here in iowa, we have an ass backwards reward system for successful jazz programs. bands learn 3 or 4 tunes early in the jazz band season, beat them into submission, place first or second place at select open invitationals, and earn a bid to the grand showcase event - the iowa jazz championships. my high school band made it my senior year. we played our set at 8:30 in the morning, sounded like rear end, took the group photo, and then screwed around the remainder of the day. we were encouraged to go hear other bands, but who's gonna do that when you've got a free day in the capital city?
a few of us did peel away in the late afternoon to hear a couple of bands from the big 4A conference. the final band of the afternoon was from sioux city and, rumor had it, they flaunted a world-class trumpeter. they took the stage, looking suave in their navy blue sport coats and uniformed grey slacks, and proceeded to blow the doors off the auditorium. holy smokes - this kid named ryan kisor was legit. he was playing stuff i had never heard before. i thought i was hot stuff back in high school, but i was immediately embarrassed and humiliated with my unfounded claims after hearing this guy. my friend brett laughed heartily and chided "this dude is way better than you, mikey!" i wanted to rearrange brett's face.
before we got on the bus to head home, i quickly jotted down my address on a mail-order form and gave the band mom the remaining $8 in my pocket in exchange for a cassette copy of the evening concert, starring this guy from northwest iowa. i listened to this tape over and over, still puzzled at what i was hearing. ryan has gone off to do quite well for himself. he unknowingly sent me a wake up call, an alarm that screamed the world will not wait for you to get your shit together.
great trumpet players are hard to find, and strong high brass sections can make or break your ensemble. trumpeters worth their salt usually cart along a sizable ego, often to the point of intolerability. fine fine fine - i know you can pop the triple whatever and hold it longer than anybody else, just don't be a jerk about it. this stereotype doesn't apply to all. plenty of my trumpet friends are the nicest guys i know.
i played keyboards with the des moines big band last night. the guest soloist for the event was ryan's kid brother, justin. he scored points right away with me by humbling introducing himself to the rhythm section. cool guy. he played solos and features all night long, methodically lining them up and knocking them out like a bruce lee fight scene. he was very gracious, looked like a million bucks, and resisted the urge to do any grandstanding. all the high notes were simply part of the line, and the blitzkrieg of 32nd notes were only out of necessity. there was nothing showy in justin's game, although he would occasionally hint at what was in store like a street vendor slipping open his jacket to show off the glittering watch collection. he also won over all the hearts in the room by playing a blues with his four-year-old son.
i've never been drawn to trumpeters or jazz music per se, but justin really put it on some folks last night. a measure of a musician is often reflected in the level of those working with him. the guys in the band really ramped up their playing, and justin drove that bus all the way home. every time i hear a good trumpeter do their thing, i remember that episode from the cosby show when dizzy blew his cheeks out for rudy. and lord have mercy... lisa bonet was slamming back in the day.