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Big-time brass record movie and play jazz in Mesa

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World renown trombonist Harry Watters has teamed up with Patrick Sheridan's Salt River Brass (SRB) at the Mesa Arts Center for several recording sessions and performances this week. In collaboration with Hal Leonard, the world's largest music publisher, and Tresona Multimedia, the jazzy Great American Songbook festivities culminate in three separate concerts, each unique, at two separate venues this weekend. On breaks during the recording session in Mesa last night, the duo took time to chat with Examiner about a project that just keeps growing.

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"This all started with Harry saying to me before Christmas, 'Hey. I wanna' make a CD with you guys," Sheridan grinned about how Watters, trombonist for the US Army Ceremonial Band in Washington, D.C., approached him. "Harry was going to finance the hall rental and we were just going to make some great music and memories."

Then Hal Leonard and Tresona got wind of it, wanted to make a documentary that Watters suggests might premier at the Sundance Film Festival. After that, Sheridan says, Watters was out on the town in New Orleans as Mark Greenburg of Tresona shot some footage. They bumped into a guy whose "been a bud for decades," Kevin Clark, leader and trumpet soloist of the famed Dukes of Dixieland.

"Harry said, 'You gotta' come play with us in Arizona!" Sheridan recounted.

That upcoming gathering of pals got presenters excited. For brass jazz fans in the Valley, it means a concert with the fabulous guest artists and the incomparable, all-volunteer SRB at Mesa Arts Center on Saturday night. But, hold onto your fedoras (that the band's trumpeters use as soft mutes!). The core combo will play two gigs downtown Friday night, Trad Jazz Explosion @ The Nash, presented by Tresona.

"Adding Kevin is like introducing a whole new flavor of jazz, like adding some New Orleans gumbo to the mix," said Watters about the spicy infusion of Dixieland that Clark brings.

"It's like when anybody gets together with old friends. You sit around and yap for hours and hours and hours," Sheridan continued. "That's what we can't wait to do Friday night at The Nash. We'll be gabbing for hours. Only it will be through music instead of with words."

It's easy to feel a little more cool, more 'with it,' after hanging a couple hours with Watters and Sheridan and their gang, even in the middle of the Arizona desert. Sure, they're consummate musicians at the top of their game, recording CDs and a film or two--shot, in part, at Mesa Arts Center and The Nash this week. But they're also guys who hand out hugs to newcomers, joke ceaselessly with the band and technicians, and are sometimes shoeless while Sheridan conducts and Watters wails with style on his trombone.

An upbeat 'On the Street Where You Live,' that left any vestige of schmaltz behind careened joyously over the concert seats and into impressively hi-tech recording equipment last night. Within the seconds of silence after the producer's mike boomed an, "All clear," a camera lens clattered over the balcony's ledge to the floor.

"Somebody arrest that camera guy!" one of the techies shouted, erupting the band's laughter that echoed through the empty hall.

For all the frivolity, the music itself was glistening gold. The mood shifted to somber with shadows of Sinatra as Watters' trombone began to sob the phrases of 'Angel Eyes,' and the whole ensemble sighed with it in deep response. Tear droplets could well have traced down the horn's brass bell until the 'B section' started to swing and the band sniffled the sadness away. When the opening theme returned and dialed the tempo back to half time, Mike Kocour's piano trickled sublimely, commiserating about love troubles with Watters' nostalgic tones.

"Wow. That sorta' just melted the room," breathed the producer after the "All clear."

"I feel like a happy spectator," said Watters about his personal little project that has snowballed in just three months into a collaboration that will be broadcast worldwide.

By all means, make a point to hang out with the guys this weekend, you may make your way into a movie. The jazz combo Friday at The Nash promises hours of the best jammin' and improv you've likely heard. When it hits the acoustically pristine Ikeda concert hall on Saturday, smooth and swinging jazz from the Great American Songbook will wash over and renew like no one but Harry Watters and the Salt River Brass can.

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