Trumpeter and educator Mark Buselli has loomed large in the Indianapolis jazz scene for two decades. Buselli has performed alongside Slide Hampton, Jimmy Heath, Bobby McFerrin, Natalie Cole, The Four Tops, The Temptations and several others. He has played for former US Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. A former jazz professor at Butler University, Buselli is currently in his seventh year as the Director of Jazz Studies at Ball State University and is the Education Director of the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra.
This Sunday, Buselli leads his quintet in an album release celebration for his 10th and latest project, Untold Stories. Saxophonist Danny Walsh, pianist Steve Allee, bassist Jeremy Allen and drummer Steve Houghton are all returning to the Jazz Kitchen. Here's a selection from a conversation I had with Buselli before Sunday's performance.
NUVO: You were really close to pianist Claude Sifferlen, and you composed the ballad "Claude" on Untold Stories in his memory. What was it like writing, performing and dedicating such an intimate piece on your album?
Mark Buselli: Claude was one of the greatest musicians that I have ever known. I was inspired by his use of reharmonization, so I sat down and labored over all the chords for a long time. Steve Allee is the pianist on the album, and he was a student of Claude's, so it was really important that he play a big part in this tune's dedication. Part of the beauty and magic of this song was also that the recording was a first-take, meaning that no one had even seen it before — we saw it for the first time, read it down, looked at each other and it went on the album.
NUVO: The seven tracks on this album are a mixture of original compositions from you and Allee, with only one non-original tune included: Duke Ellington's "Angelica." How did you select the pieces for this project?
Buselli: On my last album, I wrote all the tunes. This time, I knew if Allee wrote some of the tracks, it would make for a really interesting recording. Lo' and behold, he came up with some great ones! We threw in "Angelica" because it was an interesting, calypso-like tune I'd never heard before. We recorded it first to get everyone warmed up and comfortable — it's such a simple tune, but all the interplay between Allee's piano comping and the rest of the ensemble really transformed it into something quirky and great.NUVO: You first came to Indy 20 years ago. How has the jazz scene changed in intervening years?
Buselli: I looked at my calendar from 15 years ago, and I had 5 times the number of gigs I have now. That being said, the encouraging thing is that there are several new businesses and restaurants that see the value in having live jazz. There's nothing like live music - not even some guy playing his iPod! (laughs) Indy Jazz Fest is doing great work in getting local musicians out playing, and Harry Miedema just had a great jazz week at UIndy. There's still good stuff around here.
NUVO: Untold Stories is your 10th album to date - what was your 1st album release event like?
Buselli: In 1997, I was playing my first really big gig at the Jazz Kitchen for my first album's release party, and in walked J.J. Johnson. I normally don't get nervous before performances, but I remember being really nervous that night... I mean, I studied his recordings at Berkley! His son, Kevin Johnson, was playing in my band at the time. J.J. walked up, pulled me aside and said, "There's nothing like a beautiful melody." I had written a waltz on the album called "Through the Eyes of a Child" and he had really liked it!