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Kelly Rossum Q&A


Dawn DeBlaze on Topeka Jazz Festival


November 2005
Feature Articles

Music news, opinion, memorials


Trumpeter Rossum shares his thoughts


Editor: Rather than submit to the conventional phone interview, trumpeter Kelly Rossum suggested an e-mail exchange that could be printed in its entirety as a Q&A piece. Rossum enthusiastically responded to a variety of written inquiries regarding his music education, the scene in his adopted Twin Cities, his musical influences, his current projects and his teaching career. Like any good interview subject, Rossum went well beyond the basic Q&A format to express himself eloquently on a range of subjects.


Q: How did you get started in music, specifically jazz music?


A: I think Dizzy is probably to blame for me playing the trumpet. He was on aKelly Rossum [Photo by Howard Gitelson] "Sesame Street" episode in the early ‘70s and I remember wanting to play the horn immediately after that show. When the band director went around and asked each kid what instrument they wanted to play, my immediate answer was “trumpet!” No hesitation. It wasn’t until much later in high school that I was turned on to Miles and jazz music. My first Miles record was "‘Round about Midnight." Wow, did I wear the grooves out of that record!


Throughout my musical training, the general pattern was: practice classical music, listen to jazz, and perform both. I still focus most of my practice on the fundamental aspects of trumpet performance--“classical trumpet playing.” Within the past few years, jazz music has become more to me than just an idiom, it has become a way of approaching music as a whole. The essence of jazz is communication and expression through improvisation. I try to bring that essence to all music that I compose and perform; whether it is jazz, classical, rock or “other.”


Q: How important was your education and musical experience in Lincoln, Nebraska? Who did you learn from and play with here?


A:  I would never trade the time that I spent in Lincoln with time that could have been spent elsewhere. Lincoln was the perfect incubator for my musical career. Between the masterful teaching of (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) Professor Dennis Schneider and the supportive body of Lincoln’s professional musicians, I consider myself lucky to have spent five years in such company (1988-1993). I often refer to Denny as the reason that I’m a professional trumpet player. He is a magical teacher, constantly and patiently supportive of his students yet at the same time not afraid to let the hammer fall. “Straight Ahead.” Thanks, Denny.


Another musician to whom I owe a great debt is pianist John Carlini. He hosted a series of Tuesday night free-jazz sessions in his loft that left a deep impact on me. At the time, these sessions were just a great outlet to blow off steam. We would get our gear setup and someone would start playing whatever came into their head, with no formal outline of structure or key. Three hours later, we’d look up and realize “time flies when you’re having fun!” I still have some tapes of these sessions… great stuff.


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another musical icon of the Capital City, First-Plymouth Congregational Church's music director Jack Levick. He and the Plymouth Brass gave me a home away from home in a first-rate musical environment. Jack even lent me a space heater when the furnace broke at my apartment! Their 1992 recording, "A Festival of Carols and Music for Royal Occasions," with Sir David Willcocks and the Plymouth Brass, has the unique place in my history as being the first CD released with my name on it. (I’ve recorded about 30 CDs since then.)


Other Lincoln musicians who had great impact on me were those surrounding the Mother’s Big Band/ Nebraska Diamond Band (now the Monday Night Big Band) and the Bobby Layne/ Reflections Orchestra. The scene at that time was made up of a fairly small group of people and they always respected me as a musician and fellow professional. Only now, years later, do I realize that they could have just as easily treated me like some naïve, long-haired college kid, not worth their kindness or camaraderie. Lincoln is a great town!


Q: When did you leave Lincoln, where to, and why? Did you go from here to North Texas or directly to the Twin Cities?


A: I left Lincoln after receiving my bachelor of music degree from UNL and went directly to the University of North Texas to pursue my master's degree in classical trumpet performance. Then I worked out east at Busch Gardens for a couple of years, running their big band. After that, I finally set up shop in Minneapolis.


Q: What kind of scene did you find in Minneapolis-St. Paul? How inspirational or productive has it been for you and your music?


A: When I moved to Minneapolis, I was aware of the fantastic commercial and rock scene that produced musicians like Prince and the Revolution, Morris Day and the Time, and producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. The world-class St. Paul Chamber Orchestra was just a stone’s throw away and the stellar Minnesota Orchestra’s home was about two blocks away from the school that I now teach at, MacPhail Center for Music. The big surprise upon moving to Minneapolis has been the supportive and experimental jazz scene. The Twin Cities has a long history of jazz culture stemming from the overflow of ex-New Yorkers and Chicago transplants intermixing with the deep Minnesota scene. After the swing craze of the late ‘90s passed, the club void has slowly been filled with an underground cutting-edge jazz scene. Bands like Happy Apple and The Bad Plus both emerged from this environment. The proverbial cross-pollination between electronica, rock, free jazz, and traditional post-bop "modern" jazz, has produced a unique flower here in Minneapolis. This hothouse of styles has allowed my music to grow in an artistic, uncompromising manner. Incredible inspiration is around every corner.


Q: Your CD "Renovation" had strong echoes of Miles Davis, especially his later “fusion” years. How much of an influence is Miles? Who else would you name as influential and why?


A: Thanks! Any time someone mentions Miles Davis in relation to my own work, I feel honored and humbled. Miles reflects the essence of jazz. Not just his music, but his drive to find new sounds and concepts, while maintaining a working band of the best musicians on the scene. I could talk about Miles for hours, so I’ll leave it with, YES, Miles was a huge impact on my music. However, none of it was intentional. My intense Miles Davis phase lasted about six years, from 1989 to 1995. Since then, I’ve expanded my listening to include as much jazz and other styles as possible. I would list Clark Terry, Jimi Hendrix, J.S. Bach, Charles Mingus and Iron Maiden as additional significant influences on my work. Recently, I’ve been exploring Ornette Coleman’s music and the circle of musicians surrounding his recordings, as well as a great band called Boards of Canada.


Q: You have created recording and performing opportunities for yourself by playing in many different bands, even writing for film. What different groups and projects are you part of now? Why? How does each of these settings and styles help you grow musically?


A: Life as a musician is neither as glamorous nor as simple as most people think. The comparison that I most often use is that of a circus performer spinning plates on the stage. Once a plate is spinning on top of a five-foot pole, the performer runs to spin another plate on top of another pole, and then runs to spin another plate, etc. There is a limit to how many plates any one individual can have spinning at the same time. The trick is twofold--know your limit of how many plates (musical projects) that you can spin at one time, and make each spinning plate feel like it’s the only one on stage (plates have feelings, too!). All creative professionals need to express themselves in a variety of settings. Miles Davis was an excellent painter/visual artist. My interests vary widely in scope, and the Minneapolis scene is strong enough to offer plenty of different opportunities. Currently (outside of my own jazz work), I am writing another score for a short film, producing a CD for a funk horn band, composing music for jazz nonet, finishing a series of commissions for beginning jazz combo, and graduating this fall with a doctorate in classical trumpet performance from the University of Minnesota. Each of these projects requires different skills, yet they all help to contribute to my overall musical approach. There are only two types of music, good and bad. When, as a musician, you surround yourself with good music and great musicians, the results are hopefully those that audiences find enjoyable, and will come back again to hear more.


Q: Which Kelly Rossum will we hear in Lincoln Nov. 10? Who will accompany you? How has your style and repertoire evolved since "Renovation"?


A: Since the partially electric album "Renovation," I’ve gone back to an acoustic format for this tour and my upcoming 2006 recording. The music still has a groove-oriented base, but the harmonic construction of the tunes is much freer than the through-composed work of "Renovation." I always want everybody to have fun at the show, both the musicians and the audience. Some of the cover tunes come from unexpected places, such as "Sesame Street" or pop ‘80s hits. I've borrowed the instrumentation of Ornette’s pianoless quartet for my current quartet. The musicians are: Myself, trumpet; Chris Thomson, tenor and soprano saxophones; Chris Bates, double bass; and J.T. Bates, drums and percussion. They bring life to the music, and the dialogue between the members on the stand flows as freely as the audience’s conversation did before the set began. These excellent musicians are also innovators with their own projects and collaborations. Chris Thomson has been around the world with the Glenn Miller orchestra, J.T. has toured Europe with his band Fat Kid Wednesdays, and Chris Bates was a 1999 McKnight Composer Fellow.


Q: Are you writing? What is your current composing routine? What inspires your compositions? Name some recent creations.


A: My writing is based on project-driven deadlines. Unfortunately, this fall is too busy to compose as much as I would like. My recent creative works stem from my travels over the past year or so. I’ve been to Rome, Bangkok, Honolulu, New York and even Omaha! Each of these cities has a different culture and vibe to the streets; I’ve tried to reflect that feeling in a few of my new compositions.


Q: You’re also teaching at the MacPhail Center for Music. How do you balance this educational aspect of your career with the composing, performing and recording aspects?


A:  I enjoy teaching and will always maintain a private studio no matter where my performance career leads me. The trumpet is not an easy instrument to play, yet with every great challenge there can be great rewards. I enjoy coaching students through their own great challenges. I’ve had some memorable moments during the course of my teaching that I will cherish forever. My favorite story involves two students from my current jazz combo at MacPhail Center for Music. I try to get the groups out into the clubs to give them as much ‘real jazz’ experience as possible.


Wynton Marsalis was in town a couple of years ago playing at a small club. It was a special night; he very rarely hits those intimate settings anymore while on the road. So in between tunes he looks out to the crowd and chats with a couple of young kids in the front row:

Wynton: “Do you guys play instruments?”

Students: “Yes, the trumpet” and “Yeah, the drums”

Wynton: “Keep practicing and someday you will play here.”

Students: “We already have!” Laughter and applause all around…


Q: What’s next in your busy life?


A: I will be in Houston for a week doing concerts and master classes with a long-time friend and Nebraska native, tenor saxophonist Woody Witt. Woody has just released a new CD on Apria Records featuring trumpeter Randy Brecker. Check it out!


Q: Anything else you want to talk about?


A: Yes, I’d like to give a special thanks to Butch Berman and the Berman Music Foundation for their incredible support of creative music here in the heartland of the United States. Since it is highly unlikely that the current administration will increase the national funding available to artists, more private and corporate foundations need to step up to the plate and support our nation’s music–jazz. I applaud Mr. Berman and his staff for the excellent contribution they have made and continue to make to our national treasure.




Hurricane benefit inspires hope and giving


By Tom Ineck


LINCOLN, Neb.—Hurricane Katrina and its destruction along the Gulf Coast, especially in New Orleans, seemed to inspire equal amounts of anger, despair, hope and generosity. Perhaps it is while working through anger and despair that we begin to fully appreciate the power of giving.


Such was the basis for the collaborative “Help the Healing: Statewide Hurricane Relief Benefit,” Sept. 18 at the Lied Center for Performing Arts. Conceived by Steve Alvis, general manager of KZUM Community Radio, it was enthusiastically supported by NET Radio (Nebraska’s public radio network) and Charles Bethea, the Lied Center’s executive director. The two-hour concert was broadcast live from the Lied Center's main stage on all NET Radio frequencies and on KZUM in the Lincoln area.

Because so much of KZUM’s programming draws on the many musical styles emanating from the Crescent City, Alvis wanted the free concert to reflect the rich musical history of New Orleans, from gospel to blues and jazz. Featured performers included Lincoln's First Plymouth Choir, the Abendmusik Chorus, the Plymouth Brass and local jazz artists Mac McCune and the Mac 5 with special guest vocalist Annette Murrell.


The chorus opened with renditions of “America the Beautiful,” “Set Me as a Seal” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The brass ensemble performed “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” and “Amazing Grace,” and the choir delivered an exuberant reading of the gospel classics “It That Great Getting’ Up Mornin’,” “This Little Light O’ Mine,” and “That’s Enough.” The chorus closed the first half of the concert with the triumphant “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”


Trumpeter Mac McCune, with saxophonist Ed Love and drummer John Scofield, kicked off the second half with “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” and followed with “Take the A Train” and “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South.”


It was the powerful blues vocals of Annette Murrell, however, that brought home the message of initial despair and ultimate hope. She began with the hopeful “Let the Good Times Roll” before dipping into despair with Bessie Smith’s devastating “Backwater Blues.” The ballad “Crazy He Calls Me” ended the set, with Murrell putting her distinctive stamp on the proceedings with her a cappella rendition of “Peace Like a River.” 

Donations collected at the door totaled more than $5,000 to benefit relief agencies. For NET Radio and KZUM listeners, contact phone numbers for relief agencies were given throughout the course of the evening's event.


In the interest of full disclosure, I want to add that I am chairman of the KZUM board of directors, an association of which I am proud. My relationship with the community radio station began as a member in the late ‘70s, and I have hosted a jazz program since August 1993.


It is events like the Hurricane Katrina Relief Concert that are at the heart of community radio and its mission to bring out the best in the community.



Trek to Topeka: A programmer’s perspective


Editor: Dawn DeBlaze is director of DeBlaze & Associates, a public relations firm in St. Peters, Mo. Visit her website at www.deblaze.com.


By Dawn K. DeBlaze


TOPEKA, Kan.—Surrounded by the flat plains, the fresh air and the art decoButch Berman at Topeka [Photo by Dawn DeBlaze] hall of the Topeka Performing Arts Center (TPAC), this year’s Topeka Jazz Festival played host to the best in jazz diversity; something for everyone, so it would seem. From May 27-30, musicians performed in TPACs main performance hall and lower-level festival hall.


Along with such artists as Bobby Watson & Horizon, Norman Hedman & Tropique, The Hot Club of San Francisco, Giacomo Gates, Kathleen Holeman, Alaadeen & 21, Joe Cartwright Trio, Interstring and more, the festival also marked the 10-year anniversary of the Berman Music Foundation, led by festival coordinator and artistic director, Butch Berman. The Kansas City-area ϋber menschen Eldar Djangirov, Joe Cartwright, Rod Fleeman, Todd Strait and Gerald Spaits were once again programmed for peak performance. These all-stars have performed at the Topeka fest since day one.


In an interview, Berman answered questions about the festival, the music, and the artists.


“I brought my favorite musicians – bebop, Latin, world music and avant-garde,” he said. Although a selfishness was implied, that could only be true if he did not share these talents with the rest of us.


Certainly you cannot please everyone, right?


“If jazz is to survive it has to retain diversity, traditions, and a big part of education. Some are born with the gift to give it, some are born with the gift to pass the baton on,” Berman said. After he programmed the Hot Club of San Francisco, there was concern. “Who wants gypsy jazz in Topeka?” people were overheard saying. Ironically, the Hot Club of San Francisco brought the house down during one of the brightest moments of the festival.


“Music makes you feel happy, excited, horny," Berman said. "It’s powerful.”


No doubt its rewards can be therapeutic. And when it’s jazz, it never happens the same way twice. Now that is exciting!




Shirley Horn will always be #1 in my heart


By Butch Berman


I haven’t listened to Shirley Horn on my sound system for quite some time, for no apparent reason except perhaps that being in the music biz engulfs you with so much “product” that you get overwhelmed with the very subject you wrap your life around.


Shirley Horn in the late 1990s [Photo by Larry Busacca]I’ve bragged that I probably own every recorded work that Shirley Horn ever made. Upon reading of her passing at age 71 in her Washington, D.C., area home, I had to return to her music. I’m now immersed again in the magic of her lovely God-given musical gift, as I just happened to pull out the 1996 Verve release “Loving You.” The immediate reaction to her unique voice and luscious piano styling is a sigh and tears of joy and sadness in reverence of her greatness. Any one of her vast catalog of material will garner the same responses.


In my never-humble opinion, since I first discovered Ms. Horn’s sublime talents I’ve always professed her to be my favorite female jazz performer of all time, and truly an icon in the jazz profession.


Maybe only the late, also-great Ray Charles comes close to her level of captivating her audiences with tempos soooo slow, yet always swinging and truly saying something with every note played or word uttered. Shirley could perform three extremely soul-searching, personal, ever-so-slow ballads of classic perfection in a row on her set list, and every warm-blooded, breathing fan in attendance would be focused on each and every nuance of emotion and genius her stories held, as if they had been hypnotized. The hush that fell on the vast seas of humanity at the festivals she sang at was astonishing.


Thanks to Steve Irwin and Jo Boehr, whose Kansas City International Jazz Festival featured her one year, I finally got to meet my idol backstage at the Starlight Theater. As lovely and gracious off stage as she was singing, she greeted my party warmly. I owned the first LP she ever made on a small label before her success truly sprang. She autographed it for me, saying she hadn’t seen that one for awhile. It was truly an unforgettable evening, concert and experience that I’ll forever cherish.


Shirley continued to record and to perform even after her diabetes worsened, occasionally only singing while other musicians of considerable merit took over her piano playing. A true trooper to the end, she was an amazing lady of dignity whose star will shine brightly forever. Always number one in our hearts and memories, and most thankfully… Shirley Horn’s timeless music will be forever readily available to enthrall us, her fans, for generations to come.




"Bluesman" Wilson lived on his own terms


By Mark Dalton


SEATTLE—A great American bluesman has gone. August Wilson died here in his adopted hometown, of liver cancer, on Oct. 2 at age 60. He wasn't known as a singer, or as an instrumentalist—Wilson’s ax was the stage.


August Wilson [Photo from www.dartmouth.edu]He wrote an amazing cycle of 10 plays about being black in our country that spanned the 20th century. Wilson was a great storyteller, and his plays were all informed by and infused with the blues. All of them.


He is quoted in the Seattle Times as saying, "The blues is the best literature black Americans have. It's our cultural response to the world, an emotional reference point. Five million years from now, if people have these records they'll be able to piece together a lot about us." In The New York Times, an interview quoted Wilson on his influences, which he labeled the "four B's"—the first and primary influence being "The Blues."  (The other "B's" were the "magical realist" writer Jorge Luis Borges, the playwright Amiri Baraka, and the painter Romare Bearden.) Times reviewer Frank Rich wrote that Wilson's work "floats on the same authentic artistry as the blues music it celebrates."


Two of Wilson's plays, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and "Seven Guitars" celebrated the blues directly, recreating the world and the artistic struggles which created the music that so many people take for granted in today's profit-driven, disposable culture. Yesterday's news to some, the blues formed the foundation of Wilson's magnificent body of work.


I saw Wilson once, standing on the steps of 600 First Avenue in Pioneer Square, the lovely old stone building behind the Pergola where his office was located. His name was on the building directory, and his name and office address were (and still are) in the phone book. Wilson liked being in Seattle, from all accounts, because he could avoid the trappings of celebrity here—he didn't need an unlisted number or a secret office here. He reportedly did some of his writing in a coffee shop on Capitol Hill.


I was walking through Pioneer Square on a sunny spring day, and there was Wilson, standing on the steps, rapidly smoking a short, unfiltered cigarette, smoke wreathing around his head, lost in thought. He was clearly taking a break, and in the space of about a minute, that cigarette was down to the nub, and he flicked it away, turning quickly back to the door, looking for all the world like a man chasing ideas with intense concentration.


The only comparable experience I've had was seeing Otis Rush, with his guitar, hop onto the El in Chicago at 2:30 a.m. one morning when my pal Paul and I were on our way home from loading trucks at United Parcel Service. In both cases, it wasn't just that these guys had recognizable faces—it was the aura around  them, that indefinable aura that somehow surrounds great bluesmen, something about style, something about self-assurance, something about a stubborn insistence on living life on one's own terms.


Whatever it was, August Wilson had it in spades. I walked away from that sighting feeling kind of proud of Seattle—our town and August Wilson's town, too. For all its shortcomings, its politically correct and trendy facade, there's still something here, some real heartbeat deep in Seattle somewhere, that understands and is capable of nurturing the blues.




Jim Monroe, R.I.P


Jim Monroe was vacationing in southern Africa with his wife when he sufferedJim Monroe at the 2004 Topeka Jazz Festival [Photo by Tom Ineck] a fatal heart attack and died Nov. 7. He was 76.


Since 1977, Monroe served as president of the Topeka Jazz Workshop in Topeka, Kan. He also organized seven Memorial Day weekend jazz festivals in Topeka, 1998-2004. Butch Berman was artistic director of the 2005 Topeka Jazz Festival.


A retired insurance agent, Monroe became hooked on the music growing up in Kansas City, Kan. He attended jazz festivals around the nation, befriending musicians and fellow jazz fans.


The Berman Music Foundation extends its condolences to the family and friends of Jim Monroe.



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