Big band show leader ready to blow his horn
Stephen Hawk is not being easy on himself in the series of River City Brass Band concerts he is conducting.
Besides coping with the leadership role the job requires, he also is tackling works that highlight the music of high-note strongman Maynard Ferguson, Pittsburgh native Roy Eldrige and great swing trumpeters such as Harry James.
He will be leading the band in the annual jazz-big band concerts, titled this year "Close Enough for Jazz," which begin this evening.
"We're even having the euphonium section do 'Four Brothers'," he says with a laugh, talking about the Woody Herman Orchestra classic that was written for the saxophone section. "I'll try to figure out which one sounds like Stan Getz."
The big band show has traditionally been one of the band's season highlights and Hawk, director of jazz studies at Slippery Rock University, Butler County, is trying to make sure he does not disappoint anyone in this edition.
He says he is trying to make sure tunes represent all of the classic big band leaders: Count Basie, Duke Ellington, the swing leaders, Ferguson, and the like.
But he says an appropriate aspect of current big-band music also emerges: the work of Mike Tomaro, the director of jazz studies at Duquesne University who also is a talented and productive arranger.
Hawk keeps busy doing performance and teaching gigs all over the country where he frequently encounters many performers and leaders who are using Tomaro's arrangements.
"Everywhere I go, people always talk about how good the arrangements are," he says. "Not only to listen to, but to play as well. They are good for the performers and good for the music. We are very lucky to have him here."
He is quite familiar with Tomaro's work. They were the founders of the Three Rivers Jazz Orchestra, an ensemble that preceded the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra, in which they both perform. The two of them also frequently sit in with visiting ensembles such as the Smithsonian Institution Masterworks Jazz Orchestra, which was here in early March.
Hawk says Tomaro has put together a new version of the Ferguson tribute, adding "Give It One" and "Chameleon" to "Rocky," "MacArthur Park" and "Hey Jude." But he also adds he has done a Henry Mancini medley with "Moon River,' "Days of Wine and Roses," "Peter Gunn," "Baby Elephant Walk" and "Charade."
There even is more work for Hawk there.
"On 'Baby Elephant Walk,' I'll add a little piccolo trumpet," he says. "Should be fun."
That's easy for this trumpet strongman to say.
Close Enough for Jazz
Presented by: River City Brass Band
When and where: 8 p.m. Thursday, Gateway High School, Monroeville; 8 p.m. Friday, Carson Middle School, McCandless; 8 p.m. Saturday, Palace Theatre, Greensburg; 3 p.m. Sunday, Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, Johnstown; 8 p.m. Tuesday, Upper St. Clair Theater; 8 p.m. April 15, Carnegie Music Hall, Oakland; 3 p.m. April 18, Baldwin High School.
Admission: Prices vary
Details: 412- 434-7222