Mexico jazzed about local trombonist
By Mary Openshaw
Published March 28, 2007
“If a picture is worth 1,000 words, what’s a sound worth?” asked jazz musician
and Richwood native Brian Allen.
In his quest to integrate visual art with music, Allen and three other musicians
gave audience members at some recent Mexico City performances pencils and
paper to draw with during the show.
“About 50 people gave their art back to us,” Allen said. “Some of it was literal
drawings of us on stage, some of it was drawings from kids, and some was
really beautiful poetry.”
The Mexico City performances came about because of a grant from an
organization called “Meet the Composer” that Allen received last year. The
grant provides money for composers to travel abroad and perform their work,
or for research. Allen worked on his grant proposal with Mexican jazz musician
and aficionado Gerardo Alejos, whom he met through a jazz Web site.
“(Alejos) knows all the big people in jazz in Mexico, and he put the quartet
together,” Allen said. The Brian Allen Mexican Quartet ended up being made up
of Allen on trombone along with guitarist Armando Martin, bassist Arturo Baez
and drummer Hernan Hecht.
Allen composed new music for the group.
“The music was written just for these guys,” he said.
He went to Merida, Mexico, in January and spent a week rehearsing and
performing with the quartet. He said it was an amazing experience.
“The building we played in was about 400 years old,” Allen said. “You could feel
the history of the place.”
As soon as he got home from Merida, Allen e-mailed Alejos and said he wanted
to come back down and play again.
“A couple of days later, he had a week’s worth of gigs lined up,” Allen
So, a couple of weeks ago, Allen went to Mexico City, for another week of
performances. He played with the same group of musicians and they performed
the same music as in January, but it was a different show.
“It was a lot more improvisational,” Allen said. “The last gig was totally
improvised. The music I wrote served as the basis for a language we had
The audiences helped make the experience rewarding.
“Their response was so open and honest,” Allen said. “There’s a big sense of
humanity there that helps the music happen at a more spiritual level. I felt like
the people were on our side. Art is very valued there.”
Allen said he produced his sixth and most recent album, a solo album called
“Six Years L8R”, for the occasion of the Mexico trip. On the record, he uses
what he calls “amplified trombone,” where he puts a tiny microphone in different
places inside his trombone to record new, different sounds.
“I have a trumpet player friend and he told me about how he had made a
recording putting a microphone in the bell of his trumpet,” Allen said. “So, I
He also taped a special segment of amplified trombone for National Public
Radio a few months ago that’s expected to air in the near future on All Things
Considered’s “Sound Clips” series.
Besides composing, performing and recording, Allen also teaches private brass
lessons at local high schools and at Brazosport College.
“I teach because I like helping people get better at reaching their goals,” Allen
said. “I’m proud to represent this community and fortunate in so many ways for
what it has given me. I feel it’s important to put energy back into it.”
Allen has studied with many music teachers over the years.
“(Band directors) Jim Koch and Brian Casey at Brazoswood were some of my
favorites,” Allen said. “I took piano lessons with Katie Hunt in Lake Jackson.”
Other favorite teachers included Richard Birk at Brazosport College, John Ross
at Clute Intermediate, and Allen’s school peers, Lee Adkins and Scott Tiemann,
who are now both professional musicians in Atlanta and Baltimore. Doug and
Donna Wiehe are also very important to the local music community, Allen said.
Though he travels a lot for his work, Allen takes pride in his hometown. After
graduating from Texas Tech, he moved to New York for a time, but came back
to Lake Jackson to teach nine years ago.
“My family and friends are here,” he said. “The vibe of the town is real laid
back. I can get a lot of work and composing done here.”
He’d like to see the area stay true to itself and its musical roots.
“Lake Jackson is a lot different from when I was little, and very different even
from when I moved back,” Allen said. “With that growth, maybe a little of its
history and character is lost.”
Allen noted there have been some great musicians from this area.
“There is such an important history of music and musicians from this community
that is very special and perhaps under-acknowledged.
“Selena was from here. There are opera singers from here. It’s important to
For information about Richwood musician Brian Allen, including photos and
music clips from his recent trips to Mexico, visit his Web site, www.braintone.
com. To learn more about the Meet the Composer program, visit www.
Mary Openshaw is a features writer for The Facts. Contact her at (979) 237-