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Chris Brubeck's Triple Play here Saturday

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Published: Wed, March 27, 2019 @ 8:53 p.m.

Triple Play plays here Saturday




Chris Brubeck has one of the most recognizable names in jazz.

But he and his trio, Triple Play, go well beyond that musical genre.

A concert by the ensemble – which comes to Ford Family Recital Hall on Saturday – is a playful and untraditional romp through several American music styles. There is a surprising amount of blues, as well as some jazz, boogie, Dixieland and bluegrass.

But that’s only the half of it. Brubeck, who is the son of the late jazz great Dave Brubeck, is also an accomplished classical composer.

He discussed his music, his band and more in this exchange with The Vindicator (responses edited for clarity and brevity):

Q. Are people surprised when they first hear Triple Play live?

A. They might be surprised because Triple Play includes many more musical styles than jazz. Imagine a Venn diagram where there is a circle for jazz, one for blues, one for Americana roots music, another for acoustic funk and one for classical music influences. Then imagine these circles overlapping ... that’s Triple Play! We also have that name because I play three instruments in this group: fretless bass, piano and bass trombone, plus with Joel Brown on guitar and Peter “Madcat” Ruth on harmonicas, we are a formidable instrumental trio. On top of that, we all sing and write songs, too. Additionally we are constantly being told we are so much fun to watch. Even if an audience member doesn’t understand every aspect of our eclectic music making, they always walk away from a concert loving the fact that have seen three excellent musicians expressing joy and creativity while performing.

Q. Symphony audiences might be familiar with you as a composer, and others might equate you with jazz. How do you bridge that gap with audiences?

A. I am fortunate that Youngstown knows me as a contemporary classical composer. But my early professional career was with very creative, original material, rock ’n’ roll bands that included Madcat. In addition to three albums I recorded with my rock groups, I’ve also written songs recorded by Patti Labelle and Bobby Womack, and on the other end of the musical spectrum I did a recording with renowned mezzosoprano Frederica Von Stade.

To make audiences more comfortable with Triple Play’s eclectic content, I usually remind the audience that my father often said that blues is the father of both jazz and rock ’n’ roll. Another of his favorite quotes was from Igor Stravinsky: “Composition is selective improvisation.” That is part of how all these different musical elements can join together.

Even in my classical symphonic music there are elements of jazz and funk weaving in and out. I can’t ignore my musical environment when I was growing up. I was surrounded by some of the greatest jazz musicians of the era. They were like uncles to me. I used to crawl under the piano and listen to them rehearse. When you are 4 years old, you don’t know that these are some of the best and most famous jazz musicians in America.

They just sound great, and it was a blast to listen to them. So that jazz music percolated in my brain growing up and then along come the Beatles who were so melodic and creative. That was my generation’s music. But I also

played trombone in youth orchestras and got to go to the Interlochen Arts Academy, where I was surrounded by some of the most talented high-school musicians in the country.

Q. Triple Play is three versatile and experienced players who seamlessly move in and out of any genre. How long have you, Madcat and Joel Brown been performing together?

A. Madcat and I have been playing together since 1968 when I first met him at the Interlochen academy. We loved each other’s musical sensibilities and vowed to play together. We have lived up to that promise for over half a century now. I first heard Joel Brown as a classical guitarist and was so impressed by his musicianship. When I discovered he also loved blues, folk, jazz, sang beautifully and loved the Beatles, I knew he was the right person to be an important part of what was to become Triple Play.

Q. What is your take on the state of American roots music and your place in that world?

A. There are a lot of great players in all those fields of music. The genres are all blurring and cross pollinating. So much country music has headed in a rock direction. In a weird way, a great improvising bluegrass band has more to do with jazz than your formulated “smooth jazz” recordings. Triple Play is right in the middle of that musical tornado, making music with authenticity and integrity. There is a new term being thrown around these days called Americana and some folks are comfortable putting us in that category – except we are jazzier and bluesier than most bands in that category.

Q. Youngstown audiences are familiar with you. In 2010, the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra performed the premiere of a piece titled “Travel In Time for Three,” which it commissioned you to write. And just last year, the YSO performed your “Quiet Heroes.” Do you have any thoughts about the city?

A. I will always have wonderful feelings about Youngstown because that is where the magical collaboration with your orchestra, director Randal Fleischer and [previous ensemble] Time for Three all began when my composition “Travels in Time for Three” made its world premiere. The energy from that first performance is still rolling all over the world.

Q. “No Borders,” your latest composition for the Canadian Brass and the Lexington Symphony Orchestra, recently aired on the “Performance Today” radio program. Tell me about your process as a composer.

A. I try to tailor my classical compositions to the personalities and playing skills of the musicians I am writing for. Youngstown saw the premiere of “Travels in Time for Three.” Randall Fleischer was the perfect conductor to lead the initial performance. He understands the talents of Time for Three and my own compositional abilities. He pushed me hard to create a tremendous vehicle for them. It started in Youngstown and will be played in Prague for a second time this summer and onward to Vienna in the fall. Plus, they knocked it out of the park at the Royal Albert Hall with the BBC Orchestra in London a few years ago. As a composer, it doesn’t getting any better than that!

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