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Minn. Professor’s Project Honors Late Jazz Pianist

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(credit: Jupiter Images)

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WINONA, Minn. (AP) – A Winona State University professor is on a mission to keep the music of a renowned jazz composer-arranger alive with the support of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Richard Hammergren, a Cochrane, Wis., native who has taught jazz music at Winona State for the past 10 years, is putting together a series of educational and performance concerts to honor Tom Talbert’s music.

Talbert, a native of Crystal Bay, Minn., was a jazz pianist who also arranged music for jazz greats Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton and Claude Thornhill. He died at the age of 80 in 2005.

“In recent years, people have not played or done much with Tom’s music, which requires intelligent forethought,” Hammergren said. “His music is a treasure that should be shared with others.”

The Smithsonian is not funding Hammergren’s project, but he has the institution’s endorsement. Bruce Talbot, executive director of Smithsonian’s record collections, wrote a book about Talbert in 2004.

Hammergren wants to organize an 18-piece jazz orchestra made up of some members of the old Walker Art Center orchestra from the Twin Cities area who played with Talbert. He will play trumpet, and his wife, Mary, a former lead singer with the Henry Mancini Orchestra, will sing with the orchestra.

He would like to have the first concert at Winona State University in the spring and then bring a concert to La Crosse, Wis.

“This project is more of a dedication,” Hammergren said. “My hope is for a series of concerts around the country and masterclasses to educate students and musicians about Talbert’s music.”

The cornerstone of the performances will be Talbert’s “Louisiana Suite,” which premiered in Minneapolis in 1962.

“Talbert was one of the best for conveying the feeling for a street and place like in ‘Louisiana Suite,’ his greatest work,” Hammergren said. “He is known for his beautiful improvisational structures, and each line has its own character.”

As a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, Hammergren invited Talbert to his jazz workshop in 1958. Hammergren, who was voted best lead trumpet on a national Big Band recording in 1962, ended up playing in Talbert’s jazz orchestra before joining the Grammy-winning Si Zentner Orchestra.

He said he played again with Talbert when the composer moved to Los Angeles and wrote soundtracks for TV shows such as “Serpico,” “Falcon Crest” and “Emergency.”

Hammergren said he received the entire score of “Louisiana Suite,” as a gift from Talbert for helping him in Los Angeles. Hammergren played trumpet for the CBS Orchestra for many years and was first trumpet and assistant music director of the Dinah Shore TV series.

He said he is receiving more music from Talbert’s wife, Betty. “She entrusted me with his music and this project,” Hammergren said.

By TERRY RINDFLEISCH
Winona Daily News

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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