The great jazz pioneer Louis Armstrong spent his life traveling the world as an ambassador for the musical form that’s America’s greatest contribution to the arts.
Trumpeter and singer Byron Stripling has lived a similar life, performing the timeless music in the style originated by Armstrong and his contemporaries.
“Nothing can ever get old in jazz, because it’s meant to be felt differently all the time,” Stripling said in an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky in December 2017.
“When I played in Count Basie’s band, we were probably on the road almost 200 days a year, and it never felt old. We played ‘April in Paris’ every night. We played ‘One O’Clock Jump’ every night. Not only did I hear them and feel them as something new at each show; I actually felt I was part of the experience.”
“It’s hard to get bored when the spontaneity is always there,” he added.
You won’t be bored either with Stripling on stage with the Grand Rapids Pops for a show titled “Ragtime, Blues and All That Jazz with Byron Stripling” at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 25-26, plus a matinee at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27 in DeVos Performance Hall.
His last appearance with the Grand Rapids Symphony was for an electrifying and heartfelt tribute to Louis Armstrong in January 2016. He returns to DeVos Hall for his fourth appearance with the Grand Rapids Pops.
Tickets for the Fox Motors Pops series show start at $18 adults, $5 students. Call the Grand Rapids Symphony at (616) 454-9451 or go online to GRSymphony.org
Stripling’s performance showcases ragtime masters such as Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton and blues legends such as B.B. King and Muddy Waters. The show features keyboardist Bobby Floyd who formerly toured with both Ray Charles and with the Count Basie Band.
Stripling was a freshman at Eastman School of Music in Rochester when trumpeter Clark Terry visited the school. Impressed his Stripling’s abilities, Terry invited the 20-year-old musician to tour with him for six weeks in Europe followed by three weeks in the United States.
At age 26, Stripling appeared as Louis Armstrong in the traveling musical show “Satchmo,” touring the country for five months.
Formerly lead trumpeter with the Count Basie Orchestra under the direction of Thad Jones and Frank Foster, Stripling also has toured and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and many other jazz greats.
Since his Carnegie Hall debut with Skitch Henderson and the New York Pops, Stripling has become a well-known soloist and has been featured with many prominent big bands and orchestras across the world. He has soloed with the Boston Pops, the National Symphony, at the Hollywood Bowl, and on the PBS television special, “Evening at Pops,” with conductor John Williams.
Born in Georgia to a father who was a classically trained professional singer and gospel choir director, Stripling grew up all over the country. In the mornings, his father listened to classical music. But in the evenings, he preferred jazz, so Stripling grew up listening to recordings of such trumpeters as Terry and Gillespie as well as Miles Davis and, of course, Louis Armstrong.
Today, Stripling leads his own quartet. He’s also the artistic director of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, one of the oldest continuing jazz ensembles in the country with a regular concert season and multiple performances of each show.
He’s also able to coach younger players the way the legendary players of the past once taught him.
“I’m so fortunate because I caught the tail of the big band era,” Stripling told Columbus Monthly in 2014. “As I would play with these guys, these leaders, they would pass away. That’s one of the great things I’m able to do now. It’s so important for me to pass that on, because I’m not going to be here forever, either.”