Farewell, Mr BB King – making people happy with his music from the 1940s till the end of time…
This week’s post is entirely self promotion I’m afraid. Lots of gigs coming up which I’m looking forward to playing and I reckon would be of interest to a number of you. So please take a little gander and make a note of the dates and hopefully I’ll see you at some of them.
One of the joys of playing the trombone is, whilst never particularly being in the limelight, it is one of the few musical instruments that can have a place in almost any style of music. The gigs coming up are a good reflection of this so I thought, as well as giving you a rundown on them I would also write a few words on the different approach each of these gigs require. Warning – it may get a little bit brass player geeky – but I know that at least some of you might appreciate a bit of geek…
Saturday 16 May – “Bring on the Swing” – Bulls Head Pub, Handforth, Cheshire
Bring on the Swing are a 9 piece jazz/swing band based in and around Cheshire that I have been playing with for the last couple of years. They have quite a following and play a mix of parties, functions and informal gigs. We have a semi permanent residency at the Bulls Head and, I have to say, our evenings there are always really lively and fun. The Handforth audience are always up for a great night and we always have a good night with them. Key to the band’s success is our fabulous front man, Mr Loz Beverley who sings a wide variety of Sinatra classics as well as all the Michael Buble, Robbie Williams and Amy Winehouse numbers you would expect from this type of band.
I’ve talked a little about differing playing styles and different choices of instrument dependent on context in post To Alto or not to Alto and, as you would expect the way I would tackle the music in a swing band is somewhat different to the way I would play in the symphony orchestra.
Firstly, choice of instrument – for trombone geeks out there, in this type of music I use a King 2B, (Jiggs Whigam signature mode) with a Marcinkiewicz 6 1/2 AL mouthpiece. The narrow bore gives me a brighter edgier sound than my symphonic trombone which blends better with the saxophones in the band without swamping them.
Secondly, playing style. Yes, jazz and pop styles of music do allow me a little more freedom in terms of the sound I am expected to make. The orchestra expects a certain purity and beauty of tone, whereas in the jazz band there is more opportunity for tonal tricks like growling, flutter tonguing, glissandos, stopped notes and muted notes. It’s a fine balance, on a noisy instrument like the trombone – the key is to make it jazzy, NOT music-hall vulgar!
However, ironically, when the horns play as a section, the musical restrictions put on us are just as great as they are in any symphonic work. The effectiveness of this music is very much down to following the arrangers’ markings to the letter. Big band arrangements give you a lot of information on articulation of notes. Often every note is marked with a different type of accent, staccato, slur, gliss or ornament and we spend a lot of time in rehearsal making sure sure that everyone is adhering to the instructions in order that we obtain that classic big band “tight” sound. Ironically, for this type of loud strident music we spend a lot of time trying to play as quietly as we dare and building the numbers to their inevitable noisy climaxes. A common problem with less technically proficient and inexperienced swing bands is the tendency for everyone to belt everything out at full volume all the time, resulting in a noisy mess.
Pop down on Saturday and find out whether we follow our own rehearsal advice, or whether the excitement of the live gig gets the better of us!
Saturday 6 June – Wilmslow Symphony Orchestra, Wilmslow Leisure Centre, Wilmslow, Cheshire
Copland – Fanfare for the Common Man
Gershwin – Cuban Overture
Bernstein – Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
Barber – Adagio for Strings
Bernstein- On the Waterfront
And as if to underline my points made in the paragraphs above, here we have a concert where an entire symphony orchestra of 80 or so players has to mimic the sound and precision rhythmic writing of the jazz/swing band.
This is a great programme coming up – and one that I would heartily recommend to anyone who loves the sound and power of the symphony orchestra , but can’t be bothered to sit through all that lengthy self-indulgent romantic guff they tend to play.
The June concert is a programme of American composers’ music, including at it’s heart two fantastic Bernstein scores – his music from the 1954 movie “On the Waterfront” and his Symphonic Dances from his musical “West Side Story”.
From a trombonist’s perspective this concert is a tour de force. It is also extremely demanding. From a physical perspective, the sheer number of notes the brass have to play in this concert means that just getting through it all with out running out of “lip” can be touch and go. I’m already getting into training – blowing through the entire programme on a regular basis in order to build up my stamina. I don’t have the luxury of the little trombone this time. Whilst the music swings hard, the parts definitely require the sound of the big brassy symphonic trombone section (for the geeks, I play the classic Conn 88H, the standard instrument of most British and American orchestral trombone players). Check out the distinctive beautiful burnished red-gold bells of the trombone section the next time you catch an orchestral concert on the TV. I tend to play a larger than average mouthpiece – Vincent Bach 4G – which allows for a richer sound with less tendancy to break up at the louder volumes. The disadvantage is it requires more stamina and is harder to “ping” the high notes out – so I am allowing myself the luxury of a slightly smaller mouthpiece in the “Mambo” section of West Side Story.
Musically speaking, I also think that West Side Story is technically one of the most demanding pieces in the regular symphony orchestra repertoire. As well as expecting all 80 players to swing, fast and together with the ease of a single jazz drummer, Bernstein’s melodies are also extremely angular and awkward to play. Have a go at singing “Cool” in strict tempo and bang in tune, or something as deceptively simple as “Somewhere” and you begin to get the idea of some of the orchestra’s pitfalls.
Having said all this, it is music that is extremely fun to play – and Wilmslow Symphony always rise to the challenge of a difficult programme, particularly under the tutelage of our lovely conductor Juan Ortuno.
There’s also great music – a lot of it recognizable – by Copland, Barber and Gershwin, so do pop down in June for an enjoyable night.
Saturday 20th June, Cheshire Sinfonia, St Michael’s Church, Bramhall, Cheshire.
Vaughan Williams- Symphony No. 3 “Pastoral”
Beethoven- Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral
A lovely programme featuring 2 symphonies with the subtitle, “Pastoral”. One extremely well known by Beethoven, the 2nd less so by Vaughan Williams.
I’ve waffled on about the quality of VW and his Pastoral in previous posts. I’ve yet to see what the trombone parts will be like to play, but I do know there is some wonderful writing for my fellow brass players, namely the effective use of the natural harmonic series, including (deliberately) out of tune notes in offstage solos for trumpet and French horn.
Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony is almost certainly one of his most well known pieces. It is also one of the earliest examples of use of the trombone in a symphony – and is like no other trombone part I have seen. It’s as if he knows he wants to use the instrument, but doesn’t quite know what to do with it. For a start, he only uses 2 trombones (rather than almost universal 3 player section), including the notorious alto trombone which he doesn’t use until the climatic storm sequence of the symphony, where we get to play one (yes, count them) note! After a few more chords, where bizarrely we are asked to play higher notes than the trumpets, the piece is all over.
Don’t let the trombone writing put you off though! Pop down to hear 2 beautiful summery pieces played, on hopefully a beautiful summer evening.
(NB – for trombone geeky completeness, I play a Yamaha Alto Trombone with a Dennis Wick 10CS mouthpiece. If there are any trombonists reading who have any advice on something better, do let me know – but it just about works for me on this notoriously awkward instrument.)
Friday 19th June, Lostock (funk band), Night & Day Café, Manchester
Saturday 4th July, Lostock, afternoon gig, somewhere in Trafford I think!
Update – It’s at Golden Hill Park, Urmston and we’re on at about 1 30pm!
I’ve had a lot of requests for more info on upcoming gigs from my funk band, Lostock (more info at this post ), so please take a note of the dates above. The first is our return gig at the famous Night and Day Café, and this time I’m glad to say that they have asked us to headline on a Friday night. The 2nd, I have very little info on, but I’m pretty sure it’s outdoors, in the afternoon and has a fundraising for the NHS aspect to it – more info when I get it – but definitely a date to keep free.
Oh – and we’ve started to put together some nice studio recordings and there should be a website on it’s way too. Check out one of the songs below:
Final bit of trombone geekery – a request for advice from any other trombonists out there – I’m really not sure which instrument to play this type of music on. My fellow band members prefer the sound of the 88H, so that’s what I’m on at the moment – but its seems odd to me to be playing the noble Conn in the pub! Then again looking at photos, it looks like it may be the instrument of choice for my favourite trombone player, THE funk trombonist, Fred Wesley (although his instrument appears to sport a funky black lacquered bell).
Perhaps I should playing my 40th birthday present instead.
It’s most certainly purple, and it’s definitely funky!