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Alan Ferber: Developing String Theory

Franz A. Matzner By

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Trombonist and composer Alan Ferber is a precise and thoughtful individual whose careful, deliberate expression is equally evident in both his insightful way of speaking—and his beautifully composed and executed recordings. As a freelancer, Ferber has tackled a wide breadth of music, everything from big band and small ensemble jazz to Broadway musicals and the beats of Dr. Dre.



But it is as a composer and a performer of his own music that Ferber's gifts most clearly shine.



As evidenced by his latest nonet recording, Chamber Songs: Music for Nonet and Strings (Sunny Side, 2010), Chamber Songs: Music for Nonet and Strings (Sunny Side, 2010), Ferber is never satisfied with the simple approach. His experiments are subtle and complex, based on a clear love of the potentialities of musical structure. While repeat scrutiny reveals hidden depths of thought, his compositions are also accessible on first listen.



Equally, while often based on intricate ideas or clever references, the force and eloquence of his writing does not depend on unraveling these aspects. At the heart of Ferber's music lies a sense of balance, a balance of form and expressiveness born of serious contemplation and lasting commitment.

All About Jazz: You grew up in Oakland, Calif., in a musical family, correct?

Alan Ferber: I started out in Oakland and then moved to a suburb. There was a pretty strong music program at the high school, very supportive of the arts... Our grandmother was a Broadway actress and also sang quite a bit. I have what I think is the only recording of her where she sings basically jazz standards. It's pretty amazing to hear it. She also sang with Frank Sinatra, with Gene Krupa's big band. And I think she knew the Dorsey brothers because there was a picture that someone made me aware of recently that ran in the international trombone association journal with her and the Dorsey brothers. None of us had any idea she knew them.

So I came up with my brother—who is a drummer, Mark Ferber. He's on all my albums, pretty much. I think growing up, particularly with an identical twin that shares the same interests musically and otherwise, it really helps to grow as a musician when you can feed off each other, share ideas, share recordings, the whole nine yards. And, of course, most importantly play with each other as you grow up.

AAJ: Were your parents working musicians?

AF: No, not working musicians, just supporters. My mother is a musician. She doesn't make a living doing it, but she still today is being cast in regional shows in the Bay area. She volunteered and taught classes in our middle school. She was very much involved in the music program in a lot of ways.

AAJ: With all that family lineage and interest in music, do you remembers your first musical memory?

AF: The very first musical memory? Wow. I guess it would have to be when I was four years old, I started on piano and I remember playing my first song out of the Suzuki book. I just remember it was the first one in there. It was probably like hot crossed buns, or something, you know?

I remember I was just very attracted to how all these disparate sounds could work together so beautifully. It wasn't something, obviously, I was analyzing at the time. It was just something I felt. It felt really good to me—particularly when you start on the piano, you are able to play chords, melodies, supporting chords and what not and really get a sense of how music works.

Most importantly, when you are 4-years-old you either like it or you don't. I think for me from the very beginning I was attracted to sounds.

AAJ: What about your brother? Did he also start on the piano?

AF: He did. We both started on piano, it just didn't interest him as much. As far back as I can remember, he would always be tapping on things. Always had a penchant for rhythm. Whether at the dinner table or—this is well before we had a drum set. He was always just hitting things, he was more attracted to rhythm. Not necessarily harmony but more how sound works in a more rhythmic way. He was always fidgeting with utensils or whatever.

AAJ: It's quite interesting. You are identical twins and both had this strong musical interest, but from very early on there was already a predilection towards different sounds and approach to the music.

AF: My mom in particular played a lot of music in the house. She is particularly a Broadway aficionado, but likes jazz, classical music. We would just always have it playing and we'd always be hearing it.

AAJ: That answers one of my questions, how you were introduced to jazz—it sounds like it was just in the house and nothing formal.

AF: Yeah, it was partly that. I don't know why I remember this and I'm not sure it qualifies as a first introduction to jazz but I do remember, funny enough, being blown away by a tenor saxophone solo that was played on a Looney Tunes cartoon. I can't even remember what cartoon. But I remember being like, "what is this music?"


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