Eldersburg trumpeter's 'Mojo' to be featured at weekend concert

Todd Butler was 10 years old when he got his older brother's trumpet out and decided to give it a try.

By the time he was a teenager, Butler knew he was going to make a career with that instrument.

Thirty-five years later, the Eldersburg resident can look back at a successful career as a teacher and performer.

He has been on the faculty of seven colleges and schools in addition to teaching private lessons. He has played with the All-Mighty Senators and also leads a jazz quintet that has drawn popular as well as critical acclaim in the mid-Atlantic region

On Sunday, Sept. 29, the Baltimore Jazz Alliance Quintet will perform original works by Butler and three other Baltimore jazz composers during a show at Loyola University Maryland. The four each won commissions to write new compositions expressly for second Baltimore Jazz Composers' Showcase. Butler's piece is titled "Mojo."

"It is a chance to hear the world premiere of really first-rate compositions performed by top-notch musicians," said Mark Osteen, president of the Baltimore Jazz Alliance. "The composers will be there to talk about ... how their works were created. It's really exciting."

The Alliance works to get jazz music out in the public in different ways, Osteen said, citing the composition contest and a big band revue.

"Jazz is in a permanent state of crisis," Osteen said. "In the '40s and '50s, jazz was the music. Musicians lament there are far more great musicians than places to play."

"Jazz isn't a mainstream music," Butler agreed. "It is art music. It is not usually commercially successful music."

Butler was selected to compose an original piece for the Baltimore Jazz Alliance after he submitted an application and three original recordings.

"Being in the band program really did it for me," said Butler on growing up in Pottstown, Pa. "I had a really good band director. He encouraged me early in high school. I'm really glad I learned to play jazz. I learned to improvise."

Butler said many talented musicians find improvising, an essential part of jazz that involves inventing and playing without sheet music, "too intimidating."

"When you're younger, you're not as inhibited. You go for it," Butler said. "It becomes harder when you get older and become so good, you don't want to play something less than great."

While Butler plays many musical styles, jazz is his specialty. He attended Towson University specifically to study jazz, and earned a master's degree in jazz performance. He played extensively throughout college and has been able to successfully make a living playing gigs, recording and teaching lessons.

"I like teaching. It is always a way to supplement (income)," Butler said.

"You have to make it fun – that's part of the job," he said."Every student is different. I enjoy getting the kids that have issues and problems and helping them work through it. It is most satisfying."

Teaching keeps a trumpet in his hands, too, allowing him to practice and keep his embouchure — his mouth and all the small muscles involved in blowing through the horn's mouthpiece — in shape.

"The trumpet especially, is a very physically demanding instrument," Butler said. 'You need to be in physically good shape."

Butler scaled back his performances when he became a father. With his daughters now 8 and 4, he is stepping out more, and has started composing again.

While he would prefer to play for a packed house, Butler said it doesn't matter whether an audience is big or small when he performs.

"When people really listen and really appreciate what you're doing, it's like a musical journey," Butler said. "That's really fun. It's special."

The Baltimore Composers' Showcase is Sept. 29, at 5 p.m., at Loyola University Maryland's McManus Theatre, 4501 N. Charles St., Baltimore. Admission is free, but a $5 donation is requested. Works by six other Baltimore-area composers will be performed, in addition to the four commissioned for the event.

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