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Jazz Fest Feature: Brendan Lanighan 

Lining up an interview can be exciting for a number of reasons: whether the interviewee is a rising star, a superstar, or if they sleep in their car, they all have a story to tell. My biggest thrill is talking to artists on the ground floor as they wait for the elevator to ding its arrival. One such lad is Brendan Lanighan, a young Eastman grad and trombone player who has just started to make waves.

I first caught Lanighan live playing the trombone for the wisenheimer ska collective 5Head, where he laid down the ballsy brass at the band's trademark, maniacal pace and breakneck speed. He's played with ensembles led by Dave Rivello and Bill Dobbins, and got the chance to travel internationally with the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

I caught up with Lanighan and threw a few questions his way. Here's what he said. An edited transcript follows.

CITY: You've received attention as an arranger, but you're a composer as well. Which is more difficult? Which do you prefer?

Brendan Lanighan: For what relatively little writing and arranging I have done compared to many, I find both composing and arranging to be thrilling in their own unique ways. Both are challenging to me in that it can take me awhile to get ideas flowing. However, the concrete gratification of hearing something that you yourself created is worth every minute of writer's block.

What is your first musical experience? Give us a little background.

My parents had my brother, sister, and me take piano lessons when we were very young. I continued until around late elementary school, early middle school. By that time, I had started playing trombone.

None of my immediate family members are professional musicians, but there was always music around. My mom has played flute for many years in local flute ensembles and concert bands. So she would be practicing in the house often. Also, in typical younger brother style, I wanted to do everything my brother did. So when he picked up an instrument, like piano or guitar, I wanted to play it, too.

Why the trombone?

My elementary band teacher made an announcement that the band needed more trombone players. I had plans to play the oboe, but I decided to help out and pick up the 'bone for the cause. As it turned out, my dad played trombone in his high school marching band and had kept it in our basement for what must have been 20 years. Needless to say, he was excited it was going to get some use again, even if the cleaning process was a most unpleasant experience.

You've played with some notable ensembles and bands. Name a few of your favorites.

When I was in school, playing in the Eastman Jazz Ensemble under Bill Dobbins' direction for three years afforded me some truly unforgettable opportunities and experiences.

Playing in and hearing the Dave Rivello Ensemble was both a thrill and an education that I continue to learn from even to this day. His writing constantly inspired me and influenced the way I heard music.

Playing with Rochester ska band 5Head and also a Rochester band called the Swooners was a perfect musical contrast to school. I made some great friends in both bands.

Most recently, I was lucky to be able to tour for a little over a year with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. This was a bit of a dream come true for someone who was a year out of school and trying to figure out the "What happens now?" question. Playing in such an iconic American band that still works and travels that much was unlike anything I had experienced before. Not only did I feel like I was able to further myself as a professional musician, but I made some lifelong friends as well.

What's it like playing with 5Head?

When I joined 5Head, I had no idea what I was getting into. I had never really listened to much ska growing up. So I jumped at the opportunity to get into a whole style of playing. They had so many catchy songs with great horn lines.

Honestly, I ended up enjoying myself as a listener as much as a player. I was also able to meet a lot of local Rochester musicians that led to collaborations down the road. Most importantly, though, on top of having great songs, I was welcomed into a family of some of the funniest and warmest folks I've ever gotten to know.

List some of your awards.

I was very humbled to be chosen as the winner of the 2017 International Trombone Festival's J.J. Johnson Jazz Trombone Competition. As you mentioned about arranging, I also received a Downbeat Magazine Award for an "Outstanding Arrangement" done by a college student in 2015.

What's a dream gig or collaboration for you?

I wish I had a better answer for this, but my dream gig is really just to have a gig that I enjoy and can also make a living doing. Ideally, I would like to be able to play with as many different groups and in as many different styles of music as possible. I guess if I had full access to a dream collaboration, I would record a big band album. That way, I could hire as many of my favorite musicians as possible to play.

Are you on any albums of your own or others?

I haven't done any recording of my own, or at least that I can think of at the moment. 5Head recorded an album that I played on. Within a year or two, I'd like to be able to record an album of my own.

What's next?

In the fall, I will be starting my masters at the Juilliard School.

Brendan Lanighan plays Wednesday, June 27, at Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County, 115 South Avenue. 12 p.m. Free.;

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