About this Recording:
When I began this project two years ago I didn’t realize it would culminate in a full blown CD. I originally set out to write a handful of Dixieland standards for brass quintet in a style reminiscent of a traditional New Orleans brass band—as opposed to the sort of hyperactive ragtime arrangements usually associated with the genre. Many of the songs I arranged feature improvised solos – an integral part of what makes jazz unique. Several of the arrangements are of gospel tunes. The traditional way to do these with a brass band is to play the melody first as a hymn, then play it again with some swing (which is why we use the formula several times). It seemed natural to include some second lines, or parade tunes, as I got further into my writing. For those unfamiliar, a second line refers to all the people who join in and follow the main part of a parade (club members and band)—dancing and twirling parasols as they go. The two Latin pieces are a nod to the influence of Cuban, Brazilian, and Dominican music in New Orleans.
As my library of arrangements grew, I realized that the finish line to all this was a recording. I called my fellow brass players in the BBQ and organized three sessions to lay down the twenty tunes. Most of the tracks are first or second takes with very little editing. The music is supposed to have soul, and a little bit of imperfection is what makes music human. We were blessed to have a true blues legend—Gaye Adegbalola—agree to sing a couple songs in the collection (I am pretty sure it was her first time being backed by a brass quintet!). Although none of the arrangements included drums, I thought it would be fun for the recording to include some percussion on a handful of tunes. My first choice to play with us was Byron McWilliams. He has been working with me in the Dixie Power Trio for twenty years and I knew he would slide in effortlessly. Also coming in to help at the last minute was Kent Baker, who played the last recording session on horn when health issues forced Merry Beth to miss out. He has done a number of concerts with us over the years, and his familiarity with the material really helped keep things seamless. We were also very fortunate to get Jeff Covert to helm the project from behind the mixing console. He has amazing ears and even helped out with some percussion overdubs.
“Bourbon Street Parade” seemed like an appropriate first cut for the CD—the trumpets do a little call, then the whole ensemble starts its journey. The tuba player doesn’t get a lot of rest in these arrangements, which makes it even more impressive when Tom gets to his solo and throws down. You may notice that there are not a lot of French horn solos in this material, which is not a reflection on our wonderful player Merry Beth, just more an acknowledgement that jazz and horn are a dangerous combination which should be mixed carefully! I have often been asked to play Clyde McCoy’s “Sugar Blues” at shows with the Dixie Power Trio, but hadn’t taken the time to learn it. After arranging the tune, it seemed like it would be a great feature for Chas. I think he nailed the harmon muted wa-wa style—and Gaye sang the heck out of it. I put the whole quintets’ feet to the fire with “The Chant”. It is a crazy, almost out of control, ragtime number that starts with a simple trumpet line and ends with everyone blowing the doors down. I decided to write one arrangement where we would use a piccolo trumpet to mimic a clarinet—a trick the Canadian Brass uses frequently. Chas had the honors and did the “misery stick” proud. One of the most famous solos in jazz history is Louis Armstrong’s intro to “West End Blues”. I based the arrangement on the original recording including the opening lick and the solo at the end where Louis holds and shakes a B flat for what seems like an eternity. Tom is featured on “The Old Rugged Cross”, which is inspired by a performance of the tune by the DPT’s Andy Kochenour. I should mention that many of the bass lines I wrote for the tuba are based on, or are exact transcriptions, of stuff Andy has played with the DPT. Big Daddy and I have been playing together in different bands for more than twenty years. Before we started this recording I told him I was not looking for “pristine classical”, but more “earthy Wycliffe”. I knew he would sound great on “Do You Know What it Means”, and he plays it absolutely beautifully. Also included in this collection are a couple of my original compositions. “Requiem for Jake” is a tribute to my late trumpet mentor Don Jacoby. He was a well-known trumpet soloist in the 50s and 60s who played in the era’s bravura style. The “Tango for Jam Jam” is a piece I wrote and recorded years ago with the DPT. I always thought it would be fun to give the song a different setting—and I got to use my castanets! “Save a Chair for Me in Heaven” is a tune I wrote in my head one night while driving home from a gig. It is the kind of thing I could imagine the band at Preservation Hall playing at 2AM. Once again, Gaye nails it. The final number is “When the Saints Go Marching In”—the most famous of all funeral marches. Big Daddy plays a great trombone solo (which we decided to slip into the arrangement at the last minute during the recording session). I hope you enjoy this slice of New Orleans music and the way it has been presented. Sheet music for all of the arrangements is available online at trumpetunes.com. More BBQ info at beltwaybrass.com. Enjoy!