â€œWhat Is Hip?â€ How about a Dot music professor leading a big finish to the 9th annual Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival (BBJF), which starts tomorrow?
Now in its ninth year, the BBJFâ€”Bostonâ€™s largest and most popular outdoor festivalâ€”has expanded to nine days and nine stages at locations in Boston and Cambridge. From September 18 to 26, superstars and local artists will come together in free and ticketed offerings featuring performances by more than 20 bands and 130 musicians.
The festival culminates on Sat., Sept. 26, with a day of free shows on multiple stages. The closing act on the Berklee Main Stage will be the TOP Ensemble, formed and led by Wayne Naus, a renowned trumpeter and longtime Berklee College of Music professor, who has lived in Cedar Grove for the last 30 years.
TOP stands for Tower of Power, the legendary soul and funk band, whose biggest hits were â€œYouâ€™re Still a Young Man,â€ â€œSoul with a Capital S,â€ and â€œWhat Is Hip?â€
(For over 40 years, the Oakland-based group has been performing its own material, as well as providing support for some of the most impressive acts in the world. Tower of Power has released 19 albums over the years, the latest being 2009â€™s homage to classic soul songs, â€œThe Great American Soulbook.â€)
The 18-member tribute band, the TOP Ensemble, was founded in September 2000 by Naus as a class at Berklee.
Naus is also the leader of Heart & Fire Latin jazz octet (which once appeared as part of the now-defunct Boston Globe Jazz Festival on the Esplanade) and of the Berklee faculty group Moksha. He is a touring member for the Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, and Lionel Hampton bands. He has performed with such artists as Arturo Sandoval, Gary Burton, Mike Gibbs, Mel Torme, Frank Sinatra, Natalie Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tony Bennett. He has had solo trumpet performances of the national anthem for the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Except for the real Tower of Power, Nausâ€™s TOP Ensemble is probably the only band in the world that plays an extensive repertoire of Tower of Powerâ€™s music because the horn parts are virtually unavailable.
Naus explains how he got those parts: â€œI sat down at my piano with earphones and listened over and over to Tower of Power songs, transcribing note for note each part. Then I had to do the arrangements, and then I had to copy out all the parts. I transcribed one song a week so Iâ€™d always have new material for the class.â€
Though the students at Berklee now are too young to have grown up hearing Tower of Power, once theyâ€™re introduced to the music they are eager to play in an ensemble that combines vocalists, horns, and a rhythm section.
Once a year the real Tower of Power appears at Scullers Jazz Club, and they often visit and play with Nausâ€™s TOP Ensemble. Thereâ€™s even an article about this tribute band on the Tower of Power website.
The TOP Ensembleâ€™s performance at 4:30 p.m. on September 26 will mark the first time they have performed at the BBJF.
As an extra-special treat, they will do a number with another local legend, Little Joe Cook. Oldies fans will remember Cookâ€™s piercing falsetto when he appeared along with his group the Thrillers, singing their catchy doo-wop hit â€œPeanutsâ€ on American Bandstand. For more than 25 years, Cook had regular Friday and Saturday gigs at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge.
Â For more information check out these websites: waynenaus.com Â and beantownjazz.org.