On Sunday, Oct. 16 at 2 p.m., chamber ensembles from “The President’s Own” will perform musical meteorology with a program that takes its inspiration from the four seasons. Coordinated and programmed by pianist Gunnery Sgt. Russell Wilson, the concert is free and no tickets are required. Those who cannot attend may view the live stream at youtube.com/usmarineband.
Wilson has been eagerly waiting to introduce the Marine Band’s audience to jazz accordion music. He explains how that led him to programming this concert:
Years ago, I wanted to find out who the good jazz accordionists were, and I discovered a recording by the Richard Galliano Septet called “Piazzolla Forever.” After listening to just a few seconds of the first track, Otoño Porteño, I immediately fell in love with Astor Piazzolla’s sound in which he blends jazz, classical, and tango styles. I thought, “One of these days, I’m going to share this great music somehow at a Marine Band performance.” My opportunity came when I was selected to be a recital coordinator. I didn’t know exactly which music I was going to program, but I did know that I HAD to include one of these Piazzolla pieces in the concert and plan the rest around it. I chose Otoño Porteño because of its great introduction which aggressively pulls in the listener. Piazzolla composed one Porteño (Buenos Aires resident) for each of the four seasons, which reminded me of Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. From there, the “Four Seasons” theme for my recital came naturally.
One unique aspect of being a pianist in the Marine Band is the requirement to balance jazz and classical styles, a feat that challenges and excites all three of us in the piano section. When I was requested to program classical music on the first half and jazz on the second half of the recital, I was eager to find a program that would feature the very best of both sides. My rules I gave myself were:
1. To have four classical works representing each season.
2. To have four jazz works representing each season.
3. To have pieces with their corresponding season in the title.
4. To have music that really connects to people.
Once I made these rules, I narrowed down the repertoire pretty easily. Vivaldi was obvious, and so was the Beethoven Spring Sonata. My coworker in the piano section, Staff Sgt. Chris Schmitt, had already performed Chopin’s difficult “Winter Wind” etude and was willing to bring it back into his fingers. I couldn’t let that go to waste.
For the jazz half I wanted the music to sound like its corresponding season. For example, while there are thousands of versions of Gershwin’s “Summertime” out there to emulate, I chose Doc Watson’s version for two guitars, fiddle, and bass, because to me, it sounded the most like music that could accompany a hot, lazy summer afternoon with bare feet and lemonade. In my search for the best tune with “spring” in the title, I was surprised at how many of the tunes in this narrow category (such as “Spring is Here,” “It Might as Well Be Spring,” “You Must Believe in Spring”) all had depressing lyrics. Spring should be happy. I chose an instrumental stride piano piece by Willie “The Lion” Smith called “Echoes of Spring” because I thought it sounded the most like new life budding. It should bring a smile to every face in the audience.
“I’m looking forward to setting a new record for length of a chamber music recital, lasting two complete cycles around the sun,” Wilson joked. “The audience may want to get comfortable.”
The Fall Chamber Series concert is free and no tickets are required. The Marine Barracks Annex is accessible by Metro via the Navy Yard or Eastern Market stations. Free parking is also available under the overpass on 7th Street, across from the Annex.
Complete program and notes
Directions and parking