Closing this season’s ROCO Unchambered series, Saturday’s Chase Sequence features a diverse program of favorites from the ROCO Brass Quintet – equally exploring new contemporary classical works and classic jazz standards in all-new arrangements.
Curated by ROCO trumpeter George Chase, discover how this fun concert came together, why it’s such a challenge for the musicians, and what George finds most rewarding about arranging for the quintet – in this edition of ROCOInsider!
This program has quite a dual personality! How did it take shape? Tell us first about the “classical side” and the works you included.
The first half of the program features a collection of recent works all written in the last nine years – all very exciting, colorful, up-tempo pieces, which really push ourselves. The works all very much reinforce the “Chase Sequence” theme, that idea of being on-the-go.
I discovered many of these pieces through connections I met through the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where I went to college. Jim Stephenson’s Chase Sequence – I first heard through a recording by the Valor Brass Quintet, which Chris Clark is in, and I absolutely loved it, such an engaging and virtuosic piece.
It’s like looking through a kaleidoscope – constantly changing and moving, full of phrases which come back around and repeat but slightly altered. And it doesn’t always look the way it sounds, the composer plays with time signatures and quick meter changes, so we have to really be on point.
Anthony DiLorenzo’s Go also features some of the same ideas. Tony was actually my roommate at the Curtis Institute – a fantastic brass player, he’s also always been active in composing, which now is what he does primarily.
Then the Sons of São Paulo by Alexandre Brasolim, I discovered through a recording from my friend Darren Milling, a bass trombone player who also went to Curtis – he recorded it with the São Paulo Brass Quintet. It’s a beautiful, wonderful piece, depicting a busy morning on the streets of São Paulo, with a sunny, relaxed Brazilian flair.
I love the music of Reena Esmail, and her Tuttarana was a choral piece I enjoyed and had been considering arranging; I was excited to hear she had created a brass quintet version herself! With the articulation of the writing, the way she weaves in Indian music, the unique sounds – it’s really a perfect fit for brass quintet.
And next the “jazz side” of the concert – all of these arrangements were written by you, how did you select the tunes?
We’ll start with the “Storyville Blues,” it was written in 1918 by Maceo Pinkard, and I wrote the arrangement last fall – so exactly 100 years later! This is a well-known traditional blues tune, and at the concert our trombonist Thomas Hultén will share the amusing story of its background and his hometown connection.
Then we’ll go into a set of songs and standards, favorites of mine I felt would work well for quintet, and which gave me opportunities to have fun with arranging, in keeping with the season theme of “Games People Play.”
These will include: “When I Grow Too Old to Dream,” “My One and Only Love,” “The Very Thought of You,” “It Had To Be You,” plus the beautiful “It’s You I Like,” featured on the PBS show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and written by Fred Rogers himself.
To wrap up, you’ll finally hear a “Dream Sequence” – a medley where I’ve joined several classic songs together that all have a dream theme.
In this half of the program, our aim is for the audience to just sit back, relax and enjoy!
We’re really excited to give the audience a taste of different musical eras and moods over the evening – it’s a lot of fun to be performing with musicians who are so versatile and can switch styles effortlessly, so we can play such a wide range of music and equally explore classical and jazz in this program.
When were your first experiences with playing in a brass quintet?
My first experiences were when I was in high school – I was active in the Empire State Youth Orchestra and they offered chamber music programs, plus a Jazz Orchestra. In the summers, I twice attended a seminar program at Tanglewood held by the Empire Brass, which gave students a chance to play quintets all day, attend master classes, and to observe the Empire Brass rehearsing to see how they worked together.
So that was where I had my first focused mentorship and coaching, and got a sense of what a quintet of that caliber can really sound like live. Then, I began to regularly perform in a quintet when I went to college at the Curtis Institute to study, and also at Rice University where I went for my Masters’ degree.
When did you first have the chance to create your own concert program as a group?
In college at Curtis was the first time, and back then, the process was a lot more difficult! Access to repertoire was a challenge before the Internet was widely available, as we were limited to what the school physically had in the library, or what you could beg, buy or borrow – and finding what would work best for your group was a gamble. There were no easy previews through YouTube or streaming services, no quick ways to research new works or composers, and no downloadable digital sheet music. It’s a really exciting time for student groups now in programming, a whole new world that the Internet has opened up.
How did you get into arranging music for quintet?
At the time, I was teaching at University of Houston and playing in a faculty brass quintet – we were putting together a concert program, and there were these beautiful a capella Barber choral works which I wished we could include, that I thought would work well for quintet. So those were the first arrangements I ever wrote, just because I loved the music and really wanted to try it.
As I’ve explored jazz more, playing with groups around town such as the Boomtown Brass Band and others – I’ve been drawn to traditional jazz tunes and standards more and more. There are a ton of jazz arrangements out there for brass quintet, many which are great but overplayed, so I really wanted to create fresh arrangements for our group.
It’s fun to be able to offer the ROCO audience something truly unique and ours, a version they’ve never heard before, even if they’re familiar with the tune. The most rewarding part also about arranging for our group is that I’m writing with specific players in my mind – hearing the way Thomas would play this line, or how Gavin sounds here, etc. That makes it very personal, and special for me.
Which elements do you start with when creating an arrangement? Are there specific challenges in writing for brass?
I start with the bass line first, about 80% of the time – I’ll start to lay down the style there, and then I write in the melody. From there, I’ll fill in the inner harmonies and middle lines, inserting perhaps a musical joke or fun element here and there with a countermelody.
The beautiful part of music notation software, such as Sibelius, is you can easily change your mind! So if after rehearsal I decide, well, this melody needs to be in the trombone instead of the trumpets – I can just swap it around. And typically after hearing it played by the group, I’ll always have to make some edits and corrections.
The challenge brass players have which I have to always be mindful of, is that we can’t play too long continuously, so we need to have some rests sprinkled through any arrangement.
In rehearsal of an arrangement, we’ll usually start with the road map too – walking through the piece to note who has the melody or important parts here, who’s resting there, so each player can write notes on their music and be on the same page with cues and communication.
Are there any pieces you wish you could have included on this program, or any “bucket list” quintet works you wish you could perform someday?
A few – we hoped we could play a wonderful quintet piece by Bruce Adolphe called Triskelion, and though we couldn’t quite fit it on this one, we hope to perform it in the future. Robert Dennis also wrote a beautiful piece called Blackbird Variations which I’d love for us to play. And Robert Beaser, a composer from Juilliard – his Brass Quintet I absolutely love, it’s gorgeous and definitely on my “bucket list” to play.
And of course – there so many great jazz tunes I’d love to arrange for us someday, I’ll leave those as a surprise to show up on future ROCO concerts!
What advice would you give to student musicians who would like to try playing in a brass quintet or another chamber group? How can they get started?
There are so many resources out there now – ask your teachers or directors for help with music suggestions, let them know you’re interested, get some friends together, and just try it out!
Start with a fairly simple piece, not technically difficult – to focus first on playing well together, learning how to communicate, and especially learning how to really listen to each other for intonation, style and articulation. Get those fundamentals down first, then go from there in exploring new music.
It’s such a great era for music students with all that’s available online, from easily researching pieces to listening to performances by great quintets – but, there’s really nothing like going to a concert and hearing and seeing it done live, so we hope you can join us Saturday!
George Chase joins the ROCO Brass Quintet, as trumpeter and curator, in ROCO Unchambered: Chase Sequence, Saturday, April 6, 2019, 5:00 pm, at MATCH. SOLD OUT – limited standby tickets available in person or by calling the MATCH Box Office.