Trombones are front and center in this unique jazz group
The classic jazz quintet features a front line of a saxophone and a trumpet, or maybe two saxes. But 2Slick, a relatively new quintet which will be performing in Chelmsford on March 19th, heralds the prominence of an instrument not commonly seen as a duo; the trombone.
New Hampshire resident Wayne Branco and Massachusetts native Steve Piermarini know a bit about playing the trombone. With a combined 100 years of study, practicing and performing between them, they’ve played in groups backing up artists from Bob Hope to the New Kids on the Block, at venues from the Blue Note in Osaka, Japan, to Carnegie Hall. But they’ll be stepping into the spotlight as co-leaders when their group, 2Slick, appears at the Chelmsford Center for the Arts.
The two trombone front line isn’t a new idea. Jazz trombone greats J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding recorded several albums as a trombone duo in the 50’s and 60’s. But the concept has seen little use since then, until Branco and Piermarini decided to revive it several years ago. The two have been musical colleagues and good friends for 35 years. Together, they’ve worked in trombone sections for trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, the Harry James Orchestra, and singers Jerry Vale and Rita Moreno. When it comes to matching sound and style, these two have it down. “Even non-musicians have commented to us on how well matched we are,” Piermarini said recently. “After playing together for so long, you begin to form a unified concept.”
It was Branco who prompted their first foray as leaders for a gig in 2003. But the project was put aside until Branco prodded again in 2020, which is when they really got things going. “I called Steve one day and said ‘Let’s call it 2Slick!’. He loved the name and then we got things going.” said Branco, the obtuse reference to the slippery trombone slide being the catch. They played their next gig just five days before COVID-19 shut the world down. They’ve been using the time to write more music and sharpen their skills in anticipation of their return at the CCA.
Besides doing a lot of the J.J. and Kai material, the group also performs many jazz standards and originals arranged by the two leaders as well as other contributors. Piermarini notes that “you’ll hear us do some of the things J.J. and Kai recorded for Columbia, but you’ll also hear us do things that hadn’t been written yet when they were active. We like to show jazz aficionados what a facile, expressive instrument the trombone can be.”
2Slick fans often ask if the two leaders first met at a performance, but Branco amusingly states that they first met when they were both guests at a mutual friend’s wedding early in their careers. “I had known Steve’s wife in college and she introduced us that day.” All these years and hundreds of gigs later, the two trombonists (and their wives) are good friends. “We’ve even vacationed together,” Piermarini remarked. “Now what two horn players are closer than that!”
The group is rounded out with pianist John Arcaro, bassist Stephan Arsenault and drummer Mark Branco.
John is a national and international pianist, recording artist, and clinician. He is a professor of piano at the Berklee College of Music. John has performed with Boston Musica Viva, Nick Brignola, Richie Cole, Hal Crook, Alan Dawson, Paquito D'Rivera, Jon Faddis, Fred Lipsius, Bob Mintzer, Bob Moses, Jimmy Mosher, Rebecca Parris, Gray Sargent, Carol Sloane, Ed Thigpen, Bill Watrous, Phil Wilson, and many others. His show credits include shows with Diahann Carroll, Pat Cooper, Vic Damone, the Drifters, the Four Aces, the Rhode Island Philharmonic, Jimmy Tingle, and Fred Travalena. He has recorded with Garrison Fewell, George Garzone, Jamey Haddad, Skip Hadden, John Lockwood, Jimmy Madison, Michael Moore, Jack Pezanelli, Bill Pierce, and Mark White; on Brownstone, BCM, and TBA, and is an artist-in-residence at Centro-Cultural Costariccense Norteamericano, Costa Rica.
Stephan is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, and resides in Ashby. His musical interests and experience span from Jazz to Classical, to Bluegrass. He's to top-call bassist in Greater Boston, and has played with many other area ensembles, including the Artie Barsamian Big Band and Swingtet, Winiker Swing Orchestra, Symphony Pro Musica, Central Mass Jazz Orchestra, Leominster Colonial Band, Ashby Band the and Ramblin Floyds.
A native and current resident of Chelmsford, MA, Mark earned his degree in Music at Westfield State College, and his EdD from Northeastern University. He's performed with many bands and for many musical theater performances throughout New England, and lead his own groups for a number of years, including the Baystate Jazz Quintet, which performs in the summer weekly at 34 Park in Andover since 2020. He also has played with the jazz nonet "Itchy Feet" since 2010. Mark taught music in the Chelmsford for several years, was formerly Principal at Littleton Middle School, Assistant Superintendent of Schools in Tyngsboro, and is now Superintendent of Schools in Rockport.