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The road less traveled
by Chris Jordan
Asbury Park Press, Asbury Park, NJ
May 21st, 1999

What do John Philip Sousa and John Popper have in common?

Wind, baby. And lots of it.

That's because Sousa is considered the father of wind ensemble music. His compositions, including "The Stars and Stripes Forever," popularized wind music in the late 1800s.

In turn, Sousa became famous the world over.

Popper, the Princeton-bred frontman for the band Blues Traveler, is considered the Jimi Hendrix of the harmonica. His relentless, rapid-fire style of playing has expanded the horizons of the wind instrument.

These two elements of wind music will be blown together - in a matter of speaking - at the American Heritage Wind Ensemble's 7:30 p.m. Thursday concert at the Crescent Shriner's Auditorium in Trenton. The American Heritage Wind Ensemble, a group of nearly 60 musicians from area symphonies, will perform compositions by Sousa, Karl L. King and Henry Fillmore.

Popper will perform two original wind-ensemble works by American composers.

And this is more than just a concert. It's a call to save an original American art form that's all but forgotten, according to Anthony J. Biancosino, conductor of the Wind Ensemble.

"The wind ensemble is the only indigenous American instrumental music outside of jazz," Biancosino said. "At one time it was huge. Sousa, Karl L. King and Henry Fillmore are great American composers, but if things continue the way they are, we will not know who those people are. They're going to become extinct."

These days, kids are more apt to listen to what can arguably be called two other forms of indigenous American music - hip-hop and rock 'n' roll. That's where Popper comes in.

"He's a great musician, and (his appearance) commands the respect of young people," Biancosino said. "He a rock star who's known all over the world.

"We want to establish a wind orchestra and encourage and continue to commission works of young American and Canadian composers," Biancosino said. "The whole idea is that to find out what's happening in wind orchestras today, you have to come to the concert."

As far as what's happening with Popper, look for a solo album and tour later this year. The beefy Popper is recording with longtime friend Crugie Riccio and Carter Beauford, drummer for the Dave Matthews Band.

As for Blues Traveler, there's no word yet on whether there will be a H.O.R.D.E. tour this year, according to a spokesperson from Blues Traveler's record company, A&M Records.

The H.O.R.D.E. tour, which was founded by Blues Traveler in 1992, has done much to further jam-based, improvisational music in the 1990s.

The American Heritage Music Foundation, which oversees the Wind Ensemble, was founded four years ago, and Thursday's show is its second major presentation. The Foundation's wind ensemble performed at the opening of Princeton University's football stadium a few years ago.

Biancosino and Popper's relationship goes way back. Biancosino was the music teacher at Princeton High School when Popper walked into his class more than 15 years ago.

"John had talent the very first time I met him," said Biancosino, who also is conductor of the University of Arts orchestra in Philadelphia. "I felt that he could play the harmonica with the (school) orchestra and we started working on it right away."


Featuring John Popper
7:30 p.m. Thursday
Crescent Shriner's Auditorium
50 North Clinton Ave., Trenton
$10-$30, $100 for performance for show and reception with John Popper
(609) 924-2021