From the Bandstand: Karl Stabnau on Playing with Tia Brazda

In the first installment of "From the Bandstand," a new series in which musicians write into about their experiences, Rochester bari sax player Karl Stabnau details his experiences playing with Tia Brazda on 6/29 during the 2016 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.

From the Bandstand: Karl Stabnau on Playing with Tia Brazda

Reflections on the 2016 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Fest – A Musicians Perspective

A note from the author:

If you haven’t heard of Tia Bradza or listened to her music I would recommend going and checking her out at before you go any further. She has the Roaring 20’s, speakeasy vibe to her show and her music but with a twist of modern pop. Most of her songs she either wrote or co-authored with different members of her band.

As I write this long overdue reflection, I think back on this year’s Rochester Jazz Fest that began almost a month ago. In the jazz world it is always the rhythm section players, that is piano, guitar, bass, and drums, who are called for most of the work, and for good reason too. Jazz is a rhythm-centric genre, and having a great rhythm section is the back bone of the music. Piano (or guitar), bass and drums form an autonomous unit that can survive without a horn player. In contrast, think about how many saxophonists or trumpet players you see out playing without at least a pianist or bass player.

As an artist, and as a baritone saxophonist specifically, my path has been, for the most part, one of a bandleader. Whether it’s hiring musicians, composing and arranging music, handling the business details of a gig, or searching for new performance opportunities, there is no lack things to do. Typically the only performances that I can expect calls for are big band shows, where my role is an accompanying musician playing a part instead of a featured voice. It was my surprise to receive an email in March, asking if I would be able to join Canadian singer Tia Brazda for two sets at The Montage during the 2016 Jazz Festival.

When I arrived at Montage for the afternoon sound check, the only familiarity I had with Tia and her band was through her recordings, the dozen or so musical charts we would be playing, and a handful of emails confirming details for the show. If I had to come up with a scenario in my mind of what embodies jazz in the mind of the public, this was it. Even in the middle of a sunny, 90 degree Rochester afternoon, The Montage had that cool, dark, almost smoky feel of a night club in 1920’s New York City. Her band came in first, dressed in performance black carrying with them a laid back, easy going vibe that carried through the rest of the evening.

We took no time to dive into the soundcheck/rehearsal, running down one song then the next with a few words between to clarify sections and musical form – a far cry from what most think of as a rehearsal. From the moment we started playing there was the tacit expectation that I knew Tia’s music inside and out, and would be able to fit in as if I been playing with them for years. Unlike many gigs a horn player is called for, my role was that of a featured voice – my parts were written to complement Tia’s vocal lines and showcase the solo voice of the baritone saxophone throughout.

Before the show we all sat in the green room exchanging stories about shows we’ve played, life as professional musician, and discussing the similarities between the US and Canada (to which I’m not entirely naive having married a Canadian). After about 45 minutes the black curtain in back of the club parted and Tia arrived in true star fashion, gracefully making her way to the bandstand while we played. After adjusting her vintage microphone and singing through a few tunes to check the volume on stage, we were given a few hours off before the evening shows.

The evenings sets went by in a whirlwind propelled by the understated virtuosity of Tia’s rhythm section: Chris Graham – piano, Mike Freedman – guitar, Adriaanse – bass and (Rochester native) Sean Jefferson – drums. From the moment she began singing, Tia’s smooth, sweet voice captured the audience imagination taking them to busy city streets, dances by the river, and into smoky nightclubs. The music flowed so naturally and easily. I watched throughout the night as the audience fell deeper and deeper under her spell. It was all too soon that the evening came to an end and I didn’t see one person leaving Montage without without a smile on their face, the echoes of Tia’s music still hanging in the hot summer night air.

Music is truly made up of the sum of its parts, and in this case one of the parts was interacting with Tia and her band for the first time at the performance itself. There is a beauty to jazz as an art form is that is captured through an emphasis on listening, musical interaction, creativity, and collective expression. These serve, and have served, as common ground between jazz musicians throughout its inception, allowing for performances like these between musicians meeting for the first time to flow seamlessly and naturally.

— Karl Stabnau

Want to learn more about Karl, or check out his music? You can find him on his website at, and you can like him on Facebook here.

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