For more than 30 years, the River City Concert Band has been bringing beautiful music to Memphis, the Mid-South and occasionally places such as England, France and Germany.
The players work at various jobs in the community but are united by a love of music and strong instrumental ability.
“We come from all different walks of life,” said band president David Trammell, “and we all play at college level or better. We’re very meticulous about who we have in the band.”
Band members as well are pretty choosy about whom they appear with. This Sunday, they will perform a concert with guest artist Kirk Whalum at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre.
“We set our goals high,” Trammell said.
Whalum is a Grammy-winning jazz saxophonist and songwriter who made his mark doing solo work and performing with a long list of luminaries, including Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand, Quincy Jones and Luther Vandross.
Whalum is based in Memphis, where he is chief creative officer of the Stax Music Academy and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, but he frequently tours the world with his band.
The four musicians backing up Whalum are not his regular band, but they’re power players in their own right. Pianist John Stoddart, guitarist John Bass, bassist Jackie Clark and drummer James Sexton are, the well-connected Whalum said, “some guys I know.”
Playing with the River City Concert Band is a way for Whalum to reaffirm his love for his community. “I like being accessible, and I want to be a good citizen,” he said. “I left Memphis when I was 18 and said I’d never come back. So this is payback.”
And he’s enjoying performing with this concert band. “The orchestra has to be a team,” Whalum said. “It doesn’t matter if one guy makes $3 million and another $50,000 — they’ve got to play the parts right and be here for each other.”
The 65 or so musicians are there for each other every Tuesday, when they rehearse at the University of Memphis, and in their performances around town.
“We do great patriotic concerts,” Trammell bragged. “We’ll play in the bandstand at Germantown on the Fourth of July, plus we do an early concert in February.” The band plays about 10 concerts a year around town, and usually three of them are at First Baptist Church of Memphis.
It also has traveled overseas three times to Europe. “We’ve been good ambassadors for the city,” Trammell said. “Europeans want to hear Elvis, so we have an Elvis medley for them.”
The group has been a presence since the mid-’70s when it played only summer concerts. It’s been a year-round endeavor since 1983, and the community band offers a variety of crowd-pleasing tunes, including symphonic works for concert band, show tunes, lots of marches and big-band numbers. “We’ve got it all,” Trammell says.
The band also has a lot of occupations represented. “We have a zookeeper, a biologist, a Latin teacher, several music educators, a psychologist, a sales engineer and three physicians,” Trammell said.
Sunday’s concert at GPAC is being directed by Dr. Sidney McKay, the former director of bands at U of M who has been at the RCCB podium since 1987. The program ranges from Count Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump” to “Amazing Grace” and the Isaac Hayes/David Porter hit “Hold On, I’m Coming.” And a version of “God Bless America” is being dedicated to the people of Boston.