Wycliffe Gordon comes 'home' to Lexington and brings his trombone

Contributing Music WriterDecember 12, 2013 

Wycliffe Gordon is based in New York, but he has lived in Lexington for about a year. He'll perform Sunday with the Lexington Brass Band.

COURTESY OF WYCLIFFE GORDON

  • IF YOU GO

    'Tis the Season featuring the Lexington Brass Band, Wycliffe Gordon and the Raleigh Dailey Trio

    When: 4 p.m. Dec. 15

    Where: Calvary Baptist Church, 150 E. High St.

    Tickets: $5

    Learn more: (859) 858-3877; (859) 858-3511, Ext. 2246; Lexingtonbrassband.com.

Usually, Wycliffe Gordon doesn't like to make a fuss when he takes a break in Lexington, his adopted hometown. This weekend, however, he plans to make an exception.

On Sunday, the celebrated jazz trombonist will team with the Lexington Brass Band for its annual 'Tis the Season holiday concert.

"I've actually been living in Kentucky for about a year," said the veteran instrumentalist, composer, arranger, band leader and educator. "I've just been under the radar. When I get off the road, I just want to be home."

Granted, Gordon — who played in Wynton Marsalis' acclaimed septet and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (now the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra) throughout the '90s — has yet to become a full-time Lexingtonian. He teaches at the Manhattan School of Music and says he keeps his offices and "the functional part" of his operation in New York when not performing. But all personal and professional affairs might move to Kentucky in 2014, he said.

The region isn't exactly new to him. He shared a bill with the Lexington Brass Band last summer at the Great American Brass Band Festival in Danville. But this weekend's holiday concert re-establishes his connection with another Kentucky-born jazz great, violinist Zach Brock, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Gordon enlisted Brock in October 2012 to record The Intimate Ellington: Ballads and Blues. As the title implies, the album offers small ensemble arrangements of Ellington material. The idea — initially, at least — was to use Brock sparingly.

"I didn't really know what to expect at first," Gordon said. "I just heard him on a recording. How he would be in live performance, I wasn't sure. So he came up to our studio in New York. I had the intention of having him play on two, maybe three numbers. I already had a reed player (Adrian Cunningham), so I didn't really know how it was all going to meld, because it was my first writing for that instrumentation.

"Duke Ellington would do this kind of thing all the time. But Zach blended in very well and wound up playing on half the record. It was a different kind of thing having a front line of brass, woodwinds and strings. But Zach took care of business."

Gordon said Sunday's performance will focus largely on holiday music, but he is considering adding his arrangement of Billy Strayhorn's Lotus Blossom, one of the standout interpretations from The Intimate Ellington, to the repertoire.

Still, the Marsalis connection remains the primary point of reference that many jazz audiences have with Gordon's music, even though the trombonist has had an established career for the past 13 years.

"It's been great, obviously, to play with a musician of Wynton's renown. It's been wonderful in many respects. I was with Wynton from 1989 to when he disbanded the septet at the end of 1995. I was in the orchestra until 2000. When I left the orchestra to start my first teaching job, I was still trying to secure gigs. I had been with Wynton so long that it got to where people would tell my manager, 'We love Wycliffe. But we'll wait and see him when he comes here with Wynton.'

"It took a good 2½ years for people to realize I had my own group and my own CDs. In terms of establishing my voice, whether that was through writing, performing, teaching, all of the above, ... it was difficult at first. But I still look at that whole period as a plus."


IF YOU GO

'Tis the Season featuring the Lexington Brass Band, Wycliffe Gordon and the Raleigh Dailey Trio

When: 4 p.m. Dec. 15

Where: Calvary Baptist Church, 150 E. High St.

Tickets: $5

Learn more: (859) 858-3877; (859) 858-3511, Ext. 2246; Lexingtonbrassband.com.

Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.

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