The Macpodz' big year continues with band member's debut on national anthem
So how does a musician prepare to play the national anthem in front of tens of thousands of people at a Detroit Tigers game?
For Ross Huff, the 27-year old trumpet player from the Ann Arbor-based jazz-rock quintet The Macpodz, YouTube is an essential learning guide. Speaking by phone recently while on tour in the Midwest, Huff rattled off some of the more impressive performances of "The Star Spangled Banner" he’s checked out recently. Huff will play the anthem solo at Comerica Park on Tuesday night before the Tigers take on the Baltimore Orioles.
“I’ve watched versions by Marvin Gaye, Christina Aguilera, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and others,” says Huff. “Arturo’s is stunning, spine-tingling and definitive. And Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, he basically nailed it.”
But will Hoff take liberties with the melody the way Hendrix did, shattering the tune into shards and then reassembling it? “I don’t think I’ll go as berserk as Hendrix,” Ross says. “I’m going to play it in the original key of G, but let people know it’s me. I’ll definitely add my own elements, but it’s a solemn thing, too. I’ll walk the line between a tasteful rendition and also let people know that I am a Macpod and that I come from a rock and roll standpoint.
”Vocalists typically call our national anthem fiendishly difficult to sing, but Huff isn’t particularly nervous about playing it on trumpet. “No, it’s not that tough,” he says. “There’s a wide range, an octave-and-a-half range from top to bottom, but that lays pretty well on the trumpet. I’ve been playing it for a good while, since my days in a marching band. It’s middle of the road in terms of difficulty.”
Huff’s solo gig at the CoPa will be another major achievement in what has already been a banner year for The Macpodz, the self-dubbed ‘disco-bebop’ group who recently played at the Rothbury Festival, Top of the Park at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival and the Ann Arbor Art Fairs. Formed in February of 2006 by Huff, Brennan Andes (bass and vocals), Nick Ayers (percussion, flute and vocals), Griffin Bastian (drums) and Jesse Clayton (keyboards), the quintet soon began packing in audiences at clubs in Ann Arbor, and has released two studio albums (“Genius Food For Super Heroes” & “Orcastrate”) along with a new concert recording (“Live From The Ark”).
The Macpodz perform at Top of the Park last month:
“We’ve had bigger opportunities this summer and we’re having a lot of success entertaining audiences,” Huff says. “We’re definitely honing in on our musical prowess; we get to play so much together every week that we’re creating a strong presentation.”
Huff grew up in Plymouth and was in the Plymouth Canton Marching Band between ‘95 and ‘98 before beginning his college studies at Ohio State. He transferred to the University of Michigan shortly after his OSU music professor came here, and began focusing more on jazz and less on classical music, graduating with a music degree in 2004.
“At Michigan I had more opportunities to do improvisational music where there was more room for creativity,” Huff says. “Improvisational music has more colors on the palette than what’s found on the page. I was the second person to get a jazz and contemplative studies degree at the university. Beyond music, it included studies about psychology and consciousness, the way our minds and bodies function in a creative setting.”
Besides his extensive work with The Macpodz, Huff has somehow found time to release a solo EP, “The Muse,” different in flavor from his band outings. “I’d worked previously with singer-songwriters like Seth [Bernard] and Daisy May [Erlewine] and Chris Bathgate,” says Huff. “They make such a profound statement with a simple song, and it made me want to write a short radio song, just three minutes or so, and experiment with a more simple verse-chorus format. That was a good challenge where I could explore my own angle on songwriting, work on my skills in the studio and on my vocals.”
Besides Huff’s gig at Comerica Park this Tuesday, The Macpodz will be playing at Bank of Ann Arbor’s Sonic Lunch concert series this Thursday, the Saline Summer Music Series on Aug. 21 and the Ypsilanti Jamboree on Sept. 5, to name a few shows in and around our area. Then it’s back to the studio for another album...or two. Says Huff, “In October we’ve got time scheduled at Jim Roll’s Backseat Studio. We’ve got at least a few albums worth of music that hasn’t been recorded. Jim’s got great ears and and we’re looking forward to working with him.”