TUBA U: BASSO PROFUNDO
Award winning director Todd Jarrell's vision of a documentary featuring an insider's glimpse of the tuba world is about to unfold this spring. Jarrell stated, "This program is meant to introduce the general public to the tuba, its people, its history, and even its anatomy. Most people will find out that, despite its small amount of literature, the tuba is actually an extremely agile instrument with the greatest octave range. It's a "who knew?" piece about an unheralded horn"
Using the title, "Tuba U: Basso Profundo", the journey first begins with R. Winston Morris and the Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble and the story behind Morris' nine commissions for new tuba music by composers such as Martin Ellerby, Eric Ewazen, Adam Gorb, Greg Danner and Gunther Schuller.
Jarrell focuses on Gorb and Schuller as the ensemble rehearses and records their pieces for the Tech Ensemble's 23rd album. Jarrell traces Winston Morris's lineage of tuba teachers from Bill Bell and Harvey Phillips and even features exclusive footage at the Miraphone plant with Marcus Theinert, as well as an appointment to take a tuba into a medical office to give it a professional "tuba-oscopy."
Other features include a mind-blowing performance by Scott Beaver from the West Point Military Band. Finally, the cameras board the bus to follow the band to their 7th appearance at the Weill Recital hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
TTU Becomes TUBA U in National PBS Documentary
Tennessee Tech University VISIONS magazine, Summer 2009
It’s the most recorded group of its kind in history and has presented multiple concerts at New York’s famed Carnegie Hall. Now, the Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble, along with founder and director R. Winston Morris, have been featured on the small screen in a national PBS documentary.
Written and directed by Emmy-winner Todd Jarrell and presented by Cookeville’s local PBS television station, WCTE-TV, Tuba U: Basso Profundo premiered last April.
“The documentary delivers the history, physicality and personalities of the humble tuba — an amazing, if unheralded, horn,” Jarrell said. “Tubas are [commonly] viewed as simplistic, un-sexy — ridiculous even. But with an octave range greater than any other horn, the dexterity with which these tubists excel is remarkable.”
Tuba U: Basso Profundo follows the history of the tuba from Bill Bell, tubist for John Philip Sousa, to Bell’s student Harvey Phillips, to his protégé Morris. It explores what Jarrell calls Morris’ “curious tuba tribe” — the TTTE student tuba and euphonium ensemble Morris founded at the university more than 40 years ago and still directs today.
By founding and energetically promoting the TTTE, one of the first groups of its kind in history, Jarrell said, “Morris is responsible for more music being written for the instrument than anyone — ever.”
The half-hour documentary surgically scopes the inside of a tuba, takes viewers to a German tuba factory and follows Morris and the TTTE into the recording studio, across the country and at the group’s 40th anniversary performance at Carnegie Hall.
It closes with the performance of a piece the TTTE commissioned from Gunther Schuller, America’s most significant living composer. Titled “Refrains,” it has been hailed by critics as a “cutting edge … landmark work.”
DENNIS ASKEW broadcast review:
Hats off to Todd Jarrell and Winston Morris for producing an insightful and to the point documentary about the tuba family and specifically, tuba ensemble!
Long under-rated, the tuba family of instruments and the tuba euphonium ensemble is explained, heralded and lauded in this production. Utilizing the backdrop of the 40th Anniversary of the Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble, the documentary allows even the most uninitiated viewer to develop an understanding and appreciation for this group of instruments. Opening with a convenient, if not slightly pedestrian, reference to the sousaphone in the marching band, (immediately followed by some quite virtuosic playing) the film unveils quite a bit of history about the instruments and the TTTE ensemble, providing the audience with a nice double layered story. On one layer is the story of the 40th anniversary concerts and subsequent tour, culminating in a performance at historic Carnegie Hall, while the other gives a brief history of the instrument, how it is manufactured and other details that would not be known to the average viewer.
As I was “growing up” in the tuba world, Winston Morris was as much of an idol as I had along the way. I had very strong feelings for all of my teachers, (and still do) but Winston and his ensemble were “it”. What I have developed with my own ensembles is but a weak tribute to his ground breaking developments with the TTTE ensembles over the years. Developing players through homogeneous ensembles is a critical part of developing performers, and Winston lead the way—it’s no wonder his students have been so successful in their lives!
This documentary will undoubtedly find favor in a wide cross section of the populace. It provides a good glimpse into the tuba family at the academic level, and as such will likely allow the “non-believer” to gain a wider appreciation for what the tuba performer can, in fact, do.
President, International Tuba Euphonium Association
SCOTT WATSON dvd review
for the International Tuba/Euphonium Association JOURNAL
TUBA U: Basso Profundo featuring R. Winston Morris and the Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble DVD recording. Available from WCTE (Upper Cumberland Public Television) at www.wcte.org. Look for the link in the right bottom corner when it appears in a random order with other links. $14.99 & $3.00 S&H., PayPal account needed.
For those who may have missed the premiere of this documentary on Public Television this past spring, I am glad to say that the DVD is now available from TWO SIX inc. and WCTE. (Upper Cumberland Public Television)
The national airing of this groundbreaking documentary for our instruments was a real first. Its subject is the wonderful recording and Carnegie Hall performance by a true all-star ensemble of twenty-two Tennessee Tech graduates, assembled by R. Winston Morris. These alums are all major performers, teachers, and pedagogues in this country. The half hour documentary, directed, written, and produced by Todd Jarrell centers largely on the Herculean task by Professor Morris and the ensemble of preparing some nine new pieces by top composers such as Gunther Schuller, Martin Ellerby, and Adam Gorb in only four days before recording them, and later performing them at Carnegie Hall in New York in January, 2008.
Being that this is intended for a general audience the documentary also introduces the role of the tuba and euphonium in its early minutes, including a brief section from the Tennessee Tech Marching Band at a football game. It also does fine justice to the career of R. Winston Morris and Winston’s vital role in establishing not only a renowned tuba-euphonium studio at Tennessee Tech, but also the equally renown Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble. His important relationships with mentors William Bell and Harvey Phillips are also covered. Early photographs from Winston’s high school and college years will be of great interest to those aware of his exemplary career.
Some other highlights for me were the jaw dropping Haydn performance by alum Sgt. Scott Beaver of the West Point Band in the first section of the program; Charles McAdams thoughtful historical comments on Professor Morris and the Tennessee Tech Ensemble; video of rehearsal moments, especially the high energy exultations to the ensemble by Gunther Schuller as they tackled his immensely complex work; and the well-placed comments by other composers and performers such as Adam Gorb and Richard Perry.
Production and sound quality is very high on this DVD. Graphics are not flashy but clean visually. Being a Public television release, extra bells and whistles in graphics and extra material is not to be expected. My only wish was that it could have been longer; for I am certain that there was much original footage and subject matter that could not be used when held to a half-hour format. As a result the documentary has to rush somewhat into the Carnegie Hall performance and conclusion at the end.
Still this documentary is a high quality DVD that will be a fine way to introduce our instruments to the music students and the general public, as well as stand as important archival proof of this very successful creative project by titans of our instruments. This DVD is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
For those wishing to research more on the subject you should first listen to the CD titled Legacy on Mark Records for this project was massive in scope, commissioning nine major composers for an equal number of new works. The result of this project has drastically improved the repertoire of the tuba-euphonium ensemble genre.
University of Kansas