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CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Scarlet Knights Jazz Trombones, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9, St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Allentown CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Scarlet Knights Jazz Trombones, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9, St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Allentown

Rutgers jazz group to perform in Arts at St. John's series

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 by JERRY DUCKETT Special to The Press in Focus

The Scarlet Knights Jazz Trombones, one of the elite groups in the Rutgers University Chamber Jazz Ensemble Program, performs 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9, St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, 37 S. Fifth St. Allentown.

The number of participants in the group varies each year. In the performance, hosted by the Rutger's Club of the Lehigh Valley as part of The Arts at St. John's concert series, there will be a rhythm section with no fewer than five trombonists.

The concert is directed by Grammy-nominated trombonist Conrad Herwig, jazz professor at Rutgers. Included in the ensemble is graduate student, Adam Machaskee, first-place winner of the JJ Johnson Jazz Soloist Competition in 2011. The award identifies the world's most accomplished jazz trombonist under the age of 25.

Members of the ensemble, part of the Mason Gross' School of the Arts Jazz Program at Rutgers, won the Kai Winding Jazz Trombone Ensemble Competition at the International Trombone Festival.

The Scarlet Knights Jazz Trombones has shared the stage with Paquito D'Rivera and other top-notch musicians for several years at the Blue Note jazz club, New York City. The students have performed with the likes of Eddie Palmieri and Frank Sinatra, Jr. Jazz performance students train with faculty who perform internationally and use those connections to enhance opportunities for Mason Gross School of the Arts' music students.

Herwig, an alumnus of North Texas State University, where he performed in their No. 1 lab band, The One O'Clock Jazz Lab Band, was voted No. 1 jazz trombonist in 1998 - '99 and 2002 in the Downbeat magazine Critics Poll and nominated for trombonist of the year in 2007 and 2008 by the Jazz Journalist's Association.

Herwig, who lives in Somerset, N.J., spends most of his time in New York City, playing for top jazz musicians.

Herwig moved around a lot, since his father was in the military. "My family ended up in Hawaii and I attended the Punahou School in Honolulu," Herwig says.

"I played first chair trombone in the Hawaii Youth Symphony, and, believe it or not, President Barak Obama sang in the choir. I am now 53, and he is 51. Every winter we would perform Handel's 'Messiah' for our winter concert.

"I guess that makes me one of a small number of people to have actually performed in concert with the President.

"I began my professional career with Clark Terry, who had a large and a small band, but I would bounce around with many of the road bands, including Bob Crosby, Ted Weems, Les and Larry Elgart and Red Garland. It was while sitting in with Red that Clark [Terry] asked me to go on tour. That was in 1981. Terry is 92 and I still play with him once in a while."

Herwig has also played with Buddy Rich, Toshiko Kibosh, Mario Baize's Afro- Cuban Jazz Orchestra, Macchiato, Eddie Palmeri and Tito Puente. His own groups have included Randy and Mike Brecker, Dave Liebman, Stefon Harris, Bill Charlap and Rufus Reid.

"One of my greatest experiences," says Herwig, "was playing in Frank Sinatra's show band for 11 years, beginning in 1986 and until he began to slow down just prior to his passing in 1998. One of the biggest concerts was the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty and at the same time his [Sinatra's] Diamond Jubilee."

Herwig released his 22nd CD, "A Voice Through the Door" in September on Criss Cross Records. In April, he released "The Tip of the Sword" on his own label, Rad Jazz Music. Last year, he released "The Latin Side of Herbie Hancock" on Half Note Records, recorded live at the Blue Note.

The Scarlet Knights Jazz Trombones is expected soon to release its first recording, an as yet untitled Christmas CD.