Trombone players apparently draw a crowd, at least if the upcoming Chippewa Valley Jazz Orchestra concert is any guide.
Orchestra members knew they had a special musician when they signed Andy Martin, whose lengthy list of achievements make him a first-call trombonist on the West Coast, to help close the group’s season Friday night in Pablo Center at the Confluence’s Jamf Theatre.
But the guest roster has grown, and now the 18-piece orchestra and Martin will be joined by two other highly respected players of the instrument: Michael B. Nelson, known for his work with Prince and the Hornheads, among other credits; and Phil Ostrander, UW-Eau Claire’s professor of trumpet, who has his own impressive performance resume.
Geoff Peterson, president of the Chippewa Valley Jazz Orchestra board and drummer for the group, explained how the performance came about.
In planning their first season in Pablo Center, Peterson said, orchestra members wanted to do “kind of big stuff” befitting the performance space. As part of that, they opened by welcoming prominent trumpet player Wayne Bergeron. They also collaborated with the Chippewa Valley Symphony Orchestra for a holiday concert.
Martin fit that mold, having played on 12 albums as a leader, 300-plus as a sideman and on 150 major film soundtracks. He also has performed with numerous prominent big bands and with other jazz stars.
“He’s a guy we’ve been talking about bringing in for years,” Peterson said, describing their thinking this way: “If we’re going to blow the doors off the place, this is the year to bring him in.”
After Martin agreed to join them, other musicians in the band suggested adding to the lineup. First, they approached Ostrander, Peterson said, “and Phil was absolutely thrilled with the idea of doing it.”
When Bergeron performed in October, the Twin Cities-based Nelson drove to Eau Claire to see the show, as he’s friends with the trumpeter.
“I had told Mike that Andy Martin was coming,” Peterson said. “He’s like, ‘Oh god, I’d love to do that show. That would be so much fun. It would be great to be on the same stage with Andy again.’”
The next step was obvious.
“I’m like, sure, I’m not going to say no to the guy who wrote for Prince for …. 20 years or whatever,” Peterson said. “And Mike was actually one of our first guest artists when we first moved into The State Theatre back in 2013. The idea of being able to bring him back again was just a perfect opportunity.”
Ostrander expressed his excitement about sharing the stage with his fellow trombonists.
“Andy and Mike are two of the best in the business,” he said via email. “It is a privilege to share the stage. Both are extraordinary improvisers.”
Ostrander added that he’s glad to see his instrument get top billing.
“In a typical jazz ensemble concert, there are relatively few trombone solos,” he said, adding with a bit of humor, “I suppose this concert is payback for the countless concerts we have performed without a single trombone solo!”
On a more serious note, Ostrander also noted the trombone’s musical capabilities.
“I always attempt to show the audience that the trombone has a singing and beautiful sound quality,” he said.
The concert will feature a healthy number of selections featuring the trombone, “not surprisingly,” Peterson quipped. The following pieces are on the program:
• A couple of charts from the Stan Kenton Band. “Stan Kenton had a couple of amazing trombone players; we’re doing some of their stuff,” Peterson said.
• “Flight of the Bumblebee,” in an arrangement by Nelson. “So that’s going to be pretty epic,” Peterson said. “We don’t even know what it’s going to sound like because it’s never been performed before. So that’s going to be cool.”
• A Latin tune called “Black Orpheus.”
• A version of “Stella By Starlight” featuring Ostrander.
“It’s a great selection,” Peterson said. “Most of it has been pioneered by great trombone players in the ’50s and ’60s. Although some of the stuff Andy Martin is bringing is stuff that was written just for him.”
Giving a star turn to trombone players, Peterson said, fits with one of the orchestra’s goals: to feature music people might not ordinarily hear.
“It seemed the logical choice in some ways,” he said, “and I think it’s also good for the audience to hear it because people tend to think of trombones as ... they’re just part of a section of the big band. No. These guys can play. They can seriously play. The level of musicianship between these three trombone players is stunning.”
Peterson expects it will be “a revelation” for many in the audience.
The CVJO has always placed a high priority on educating as well as entertaining.
“Every time we bring in a guest artist we try and find ways to connect them to either the university or the K through 12 schools in the area,” Peterson said. In that regard, Martin is doing a master class at UW-Eau Claire and possibly more during his stay.
“Performing is fun, but education is our mission,” Peterson said.
Like other arts groups in the region, the orchestra has had to work around the hardships imposed by ferocious winter conditions.
One concert, featuring trumpeter Andrew Neesley and singer Mel Flannery, had to be canceled in February because of heavy snow and blizzard conditions. They are planning to bring the duo back on next season’s regular schedule.
The rehearsal schedule also ran into the teeth of winter.
“It’s a big positive that we are a community-based band, but it means that we’ve got people driving in from in some cases very far way,” Peterson said. “My lead alto player lives in Pepin. I’ve got another saxophone player that lives in Colfax. A trombone player that lives in Menomonie.”
But any thoughts of bitter weather will be forgotten.
“We want to end the season on a literal and figurative high note,” Peterson said. “We want to wrap up this season with a bang. … And all three of these gentlemen are going to be an enormous amount of fun sharing the stage with.”
Peterson added he’ll be among the fans as well as a musician on stage.
“My biggest worry is I’m going to stop playing and just listen to them,” he said.
In another reflection of trombonists drawing a crowd, Peterson noted that tickets are selling well and suggested those interested in attending should act fast.
“Turns out there are trombone players from all over the place who want to come and hear these guys play,” he said.