Christian Tamburr was an eighth-grade drummer when his band teacher suggested he give the vibraphone a try. It seemed like a good fit; after all, Tamburr was already a decent percussionist and pianist. Teacher was right, as it turned out. For Tamburr, it was love at first mallet strike.
"I loved the combination of rhythm and harmony together, and the vibes were this unique instrument that nobody else played," Tamburr recalls. "It's a beautiful instrument with a unique sound, and you get to produce this individual voice within the ensemble, where there are a zillion trumpet players but just one of you."
Twenty years later, Tamburr is an internationally renowned vibraphonist and pianist, dubbed Outstanding Solo Jazz Performer by Downbeat magazine. He's toured all over the world with his jazz combo, played alongside big-time stars like Dave Brubeck and Michael Feinstein, performed private concerts for basketball god Michael Jordan and composed original music for such top Vegas acts as magicians Penn and Teller. His latest album, Voyage, has spent time in the Top 10 of the jazz sales charts.
Tamburr will play a concert March 15 at the Brink Lounge as part of the Madison Music Collective's "Spring Jazz on a Sunday" series. The show marks Tamburr's first Madison performance, although he has played elsewhere in Wisconsin, including several Summerfest appearances.
Rather than bring his own group to town, Tamburr will be backed by local talent, namely the Johannes Wallman Trio, featuring UW-Madison Jazz Studies director Wallman on piano, John Christensen on bass and percussionist Keith Leinert. Wallman and Tamburr know each other from when they both lived on the West Coast.
Concertgoers should expect a combination of standards and material from Voyage, which includes Tamburr's jazzy takes on pop/rock tunes by the likes of the Police, Genesis and Oasis. Tamburr says he enjoys pop music, especially from the '80s. But there's another reason he is inclined to jazzify pop tunes: audience engagement.
"People forget that the so-called Great American Songbook was the pop music of the '30s and '40s," says Tamburr. "But at some point we stopped taking the music of pop culture and bringing it into a more improvisatory setting. If you want to intrigue a younger audience and get them excited about hearing live music, it helps to play something they're familiar with and can relate to."
When he's not busy touring with his ensemble or penning original music for film, television or magic shows, Tamburr enjoys working with young musicians, under the auspices of an arts residency at the Florida Institute of Technology.
"Young musicians are so busy just learning their instrument and trying to make music, they don't often get the opportunity to get a glimpse at what they're working toward," says Tamburr. "I like to show them what it means to be a professional musician, and try to inspire them, whether they're aiming at becoming professionals or just keeping music in their lives."