LAFAYETTE -- Bay Area musician Jon Brummel has "trombonitis," and because of his affliction Lafayette shoppers on Dec. 22 had a special, sonorous reason to celebrate holiday magic.
Planted in front of Papillon Quality Coffees in Lafayette Circle, the freelance performer and educator led a dozen middle and high school students through "Trombonanza," making listeners happy with carols and holiday classics. For Brummel, a Walnut Creek resident, it was a trip down memory lane -- he used to participate in the "Trombonanzas" of his teacher, Robert Bergstrum, in Fresno -- delivered with a missionary's zeal.
Brummel says playing the trombone is "all about air and listening." Of the brass instruments, the trombone most closely resembles the human voice, he explains. "When you play, you have that full range of expression."
But trombones are also "the comedic child of the symphonic universe," he said, laughing. "We're the slide-y, loud, fart-y sound."
Brummel's boisterous, jovial enthusiasm helps account for his attraction to young players and their families. He runs Bonehead Music, a Walnut Creek studio where he gives private lessons, and also orchestrates summer workshops and concerts in Lafayette.
"He's taught me confidence," says Danville resident Derek Cross, 16, a junior at Monte Vista High School. The bass trombone player says the year and a half he's studied with Brummel has been fun, and he doesn't feel like he's being criticized even when receiving a hefty dose of correction.
Rand Mahoney says his 18-year-old son, Ryan, has built his fundamentals and remains devoted to the trombone. "He has a full, rich, melodic sound," Mahoney says.
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" wafts in the background as burnt umber leaves fall from a nearby tree and California sunshine warms the gathering crowd. "Bass part -- play out nice and broad," Brummel calls, to his trombone players, dressed in shorts and Santa hats.
Walnut Creek resident Jennifer Hartmann's daughter, Bella, a Las Lomas High School freshman, plays against type, pumping out the tunes on her tuba.
"She was playing flute and didn't like the high notes," Hartmann says. "She likes jazz and electric bass." Her father, Karl, is a freelance musician with a day job as an engineer.
"With Jon's training, she was able to switch to a full-size tuba, and her embouchure has developed," he boasts. His pride is obvious, both in how his daughter's playing has improved ("Her cheeks don't puff," he says) and in Brummel's instruction.
If solid training impresses parents and big-hearted compassion attracts students, it's solid chops that bring out the pros. The second half of "Trombonanza" involved the complex, smooth mastery of Brummel and his buddies, an ad hoc ensemble showing the kids where they might someday land if they continue playing.
Ted Hall, a former professional trombonist who in 1993 cofounded the independent jazz record label Monarch Records, traveled from his home in Napa to join in the festivities outside Papillon.
"Jon lifts my game," Hall says. "He has complete dedication to the instrument. I take any opportunity I have to play next to him."
Lifting the hearts of performers and listeners alike, Brummel announced coffee was "on the house" for the musicians before launching the band into the outdoor show's closer: "Silent Night," floating on the honeyed tones of trombones, was sweet reward.