Classic jazz beats causally blended with jingle bells to create the peppy and nostalgic musical arrangements to fill the air in Rudder Theatre Thursday night.
As part of the OPAS Intimate Gatherings series, The Boston Brass and Brass All-Stars Big Band brought their jazzy holiday performance, “Christmas Bells are Swingin’,” to Aggieland on Dec. 5 at 7:30 p.m.
The Boston Brass’ trumpets, french horn, trombone and tuba gave off a smooth, upbeat sound that added a special twist to Christmas classics. Group partner and trumpet player Jeff Conner has been with the band since its formation and was excited to perform these songs for this new audience.
“‘Christmas Bells are Swingin’’ is all about having a great time,” Conner said. “The music we play is high octane and we hope that after the last note is played everyone is in the holiday spirit.”
During the performance, some of the musicians played improvised solos that conveyed a soulful joy to the songs. Pianist David Cutler improvised an entire solo piece, which he entitled on the spot as “The Little Drummer Boy Who Got a Piano For Christmas and it Literally Blew His Mind.”
“A lot of it’s improvised, but I have a structure in mind,” Cutler said. “We always try to do things to push the envelope and surprise all the musicians, and the audience too, and give an experience that people never thought could have existed. It’s always fun to try and come up with something that’s just totally loony-tunes.”
OPAS director Anne Black helped bring the act to campus to add a cheerful holiday feel to the Intimate Gatherings season.
“Holiday music played on brass instruments is very exciting,” Black said. “Everyone loves hearing holiday music and this band will play all your favorites.”
For the concert, Boston Brass collaborated with other skilled musicians to create the swing-style holiday collection, which was conducted by acclaimed trumpet player Tim Morrison.
“In addition to Boston Brass, we will have a full brass big band that includes a trumpet, trombone and horn section all driven by a great rhythm section,” Conner said. “This is a show not to be missed.”
One aspect that makes this band special, Conner said, is most of the music Boston Brass plays is arranged by one of the band members.
“Boston Brass is all about tone and the meltdown of sound,” Conner said. “We have distinctive sonic sound that no other brass ensemble has. The arrangements Boston Brass plays are specifically done by members of the group who are able to write for the strengths of the band.”
Cutler said the Boston Brass’s world-renowned sound can be attributed to the members’ love of music and free spirits. Since their inception in 1986, the band has worked to perform over 100 concerts every year across the country and the globe.
“The group began as a group of friends that enjoyed playing chamber music together,” Conner said. “We were extremely fortunate to have the members of the Empire Brass as our teachers. The tuba player, Sam Pilafian, in Empire Brass was our first coach, teacher and mentor and 28 years later, Sam would become a member of Boston Brass for five years.”
Both classic Christmas songs and original arrangements were performed, and every one of the 19 pieces pulled the audience from their seats, so the band played an encore to wrap up the night.
“It’s always a blast to play with such amazing musicians and human beings and playing just beautiful music,” Cutler said. “They’re inspiring and they’re crazy. One of the things I love about music is the notion of how you say, ‘You play music,’ but so many musicians are so serious about what they do, so what I love about this group is that we can actually play the music.”