Music and Beyond: Bold for brass, Jens Lindemann is on a mission to trumpet the horn

Jens Lindemann is bringing BRASSFIRE to Music and Beyond.

Jens Lindemann’s twitter handle is @trumpetjens. It’s a public marker of the passion he feels for his instrument.

This wasn’t always the case, says the Edmonton-raised performer, teacher and proselityser for a music without silos and that takes the horns seriously.

“I wanted to be a drummer” in his high school band, he said in advance of a performance at Music and Beyond on July 12. But to be the band’s percussionist, he had to pass a test.

“I was dead last and I wanted to quit music and take drama but my German immigrant mother said ‘No’. She said ‘Do it for a year.’ He was handed a trumpet and “by the end of the year I was hooked.”

And he got pretty darn good at it. Nominated for Grammys and JUNOs, Lindemann has been a busy performer ever since. But perhaps his first big break was with the Canadian Brass, the internationally known ensemble that he joined in 1996. He left in 2001.

“When I started my career, I was dedicated to becoming a trumpet soloist and I was focused on competitions. But the Canadian Brass called me and I deviated from the strict classical solo path into one packed with all kinds of music from jazz and contemporary, classical and pop, everything you would expect from a Canadian Brass show.”

“When I left the Canadian Brass, I wanted to develop a show that would show off the range and diversity of brass in general and the trumpet in particular.”

That concept has emerged as Brassfire, a show that celebrates the range of his instrument.

“The trumpet has been involved in every style of music in a major capacity certainly since the invention of valves and even before that. No instrument has impacted musical styles as the trumpet has from Romantic music to early jazz when the trumpet was called the king of instruments to the pop world in songs. At funerals, weddings and marches” the trumpet is there.

And there are connections across the centuries. In the mid-1960s, Paul McCartney was sitting in a concert listening to Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto, Lindemann says, and the trumpet part inspired the solo in Penny Lane, which Lindemann considers the most famous use of a solo trumpet in pop music.

You can even go back, he says, to the ancient Jewish instrument made of a ram’s horn called the Shofar.

He acknowledges that today the trumpet may not get the respect it deserves.

But, “since I am an optimist by nature; when people see a disadvantage, I see advantage and opportunity. That is to say there are no parameters or expectations on the instrument. Not a lot of people know a lot about the trumpet. To my earlier point we are so integrated in some areas of society and so many different styles of music. Ironic here you have an instrument that is so loud and yet no one really notices it until you take it out of the mix.”

He’s also pretty determined.

“If I was given any gift, it was the gift of persistence, stubbornness. I’m not prodigiously talented.

“I also come from an immigrant background and the immigrant work ethos is such that you basically put your nose to the grindstone and get on with it.”

Brassfire is about 12 years old. The objective of the project is to be inclusive and to eradicate the stereotype of music genre. Such labels attached to musical forms were foisted on society because record companies wanted to sell product.

“I think we can see how that is working out today. Let’s, instead, try to accept something as being good music as Duke Ellington said. Then you can do a whole bunch of things. As brass players, we have a great chance to surprise an audience and that is always my mission. I want to give them a new idea of what is possible.”

He preaches the same message to his students at UCLA where he is a full professor and the head of brass studies in the Herb Alpert School of Music.

“I have a wonderful situation there. The university is open-minded about allowing me to set my own schedule. And they are encouraging me to go out into real world as a solo artist.”

As a result he performs about 80 to 90 concerts a year in which he is not limited in the genres of music he plays.

“I encourage that in my career and in young people’s careers.”

Lindemann compares the trumpet’s sound with the human voice.

“As there is a thrill when a soprano sings, so too is there a thrill when a trumpet pulls off a high note where you feel the entire body resonating. The human voice works when air passes through vibrating vocal chords. The trumpet’s sound is created by air passing through the vibrating lips or the embouchure.

“Brass instruments have to be heard and to be felt.”

One of the neat things that will happen in Ottawa is that Lindemann will play a Shofar.

He played one during a recent concert in Banff where he was working with the rest of the Brassfire ensemble.

“It was easily the most powerful moment of the concert. Once you integrate that with a modern sense of harmony and rhythms you are combining thousands of years of tradition.”

The Shofar he played was loaned to him by a Jewish family from the Calgary area.

“It was one of those memories that I want to keep. It reminded me how powerful something so simple can be.”

Brassfire is a collective effort that gets together occasionally. Lindemann does this in between solo concerts, work with a jazz ensemble, and a brass quintet called AllStar Brass that also tours occasionally.

He has a new players in this iteration of Brassfire and they have just finished a recording, he says. Also in the group are: Kristian Alexandrov, keyboards/percussion; Matt Catingub, piano/saxophone; Chris Colangelo, bass; Steve Moratti on drums. Lindemann plays trumpet, flugelhorn and shofar.

The recording was the first time he had worked with this collection of players and “they are extraordinary. Everybody had an idea about something during the recording process.”

Brassfire
Music and Beyond
When: Wednesday July 12 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Southminster United Church
Tickets: musicandbeyond.ca

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.