Trio mixes many musical styles With fourth added on drums, they produce unusual renderings

December 04, 1997|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

Think about hearing the Beatles' hit "I Saw Her Standing There" played as a cornet solo; or the old Led Zeppelin classic "Stairway to Heaven" as a tuba and banjo duet. Now, throw in some accordion, washboard and traditional jazz, and you have the Dixie Power Trio.

But the trio, among the acts scheduled to appear at Annapolis New Year's Eve First Night, has four members.

"We did it to ourselves," explains Zachary Smith, the cornetist who also plays washboard and accordion.

Smith, tubist Andy Kochenour and banjoist Bert Carlson had been working as a trio for 1 1/2 years when they went into the studio to make their first compact disc with Annapolis native Byron McWilliams on drums.

"We used Byron on most of the cuts," Smith said. "But by the time we realized what we had done, we had a couple thousand CD covers printed up and a year and a half of gigs under our belts as the Dixie Power Trio. We couldn't change the name."

The Dixie Power Trio trades in on a tongue-in-cheek image their misname hints at: "We had public school educations," says Carlson.

"I only play with three guys," says Kochenour. Trio.

But don't be fooled. All four are well-trained musicians.

Kochenour studied music performance at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, soloed with the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Symphony and toured with the U.S. Continental Army Band before he settled in the Virginia suburbs of Washington.

Smith graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in jazz performance and backed artists such as Harry Connick Jr. and Maureen McGovern as a free-lance trumpet player in the Washington area.

Carlson taught guitar classes while he was an undergraduate at Illinois State University. He took up the banjo after meeting Kochenour on a free-lance job in Washington.

Before they formed their group in 1992, each member was playing as many as 350 free-lance jobs a year. Often, they played together, Carlson said.

"We were playing these dixieland gigs and getting bored and we'd say, 'Let's see what this Beatles tune would sound like with this crazy instrumentation,' " he recounted. "People would perk up, and later we decided to get together and work up some material."

Before long, they were working steadily, performing a good-times mix of dixieland, zydeco, New Orleans brass band music and rock. In one set, they'll go from Louis Armstrong to zydeco to Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix, most of it with a New Orleans flavor, and all of it with an infectious good humor.

"We had done that pensive jazz artist thing for a handful of people who had come to listen and a lot of others who where there to be cool," Smith said. "But we wanted to get away from that, and we wanted people to be entertained. It's one of the reasons we do 'Stairway to Heaven.' "

The song sounds strange done on tuba and banjo, but it also shows off the players' musicianship, he said. "When we're done, people say, 'Wow, that was really something.' "

Dixie Power Trio, with Ryan Diehl on drums, will perform at 7: 15 p.m., 8: 15 p.m., 9: 30 p.m. and 10: 45 p.m. in the gym at Annapolis Elementary School on First Night. Information on First Night: 410-268-8553.

Pub Date: 12/04/97

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