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Bob Stewart Tuba Competition Set for Duke Ellington Center for the Arts, 10/20


The 1st Annual Bob Stewart Tuba Competition, created by The Duke Ellington Center for the Arts, will be held on Saturday, October 20, 2012 from 12 Noon to 5 PM as part of The 37th Annual 52nd Street Duke Ellington Jazz Festival. The competition has been created to provide enhanced exposure to the many dynamic tuba players who perform in improvisational music ensembles in and around the New York area. The five groups chosen for the competition perform in a wide range of genres from traditional and contemporary Jazz to Blues, hip-hop, funk rock and world music. 

"They are five of the top-rated music ensembles today whose musical repertoires are built around the tuba,” said Bob Stewart, a world-famous tuba player and Board member of the Duke Ellington Center, who is coordinating the competition. “I was very fortunate to have had wonderful opportunities as a young tuba player, and through this competition I’d like to show my appreciation for those who helped me launch my career by sharing my knowledge and experience with some of the young musical lions of today,” Mr. Stewart said. “It is my sincere hope that this forum will shine a spotlight on some very deserving musicians and spread the appreciation of the tuba’s unique voice in today’s textured and rich music scene."

Participating in the 1st Bob Stewart Tuba Competition are these five music organizations: the ten member Pitch Blak Brass Band, who describe their musical style as ‘Hip-Hop Brass’; Ralph Hamperian’s Tuba D’Amore, a five piece ensemble specializing in ‘Hard Bop’; Stumblebum Brass Band, a trio specializing in ‘Punk Influenced Rock’; Tuba Joe and the New Tuba Love, a quintet that performs ‘Rock/Jazz/Funk’; and Kenneth Bentley’s Color 4, a four-piece ensemble specializing in ‘Contemporary Jazz.’

The judges for the competition are Larry Kerchner, a renowned songwriter, arranger and composer and a member of the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame, and Marcus Rojas, a world famous tuba player, teacher and composer.

As a warm-up to the Tuba Competition, the first two hours of the 52nd Street Jazz Festival on October 20 -- 12 Noon to 2 PM – will feature a Trio composed of members of the Duke Ellington Center Big Band in an all-Ellington music program featuring jazz vocalists Marion Cowings and Antoinette Montague, tap dancer Alex Cowings, ballroom dancer Michael Choi and his partner.

A small “traveling tuba ensemble” will perform along 52nd Street between 5th and 7th Avenues, and at the CBS Broadcast Plaza at the corner of 52nd Street and 6th Avenue, to ‘promote’ the competition in the hours before it begins. The entire five-hour program, including the Tuba Competition and the Jazz musical performances preceding it, will take place on the Festival Performance Stage located on the northeast corner of 52nd Street and 6th Avenue, directly opposite of the CBS Broadcast Center.

The Tuba Competition Guidelines

- Each ensemble must play one original arrangement of a Duke Ellington composition and at least three pieces from the group’s own repertoire.

- Eligible ensembles must include between three and ten musicians and the Tuba player must have a prominent role as either an ensemble horn and/or tuba bass.

- The performance time is 25 minutes total per group.

- Winner and possible runners-up will be invited to perform (as a paid gig) at a future Duke Ellington Center of the Arts event or events, and tuba players in the 1st and/or 2nd Place winning ensembles will be invited to perform at venues in the New York area with the Duke Ellington Center Big Band.

In the earliest years, jazz bands often used the tuba for outdoor playing and a double bass for indoor performances. In this context, the tuba was sometimes called ‘brass bass,’ as opposed to the double bass, which was called ‘string bass.’ It was not uncommon for players to double on both instruments. When used in modern jazz, tubas usually fill the traditional bass role, and they often take solos. New Orleans style Brass Bands, like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Rebirth Brass Band, use a sousaphone as the bass instrument. Bill Barber played tuba on several MiLes Davis albums, including Birth of the Cool and Miles Ahead , and tubist Marcus Rojas, one of our judges, has performed frequently with Henry Threadgill.

Mr. Stewart agrees that the tuba has long been one of the most important instruments in the jazz world, especially in New Orleans. “From the legendary marching brass bands who have patrolled the streets of Bourbon Street for ages to jazz orchestras who perform in prestigious concert halls across the world, the distinctive sound of the tuba has been a major component of jazz compositions written and created by current and past jazz greats, among them Duke Ellington,” he said.

Bob Stewart (Yamaha Artist and Competition Coordinator)

Over the last 40 years Bob Stewart has established himself as both an innovative tuba player and equally creative jazz educator. In addition to embracing the tuba’s historical position as the original bass instrument in jazz, Mr. Stewart’s focus on reintroducing it into a contemporary band setting has encouraged many tuba players and band leaders to explore this approach.

As a band leader, recording artist, and featured soloist, Mr. Stewart’s playing has been spotlighted on over 80 recordings. He has performed and recorded with such luminaries as Gil Evans, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, Charlie Haden, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Carla Bley, Wynton Marsalis, Jason Moran, Lester Bowie, MuhAl Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill, Arthur Blythe, Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster, Chaka Khan, Dap Kings, and Aretha Franklin, to name a few. With decades of experience in public education, Mr. Stewart now also works with Jazz at Lincoln Center as an educational consultant, advisor to the Rhythm Road project, and has helped to create the curriculum for the Middle School Jazz Academy. Another highlight from Mr. Stewart’s distinguished career includes winning the nationally-renowned Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition.

Mr. Stewart has also been honored to serve as a panelist for the New York State Council of the Arts, worked as a consultant for JazzMobile, and was a clinician for the Louis Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp in New Orleans. He has appeared in Ken Burns’ “Jazz” series and was the subject of an award-winning, feature-length documentary entitled “Jazz on a Winter’s Day.” While concertizing and touring both in the United States and internationally, Bob Stewart maintains a faculty position at Lehman College and is a professor of Jazz History at The Juilliard School.

The Competition Judges

Larry Kerchner is a composer, lyricist, arranger, and producer with years of experience in the music industry. A graduate of Berklee College of Music, he is a voting member of The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, a two-time GRAMMY Award nominee, and an Individual Artist Fellowship recipient. He is also a member of ASCAP, and has had his work performed at several ASCAP Songwriters’ Showcases. He is on the Board of Directors of The Duke Ellington Center For the Arts, and is a member of The New York Sheet Music Society, where his music was featured in Sandi Durell’s annual Songwriters Series.

Mr. Kerchner’s song, Winter In Manhattan was sung by Michael Feinstein in his Swing In the Holidays engagement at the Loews Regency, where New York Times critic Stephen Holden, praised it as “Larry Kerchner’s soft-focus cityscape” of New York City, and, nightly, struck an appreciative nerve with Michael’s New York audiences. Currently, Mr. Kerchner is preparing for his star-studded show, Hidden Treasures: The Songs of Larry Kerchner, on November 5th at the York Theatre in New York City. Larry has over 300 published compositions and arrangements for symphonic band, concert band, marching band, jazz band, orchestra, and chorus, and has served as composer and arranger for more than 70 Colleges and Universities. He is a member of the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame, the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame, the New Jersey Drum Corps Hall of Fame, and the Massachusetts Drum Corps Hall of Fame.

Marcus Rojas, a native of Brooklyn, is considered one of "the best all around tuba players in the world" (Harvey Pekar, Jazziz). Among the diverse groups in which he has played are the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet, American Symphony, American Ballet Theater, Joffrey Ballet, New York Pops, EOS, Radio City Music Hall, Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy, Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis, ensembles led by Gil Evans, George Russell, Jim Hall, Lionel Hampton, Dave Douglas, Wayne Shorter, David Byrne, and P.D.Q. Bach. He has also appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the Today Show, Saturday Night Live and The Grammys from New York City. Mr. Rojas has played on over 350 recordings, from CDs of his own groups (Spanish Fly and Les Miserables Brass Band) to Reggae stars Sly and Robbie and the Metropolitan Opera. He has performed and/or recorded with such diverse artists as Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Dawn Upshaw, Queen Latifah, Donnie Osmond, Sting, Dr. John, Harry Connick Jr., Aretha Franklin, Bette Midler, They Might be Giants and Arto Linsday, among others. Dedicated to giving back so much of what was given to him, Mr. Rojas performs over 30 children's concerts and workshops yearly. He has given master classes throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe on topics ranging from Imagination; Creating Your Own Musical World, to Why Do We Play? and Breathing; How Much is Enough. He is on the faculty of New York University, Brooklyn College and the Manhattan School of Music Precollege Division. He is a graduate of New York City's famed High School of Music and Art and has a B.M. with distinction from New England Conservatory of Music

The Duke Ellington Center for the Arts was founded by Duke's granddaughter, Mercedes Ellington, to further knowledge about this American icon and treasure as a composer, lyricist, bandleader, performer, artist, and writer. The mission of The Duke Ellington Center for the Arts is to further Duke Ellington's creative legacy and his philosophy of human harmony “beyond category.” The Center mounts performances marrying Ellington's music with other art forms, especially dance; and also sponsors a variety of educational initiatives. As funding for the Arts and Arts Education continues to diminish, the Center’s commitment to these areas strengthens. The Center also strives to keep a historically accurate record of all things Ellington for the benefit of future generations. The Duke Ellington Center for the Arts seeks to inspire all people to become Ambassadors for Peace and Harmony through the magic of the Arts, one note at a time. For more information, go to

Pictured: Yamaha Artist and Ellington Center Board Member Bob Stewart

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