Let the blues set your soul afire
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – For trumpet great Byron Stripling, a joyous, jovial fellow, every night he performs on stage is opening night.
“Even now as I think about Saturday night’s performance in the Ford Amphitheater with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and maestro Jeff Tyzik, I can feel the butterflies in my stomach,” he said during an interview this week.
While he has performed with plenty of musical greats – Tony Bennett, Natalie Cole and plenty more –he can’t pick just one moment from his storied career that stands apart from the rest. Instead, he chooses to live in the moment, reveling in his role as an entertainer.
“For me it’s yet another opportunity to uplift people’s spirits and to spread the joy and happiness that great music can give us,” he said.
Stripling last performed at Bravo! in 2008 with the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, for which he’s served as the artistic director and conductor since 2002. The trumpeter (he signs his e-mails “Trumpetblowingly Yours,” also the name of one of his three albums) took the time to answer a few questions for the Vail Daily.
1. Vail Daily: What can people expect from tonight’s concert? What’s your favorite piece on the program and why?
Byron Stripling: This concert was conceived and arranged by conductor Jeff Tyzik and celebrates the blues. The blues was born in cotton fields, bars, nightclubs and Baptist churches. Later it spread into the mainstream of American culture, and we see its incredible influence on all musicians and art forms. The unusual thing about this concert is that maestro Tyzik uses four soloists – Dee Daniels, Wycliffe Gordon, Bobby Floyd and myself – plus the entire Dallas Symphony and takes the audience on a journey from the birth of the blues through present day. Normally when we think of an orchestra we don’t think of them playing the blues, … but you’ll be amazed as the Dallas Symphony sets our soul on fire. You’ll witness this on my favorite piece of the program, “Get Right Church,” where the Ford Amphitheater will be turned into an old-time, backwoods church revival.
2. VD: If you didn’t play the trumpet, what would you play? And likewise, if you weren’t a musician, what do you think you’d be doing?
BS: If I didn’t play trumpet, I wouldn’t be here. As a kid, music saved my life. I wasn’t good at math or science – I was a really good D student – but could play the trumpet. Unfortunately for many kids, the opportunities to play an instrument are few and far between. If for some reason I hadn’t found the trumpet, I think I’d have been a politician – fighting for the arts.
3. VD: As well as an accomplished musician, you are also an actor. Which do you prefer, and do you have any upcoming roles you can tell us about?
BS: I’ve only done a small amount of acting, and I totally respect the people who do that for a living. My friend Keith David, who has done over 50 movies, told me that he studied acting for 20 years before he got his first movie role. That’s the kind of dedication required to be an actor on the highest level. I’m still just trying to learn how to play the trumpet.
4. VD: There’s a happiness that comes through in your music that’s been compared to Louis Armstrong. Is he one of your influences?
BS: Louis Armstrong once said, “I’m here in the cause of happiness.” Yes, he’s a huge influence, and if nothing else, I hope people feel that same spirit of happiness when I play my horn.
5. VD: Your father was a classical singer. How did that influence the path you’ve taken?
BS: My father made sure that our house was filled with all types of music. Classical music was constantly on the record player, but so was jazz, soul, rock, blues and anything else that made you feel good. I quickly learned that music could change the way I felt and could inspire others. That’s why I love that quote by William James where he says, “I sing not because I’m happy, but I’m happy because I sing.”
6. VD: What’s it like performing at the Ford Amphitheater?
BS: I’ve performed (at the Ford Amphitheater) twice with the Rochester Philharmonic and once with my own band, the Columbus Jazz Orchestra. Each time, I was invite by the good folks at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, and boy, do they know how to put together a season. Who would have thought that the great orchestras of America would spend their summers in Vail?
7. VD: You were three months from graduating from Eastman School of Music when you dropped out to perform with Lionel Hampton. Have you ever regretted that decision?
BS: There’s a quote from the Buddhist tradition that says, “To know and not to do is not yet to know.” While at Eastman, I acquired the book learning or the “knowing,” but when I went out on the road, I was doing. Of course, that sounds cute, but my parents were bugged because they had paid for four years of education and I didn’t graduate. Thankfully, with the encouragement of a few angels, the school later awarded me my degree based on life experience, and I was able to present that to my parents.