‘Holiday Brass’: Rodney Marsalis rings in season with jazz at Miller Symphony Hall
You can ring in the holidays with world-class brass at Allentown’s Miller Symphony Hall. The Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass (RMPBB) presents “Holiday Brass” at 7 p.m. Dec. 17.
The ensemble is composed of some of the United States’ top brass musicians and aims to celebrate peace and the unity of the human spirit through a variety of holiday music. There will be 11 musicians on stage: five trumpets, three trombones, French horn, tuba, drummer, and, for the Allentown concert, a narrator.
Marsalis notes, “We pull about 40 or 50 musicians around the country. It has to be like that to keep the level really high. The top players are really busy.”
Marsalis, himself is a world-class trumpet player, started his musical studies in New Orleans at age six. He studied with his famous cousin, Wynton Marsalis, starting at age 11 and landed a spot with New Orleans Symphony while still a teenager.
Marsalis studied at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute with Frank Kaderabek, who was principal trumpet with the Philadelphia Orchestra for 20 years. “Frank got me to the point where I won two orchestra positions,” says Marsalis, who credits his mentor for teaching him the finer points of orchestral-playing.
His year is split between his duties as principal trumpet with Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Artist in Residence at Temple University and master class and solo engagements in the U.S. and abroad.
Marsalis has performed all over the world as a trumpet soloist and with the Philadelphia Big Brass. He can be heard as soloist and principal trumpet on more than 30 recordings, including “Sonata for Trumpet and Piano” (Albany Records) by Adolphus Hailstork and “In Our Own House” (Albany Records) by composer Alvin Singleton with saxophonist Branford Marsalis.
In 1998, Rodney Marsalis made the premiere and critically-acclaimed recording of Franz Waxman’s “Carmen Fantasy for Trumpet and Orchestra” with conductor Lawrence Foster on the Koch International record label. He has a solo CD, “Spirit of the Trumpeter,” of which former cornet virtuoso and renowned conductor Gerard Schwarz said, “Rodney is a superb trumpet player and musician.”
Marsalis is the recipient of several national and international competitions for titled orchestral chairs, including positions with the New Orleans Symphony, Colorado Symphony Orchestra, San Diego Symphony Orchestra, Barcelona Symphony, and Richmond Symphony.
The RMPBB burst onto the music scene with a debut performance in Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center in Verizon Hall, a residency for the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, and a special feature on the National Public Radio show, “All Things Considered.”
In recent years, the RMPBB has been invited to perform in major music halls around the world, including China’s National Center for the Performing Arts, Tangelwood’s Seiji Ozawa Hall, and several prominent halls in Brazil and Italy.
Other top players will be joining Marsalis with the RMPBB. Michael Williams, who has held the lead trumpet slot in the Count Basie Band for more than 21 years, will be part of the ensemble.
Another world-class trumpeter in the group is Luis Miguel Araya, professor at the University of Central Florida after a five-year stint with the Dallas Brass.
Yet another all-star trumpeter with the group is Gabriel DiMartino, whose resume includes performing with the Wichita Symphony, The New Columbian Brass Band, and the Doc Severinsen Big Band. He’s assistant professor of trumpet at East Carolina University. Trumpet buffs may recognize him as the son of the famous trumpet player and teacher, Vince DiMartino.
Dr. Zenas Kim-Banther, international soloist, orchestral trombonist, chamber musician, and educator, also will be among the all-star cast performing with the ensemble.
Marsalis says in a phone interview that the night’s performance will include “definitely holiday music, but also some other different styles from our regular show.
“We’ll do some Harry James, some ‘West Side Story,’ as well as some surprises, and traditional things from New Orleans.” Some specific pieces include “Joy to the World,” excerpts from Handel’s “Messiah,” “A Jazzy Nutcracker Suite,” and “Stan Kenton Christmas.”
“We aim to show that music can be moving no matter what the style. It can bring people together and foster the notion that we’re all human beings.”
Marsalis says that RMPBB has a full schedule these days. “We’re busy touring most months. We recently did a tour of China. We’ll be in South Dakota in January. And in Lansdale, as well. We’ll be in the Boston area in February, Wisconsin in March, Texas in May, and then on to the West Coast.”
The group has a CD, “Fearless,” which will be available at the Miller Symphony Hall concert.
With all that brass talent, The Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass will provide a warm holiday experience on a cold December night.
Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715