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!