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A Tribute to Louis Armstrong by the Abilene Philharmonic

By Joe Starkey



As the professional musicians of the Abilene Philharmonic Orchestra were leaving backstage after the concert, some of the comments heard were “I’ve never played that type music before, never had a guest artist take us to that high a level of performance, and absolutely, the highest level of music, I’ve ever heard played.” Personally, I’ve heard Louis Armstrong in person twice and while Byron Stripling doesn’t have the growl in his voice like Louis Armstrong, dogs can he play {{more}} that horn. He told the audience he loved Abilene and might move here. I certainly hope he does. And you have definitely not heard a scat unless you were there for the David Itkin Skat. The man’s voice was a whole orchestra with just those two words.Back when Conductor David Itkin started his “Concert Conversations” backstage at 7:15 PM prior to the concerts, the chairs were spread the length of the stage and 15-20 would be occupied. For Trumpet virtuoso Byron Stripling who came to the Philharmonic to play jazz, the chairs were placed in rows of 10 across the length of the stage and those that came by 10 of 7 made it to the first 10 rows. By the start of the presentation at 7:15 PM, more than 200 chairs were full and by the time, the concert began at 8 PM, the concert hall at the Civic Center had perhaps, 45 empty seats at the far back of the second balcony. Mr. Stripling started his backstage speech stating that “I play for my soul and music is nourishment for my soul.” He told that audience that music requires “an attentive listener” remarking that many modern kids when asked about a concert will give a visual representation of the music – how it looked rather than describing the sound. He told us that Louis Armstrong was imbued with old spirit of New Orleans which was a gumbo of races and music. He slid off into a discussion about the Conductor inviting him to dinner at Chili’s and said that he went instead for “some BAR B QUE!!. He wanted us to know that America has a conspiracy against bacon and that “Turkey bacon is NOT BACON”. And his drummer let slip after the concert where they actually ate when he showed some of us backstage a red bottle proudly labeled “Harold’s” and told everybody “this is good stuff” and said he would be back for more. The backstage talk concluded on two subjects. First listeners of today often say that they don’t want to hear “that old stuff” but he told us that “all music that has not been heard is new”. He wanted us to think about improvisation, especially in jazz, as that is “like watching someone think on their feet.” He asked us to listen first to Rhythm as Jazz puts the emphasis on beats 2 and 4 while classical music puts it on beats 1 and 3. Then listen for the Melody and notice which instruments are used for it and finally for the Harmony. We enjoyed almost two hours of marvelous instrumental and vocal jazz. The Philharmonic audience pays to listen to classical music but they gave their whole attention to Mr. Stripling and his music according him standing ovations at the intermission and three more at end of the program and curtain calls. He was very gracious in spending time backstage after the concert with both patrons and youngsters interested in music. He spent more time encouraging the youngsters to study and excel in music than with the adults.

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