Playing Kirby's jazz again


In each of the past two years, clarinetist Bob Thulman of Clarksville has treated Columbia to concerts by Wayne Roberts' Onyx Club Sextet, a New York-based ensemble dedicated to the music of jazz great John Kirby.

This time around, it's a different story.

"I figured, why pay other guys to come down and perform this music when I'm dying to play it myself?" said Thulman, a retired businessman and engineer who has been in love with jazz since childhood.

True to his vision, Thulman has formed the Baltimore Jazz Factory, a sextet also enamored of the music of Kirby, a gifted bass player from Baltimore whose swing arrangements of popular songs and classical melodies won him a loyal following in the 1930s and early '40s.

On Saturday night, Thulman and his colleagues - trumpeter Jon Mathis, saxophonist John Jenkins, bassist Chris Hofer, pianist Larry Cione and drummer Dave Tucker - will bring Kirby's elegant, breezy style to life at Slayton House in Columbia's Wilde Lake village. The concert will also spotlight singer Ferebee Streett Thulman, the leader's wife, in "If I Had a Ribbon Bow" and "Temptation."

Characterized by subdued dynamics, light and supple rhythms and an extremely precise sense of ensemble, the Kirby style also inspired listeners with the bassist's surpassingly clever adaptations of classical melodies to the jazz idiom. These, too, are rendered faithfully by the Jazz Factory.

One delightful chart is "The Bounce of the Sugar Plum Fairy," which takes the famous dance interlude from Tchaikovsky's much-loved Nutcracker ballet and turns it into an uptempo number.

Another delight is "Beethoven Riffs On," in which the clarinet and sax quote the slow movement from Beethoven's 7th Symphony in a deliciously unfamiliar rhythmic context.

Working with a musical colleague from Ohio, Thulman has transcribed dozens of additional Kirby selections, and hopes to compile a definitive compendium of more than 100 arrangements by the unique jazz composer and arranger.

"I've never been so excited about a body of music, and the members of this band have a grand time reading the charts," Thulman says. "It should be a great night."

Bob Thulman's Baltimore Jazz Factory and jazz vocalist Ferebee Streett Thulman will present the music of John Kirby at 8 p.m. Saturday at Slayton House, Wilde Lake Village Center, 10451 Twin Rivers Road. Tickets are $15. 410-531-499 or by going online to

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