According to Bob Masteller, the musician who happens to own the Jazz Corner nightclub in Hilton Head, vibraphonist Christian Tamburr is "a pure throwback to the swing of Lionel Hampton, the technique of Red Norvo, the coolness of Cal Tjader, all wrapped into one package."
A native of Merritt Island, Fla., Tamburr - performing at the venerable Jazz Corner this weekend - has some pretty big shoes to fill. It takes a certain combination of talent and temperament to play the vibes, and no small amount of - well, let's just say it - cool.
Tamburr, just 29 years old, was most definitely NOT cool when he first started.
Sixteen years ago, Tamburr was picked to play drums in his middle school jazz band. But there were two other kids ready to pound the skins, too. The band director knew Tamburr also was a part-time piano player, so he devised a plan.
"He goes into the choir room closet, and he rolls out this cart with wheels on it, and stacks and stacks of music, and files and folders," Tamburr says. "It's not actually a cart, it's a vibraphone, but nobody's ever actually played the thing. Nobody knew how. It was being used as a paper stand."
Once he learned how to hold the mallets, though, Tamburr was hooked. He studied the works of the greats - Hampton, Norvo, Jackson, Tjader - and took gigs wherever he could. Meanwhile, he joined the Orlando-based big swing band Swingerhead, as pianist.
A Vegas gig brought Tamburr to the attention of Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller, who became a fast friend. Soon, Tamburr wrote and arranged music for the duo's Vegas act, and for their TV specials. "All because I opened my mouth one day and said, ‘You know, Teller should play the vibes during this trick,'" Tamburr said. "It's really wacky man, everything's kind of by chance and by me being a wiseguy. It's just a right time, right place thing."
And dig this, hepcats. Tthe young Floridian toured for nearly two years as crooner Julio Iglesias' pianist. It's not so strange when you think about it, because the piano is, in effect, a percussion instrument that produces notes.
"On the vibraphone, all the ‘white keys' are on the bottom, and all the ‘black keys' are on the top," Tamburr says, "so essentially it's just a big piano keyboard you hit with sticks. The challenging part is when you play piano, you obviously have 10 fingers to do all kinds of harmonic and rhythmic things. You can do quick little runs and all this stuff.
"Being able to jump it down to two mallets, or four mallets, and come across with the same kind of harmony or melody, that's the tough part."
Tamburr was tapped to write and record music for Cirque du Soleil in 2008. The Christian Tamburr Quartet has recently toured Japan, Russia and New Zealand.
His latest recorded work, he reports, "is a new Brazilian project that will be out in early 2010, which will feature Grammy Award winning guitarist Earl Klugh on a number
Christian Tamburr Quartet
Where: Jazz Corner, 1000 William Hilton Parkway, Hilton Head
When: At 8 p.m. Oct. 15-17
Artist's Web site: www.christiantamburr.com