It was in the fifth grade at W. Reilly Brown Elementary School that Ryan McRobie was first introduced to the trombone.
"There was something about moving the slide around that was really driving me to that instrument, and I enjoyed doing it," said McRobie, a native of Camden. "I wanted to know more about how that instrument worked."
After years of honing his trombone skills, McRobie, a 2010 graduate of Caesar Rodney High School, has been awarded the chance to perform with jazz legend Lee Konitz, and fellow Chicago virtuosos Corky Siegel and Orbert Davis in the special benefit concert "Celebrating William Russo: Artist & Educator" at the historic Jazz Showcase on Saturday, Dec. 7 in Chicago, Ill.
McRobie, a senior music composition major at Columbia College in Chicago, will grace the stage at the Jazz Showcase with his talented bandmates in the Columbia College Jazz Ensemble.
The concert is in memory of William Russo, founder of the Columbia College Jazz Ensemble, who died in 2003.
Q Considering you won't begin practicing with Lee Konitz and Corky Siegel until after Thanksgiving, what have you done to prepare for the benefit concert?
A Our director, Scott Hall, has chosen a set list of different pieces that we decided to play. We kind of went through a bunch of different pieces by Bill Russo because it's his tribute concert. We've also been rehearsing a bunch of Stan Kenton Orchestra music that Bill Russo did the arranging for. We went through that whole book of music and we picked out a bunch of them. For the past three weeks during our meetings together we've been trying to narrow the pieces down to the best ones.
Proceeds from "Celebrating William Russo" will benefit the William Russo Endowed Scholarship, which provides financial assistance to music majors at Columbia College in their professional studies.
Q What does it mean to you that you'll soon be sharing the stage with Konitz, as well as jazz veterans Siegel and Orbert Davis?
A It means a lot to me to play with these guys because Orbert is from Chicago; he actually went to DePaul and North Western. Corky is someone who's worked with Bill Russo in the past. And Lee Konitz is one of the best American jazz composers/alpha saxophone players, who is also from Chicago. Everyone has some connection to Bill Russo, which is why we're having the tribute concert for him. Bill Russo created the Jazz Ensemble. To be playing with these musicians who are connected with Bill Russo, and with them being as successful as they are in the jazz world, is incredible.
Page 2 of 2 - Q Although you never met Bill Russo, what kind of stories have you heard that describe the kind of person he was?
A I heard he had a Santa Claus sort of smile, and he was super friendly. The fact that he played trombone is a cool thing to me.
Q How did playing in the jazz band at CR prepare you for the Columbia College Jazz Ensemble?
A Our director, DuWane Sandlin, at CR was pretty strict. He told everybody about the music, what it meant and how we should go about practicing it, starting with listening to recordings online. And the jazz band was definitely a smaller unit of people, because there was less in it than in a larger band, so everyone was more accountable for their parts. He just made it really important to us to know that each of the parts should be played equally across the section, and each part was just as important as the next. That really got me thinking that this music has more meaning behind it because my part is just as important as someone else's.
Q What's been your most memorable experience playing in the jazz band at CR?
A I think one of my most memorable experiences, I believe, was my senior year. I played bass trombone that year. I had a solo bass trombone feature for "Jingle Bells" and we played that during a lunch show at Allen Frear. It was pretty much me [playing solo] the whole time.
Q You'll graduate this spring. What are your goals after graduation?
A Right now I've been composing for student films. Different students have come up and asked if I could compose music for their films. I know I have a passion for writing for film in the future and I'm trying to get more opportunities at that. I've also always been open to collaborating with other musicians as far as playing trombone and being in different groups. I have a list of trombone players that can call me if they ever need a sub. I'd also love to be one of the guys that goes around to teach lessons to younger students and kind of give back what I've learned.