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 Fern├índez 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