Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fred Mills, Canadian Brass Trumpeter, Dies

Prior to the Canadian Brass, there were the New York Brass Quintet, the American Brass Quintet and numerous other ensembles, largely regional, which played a repertoire of arrangements and transcriptions from the Renaissance and Baroque, much of this published by Robert King, in North Easton, MA. There was also a slight category of early original music for brass ensemble, i.e. the quintets by Victor Ewald and Ludwig Maurer's short pieces. Then, there were contemporary works for 5 brass, almost all written for 2 trumpets, horn, trombone and tuba. On the other side of the Atlantic, Philip Jones formed the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble (PJBE) which produced exciting new sonorities with its standard instrumentation of 10 brass. The PJBE also generated numerous new arrangements and original works which extended the upper reaches of a brass ensemble through use of the piccolo trumpet.

On this side of the Atlantic a dramatic reformation of brass quintet playing came not from innovative Americans, but from the Canadian Brass. Formed in 1970, the Canadian Brass soon attracted attention from the lower reaches of the continent with their showmanship and rethinking of the sonoric possibilities of 5 brass. There is at least modest irony in the fact that the ensemble was originally the brainchild of trombonist Gene Watts and tubist Chuck Daellenbach, for what would soon distinguish the Canadian Brass was the brilliance of the trumpet playing, made even brighter by the frequent use of piccolo trumpet. Just as Philip Jones had extended the range of a large brass ensemble, the Canadian Brass created a quintet sound previously unimagined. Other quintets soon followed, but the Canadian Brass remain the inventor of the modern brass quintet and even today, 39 years later, they reside on the top rung of the brass quintet ladder.

Trumpeter Fred Mills joined the ensemble in 1972 and immediately made an impact with his piccolo trumpet playing and arranging skills. Mr. Mills retired from the Canadian Brass in 1996, though he continued to play and teach at the University of Georgia. Tragically, Frederic Mills died the evening of September 7 as the result of a traffic accident. He will surely be eulogized throughout North America and around the world for his generous and significant contributions to music education and the art of the brass quintet. The headline banner on the Canadian Brass website says it all:

Tonight Gabriel is playing trumpet duets.

Learn more about Fred Mills here: Associated Press story

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