"I feel like now, more than any time of the year, I'm doing a service for my country," observes tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb of his upcoming participation in the U.S. Navy Band's Eighth International Saxophone Symposium. It is a return engagement for Christlieb, who has nothing but good memories of his two previous trips to the East to take part in the weekend gathering. "I met some guys with brushes and stuff -- you know, admirals," he says, "and I didn't know whether to salute them or not."
Christlieb is a featured soloist in the "Tonight Show" band, and his sound has been heard in the background of many a TV series, including the current "V." For his appearance this year, he suggested a guest performance with the Navy Concert Band. (He will also be at the One Step Down on Friday and Saturday, along with drummer Louie Bellson.) He had recently performed with a symphony orchestra in Los Angeles, an experience he described as "like blowing with a 60-piece rhythm section."
Christlieb and the Navy Band's senior chief musician Dale Underwood commissioned West Coast composer Joseph Roccisano to write a piece for classical alto and jazz tenor saxophone. The work will have its premiere at the University of Maryland's Tawes Theatre this Friday at 8 p.m., as the initial event of the symposium.
The symposium continues Saturday in the Washington Navy Yard's Sail Loft (M Street SE, between Sixth and Seventh) with a series of performance clinics from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and an 8 p.m. concert by the Commodores, the Navy Band's jazz ensemble. All of the events are free, and no tickets are required.
Among the clinicians will be classical saxophonist James Houlik of the North Carolina School of the Arts, who, Underwood says, "will show the ins and outs of how to play the saxophone." Jazz baritone saxophonist Nick Brignola, a veteran performer whose associations have included Miles Davis, Buddy Rich and Muddy Waters, will host an afternoon workshop, and along with Christlieb will perform with the Commodores that evening. Other clinicians and performers include Daniel Masek, Ken Fischer, Roccisano and the Washington Saxophone Quartet.
The saxophone's ubiquity in jazz has perhaps obscured its role in classical expression. Underwood points out that "Berlioz loved the instrument," and along with Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Offenbach, Franck, Ibert and Glazunov wrote for it. Compositions by most of these will be heard during the symposium.
In addition to the Roccisano work, Christlieb and Underwood will collaborate on a piece by film score composer Jay Chattaway, who fed tapes of both saxophonists' music into a synthesizer. "Two saxophones with prepared tape, that's what it will be," explains Underwood. Reed and woodwind enthusiasts will enjoy checking out the array of saxophones, flutes, oboes and bassoons that will be on display in the Sail Loft.
"I told Dale my idea," says Christlieb of his inspiration for the Roccisano piece. "And he said, 'What the hell, let's do it!' I only have a few lines written for me, and Dale's going to be playing the 'legit' part. There'll be sections where he's roaring along on his own with the band, and when he stops I'll take over to play jazz. It's going to be very ultramodern. Twelve-tonistic classical approach with a jazz motif."