American Brass Quintet

American Brass Quintet gets down to business during BGSU residency

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Even at the top of their game, the members of the American Brass Quintet still understand the importance of daily practice. John Rojak, the bass trombonist for the ensemble, said he started practicing for four hours a day back when he was an undergraduate, and he’s just now easing off on that routine. Not that it’s easy given the musicians’ heavy workloads as teachers, freelance performers, and members of a pioneering brass ensemble. The American Brass Quintet has been in residence at Bowling Green State University since Wednesday as guests of the Hansen Musical Arts Series. They’ve performed a mini-recital, held instrumental classes, coached, and consulted with student composers. Their visit will culminate tonight (Friday, Sept. 22) with a free concert at 8 p.m. in Kobacker Hall in the Moore Musical Arts Center. On Thursday afternoon they met with students to talk about the business side of music. While the quintet represents the core of their work artistically, it is just part of how they earn their livings. They all play in a variety of settings, from chamber orchestras such as Orchestra of St. Luke’s or the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra to Broadway shows. Rojak spent years in the pit of “Les Miserables.” Those hours in the practice room at what was then Lowell State College were the bass trombonist’s launching pad. Lowell State was his “safety school” and he was playing so he could get out. He ended up transferring to the Juilliard School of Music. But Rojak said he got the most important music lesson playing in amateur bands. He recalled during the celebration of the nation’s Bicentennial he marched a lot. “I played more parades than anyone not in the military,” he quipped. He played with people who were car mechanics, lawyers and other avocational musicians. “I learned that you play music because you love music.” Then, he said, someone started paying him and he thought, “This is cool.” Eric Reed, the quintet’s horn player and its newest member, said that getting established as a professional sometimes means taking an engagement with no pay. That can lead jobs that pay something, which in turn can lead to well-paying gigs, he said. For that to happen, said trumpeter Kevin Cobb, a native of Bowling Green, a musician has to know how to be a good colleague. That’s someone who can handle to musical side of matters and congenial. “Everyone wants to work with them,” he said of Rojak and trombonist Michael Powell. That’s why in a highly competitive…


Trumpeter Kevin Cobb returns to his BG roots with American Brass Quintet

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News When trumpeter Kevin Cobb takes the stage with the American Brass Quintet next week it won’t be the first time he’s played brass chamber music in Bowling Green. The Bowling Green native got a chance to play with the Tower Brass as a teenager. His teacher was Marty Porter, a member of the quintet. Now he’s returns as a member of one of the world’s most esteemed brass ensembles. The American Brass will be in residence at Bowling Green State University Wednesday, Sept. 20 through Friday, Sept. 22. The ensemble’s visit will be capped with a free concert in Kobacker Hall Friday at 8 p.m. The visit is part of the Hansen Musical Arts Series. Cobb, 46, joined the 57-year-old ensemble in 1998. The American Brass sets itself off from more popular quintets, the Empire and the Canadian, by its dedication to playing only music written for brass in five voices, Cobb said. Early on, he said, there was “a split” between members who wanted to play ragtime and other accessible forms, and those who wanted to focus exclusively to brass quintet repertoire. The latter faction won. That means it plays early music and contemporary music. From the beginning, the American Brass has been active in commissioning music by new composers. The ensemble also sets itself apart by using a bass trombone, not tuba, as its lowest voice. The founders felt that the bass trombone’s lighter sound was more akin to the sound of a cello in a string quartet and was truer to the textures of early music that was scored for three trumpets and two sackbuts. John Rojak is the bass trombonist. Other members are Louis Hanzlik, trumpet, Eric Reed, horn, and Michael Powell, the most senior member, trombone. “For our group, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” Cobb said. “We’re not trying to showcase the French horn or bass trombonist.” That was true the first time he heard the quintet. He and a friend were discussing the concert and then realized:  “We’re talking about the music, not the playing.” Cobb continued: “That’s what our musical mission has always been … trying to make the ensemble greater than the individuals.” The musicians also understand that the contemporary music they play isn’t what audiences necessarily listen to at home. “People don’t know what to expect, and it’s our job to introduce them,” he said. “We believe in it and that comes across in our playing. We don’t program anything we feel half-hearted about. We’re…


Stars align at BGSU as College of Music welcomes famed guest artists

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News The Bowling Green State University College of Musical Arts has some special acts in the wings. Lindsay Gross, the college’s manager of public-community relations, can’t help but show her own enthusiasm for what’s in store for the coming academic year – five internationally acclaimed artists who will share their gifts with the community. And all the events related to these residencies are open to public for free. Why wouldn’t Gross be excited? She’s a jazz bass trombonist, and the first guest in September is the American Brass Quintet, a pioneering ensemble that uses bass trombone, not tuba, as its lowest voice. And closing run of guest artists during Jazz Week in late March will be Maria Schneider, the most esteemed living composer for large jazz ensemble. Schneider has won Grammys not only for her jazz work but also for her arrangement on David Bowie’s song “Sue.” And for her collaboration with soprano Dawn Upshaw, who will visit BGSU a week before she arrives. Visits scheduled are: American Brass Quintet, residency Sept.20-22, with a concert Sept. 22 at 8 p.m. Jazz guitarist John Scofield, Sept. 30, a master class and concert at 8 p.m. as part of the two-day Orchard Guitar Festival that starts Sept.29. Opera composer Jake Heggie, keynote lecture at 8 p.m. on Oct. 22 and residency Oct. 23-24, as part of the Edwin H. Simmons Creative Mind Series. Vocal superstar Dawn Upshaw, recital March 18 at 8 p.m. and residency March 19-20, as the Helen McMaster Professorship in Vocal and Choral Arts. Maria Schneider, residency from March 28-30, with a concert March 30 of Schneider conducting the Jazz Lab I band performing her compositions. (All concerts and lectures in Kobacker Hall. More details will be forthcoming on BG Independent News closer to each event.) All the artists will interact with BGSU students, and as much as possible with the community as well. Gross said she is arranging a session with the American Brass to work with high school students on playing chamber music. The quintet members will also be working with university brass students. The quintet, which has been dedicated to performing new music since its founding on 1960, will also discuss its extensive commissioning of new works with student composers. In addition to working with music students including vocalists performing his songs, Heggie will talk with students in English and Creative Writing about setting literary works to music. Heggie wrote an opera based on “Moby Dick,” and has set the poetry of Walt Whitman, to music….