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Frank Proto
Overture to a Carnival

Frank Proto joined the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra as a double bassist in 1966. Just before entering the orchestra he worked as a free-lance bassist and jazz pianist in New York City. Arriving in Cincinnati, he found an orchestra that had several excellent jazz players in it's ranks and in no time formed a quintet with some of those musicians. The group was an immediate hit with symphony audiences and began to be featured regularly, both on pops and classical concerts. During the 1970s major jazz artists, including such stars as Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan, Dizzy Gillespie, The Modern Jazz Quartet and a host of others, appeared regularly with the orchestra, many of them using the orchestra's "house" rhythm section to accompany them.

Proto began arranging and composing for the orchestra in 1968, eventually becoming its composer-in-residence. On many occasions he was asked to compose a new work that would feature members of what had now become the Symphony Jazz Ensemble, with the full orchestra. Overture to a Carnival is one of those pieces. It was written for the opening concert of the symphony's summertime Pops series at Riverbend, the outdoor concert facility on the banks of the Ohio River near Cincinnati.

After a quasi-Hollywood introduction, the fireworks begin with two trombones, dueling until the full orchestra joins the fray, gradually leading to the main tune in the form of a Jazz Samba. After a short orchestra statement reminiscent of the trombone duet, it's time for some improvised solos. The composer writes in the score: any capable jazz soloist: trumpet, trombone, saxophone, etc. can be featured at this point, so each new performance will be radically different from previous ones. After a recapitulation of the samba tune, the drummer is featured in either a short or long solo. After the abrupt ending of the drum solo the French horn picks up with a beautiful statement of the middle part of the main tune. The drummer then brings us back to the samba and drives everything home in an exciting finale.

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James Sommers

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