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Archive for December, 2008

Trumpet treasure

I took a note, “B.B Black Haydn trumpet Concerto,” on cards I carry in the car, sitting in the Safeway lot amid slush and piled snow as Janice did the shopping. Later I tried to find out more about this performer on the computer and didn’t get far until I realized I wasn’t looking for initials, but for a name, Bibi, and that I was in fact looking for a girl!

Now girl trumpeters do not exactly abound, particularly classical girl trumpeters. True, back in Trinidad many years ago there was a Tiny Davis in a visiting all-girl American band and Tiny was such a hit on her hot trumpet she inspired a calypso — Tiny Davis, Blow Your
Trumpet for Me.

But Bibi was something else: an Alabama girl, she started the trumpet at 11, was Second Trumpet at the Philadelphia Symphony at 23, toured worldwide and performed with the London Philharmonic.

The performance I was enjoying in the Safeway slush, Trumpet Concertos of Haydn, Vivaldi, Hummel and Handel, was in fact recorded back in 1990 in London, her first studio recording as a soloist. I was impressed I didn’t have a clue that she even existed.

And she isn’t, I found out, the only standout classical girl trumpeter. I stumbled upon another virtuoso, an English girl named Alison Balsom.

I can’t think of trumpet players without thinking of Dizzy, his cheeks bulging as if about to pop: and such is the technique of these girls they were doing complicated things without much seeming to move a muscle.

Balsom, on Paganini’s Caprice No. 24, a brute of a show-off piece, seemed largely unruffled, and might have been just as persuasive as Bibi performing  much the same pieces from Haydn, Hummel and friends.

The trail of the trumpets (on YouTube) led me, as lagniappe, to the legendary Rafael Mendez and Maurice Andre, returning to the present day by way of Wynton Marsalis and the convoluted Carnival of Venice, another bravura showstopper.

Didn’t seem like the same instrument on which Tiny Davis did her thing!

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Lloyd’s Song

It will always be for me Lloyd’s Song, though, for a time there, years afterwards, Lloyd was surpassed by Billy — Billy Eckstine, whose O Holy Nigh could, and did, bring on chills like that of the Christmas night air.

Lloyd FitzCharles, back in those green, un-clouded days at Arima, had the distinction of easy poverty that many of us were able lightly to wear because most times we were largely unaware of it. He was of a brood that lived near the church, the son of a taylor, and wore original, designer shirts crafted by is father. He was a tall, good-looking fellow and wore his hair like Prince Valiant.

The memory of him at school has faded and what remains, though dimly, is his central role in the makeshift group, loosely accociated with the church and happy to get out after dark, and also to sing carols.

O Holy Night was a high point in our repertoire and we gave it due regard perhaps because of our soloist, who had a strong, clear tenor and who sang it with more than usual ardor.

I see that O Holy Night has been around since 1847. A French parish priest asked wine merchant-poet Placide Chappeau to write a Christmas poem and Adolphe Adam set words to music.

It has become a standard modern carol, providing solo performers, as Wikipedia put it, with an operatic finish, in which Lloyd excelled, moving even us to something like wonder.

After Arima, the Chrismas hurly burly of Port of Spain was from time to time hushed by Lloyd’s Song on the radio, now taken over by Bily Eckstine. Eckstine is all but forgotten now. The so-called Sepia Sinatra — a misnomer, if you as me — doesn’t get air time these days and few there are to revel in his Song of India or, as we said, his version of O Holy Night.

Even Wikipedia has lost sight of him. They’ve listed some 30 artists who recorded O Holy Night. Alas, no Billy.

A choir has just sounded the first few notes of O Holy Night, and remembering Lloyd FitzChrrles, I am moved to write this.

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