Big Band New Year Q&A: Allen Barnhill, principal trombone & John Parker, assoc. principal trumpet

Big Band New Year Q&A: Allen Barnhill, principal trombone & John Parker, assoc. principal trumpet

The new year is off to a swingin’ start as we prepare for our next Bank of America POPS Series concert, In the Mood: A Big Band New Year on January 8–10, led by principal POPS conductor Steven Reineke. Whether joining us in-person at Jones Hall for socially distanced performances or via livestream at home, songs like “In the Mood,” “Take the ‘A’ Train,” and “Luck be a Lady” are sure to take audiences right back to the big band era. Ahead of the concert this weekend, Allen Barnhill, principal trombone, and John Parker, associate principal trumpet, explain how they prepared for this program and what pieces they’re most looking forward to.

Allen Barnhill, principal trombone.

Houston Symphony: What are the challenges of preparing for this type of program? How is it different than preparing for a classical performance?
Allen Barnhill: In this program, the first trombone parts are high with a lot of continuous playing, so range, strength, and stamina are very important. Also, the style is very distinctive and different from most other orchestral repertoire, so I will be cultivating my “jazz voice.”

John Parker: I would say that my preparation for a program like this is the same as it is for a classical show. In both classical and big band repertoire, we must know and be able to produce the specific styles and colors that are required of the music. Stylistically, big band era repertoire does have some differences to classical repertoire, mostly related to how specific rhythms are played and stressing certain notes and beats. But while the skills required may be different sometimes, my own preparation is largely the same for both classical and jazz repertoire. It involves listening to recordings and internalizing the specific sounds I want to produce. If I can hear in my head how I want something to be played, it will hopefully come out of the trumpet that way when I play.

John Parker, associate principal trumpet.

HS: Are there any pieces on the program you’re particularly looking forward to?
AB: I look forward to playing this music with my outstanding colleagues, especially “Fascinating Rhythm” by Gershwin, one of my favorite composers who was also a major influence in the jazz era.

JP: Some of my all-time favorites are on this program, including “Come Fly with Me,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” and “Luck Be a Lady.” I’m not sure I can pick only one I’m looking forward to. I know I’ll have a great time playing all of them with my colleagues.

HS: Who is your favorite big band era artist and why?
AB: I like to listen to the late Carl Fontana, who played jazz trombone with tremendous imagination and great command of the instrument.

JP: One of my favorite trumpet players of the era is Clifford Brown. He had a mastery of technique that made his music sound completely effortless. His improvisations had such incredible melodic variety, and his knowledge of harmony was equally impressive. While there are so many other great trumpet players of that era, he stands out to me personally.

The Houston Symphony presents In the Mood: A Big Band New Year on January 8–10. In-person and livestream tickets are available now.

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