Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

November/December 2012: Cyrille Aimée

Michael Philip Mossman: Reaping the Whirlwind

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Michael Philip Mossman has an interesting story. He got into music by listening to whatever he could find on the radio in Philadelphia, then figuring out how to play what he heard on his trumpet. He made up a whole notation system, and didn’t really learn to read music until he got into high school. He started listening to jazz, but was also into classical music—his university degrees are in sociology and orchestral trumpet.

He had gone to university with pre-law in mind, but decided he wanted to pursue music. He moved to Chicago to study orchestral trumpet and was busy immediately because he was so versatile—he played classical, Broadway, jazz, rock. A chance lesson with Bill Fielder landed him a scholarship to Rutgers in New York City, where he studied arranging, orchestration, and film scoring.

In his mid-twenties, a performance by the Machito Orchestra ignited his passion for the particular Latin jazz that had emerged in the 1940s, when Puerto Rican and Cuban music melded with New York jazz. Mossman landed a spot in the orchestra—and insider access to the tight-knit Latin jazz community—and he soon began writing, arranging, and playing with Tito Puente, Mario Bauzá, Ray Barretto and others.

I know him as a monster trumpet player. He recorded four CDs with Blue Note’s Out of the Blue young artist ensemble, and performed with Machito, Toshiko Akiyoshi, the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, and Horace Silver, among others.

Even more than that, he’s this great arranger. He fell into it because he needed decent arrangements for his ensembles at Rutgers, and before long he became a go-to arranger for several Latin bands, as well as the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, the Slide Hampton Orchestra, various European big bands, and later the Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. He also scored the film Bossa Nova.

Mossman is currently the director of jazz studies at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College. I know from personal experience that he’s very generous with his knowledge. I told him I was looking for some advice about teaching arranging and the next thing I knew he sent me several arrangements as well as notes and exercises that he uses with his own students. He has said that many musicians supported and mentored him along the way and he’s committed to doing the same. I have no doubt he accomplishes that goal!

Mossman will be here in Winnipeg playing with the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra on November 18. He’ll be bringing several arrangements for Latin-style big band for the concert, “Mambo Nights.” Mossman creates these lush textures, with intricate lines that move fast and are harmonized with thick chords. It seems unlikely, but when you hear it, it sounds exactly right. He writes high-technique, high-energy music that calls on every person on the bandstand—in an Afro-Cuban band, everybody must have the potential to lead.

With Mossman, we’re reaping a whirlwind! This isn’t some easy-going guy with fourteen ballads. This concert is gonna be Mambo with fourteen exclamation points!

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