian enclave (and the site of Moravian College), this group, founded in 1754, is credited with being the first such posaunenchor in the New World.1
The Moravian trombone tradition has also begun to appear in other Christian denominations. In antebellum North Carolina (a hotbed of Moravian settlement in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries), trombones began to appear in Baptist and Pentecostal services and fused with black gospel and spirituals to give way to shout bands – trombone choirs that embrace jazz musicianship as a part of praise music.1 Examples include the Sweet Heaven Kings of Washington, D.C. and Kenny Carr and The Tigers of Charleston, South Carolina.

If you want to see a bibliography, contact me.

Monday, February 8, 2010

For Your Ears Only

John's lecture today about professional brass ensembles, in addition to opening the door for a new collection of Rolf anecdotes, reminded me of an excellent candidate for my blog: Proteus 7.

Proteus 7 is a septet consisting of two trumpets, two trombones, tuba, a woodwind multi-instrumentalist, and a percussionist. To understand just what sort of band Proteus 7 is, we should examine their name. Proteus, for those unfamiliar with Greek mythology, is the sea - not the god of the sea (Poseidon) but an incarnation of the sea itself (the counterpart to Gaia, the earth). Just as the sea is constantly churning and re-ordering itself, Proteus was a tremendous shape-shifter. The ensemble that now bears his name is similarly a shape-shifter. Proteus 7 play a great deal of custom arrangements from a variety of musical styles. Their recorded oeuvre includes spy themes, Latin standards, the greatest works of Bernstein, and established classical works.

I can't find any of their live performances to include here, but feel free to peruse their website.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Seis Pies Abajo

La cultura de latón no ha limitado al mundo íngleshablante. En Mexico, bandas, como mi favorito Banda El Recodo, están como las estrellas de pop están en los Estados Unidos. Es común para cantates populares a tocar o grabar con bandas, especialmente si los canciones son románticos. Típicamente, bandas tienen trompetas, trombones, clarinetas, cornos altos, una tuba y una baterista. En Mexico, la tuba se llamo bajo, como la palabra bass en ingles. Para mis oidos, Banda El Recodo tiene el mejor bajo en todo el estilo. Aquí hay un vídeo de Banda El Recodo con el cancion Parece Mentira. ¡Espero que le gusta!

Lo siento para algunos errores en mi español. Mi facilidad ha se deterió sin oportunidades para practicar.

High Storm Cannons

For those of you who doubt the influence of Drums and Tuba, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the world's foremost Drums and Tuba tribute band, Triple Architecture Mind Party. TAMP, as insiders call the Boston-based group, is composed of guitarist/composer Tim Pence, drummer Shawn Hennessey, and tubist Jobey Wilson.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Concert Poster

Oh How I'll Ramble

The Olympia Brass Band, so named for New Orleans' Olympia Street where the group first began performing, is synonymous with the street style of New Orleans brass playing. Also, with left-handed sousaphone playing.

The city of New Orleans has numerous musical traditions that incorporate brass playing (I'll detail others later in the semester) and street playing stands out as a style that has not been intellectualized. Standard repertoire includes spirituals, hymns, marches, funeral dirges (!) and other colloquial (dare I say folk) music that is part of the aural collective. Aesthetically, the music defies the Western fixation on tone (blending isn't really an area of concern) and incorporates primitive jazz rhythms and energetic zeal.

Famous tubists who have played in the Olympia Band include Allan Jaffe (expect him and his son to reappear in a post about Dixieland) and Tuba Fats Lacen (he'll be back in the funk section). Here's a video of the group playing a dirge in "Live and Let Die" alongside Bond. James Bond.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Darn that Dream

They were known as the Miles Davis Band, the Miles Davis Nonet, and even (rather humorously) as the Miles Davis Tuba Band, but this short-lived (1949-1950) collaboration of jazz giants is best known by the name of their sole, groundbreaking album: Birth of the Cool.

BOTC is a musical milestone for many reasons. First and foremost, the group is generally credited by music historians as spawning the cool (or West Coast) jazz movement - a reaction to and retooling of bebop. Additionally, the band was also a true supergroup. Besides Davis, BOTC's roster included (among others) Max Roach, John Lewis, Lee Konitz, and Gerry Mulligan. Although they never performed at any of the band's live engagements, notable brass players JJ Johnson, Kai Winding, and Gunther Schuller all contributed to recording sessions that eventually led to the album.

The group's instrumentation (trumpet, horn, trombone, tuba, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, piano, bass, and drums) was a heretofore unexplored combination. Davis, Mulligan, and tubist Bill Barber, have all said to some extent that the intention of the group was to assemble three pairings of horns that were treble and bass equivalents of each other backed by a traditional rhythm section. While this effect is audible, scores of the original pieces composed for the group (including titles by Mulligan, Lewis, and erstwhile tuba enthusiast Gil Evans) do not visually indicate those relationships.

The tuba, while not necessarily a 'lead' instrument in BOTC arrangements, participates as a full-fledged member of the horn section, playing complex rhythmic figures, melodic ideas, and vital independent harmonies. In short, the tuba was treated as an equal of the other instruments and Bill Barber's capabilities shined (Barber also played on John Coltrane's big band album Africa).

Oompahs be damned.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Four Notes of April

For the uninitiated, Drums and Tuba was a progressive rock trio consisting of tubist Brian Wolff, drummer Tony Nozero, and guitarist Neal McKeeby. Before disbanding in 2007, the group toured frantically and recorded eight albums that incorporated jazz, electronica, and industrial music into both improvisation-heavy jams and meticulous arrangements. While each musician pushed the limits of his instrument, Brian Wolff (who now performs as a solo act) shattered what he calls "the brass ceiling" by using pedal effects and extended techniques to redefine the tuba's capabilities and bring tuba music to a whole new audience. You can hear them play Magoo.

Photo from Drums and Tuba press kit.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Very Beginning

Hello! My name is Patrick Bigsby and I am a senior at the University of Iowa, where I'll be graduating from this May with a B.M. in tuba performance and a B.A. in journalism. When most people think of the tuba, they think of shakoed, Sousa-esque oompahs or Wagnerian back-row bombast, both of which I consider dangerously uncool. In an effort to prove the coolness of the tuba and earn an A in Advanced Brass Ensemble Literature, I'll be using this platform to introduce my classmates to groups that utilize the tuba in a non-classical setting. With any luck, stereotypes will be shattered, minds will be blown, and music will be shared. Tuba ho!