Anita Brown


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The Leading Edge: Introduction and Dave Pietro, Unedited

I hope you all were able to see my column, The Leading Edge in the September 2010 issue of JazzEd Magazine.  If you have not, you may view it and/or subscribe online by clicking this link: 

Click on JazzEd Has Gone Digital and navigate the page numbers with the dots at the bottom of the window.  This month's installment of The Leading Edge appears on pg. 48.

The difference between the word count constraints of the column and the actually word count of the interviews is, in this month's installment, about 1500 words.  Below please find my complete introductory statement followed by the question addressed in this month's column.  Included after that is Dave Pietro's complete answer on this question.  In the coming days I will post the answers of Steve Wilson, Dick Oatts, Mark Patterson, Keith O'Quinn, John Fedchock, Jon Owens, Tony Kadleck and Earl Gardner.  Their answers will be posted a day or two apart from each other.  Please check back and contribute to the dialogue!

Also, I will post each question on the discussion board on Anita Brown Jazz Orchestra's fan page on Facebook.  Perhaps you would like to discuss your own answers to these questions or discuss the same with other musicians.

The Leading Edge
Unedited Manuscript
by Anita Brown

All Rights Reserved, Ó  2010

Currently a New York jazz composer and band leader, I have had the unique privilege to learn about important aspects of ensemble playing through my experiences as a former K-12 music educator, an eight-year veteran of the prestigious BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop under the tutelage of Manny Albam, Jim McNeely and Mike Abene, a loyal fan and supporter of the great New York jazz ensembles (including The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Maria Schneider Orchestra and John Fedchock’s New York Big Band) and a member of the social circle of  their members.

Over time I learned to observe various aspects of performance through attendance at weekly Monday night performances of Maria Schneider Orchestra at Visiones and The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra at The Village Vanguard (formerly known as Mel Lewis/Thad Jones Orchestra) in New York City’s Greenwich Village, often attending Maria’s first set and running to 7th Ave. for VJO’s second set.  Through more than a decade’s worth of careful observation, note-taking, conversation and regular participation in the BMI Workshop Reading Sessions I forged a concept for my own jazz orchestra which is strongly rooted in the prowess and contributions of the lead players of the trumpet, trombone and reed sections.

My respect and excitement for the contribution of each lead player has been a great teacher and inspired this article, for it is an often-overlooked role that plays so importantly in creating the sound of a band.   Without the specific lead players in our favorite big bands of today and of yesteryear, definitive renditions of beloved works would necessarily be defined completely differently.  

With an obsessive curiosity and affinity for what these players bring to the works of music they shape, I decided to ask nine of New York’s finest lead players to answer a series of in-depth questions regarding their unique perspectives as pertains to this defining yet unsung role.  Participants were asked to focus on those questions that resonated with them the most.  Some of the participants addressed all the questions and others did not.

These players were selected because they in one way or another helped me to define and shape my own music through discussing, rehearsing, performing and/or recording my music, or through my attending countless performances to observe them in action. They include three lead alto, three lead trombone and three lead trumpet players of note; respectively:  Dave Pietro (Anita Brown Jazz Orchestra, Toshiko Akiyoshi), Steve Wilson (Maria Schneider Orchestra, Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks) and Dick Oatts (Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Carnegie Hall Jazz Band), Mark Patterson (Anita Brown Jazz Orchestra, Dennis Mackrel Big Band), Keith O’Quinn (Maria Schneider Orchestra, Bob Mintzer), John Fedchock (John Fedchock’s New York Big Band, Woody Herman Orchestra), Jon Owens (Anita Brown Jazz Orchestra, BMI New York Jazz Orchestra), Tony Kadleck (Maria Schneider Orchestra, John Fedchock’s New York Big Band), Earl Gardner (Mingus Big Band, Thad Jones/ Mel Lewis Orchestra). 

This interview will be published in installments in subsequent issues of JazzEd Magazine. The aforementioned players will discuss some of the definitive attributes being a lead player and experiences that shaped their concepts regarding conviction, lead chair vs. second chair, interacting with the rhythm section and the other lead players, what to learn and listen for, artistic contributions and responsibilities and equipment.

 Some of the questions that will be addressed subsequently include:

  • Please describe what you think are the definitive attributes for a lead player of your instrument in a large jazz ensemble.
  • Please tell us about some  life experiences that have shaped you, your concept and conviction as a lead player.
  • How is lead playing different from playing second in your section?
  • Please tell us how you view, hear or interact with the rhythm section and other two lead players.
  • What does a player need to learn, know, do or listen for in order to become a solid lead player of your instrument?
  • Did you understand at an early age that you would have artistic responsibility to shape new music as a lead player?
  • Please speak a little about your equipment or your thoughts regarding equipment.

NOTE:  None of those interviewed knew who the other participants were until the conclusion of all the interviews.

Please check back and post you questions and comments for these fine, New York lead players who have helped define the music of so many writers. 



Who were your top three earliest influences as a lead player before you turned thirty?

Dave Pietro (Anita Brown Jazz Orchestra; Toshiko Akiyoshi Big Band):  Dick Oatts, Jerry Dodgion  and  Jim Riggs.  I had a number of recordings of Dick with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and when I first started subbing for Billy Drewes at the Village Vanguard I used to really tune into what Dick was doing as a lead player.  I think he's the one of the greatest lead alto player on the planet! He has such a distinctive sound and style that has been an integral part of that band for over 30 years.   Around the same time I began subbing for Jim Snidero on Toshiko's band and similarly used to listen to how Jerry played the lead book.  Jerry has such a beautiful sound and his lead playing is so lyrical.  Jim Riggs was my saxophone professor at the University of North Texas.  I probably learned the most from him because my undergraduate years were very formative and North Texas was a big band oriented jazz program.  I worked with Jim on gigs where he would play lead and I would play second alto and I also played under his direction in the Two O'Clock Jazz Band.  I sat directly in front of him playing lead alto for four days a week during an entire school year and he would constantly be giving me pointers and critiques.  It was like having a private lead alto lesson everyday.

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