|Improvisation session: Richardson cuts loose
The mid-March period in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, was almost re-named "Rex" in 2004. Events organised by Wendy Anderson (Melbourne) and Brian Evans (Sydney) proved not only how much stamina Rex Richardson has, but also what a versatile and well-rounded musician he is.
Rex Richardson is Associate Professor of Trumpet and Jazz Trumpet at Virginia Commonwealth University, USA. Kicking off in Melbourne on March 15, Australian Trumpet Guild (ATG) Editor and Board member Wendy Anderson ensured that Richardson's feet hardly touched the ground for the next three days.
Presenting a masterclass for a wide age-range of school students at Loreto College, Hawthorn, Richardson delighted his young audience by performing on a number of different trumpets including B–flat, C and piccolo.
"Although some of the concepts presented were quite advanced, all of the girls could and did take something from the experience, many of them asking questions throughout. The real highlight of the session was when Rex performed Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge" on the flugel. His emotional output reached everyone in the room and stillness that filled the room afterwards was something not often achieved among adolescent girls."
An intimate recital followed, at Loreto, that same evening, in which a fine musical program was interspersed with questions and demonstrations. "The striking diversity of Rex's playing was amazing! He covered every style and period of time imaginable and spoke intelligently and interestingly on every piece."
March 16th, Richardson attended and assisted at a rehearsal of the Melbourne University Big Band and presented a workshop at Blackburn High School. With his talent as an educator being showcased, he encouraged the young soloists to evaluate their own performances and then discussed different possible approaches for improvising. The students then played again. "Heeding Rex's advice, they played beautifully and sounded like entirely different players! It was beneficial for other students…to see what a difference focussing more or thinking differently can make."
Just to make sure there was no wasted time, Richardson also presented recital and masterclass for classical trumpet students at the University of Melbourne. These included a high standard of playing in the recital and thoughtful advice in the masterclass which included both psychological and technical aspects of performance.
"On his final night in Melbourne, Rex performed with the Joe Chindamo Trio and Tim Wilson at Bennett's Lane. This evening was a great showcase for Rex as both a jazz performer and composer. He performed on flugelhorn and B-flat and piccolo trumpets, the piccolo being something that Melbourne jazz audiences are not accustomed to hearing… The music was highly charged emotionally and there was great sense of ensemble connection despite the performers having met merely hours beforehand. The high calibre of performers produced a truly remarkable result and I'm sure that many audience members will remember it as one of the best gig they have witnessed."
Flying into Sydney on the morning of March 18, Rex was almost immediately whisked off to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music to work with the big band for the afternoon. This session was, by all accounts, very well received.
Friday March 19 was a little slower but no less exciting as Richardson was able to work with two high school-aged big bands on Sydney's North Shore. Hornsby Girls' High School was the venue for this masterclass featuring Epping Boys' High School Stage Band and Sussudio Big Band. Both bands are directed by Sydney trombonist, Mark Barnsley with members ranging in age from approximately 12 – 17.
Each band took about half of the two hour session and Rex worked on many aspects of large jazz band playing. He commented on the energy that needs to come from the rhythm section and also the fact that the horn players in the band need to feed off that energy by not sitting on the back of the beat, saying that the whole band needed to play with "forward motion" but without the tempo increasing. He focussed particularly on the sound of the trumpets and encouraged them to find and play in the "sweet spot" of their instruments.
Much of his time, with both bands, was spent encouraging the development of improvisational skills. He encouraged listening to all kinds of music and transcribing great players' jazz solos. In addition, he suggested learning "jazz licks" and phrases that sound good and then learning how to put them together to make a jazz sentence. Here he made the point that in learning to improvise better, young players are learning a new language. One might be able to recognise that someone is speaking Japanese but to make sense of it and to converse, they need to study the language. It is the same with improvisation. Once the player has knowledge of the language they have a better idea of what to play so it makes musical sense.
Rex was also very concerned with stage presence, projecting the sounds past the music stand and acknowledging the audience's applause after a solo. As some of the young players were performing solos in public for the first time, this was invaluable advice.
March 20-21 marked the ATG's first conference since 1999 and it was timely that the Richardson visit was made possible. Using his versatility to the maximum, Rex was scheduled for four out of six sessions, all held at the Scots College, Bellevue Hill.
The first session focussed on "cross-over" playing (Rex was part of the panel on this same subject at ITG 2004, in Denver). He "presented … material … using CD recordings ranging from opera to Freddie Hubbard to ethnic ensembles as well as demonstrating on his own instruments …" Since Rex is such an accomplished performer in all genres of trumpet playing, he was able to pass on many strategies for maintaining that high standard. In short, it involved a great deal of study, listening and practice, combined with intelligent management of playing schedules.
Providing some moderate respite, the second session of March 20 featured the Royal Australian Air Force Air Command Band Brass Quintet. A quality recital was further enhanced by the involvement of Richardson offering some masterclass-style suggestions in the early stages, before he retired to prepare for the final event of the day, a full recital of works ranging from Handel's Sonata in B-flat to Dana Wilson's Masks and his own Three Etudes for Solo Trumpet. Ably accompanied by Anthony Baldwin, this was a performance which delighted the small but appreciative audience.
Day two opened with a session on jazz improvisation. "[Rex] spoke about the basics of learning to solo. His ideas were logical and clearly presented and even those who were professional jazz players came away with practical strategies to use in their own teaching." Questions from the audience were forthcoming and all delighted in hearing Rex perform a number of standard tunes, brilliantly assisted by pianist Michael Kahr. As an additional bonus, Michael was able to input his thoughts stemming from his also having been a trumpet player ('piano is easier').
The second day was broken up by the inclusion of a panel session dealing with orchestral auditions. Panellists Anthony Heinrichs, trumpet, Sydney Symphony, Brian Evans, trumpet, and Brett Favel, trombone, both of the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, were able to provide wide-ranging insight to preparing for and presenting auditions. Perspectives covered experiences from not only symphony and opera orchestra work but also from that of a non-trumpet panellist and European experiences. Three brave students made themselves available, on short notice, to present excerpts for valuable comment by the panellists. To conclude, Heinrichs and Evans performed a section of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra to demonstrate how two players who have never played together can still co-ordinate, on the spot, just as they would need to on the job.
|Ralph Pyl, Rex Richardson, Paul Panichi, Don Rader and Warwick Alder
The grand finale of the conference and, indeed, the "Richardson tour" was a concert with the Sydney All Star Big Band. With a trumpet section boasting Paul Panichi, Ralph Pyl, Warwick Alder and Don Raider, Rex knew he was in good company. Commencing in a small group situation, Rex was joined by Craig Walters (tenor sax), Alister Spence (piano), Gordon Ritmeister (drums) and Gary Holgate (bass) and the intimate setting was a suitable "calm before the storm" of what was about to occur with the full band. After a short break, we were treated to ensemble and solo playing of the highest level. Most of the band's soloists, with an emphasis on the trumpets, of course, contributed to the solid hour of highly charged big band playing. All contributed strongly but I can never pass up the chance to express what joy it always is to hear the great Don Raider soloing on his rotary valved flugel. He blew us away.
In all, it was a visit packed with wonderful moments. Thanks from the organisers go to our sponsors, Yamaha Australia and USA, Panic Productions, Virginia Commonwealth University and the ATG as well as all venues and the exceptional musicians who contributed their time and artistry.
Australian Trumpet Guild
Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Music
Article by Brian Evans (ITG Australian News correspondent) with quotes in italics from article by ATG member Caitlin Sheahan (first published in ATG journal "Mouthpiece" May/June 2004)