RVAjazzfest: Fight the Big Bull

Fight the Big Bull will perform at RVAjazzfest with Steven Bernstein on February 21, 2009, 8pm, at The Camel. Boots of Leather and Glows in the Dark open. Tickets are $10, all ages welcome. by Roberto Curtis Saturday marks the first RVAjazzfest, a show boasting a slew of names from the Richmond community. With so […]

Fight the Big Bull will perform at RVAjazzfest with Steven Bernstein on February 21, 2009, 8pm, at The Camel. Boots of Leather and Glows in the Dark open. Tickets are $10, all ages welcome.

by Roberto Curtis

Saturday marks the first RVAjazzfest, a show boasting a slew of names from the Richmond community. With so much local heritage taking center-stage, it seems almost out of place to include the formidable trumpeter and arranger Steven Bernstein in the line-up, who will be performing with local ensemble Fight the Big Bull. But according to FtBB founder and guitarist Matt White, the Bernstein-Big Bull connection is deep-seeded in experimentation, collaboration and mutual respect.

RVAjazz: Matt, while not playing with FtBB, what are you doing to make ends meet?

Matt White: All my teaching now is privately in people’s homes. I taught at the YMCA downtown for a really long time.

RVAjazz: You and Steven aren’t just co-headlining, but performing each other’s works. How do you accommodate for that kind of a player?

MW: I’ve known Steve for a while. I’ve taken arranging lessons and we’ve hung out. I know him relatively well as an individual but I know him a lot better as a musician.

The reason I approached him from the get go was because he was my favorite arranger, trumpet player and improviser. Now we have a personal relationship and I also know where he’s coming from historically and what tradition he feels a part of and consequently what he feels comfortable playing. We share a lot of the same musical values. In a lot of ways, it’s just me naturally writing how I write for anyone in the band like how I write for Cameron [Ralston] or Reggie [Pace]. There are things he does that are unique to him and situations he likes to improvise in where he feels comfortable, so you just try to put him in those situations. It’s a little intimidating writing for a jazz icon in a way. But that’s really superficial. Hopefully I haven’t really affected the music any. (Laughs)

From Mingus Awareness Project

RVAjazz: Interesting, but why is he really in town?

MW: The reason is because he’s recording a record with FtBB. The jazz fest is just a unique coincidence. Dean [Christesen] just approached me and said, “Hey man, I want to do this Jazz Fest sometime in February,” and I said, “Well, listen, Steven Bernstein is going to be here for ten days recording with FtBB so that’s what you should schedule your jazz fest around, more or less.”

It’s an opportunity for Dean to capitalize on having an A-list kind of jazz guy headline the first show he’s ever put together. At the same time we get a chance to flesh out and work on the pieces that’ll be brand new for the record.

RVAjazz: What kind of material are we talking about here?

MW: There’s all new material for him and he’s writing a bunch of stuff for us so that night should feature a hand full of tunes we’ve both written plus some FtBB classics.

RVAjazz: That coupled with your previous accolades is a lot for one little band from Richmond. How do you see this affecting FtBB’s future?

MW: We’re putting out a record with Steven because I know him and he’s willing to do it. It’s good publicity. It’s a good story. Steven is the first one that heard my taped senior recital and was like, “Hey, man. This band is really good. No one really plays like that up here. You couldn’t bring these charts up to New York and expect people to play this. This band is really special and you need to work at making this happen.” So he got us a gig at The Stone. It’s nice to have the opportunity to work with him and let the public know there’s a relationship here and that he’s been involved from the start. Hopefully a good record with great music and a really nice publicity story will coalesce into an unstoppable force where everyone will want us to play for thousands and thousands of dollars. (Laughs)

RVAjazz: That’s the idea, right? How hard was it to get in touch with him to begin with?

MW: Right after I graduated, I emailed Ropeadope (Music, clothing, culture) and asked for Steven’s email. I said I was an arranging student and I wanted to get charts of his to study. They forwarded the email to Steven and he responded directly by saying, “Call me. Here’s my number and let’s talk about arranging,” which is kind of cool. He hadn’t heard anything I had ever done. He just knew I was interested in looking at charts and stuff. So I called him and we talked for about 30 minutes about arranging and Duke Ellington. I asked him if I could come up and take an arranging lesson. I think he was pretty intrigued about a kid living in Richmond that wanted to drive up to New York for a lesson about arranging. For as many arranging accolades he’s received and considering how well known he is in that field, according to him, I’m the only person who has ever approached him about a lesson, which seems weird to me.

RVAjazz: That does seem strange. So how did the lesson go?

MW: I think he was real positive about having a person to pass his unique set of knowledge on to. The first time I was up there, I was scheduled for an hour lesson from one to two. I literally stayed at his house from one to nine. He made me lunch. He made me dinner. We just hung out forever. He wanted to hear stuff I had done so I brought charts and those two tunes I did on my recital and it was just like a lesson. He wasn’t telling me it was the best in the world. He was just telling me that it was really special. “These are players on the class of everything that is going on here. These guys aren’t bullshit. You’ve got a band that can compete with anything that is going on here.” So that was a big shot of encouragement.

RVAjazz: When do you hope to have the record out and how is this process going to be different than putting out your first album?

MW: The record will probably come out in September. This will be the second record on the market and Clean Feed Records, a Portuguese label, is releasing it. This time we have a publicist in place, which cert

ainly did not happen last time (laughs). It’s a major step forward. The situation is obviously a lot easier, especially when you’re going into the studio with someone famous.

Fight the Big Bull is: Matt White: guitar, tunes; Pinson Chanselle: trap kit; Cameron Ralston: bass; Brian Jones: percussion; Bob Miller: trumpet; Reggie Pace: trombone; Bryan Hooten: trombone; Jason Scott: saxophone, clarinet; John Lilley: saxophone; J.C. Kuhl: saxophone.

RVAjazzfest is made possible by the generous support of Richmond Jazz Society, Inc., RVA Magazine, Francis J. Balint & Associates, and Urban Views Weekly

Photos by Lindsey Prather

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