Passion For Brass - CD Notes

Introduction

The year 1986 was witness to a remarkable passing-of-the-torch! After thirty years of concertizing around the world, the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble (PJBE) disbanded after defining a new standard of brass ensemble playing—but not before the PJBE inspired a young trombone student at Western University, and a native son of London, Ontario, Karl Hermann, to organize a brass ensemble that soon became known as Brassroots. Professor James White signed on as Music Director; he led the ensemble with distinction and was a mentor to the young students who formed the ensemble. White retired in 1995 to be succeeded by Bram Gregson. Now, thirty years in, and having outlasted its inspiration, Brassroots continues to perform to a loyal London following.

We are confident that Brassroots was the first ensemble in Canada to employ the PJBE model of four trumpets, a horn, four trombones and a tuba. A percussionist was soon added to provide rhythmic support and colours that enable a more expansive repertoire.

Having laid the groundwork for chamber performance by a brass ensemble, not only did the PJBE attract English composers and arrangers to write for them, the tradition was also established where the players themselves made vital contributions to the ensemble's repertoire. The newly-formed Brassroots needed music to perform and the PJBE was very supportive, making some of their manuscripts available to Brassroots. Before long, Brassroots was able to purchase PJBE published pieces.

In the past thirty years, ten-piece brass and percussion ensembles have sprung up all over the world. Of particular note is the all-star group Superbrass of London England—their publishing company has introduced an exciting selection of charts quite different to those published by PJBE. In appreciation of their important contributions to brass ensemble literature we have given a nod to both PJBE and Superbrass by including several of their publications in this CD. The balance of the tracks have been composed or arranged by Canadians.

In the tradition of the PJBE, Brassroots' members have also contributed many arrangements, but it is important to recognize the exceptional contribution made to our library by Jeff Christmas. Jeff, also a student at Western in those first days of Brassroots, acknowledges the importance of Brassroots in cutting his compositional and arranging teeth! Our 2009 CD Cocktails featured original music composed especially for that recording by Jeff. In his program notes he states: "Brassroots came along right about the time I was pursuing a career in composition and proved to be a superb vehicle for practising my trade. It's an ideal environment for a composer to have his music performed immediately...."

Our MUSICIANS

It is a passion for brass performance that is shared by each member of Brassroots, performing four concerts each season in our home city of London, Ontario. All except one are graduates of UWO and all except one are music educators. Three are now retired after distinguished careers as High School band directors, and all three still conduct community bands and ensembles.

Brassroots Musicians for this recording are:

  • Trumpets: Paul Stevenson, Kevin Swinden, Gwyn Beynon, Julia Vaughan
  • Horn: Tony Snyder
  • Trombones: John Monkhouse, Dave Davidson, Bob Phillips, Susan Follows
  • Tuba: Michael Medeiros
  • Percussion: Rob Inch, Eric DeVooght
  • Guest Artist: Stephen Holowitz

Julia Vaughan and Rob Inch were in the original ensemble to take the stage. However, Paul Stevenson and Susan Follows joined the group within a couple of years and most of the other members have served for ten to fifteen years. Those who do not reside in London travel from Brampton, Guelph, Cambridge and Kitchener, bearing the cost of travel to all rehearsals and concerts. Rarely do members receive financial compensation for their efforts—they truly are driven by their passion for the music, and the chance to play with colleagues equally dedicated!

The MUSIC

Music for His Majesty's Sackbuts and Cornetts, by Matthew Locke, arranged by Roger Harvey.
PBJE trombonist (1982–86) Roger Harvey has made a considerable contribution to the libraries of brass ensembles. Brassroots had the honour to feature Roger as guest soloist on our CD Divertimento. Matthew Locke (1621–1677) was an English Baroque composer and organist, and the most prolific English composer of his day, in the years before Henry Purcell. He wrote this music for the celebrations accompanying Charles II's entry into London on 22 April, 1661, the night before the coronation.¹ In this recording, we include four of the movements from the suite. Harvey's arrangement transforms an original consort of five into a bold ten-piece brass version. While the evolutionary distance from sackbut to trombone is not great, the cornett of Matthew Locke's day bears little resemblance to the modern trumpet—a cupped mouthpiece into which the player buzzes being the only common feature. And the tuba could only have existed in Locke's wildest imagination!

Canzon Primi Toni (à 10), by Giovanni Gabrieli, arranged by J. Scott Irvine.
Gabrieli was a Renaissance composer, born in Venice circa 1555-7. Although his early music shows the influence of his uncle Andrea Gabrieli, his own style soon developed individual characteristics, generally restricting himself to sacred and instrumental music. Although his influence in Italy was limited, being overshadowed by his successor Claudio Monteverdi, he had a much greater impact on his pupils from Germany. This Canzon appeared in his Sacrae Symphoniae published circa 1597, which marks a departure in style for Gabrieli away from the antiphonal choirs that characterized the music of his uncle's generation, toward a greater sense of dialogue within a single choir of instruments; Primi Toni refers to the first church mode, which today we refer to as Dorian mode. The PBJE often featured Gabrieli's music and is popular with chamber brass ensembles everywhere. The imitative melodic writing allows for the timbres of the ten instruments to be heard to advantage.
We are grateful to Scott Irvine, a Toronto-based composer and tuba virtuoso, for arranging this distinctive music especially for this recording.

Susato Suite, by Tylman Susato, arranged John Iveson.
The Susato Suite was arranged by another PBJE trombonist (1968-80), John Iveson. Tylman Susato was a Renaissance composer who lived in Antwerp in the mid 16th century and enjoyed a stint as a sackbut player and trumpeter in the Antwerp Town Band (from which he was dismissed for an offence committed during a processional performance for Emperor Charles V—it seems brass players have not changed much in 350 years!) However, Susato's greatest historical significance was as owner of a printing works, which allowed him to preserve his compositions for posterity. In 1591 he published his Danserye from which John Iveson chose six of the dances often heard in PBJE concerts. In this tribute to PJBE we selected three of these pleasing dances for this recording.

Tientos y Danzas (Movement 4), by Gareth Wood.
The final movement of a suite for brass ensemble, Tientos y Danzas was written by Gareth Wood, a Doublebass player with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Published and first performed by Superbrass, the publisher's notes describe this movement thus: "After a couple of false starts, the finale sets off at a cracking pace, with dislocated accents creating an irregular rhythmic pulse. There are opportunities for every instrument to shine (metaphorically) and the music gets even faster for a thrilling conclusion." This is the first of four publications by Superbrass included in this recording—such a wonderful contrast to the other charts on the CD.

Point Pelee, by Howard Cable, arranged by Tony Snyder.
Howard Cable was one of Canada's most distinguished composers. Alas he passed away, aged 95 on March 30, 2016. He worked to the end and was scheduled to attend a recording session on the day that he died. It has been said that anywhere there was popular music in Canada, he seemed to have a hand in it.
Tony Snyder, our horn soloist, notes that raising Monarch butterflies was one of his hobbies when he was young. Butterflies congregate in Point Pelee National Park at the southernmost tip of Canada before their long journey to Mexico. Thus, Tony found a very meaningful connection to this music when he first heard it as a solo for trumpet and piano. Howard Cable included "Point Pelee" in his Ontario Pictures Suite, which he conducted in a guest appearance with Stratford Symphony Orchestra. Tony, a member of the orchestra, asked Cable for permission to transcribe this beautiful melody as a solo with Brassroots.
Tony also performed the solo with strings in a recent orchestral tour of Belgium and Holland.

Fletcher Lake, by Jeff Christmas. Trumpet soloist Paul Stevenson.
Jeff Christmas and Paul Stevenson have been close friends since their student days at UWO. This charming solo was written as a tribute to Paul's dad who passed away in 2015. It was named after the Stevenson's family cottage, which was on Lake Fletcher near Huntsville, Ontario. Jeff notes "my inspiration was to pay tribute to Paul's dad, writing something that capitalized on Paul's unique style and skills. Paul and I both love the 'On Golden Pond' theme, by Dave Grusin. It was a great opportunity for us to channel our 'inner Grusin' and I especially wanted the opening to pay homage to that theme which we both adored, even before we knew each other. Kindred spirits I guess."

The Cat, by Jimmy Smith, arranged by Peter Clements, featuring Stephen Holowitz at the Hammond B-3 organ with trumpet solo by Paul Stevenson.
Jimmy Smith wrote The Cat for his 1964 album of the same name. He was an American jazz artist whose virtuoso improvisational technique helped to popularize the electric organ as a jazz instrument. The first performance of The Cat in this format was at our February 2015 concert, Ivory and Brass, when we collaborated with church organ, piano and electric keyboards in an eclectic variety of music from Classical to jazz. Londoner and retired professor of theory and composition at UWO, Peter Clements, was the keyboard player in that concert; he arranged "The Cat" for Stephen Holowitz. We are indebted to him for this unusual jazz collaboration for organ and brass.

Someone to Watch Over Me, by George Gershwin, arranged by Joseph Turrin. Flugel horn soloist, Julia Vaughan.
Joseph Turrin's music has been commissioned by some of the world's leading orchestras. Here we have his beautiful arrangement of one of Gershwin's great hits, transcribed by Jeff Christmas for Julia Vaughan.
The song was first heard in the 1926 Broadway production Oh, Kay! It is interesting to note that Gershwin initially envisaged the song as an up-tempo jazz song but his brother Ira, who wrote the lyrics, persuaded him to set it as a ballad. No words here, but beautiful nevertheless!

Solving the Riddle, by Billy May, arranged by Jock McKenzie.
Billy May was an American composer, arranger and trumpet player who wrote for film and TV. He also arranged for some of the top singers of the swing era. This was written for his 1958 album Billy May's Big Fat Brass, which featured brass sections with strong rhythmic influences. The album quickly attained cult status.

Gonna Fly Now — Theme from Rocky, by Bill Conti, arranged for Superbrass by Jock McKenzie. Trumpet soloist, Paul Stevenson.
The iconic theme song became popular after the release of the movie, Rocky, in 1977. As the publisher notes, it became part of American culture as the main character and boxer Rocky completed his daily training regime by running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, striking a victory pose.

Malagueña, by Ernesto Lecuona, arranged by Stuart Malcolm.
Lecuona (1897–1963) was a Cuban composer and piano virtuoso who wrote over six hundred pieces, mostly in Cuban rhythm. "Malagueña" was a movement in his Suite Andalucia for solo piano, but better known as a standard for big bands the world over.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow, by Harold Arlen, arranged by Jeff Christmas. Trombone soloist, John Monkhouse.
One of the most recorded and most popular songs in history, it was written for the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and became the signature song for Judy Garland. She claimed that she performed it thousands of times and it was the song that was closest to her heart. The American Film Institute ranks "Over the Rainbow" as the greatest movie song of all time.

Czardas, by Vittoria Monti, arranged by Ty Watson. Tuba soloist Michael Medeiros.
Based on an 18th century Hungarian folk dance and thought to have been used as a recruiting dance by the Hungarian Army, Czardas has become a show-piece for every imaginable instrument including the tuba!
A czardas (dance) usually starts slowly, becoming very fast at the end. A great work-out for Michael who thrilled audiences with his digital dexterity in our 2014 tour of China.

Jealousy, by Jacob Gade, arranged by John Iveson.
Jacob Gade was a Danish composer with a prolific output of popular music in the early 20th Century. However, he is remembered mainly for the "Gypsy Tango" Jealousy, which soon became a worldwide hit after its first performance in 1925 for the American silent film Don Q, Son of Zorro. In this showpiece, arranged for two trumpets, one might think that Paul Stevenson and Julia Vaughan are each attempting to upstage the other. It's all a part of the musical dance they perform—Paul and Julia have been close friends since university days, so the jealousy displayed in the music is just for show.

Echoes of Harlem from A Londoner in New York, by Jim Parker.
Jim Parker is a well-known English composer who has composed numerous works for theatre and television. This is the first movement of his suite A Londoner in New York, which was composed in 1984 for PJBE. The publisher notes that as the title implies, this is a piece about Harlem as it was in the heyday of Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and other jazzmen.

¹ Holman, Peter. "Locke [Lock], Matthew." Grove Music Online. Accessed April 17, 2016.

Bram Gregson, April15, 2016

Sound Production and Editing: Chestnut Hall Music

As producer for Chestnut Hall, Earl McCluskie has recorded, produced and released over 200 CD and video recordings featuring musicians, ensembles and arts organizations across Canada.
For more information visit www.chestnuthallmusic.com.

Guest Artist: Stephen Holowitz: Hammond B-3 Organ

Stephen studied pipe organ and piano at the University of Western Ontario. He is a High School music educator in London, Ontario and is organist and choral director at St. James Westminster Anglican Church. He is busy as a soloist or accompanist in classical, jazz and pop styles. Stephen is also keyboardist and co-composer for the Antler River Project, a London based ensemble that blends jazz, world music and contemporary compositions for a unique musical experience.

Cover Art: Laura Arbogast

Laura studied Fine Art at Appalachian State University and received her Bachelor of Arts in 2013. She lives in Fort Collins, CO where she receives inspiration for her artwork. Her primary medium is watercolor and ink and she plans on setting up space to print-make at home. Currently she displays some of her artwork at local coffee shops and galleries and enjoys working on commissioned pieces.

Design and Layout: Nikki Attwell

Nikki has extensive experience, especially in the arts community, creating unique seasonal brochures, posters, display ads and corporate display packages. She has designed the layout and typesetting for over fifty CD projects for a wide variety of Canadian Artists. Visit www.nikkiattwell.ca.

Photographer: Paul Baker

Paul Baker is a Canadian fine art photographer, specializing in impressionist / minimal landscapes and cityscapes. Paul is the Director of Development for Brassroots. Visit www.paulbakerphotography.wix.com/gallery.

Producer and music editing: Bram Gregson

This is the thirty-first recording that Bram has produced with various brass bands and ensembles. In a conducting career that has spanned just over fifty years he has also undertaken the music editing for all except one of these recordings. Bram gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Dr. Kevin Swinden, Susan Follows and Tony Snyder in the production of this CD.