Monday, January 28, 2008

Cha-Ching: Money and the Brass Ensemble

I have resisted blogging, since I already talk too much and seriously fear being googled. I have, though, two motivations to begin dipping my toes into the water: 1) This is required of me for a graduate course about Brass Ensembles and 2) My wife gave me a list of chores to do, including dishes and—eww (the dogs made a mess)—laundry before she gets back from a rehearsal. By comparison, blogging is very enjoyable.
What am I going to explore? Light-pop excursions by brass-heavy ensembles in the 1960s and 1970s. This is the stuff we chuckle at: Chuck Mangione, Herb Alpert, and Al Hirt. These cats made some decent “bread” in their day, but were they—gasp—sellouts?!?!?!?! While I have a small pile of their records, I haven’t given them sufficient time of day to really grapple with this time in brass history—when an instrumental pop group of trumpets and trombones could be commercially viable. The overarching theme I want to explore, circularly, is that of musicians’ tendencies to cannibalize each other upon the slightest hint of success. Be careful. You might just be a sellout too. I’m going to drift around these issues looking first at examples from jazz and classical brass music so that, hopefully, I can begin to shed at least some of my prejudices against brass pop music of the 1970s.
Why shed the prejudices? Because they are part and parcel of a cultural endemic: the fear that cult status might someday break into relative commercial success (even 80s Miles Davis, after all, was no Sting, and the Empire Brass won’t be threatening Strung out on…Radiohead’s sales figures, however meager they both may be) anytime soon.