Ryan Keberle: Multicolored Tapestry
Becoming a musician was evident to Keberle at a young age. Going back to his great-grandparents, his family is full of musicians and educators. His mother is a piano teacher and music director at a church. His father is a trumpet player and jazz professor and composer and arranger for big bands. His two sisters play instruments, drums and bass, and sing. In Keberle's earlier years, they had a family band. He always knew he's be playing music on some level and unlike some parents, Keberle's were always fine with the idea of their son playing professionally.
"I fought the urge for a second there. I went to school for my first year as a physics major. I realized right away, spending hours in the computer lab, that I should be practicing," he says. "That's when I decided to put all the eggs in the basket and move out to New York to finish my undergraduate degree at the Manhattan School of Music. I studied with Steve Turre there and directly thereafter went to Julliard and did two years for a graduate degree."
It was Keberle's father who started him on trombone, mainly because he often needed one in the college bands he was instructing. So as early as age 14, Keberle was occasionally playing in a college big band. Even if it was somewhat thrust upon him, it wasn't a chore. "I love the trombone. I love what it stands for in history. It's similar to my voice, so I have a natural affinity for the sound and the register. I had a natural affinity for it at a young age. It became easy for me. Typically, anything that comes easy for a kid is fun for a kid as well."
Keberle had started, however, as a classical trombonist, learning all the classical trombone repertoire and playing in all-state groups, and even an all-national orchestra, in high school. His first foray into jazz was the Count Basie band, "a good place to start because it's super swinging, they are all masters of their instruments and the history and the tradition. From there I branched out. I started listening to J.J. Johnson and Slide Hampton a lot."
To flesh out his knowledge of the jazz language, he listened to other instruments and artists like Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Lester Young. "Then I started going back. Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins," Keberle says. "I am still, to this day, trying to completely fathom Charlie Parker. He is so deep. Especially when you hear him where he got to stretch out a little bit. There's a bootleg from Sweden where he got to stretch out on three choruses of 'All the Things You Are.' It's so modern it could be something from yesterday. It's so hip. For me, Charlie Parker is where it's at."
At the Manhattan School, Keberle was immersed in his studies, not out gigging much. Looking back, he says he wasn't yet ready, but he was spending most waking hours thinking and playing and talking about jazz. He started playing in his last year there, and then transferred to the Julliard School of Music. "A friend of mine, Pedro Giraudo, put a band together in 2001. You start getting your feet a little dirty and figuring out what you need to continue to work on as an instrumentalist and as an improvisor. One thing led to another. When I was at Julliard, I met the arranging teacher there, Dave Berger, a great composer and historian. We hit it off. I've been playing with his band since around that time, 2001, 2002. It was there that I started meeting some real professionals."
Keberle was getting better gigs in New York, including subbing at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Some connections got him into Marie Schneider's band. "Even though there aren't working bands, you're not learning on the road like they used to, the big band is an important part of the learning and networking process, as it always has been."
He avows that big band experience is something is extremely valuable and, unfortunately, a lot of young musicians are missing out on it.