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Interview Brian Tusi

What about the Big Band format?

The Big Band is old. We have less big bands because of financial reasons. If you want to look at the Big Band concept there is nothing that can beat it. If you take it down to the kids and there is no money involved and the kids are eager to play. They want to play the charts. And we need to go for it. It is some kind of experience for the kids. Once they go through that it is like going through a baptism.

Did you start with it?

I started with the brass bands. I grew up in Port Elizabeth and played with the brass bands there. My father was a minister and he went to Bloemfontein, Durban, Joburg. I grew up playing in the brass bands and got attracted into the big bands through the ministry back in Durban. I started playing trumpet, trombone and some other brass instruments within the big bands. Then when I grew up I had a lot of experience playing with the big bands, overseas in America, in New Mexico, University big band and Portales, Eastern New Mexico University. And then I have done a lot of other productions where I was involved also in arranging for the big bands in terms of playing township jazz.

The arrangements for Big Bands, who plays Township jazz?

I did Township Fever which was Mbongeni Ngema's production. I did the arranging for a semi big band. I didn't do the rhythm section but I did the brass side, the horns where we had tenor, alto, trumpet, trombone. I was doubling up with flugel horn and trumpet. My brother was doubling up with trumpet and trombone. We had another guy doubling up with trumpet and trombone. So, we have some trombones and also some trumpets playing with the saxophones.

And the bands playing here?

I am involved in the lowest in terms of ability. I am really working on those guys. They are all beginners from rhythm section right up to the brass guys. But, they are here in Grahamstown and they want to go through the experience and I think I am the right guy to take them through that. One of the guys in my band is disabled and he is feeling so good that he is involved, playing with a big band. It is a great exposure for the kids.

How did you get into running your own music school?

I started that in 1986. It was quite a funny thing. I had three boys who wanted to play trumpet so I started them and it used to be on a Sunday and it grew up. Unfortunately the other two boys dropped off and one guy is a professional player now. He plays for Mahube in Johannesburg and is also in the military band, SADF in Pretoria. He is doing a good job there.

The guy who plays lead for National Youth Orchestra is also one of your students?

One day it was raining and I called him and his brothers and said why don't you come and try trumpet because you can't play soccer today. It is raining. And that is how it started. His brother has gone to the National Youth Orchestra in Cape Town and thus guy is here. They never look back and are doing very well.

Are you mainly teaching trumpet?

I teach all the brass instruments. I have a lot of trombone players and tuba too. I have a lot of young girls who want to play tuba and we need to give them the exposure they need. Because I was exposed to brass and Sekula started with that, we have just introduced keyboards and we will be moving on to the other instruments. We have additional resources. We have created our own resources by teaching the kids and then when they reach the university Technikon high school level they come back and teach the others. With funding or no funding it is an ongoing thing. We have an obligation where we do that. We need to start that because some of the kids have got talent but they are not exposed to such things.

Does this take up most of your time?

I was at school studying. And then this year I did a post graduate course in arts administration which I just finished. I just hope I stay around the country so that I am able to teach as much as I can. I have this vision that we need to give these kids as much information as we have. We learnt the hard way, lets make it simpler for them. I have reached a stage where now, these kids that I have taught are coming back to teach and some of them are good enough to do a good job. In terms of theory and their instruments.

The Standard Bank National Orchestra, what is your involvement?

I am helping the trumpeters. It is a great thing that Standard Bank did this, giving exposure to the kids, the kids are being given a chance to come and do this, meet the others, network, see their role models, great trombone players like John Dempsey. Every trombone player is looking for John Dempsey, they say, ‘one day I am going to play like him.' He can tell them how he did it. It is not an easy road, it is tough for all musicians, but we can give them whatever information they need.

There are five bands…?

No there are seven. I am taking the lowest, absolute beginners, but that is no problem, they need to be given the right exposure, now that they are here.

You are playing on the main festival?

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