No BS! Brass Band at Rockwood Music Hall
As the tenth Festival of New Trumpet Music drew to a close I found myself sitting back enjoying the challenging new piece Tom Harrell wrote for the festival. Tom put a lot of work into the suite. He and the band, with Mark Turner, Ugonna Okegwa, and Adam Cruz dug into it with relish. It was such a pleasure to witness the birth of a new music so ambitious, heartfelt, and totally ‘lived.’ On reflection I realized it was a feeling I was blessed to have many times during this year’s events.
Jazz Standard also hosted FONT-commissioned premieres by Jack Walrath (an intense full length suite for his quintet, Masters of Suspense), Charles Tolliver (great new pieces for his quintet, Music, Inc.), and Claudio Roditi with the West Point Jazz Knights Big Band. All were complex, enjoyable new works that required focus and hard work to pull off. It’s a level of dedication that you don’t always see.
I guess my simple thought on recollecting the music is that this is music that will last. It will stand the test of time. And that matters. As we outlive the Mayan prophecies this December we will need these landmarks of creative ingenuity and human resilience.
My thought is that there is tremendous value in the work we do as musicians and we ought to honor that. There’s nothing like the feeling of being present when a musician presents new work that is risky and tenuous, work that is a step into a new world that has been fully investigated and considered, but has not been road tested. There’s no road map or trail blazed, and a musician who puts his or herself out there to define this new territory, succeed or fail, is doing work only they can do to push our human understanding of ourselves to a new place. Even with the utmost preparation there is risk. Taking this plunge can be difficult but it is the thing that lasts.
This year’s festival started in a threatening burst of clouds on September 8 as trumpeter and composer Stephanie Richards unveiled her Rotations, Rotations at the Carousel at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Musicians were choreographed on and off the rotating carousel, playing in sync with the resonant sounds of organs and calliopes. The rain held off and the musicians heroically played Stephanie’s heraldic 30 minute suite from memory. I smiled when I noticed that passers-by on touring boats were straining to see and hear what was happening. It was a great New York moment.
New work for ensembles of various sizes inhabited the Jazz Gallery for three days. Douglas Detrick played the premiere of his work co-commissioned by FONT and Chamber Music America, which he will now tour. Taylor Ho Bynum and Adam O’Farrill also played entirely new pieces in the series.
I had the honor of premiering my own new quintet during the festival, in a special show featuring vocalist Aoife O’Donovan. There were 18 new pieces, including the music from my new release, Be Still. Cornetist Rob Mazurek presented the premiere of a multi-media piece that grew out of a FONT commission. And the following night TILT Brass expertly led by Chris McIntyre played a premiere by Nate Wooley, a piece by Dave Ballou, and a NY premiere of Louis Andriessen.
And then Smalls! It was the trumpet festival’s first collaboration there. Jeremy Pelt invited some of the most exciting young players on the scene for some amazing new sounds. Each group was different and each group contributed to the repertoire of new approaches to this instrument.
Rockwood Music Hall hosted a shockingly counterintuitive and yet brilliantly complementary double bill — yMusic playing Andrew Norman’s new work in another commissioned piece; and Richmond, VA’s amazing kick ass brass band No BS! (pictured). So fantastic.
Festival of New Trumpet Music gave it’s fourth Award of Recognition this year, to Laurie Frink, in a ceremony at Cornelia Street Cafe. (Full disclosure: Laurie is my teacher. I am biased. She’s the best.) I heard so many new stories and additional sides of Laurie that night. The organization remains committed to honoring pioneers at the peak of their important contributions. What I gathered that night: the relevance of Laurie’s work lives in the attention to detail in her playing, and her attention to the individual qualities of her students. Laurie’s work is still expanding and moving in new directions, she confronts enormous challenges and risks with grace and personality.
All and all, I heard a boatload of astounding individuals creating new sounds for the instrument. But this is not about the tyranny of the new. There’s risk and trial in this work, with no absolute guarantee of quality. This is about the willingness to do the work of finding one’s essence and finding how to express it. Of having the persistence and drive to refine the work and present it. That is the challenge.
After all is said and done, it’s that commitment and dedication that is of true value. That’s what lasts.