Picking up where days one and two left off, Saturday at the 2016 International Trombone Festival saw some great events and visits to exhibitors. I will admit straight away to being a little ashamed that I missed Peter Ellefson’s 9AM recital, but I had a good excuse. I have wanted to see the High Line on Manhattan’s lower West side for some time now, so while my dad judged one of the competitions, I took the 1 train down to Penn Station and walked over to 10th Ave. where the High Line begins. Built on a converted elevated rail line running along 10th Avenue, the High Line is a wonder of urban design, landscaping, and ingenuity. It was a such an enjoyable visit, I was sorry when I reached the Southern terminus at Gansevoort Street.
So, after a quick ride on the 1/9 back up to Lincoln Center, I managed to catch the second half of the World Trombone Quartet. The quartet usually consists of Joe Alessi, Michel Becquet, Jorgen van Rijen, and Stefan Schultz. On this particular performance, Hakan Bjorkman and Denson Paul Pollard substituted for Becquet and Schultz. Wow, what a group! I caught two solo performances, the first by Hakan Bjorkman of the Carnival of Venice. He played the original Arban version, and holy cow did he play it! Besides amazing technique, Mr. Bjorkman has all the other tools that made it obvious why he would sub in a group called the World Trombone Quartet. Unfortunately, Mr. Bjorkman was in a bicycling accident at home a few days after the festival ended, and sustained some major injuries. According to what I see on Facebook, he appears to be recovering well and out of immediate danger. That is great news, and I wish this fantastic musician my very best in his recovery. Having had a couple of bad cycling accidents myself over the years, I feel his pain, and I hope he reaches full recovery. Following the Arban, Jorgen van Rijen performed a piece called Slipstream. This utilized a loop station with Mr. van Rijen providing the loops in a live recording environment. What a cool piece! Jorgen’s playing is so smooth, even, and effortless, he makes things sound so easy. This is a genre that seems new, but has a lot of elements that have been around for years. Improvisational in nature (I assume), the piece really develops as if you are hearing it for the first time, and made this listener feel like I was hearing something being literally composed right in front of my eyes. I am going to have to definitely check out the piece and the loop station setup. The final piece on the program was for the full quartet, First Trombone Quartet by Steven Verhelst. This was a perfect closer and featured a little bit of everything, including some lovely clog dancing by all 4 players. Besides his beautiful bass trombone playing, Mr. Pollard provided the closest approximation of what my own attempt at clog dancing would look like… but it was very entertaining! As serious as Joe Alessi might appear to us all, he showed once again his great sense of showmanship and humor, along with Jorgen and Hakan. Really a fun program and great ensemble. The have a new CD available - buy it and check it out.
I heard bits and pieces of a few other things - I’m going to list them in no particular order… There was, as always, a lot to see and hear - way more than I could absorb!
M&W Trombones - Matt Walker and Mike McLemore have continued the tradition they began when both worked for Gary Greenhoe - the tradition of making beautifully crafted horns that play great. Their new instruments are stunningly beautiful, and they play just as well. I only wish I was in the market for a new horn! These guys will have their work cut out for them in the years ahead meeting demand, I imagine.
S.E. Shires - while not a Shires player myself, I have really liked some of the horns I have played that this Boston based outfit makes. Like the M&W horns, these instruments are beautiful, and play amazingly well. They make the FINEST alto I have ever played (the edition with a b-flat attachment), and were I doing more alto work these days, I would find a way to pay for one and add it to my stable. BUT, what I thought was really super cool is the new screw bell tenor trombone edition they have come up with. A concept that has been around for a while, Shires has taken it and made it a truly useful and practical option. In addition to a bell section that is already screw bell converted, they have created an amazing little hard case. People, this thing is SMALL. Slightly larger than a violin case, the design is ingenious, and very protective. If I flew a lot with a trombone, I would buy one in a heartbeat. Just amazing. You have to check it out!
Soul-O mutes - This is the one thing I came to the workshop dead set on buying before I left. I walked up to the booth with cash in hand determined to not leave without one! The Soul-o folks are very friendly, and have created a bucket mute that is the sweetest sounding version of the genre I have ever played. They have also begun making a cup and straight which I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to try, but if they play as well as the bucket, I imagine I’ll end up with those at some point as well. I have some plans for some recordings using bucket, I’ll keep you posted when I get them recorded. Looking on their website, most of the big names in the LA scene these days seem to be playing their mutes, so they are definitely a hot commodity!
Edwards/Griego mouthpieces - As always Christan had his full arsenal available to try. Again, I didn’t play any horns as I just didn’t want to make myself “need” another horn, but the Edwards remain as popular as ever. If you haven’t checked out Christan’s line of mouthpieces, they are truly beautifully made and sound great.
Some other people I ran into or met for the first time:
- Doc Marcellus - I always love seeing Doc. He is such a wonderful person, and never fails to make me feel glad to be a trombone player.
- Carol Jarvis - I met Carol briefly for the first time. I have only recently become familiar with her playing, and I really enjoy her beautiful style of performing. Her new album is great. I downloaded it as we were driving out of Manhattan, and it was the perfect accompaniment for our drive through the Lincoln Tunnel and back to DC. Carol is beginning to work with ITA on their social media presence, which I think is a great move on ITAs part. The organization is definitely behind the times in that respect, and I think they will see some good growth, especially among younger players, with a more concentrated effort in social media.
- Jon Whitaker - Jon was conducting the Cramer Choir this year, and it was great to see him, albeit briefly.
- Joe Dixon - Joe has been a teacher in Texas for a number of years and is always a great resource for information about teaching. He has a great website with a lot of materials he has developed for use with his students over the years. MANY of his former students play in major symphonies all over the world.
- Steve Norrell - It was a great pleasure to see and hear Steve again. He played in the Juilliard alumni choir, and it’s amazing to think how many performances this man has played at the Metropolitan Opera over the years. I remember vividly hearing a master class he gave at the 1991 trombone workshop in Rochester. His sound and concept of playing has been burned into my brain ever since!
- Dave Taylor - I already mentioned Dave in Part One, but he is always such fun to be around. A man that is all about the music, he is an inspiration. His interest in young players and his care for their development is evident in the way he interacts with people he meets. A gentleman and a New Yorker in the very best sense of the term.
The Juilliard Alumni Choir performed an afternoon concert which was well attended and sounded beautiful. It was such great fun to be back at Juilliard and get to perform a little with such great players and friends. Per Brevig did a fantastic job getting the group ready in basically one rehearsal to play a very nice program. Hearing many alumni who attended Juilliard before me, and connecting everyone’s lineage of teachers and experience at school was really amazing. This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this in an “alumni” event. They can be a great way to bring a sense of camaraderie to a group that might not otherwise ever meet, much less perform together.
After the Alumni concert, it was time to do some more sight seeing and “New York stuff”. We had a blast and really enjoyed the rest of our weekend. Many thanks to Joe Alessi, Jack Schatz, Per Brevig, The Juilliard School, and the ITA for a fantastic experience and weekend. If you haven’t been to an ITF, try to get to one at your first possible opportunity - you won’t be disappointed! Next year's festival is at University of Redlands in Redlands, California, June 28-July 1, 2017.