Come blow your horn
Trumpet festival features a worldwide goulash of performances
By Rick Marx
For the month of August, master trumpeters of many different genres will be flocking to New York both to perform and enjoy the Third Festival of New Trumpet Music, of FONT, as it is known in brief. The entire festival runs through Aug. 27; locally, Tonic, the club at 107 Norfolk Street, will be among the venues, with four days of music, from Aug. 12 to 15, featuring a worldwide goulash of performances, from the Ray Vega Latin Jazz Quartet to the Zlatne Uste Balkan Brass Band, with lots of musical destinations in between. To say that there is something for everyone would be a bit of a cliché, but in this case, it may be true, as organizers Roy Campbell, Dave Douglas and Jon Nelson give new meaning to new music.
Photo courtesy of Greenleaf Music
Dave Douglas, an organizer of the Third Festival of New Trumpet Music, will perform at Tonic on Aug. 13 with his group Keystone.
It started out with the idea of hearing new things in music from the trumpet, he said. Once we got going there was so much going on, said Douglas. Weve got 45 trumpet players doing music and doing new things.
Douglas, a recipient of a 2005 Guggenheim Fellowship, said that the festival grew out of his friendship with Roy Campbell Jr., with whom he played in a band called Alloy, which also featured Baikida Carroll, a wonderful and important trumpet player.
We were talking one night [about] how trumpet players never seem to play together, and how many new things were going on with the trumpet, said Douglas.
When Douglas, a former longtime Brooklyn resident now living in Westchester Countys Croton-on-Hudson, was given the opportunity to curate a show at Tonic three years back, he raised the prospect of bringing a wide range of trumpeters together. The first year I was given the opportunity to curate a show at Tonic, and I said, Roy, lets do this, said Douglas.
What is the difference between old and new trumpet music?
The way that I look at it, musicians are living creatures, said Douglas. So when a musician starts to express their own reality, its always necessarily something new, not a repertoire festival. Its a way of recognizing that musicians should be free to develop the music in whatever personal ways the person does that.
He said that the festival was created with the notion of moving away from narrow genre labels. We try to step away from the idea that theres only certain kinds of trumpet playing that should be included, said Douglas. In all of our meetings, the idea of how do we encourage new trumpet music, and what that means, always comes up. Its part of the discussion.
He said that the result of the discussions is to encourage individuals to discover their own musical voice. Its about whatever individual musicians are into, said Douglas. The encouragement of doing their own thing - sometimes its chordal music, sometimes its very consonant - theres no rule that new music has to be avant garde.
He eschews the 40-year old terms free music and avant garde, and the 20-year-old term, post-modern. I think, OK, if someone wants to be post modern, great, said Douglas. Whats really important to us is to be here now, be here in the moment creating our own music in [our] own way.
From that conceptual start three years ago, now FONT offers brass concerts at four venues - along with Tonic, at the Jazz Standard, Spark at 161 W. 22nd St., and the Yamaha Artists Services Center at 689 Fifth Ave.
Douglas said this is the first time the festival has honored a great player of new trumpet music from the past. Trumpeters are recalling Lester Bowie, the heralded co-founder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago who died in 1999. Douglas said that while he never played with Bowie, he had listened to him most of his playing career, and this was the first tribute to Bowie of this magnitude. For me, he was able to extend the language into something and do it in such a way that it made you laugh, said Douglas. It was popular music, it wasnt some academic exercise. Theres a lot of love to it.
Bowie, whose screeches and growls, wit and humor, and thorough understanding for the jazz tradition informed his unique style, was a pioneer at breaking barriers and creating new musical innovations.
Trumpeter Baikida Carroll is one of the FONT performers who actually did have the opportunity to play with Bowie. Like Bowie, he is from St. Louis. Lester and I became friends while playing together on weekends in 1964, in St. Louis, Mo., says Carroll. We played third and fourth trumpet in the All-City Jazz big band, and I still have not laughed as much as sitting next to him and listening to his comments during those rehearsals. It was during one of those rehearsals that he offered me my first professional gig, playing with him and Fontella Bass. The following years provided a multitude of great conversations, family dinners, two trumpet practice sessions and just good times and music together.
The Tonic dates for the Festival of New Trumpet Music kick off on Aug. 12, with Ted Daniel, who began his professional career playing local gigs with his childhood friend, the legendary guitarist, Sonny Sharrock. Ahmed Abdullah, whom Douglas describes as a brilliant guy whos played with Sun Ra, follows. Roy Campbell Jr. plays his horn at 11 p.m. The next night, Aug. 13, features Douglas himself with his group Keystone, performing a musical tribute to the great silent film performer Roscoe Arbuckle. A packed schedule takes listeners from the Balkan odd-metered music of the Zlatne Uste Balkan Brass Band to Israeli jazz trumpeter Avishai Cohen. Ray Vega, a muy caliente fixture on the scene, plays on Aug. 15, with his quintet.
We really reach out, says Douglas of the stellar lineup. And we also realize how many guys were leaving out. We dont pretend this is some kind of exclusive club. Or that this is a complete list of whats happening.
I got tired of seeing articles, where I would be compared to Wynton Marsalis, and they would say there are two ways to be a trumpeter, theres what Dave does and what Wynton does, and theres only the two of us in a commentary about contemporary trumpet music. Quite honestly I like to think of myself as a positive person, but rather than write letters to the editor, I try to create a festival like this, that shows the breadth of whats going on.