Brubeck gig for the wallflower

By Linda Herrick

Often overlooked, the bass trombone gets a chance to steal the limelight at last. Arts editor LINDA HERRICK reports.

Pity the poor bass trombone. An integral player in a full orchestra, the bass trombone is a forlorn wallflower when it comes to attracting the attentions of composers.

Few works are specifically written for the instrument, as Auckland Philharmonia's principal bass trombonist, Tim Sutton, knows too well.

A regular net navigator in search of new material, Sutton was thrilled when he discovered Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra by Chris Brubeck, son of jazz great Dave.

Sutton mail-ordered Bach to Brubeck, the CD which includes the 15-minute concerto, featuring the London Symphony Orchestra. He played it to Auckland University music school associate professor Uwe Grodd, who was planning to conduct the Manukau City Symphony Orchestra's end-of-year concerts. "Uwe said the Brubeck music was fantastic, great fun to play," says Sutton.

But first he had to get the rights from Brubeck to "hire the parts" - the written music for each instrument - which might turn out to be too expensive. Sutton established e-mail contact with New York State-based Chris Brubeck and his wife, Tish, and negotiations were going fine until silence fell on September 11.

"I didn't hear from them for a long time," says Sutton, "but then they mailed to say he'd had to make a gig in LA and they weren't allowed to fly so they drove all the way there and back."

The Brubecks gifted the fee of the concerto, which Sutton describes as "very jazzy, pretty funky, with some improvisation sections".

The concerto opens with the movement Paradise Utopia, which Brubeck has said was the imagining of a Donald Trump-like figure maniacally rebuilding the New York skyline. Movement two, Sorrow Floats, is a reflective adagio, while movement three, James Brown in the Twilight Zone, is based around two bars of Brown's I Feel Good.

Written in 1991, the concerto's popularity continues to grow, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performing it at the Royal Albert Hall in London in April this year.

But the Brubecks are just as excited about the New Zealand gigs, albeit at slightly more humble venues.

Says Brubeck's website, referring to the two Auckland concerts: "Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra has really gone international!"

Manukau City Symphony Orchestra's end-of-year show also includes a Mozart Flute Concerto, Mozart's Overture to Don Giovanni, and Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty Suite, at St George's Church, Papatoetoe, on December 3; All Saints Church, Howick, December 2.

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