Jazz player Byron Stripling has gospel on his mind as he joins Fox Valley Symphony

January 17, 2011

Kara Patterson

Post Crescent

At the heart of internationally known trumpet player Byron Stripling’s new concert program is the gospel music he sang as a youth in church choir with adults who sought refuge in it.

Stripling, who will perform “The Gospel According to Swing” with the Fox Valley Symphony in Appleton this weekend, says he experienced a rebirth of the music in his heart as an adult vocal and instrumental musician.

“In the early part of my life I was somewhat resentful of the music because I was made to go to church,” Stripling, 49, said during a phone interview. “My father was the choir director and when your father is the choir director that means you have to sing in the choir. But then as I fast-forward my life later on … that music all of a sudden in my life began to flower. I realized the songs these people sang, for them it was almost like going to a motivational speech. When they came to this place it was sacred for them. That’s where this show came from for me. The concert isn’t a religious thing – I’m not going there to preach to anybody – but I want people to experience the music in a unique way.”

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in downtown Appleton. A pre-concert talk starts at 6:40 p.m. in the PAC’s Kimberly-Clark Theater.

An actor, singer and recording artist as well as a trumpet virtuoso, Stripling, of Columbus, Ohio, serves as artistic director and conductor of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra. Stripling attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and the Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, Mich. He debuted at Carnegie Hall with Skitch Henderson and the New York Pops, and since has appeared with more than 50 pops and symphony orchestras.

“The way we say it is, he’s a musician’s musician,” said Fox Valley Symphony executive director Marta Weldon. “He’s just captivating. He’s admired and greatly respected. We just have a jazz master in our midst and how wonderful is that.”
When Stripling was a guest artist with the Fox Valley Symphony in January 2009, he played a program of big band music that he dedicated to greats such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

“He can play in any style,” said Brian Groner, the Fox Valley Symphony’s music director. “He has command of it all.”

“The Gospel According to Swing” showcases another side of Stripling and underscores his versatility, Groner said.

“Most of it is old-style gospel,” Groner said. “It’s music which is very dear and very familiar to us. You’ll hear the traditional old-style tunes like ‘Down by the Riverside,’ ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain,’ ‘Amazing Grace.’ We all bring our own history to those pieces and it touches us in a certain way. There’s a great energy and oftentimes a great source of comfort. This concert will be joyous and powerful.”

Stripling, who will both sing and play the trumpet during the concert, says the selections educate audiences about the fluid borders between gospel, blues and jazz.

During the early years of jazz in America, Stripling said, musicians down South, inspired by what they heard in church on Sundays, borrowed from that repertoire when they played their nightclub gigs.

“There’s always this cross-over and people in some cases are blinded to the actual history of this,” Stripling said. “There’s actually a way in the concert I will illustrate that there is no difference between the way a blues singer sings something, and a gospel musician. I actually sing a song that illustrates all you do is change one or two words and you’ve got the same thing. On my trumpet, the phrasing I’ll do will be the same phrasing as a gospel musician.”

With organist/pianist Bobby Floyd, Stripling plans to improvise some call-and-response vocalizations.

Stripling and drummer Robert Breithaupt will perform the spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” to a West African rhythm.

“We want to reach way back in the songbook and get the feeling of that,” Stripling said.


What: “The Gospel According to Swing,” with trumpet soloist Byron Stripling

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, downtown Appleton

Tickets: $19-$49 general admission; $10 for students with identification on the night of the show; free for music teachers with identification

Contact: 920-730-3760

Related events: A noon book and movie club meets Thursday at the Appleton Public Library for a discussion of books and films related to jazz and gospel music. The meeting at the library, 225 N. Oneida St., Appleton, is free and open to anyone. Bring a sack lunch. A list of books and films is available at the library, at www.apl.org, or at www.foxvalleysymphony.wordpress.com. Stripling will give a free and public motivational speech at 7 p.m. Friday at Heid Music, 308 E. College Ave., Appleton. “Three Keys to Success” is applicable to the study of music and any career. A pre-concert talk starts at 6:40 p.m. Saturday in the PAC’s Kimberly-Clark Theater. For more information about the concert or these events, call the Fox Valley Symphony at 920-968-0300.

On the Web:

Fox Cities Performing Arts Center at www.foxcitiespac.com

Fox Valley Symphony at www.foxvalleysymphony.com

Byron Stripling’s Web site at www.byronstripling.com

Learn more about the concert and purchase your tickets here! »

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