Memorial Brass hosts variety of performances

by Bob Fields, DCW staff

HOT! was the key word for the day of music at this year’s “Memorial Brass” concert, sponsored by Youth Education in the Arts! — hot music brought to fans by the USSBA All Stars, the USSBA All-Star Jazz Band, the USSBA Honors Percussion Ensemble, the United States Marine Corps All-star Jazz Ensemble, The Cadets, and the Crossmen Drum and Bugle Corps.

It was a scorcher in more ways than one, with high temperatures outside and cool music inside. Although no performers or audience members were felled by the scorching heat, the Crossmen food truck was not quite so lucky. While preparing dinner, a fire broke out in the double oven of their mobile kitchen, causing $6000 in damage. There were fire retardant chemicals all over the inside of the mobile kitchen. Hot food preparation had to be suspended for a day or two during their annual stay at the Kutchers Sports Camp, where they have been learning the show for the last three weeks.

The audience was expecting some “cool” music in this historic old theater at the Capital Complex in Trenton. They certainly got it. The Marines opened the show, whipping through a number of jazz and popular tunes with their five-piece combo, featuring a major and four sergeants. Like everything else they do, the Marines were a hit and a terrific opener to a night of great music.

The USSBA Honors Percussion Ensemble, under the direction of Neil Larivee, featured a 16-piece ensemble, received with tremendous applause.
The unique and varied pieces that they performed tended to stir the imagination and give the audience a new appreciation for what the percussion can truly do as a solo vehicle. Congrats to this terrific group of young percussionists.

The USSBA All Star Jazz Band, conducted by Winston Byrd played Emanon by Dizzy Gillespie, Doxy by Sonny Rollins, A Child is Born by Thad Jones and Sidewinder by Lee Morgan. Winston’s 29-piece band gives a renewal of hope that the all-American idiom of jazz will be turned over to great hands as the years go on.

The solo licks by Winston Byrd added extra enjoyment, while many extremely talented solo members of the ensemble tended to get the crowd even more excited. I personally liked their closer of Sidewinder, a piece I have never heard, but will look forward to hearing soon again. Winston Byrd’s personality really gets the most out of the kids and the audience.

The USSBA Honors Concert Ensemble, conducted by Anthony Maiello, played Ethernal Father, Strong to Save by Claude Smith, The Ascension (from the “Divine Comedy” by Robert W. Smith, Rise of the Firebird by Steve Reineke, Inchon by Robert W. Smith, Americans We by Henry Fillmore and An American Salute by Morton Gould as arranged by Phillip Lang.

The 85-member concert band helped me relive my youth, when Mom used to drag my brothers and I to concerts. It finally sunk in. We became enlightened by concert band music and all three of us enjoy it to this day.

Being that it was a Memorial Day-type concert (but a week earlier than Memorial Day), the audience particularly appreciated the Americana flavor of the music. Morton Gould’s American Salute is music that almost everyone has experienced and appreciated through the years. There is nothing like the sound of a big orchestra or concert band live and in person!

All of the honors groups did a wonderful job, having only a short time to rehearse together prior to this concert.

The Cadets and Crossmen 2004 Hall of Fame Awards were given as the drum corps portion of the show got started. For the Crossmen, Denise Golden (charter member, long-time volunteer and former assistant director), Robbie Robinson (charter member, former DCI individual snare drum champion), and Mike Dennis (charter arranger, brass instructor and administrator).

For the Cadets, Tom Aungst (former Cadet snare and percussion arranger of four DCI percussion titles), April Gilligan (former Cadet guard member, caption head for 14 years), and Christine Higgins (former guard member, guard instructor for six years, and now YEA! drum corps operations director).

The Crossmen’s and Cadets’ guards danced, despite not being listed in the program, prior to the drum corps portion. It is amazing the dance training these guards have received prior to marching season. Each highlighted their own special brand of dance choreography.

As a proud parent of a 14-year-old Crossmen guard member, it was goose bug moments watching these performances. An interesting point this year is that there are now three members of the guard whose parents were former Crossmen in the charter years.

The Crossmen premiered their 2004 show titled “Unity” which features Jubal Step by Wynton Marsalis, Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell, and Puma (Rainforest) by Full Circle. Having listened to several variations and rewrites of the show during the winter, I think brass arranger Drew Shanefield and percussion arranger Lee Bedis have teamed up to bring fans a very exciting show.

Jubal Step gets your attention immediately and slaps you upside the head with a big brass symphonic jazz sound. Both   Sides Now sounded like it was going to be a little smaltsy tucked between two great pieces of jazz music, but you will see for yourself that a beautiful ballad can heighten the anticipation for the big ending.

Puma, aka Rainforest, was one of the big hits of the trilogy show back in the early 1990s. Although without the African drums at this point anyway, this piece will be the highlight of the show.

The Crossmen are solid and further ahead than in many years past. The staff tells me they are on target to finish the show and wow the fans this year. The corps enlivened the hearts of the alumni by playing their corps song, Russian Christmas Music, which by the way was first brought to the corps by tonights’ Hall of Famer, Mike Dennis. My only question is, where is the bell part in the beginning?

The Cadets closed the show with their music from the Jethro Tull show, titled “Living in the Past,” which features Song from the Woods, Bouree and Thick as a Brick. When this show was first announced, many fans were scratching their collective heads about the new direction the Cadets were taking.

I readily admit, like many others I’m sure, I had very little exposure to the music of Jethro Tull previously. In fact, other that their closer, I had not heard either of the other two pieces.

Disappointing? Not in the least! The show is powerful and solid, featuring some wonderful charts written by Jay Bocook. The show winner for the fans will probably be Thick as a Brick, but the opener, Song of the Woods, is a beautiful madrigal piece that will certainly set the stage for the exciting show to come.
Like others tonight, I can’t wait to see what the field show will be like. Besides the 2004 field show pieces, the corps is now playing five other numbers at the end of each performance, including their classic Moondance

A great night of music entertainment and dance! Put it on YOUR calendar for next year and enjoy a great evening of music.

No scores to announce — all the kids were winners.