Preview: Trumpeter Rayse Biggs juggles multifaceted career

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Trumpeter Rayse Biggs is one busy man.

He tours regularly with neo-soul singer Kem, teaches music in his hometown of Detroit and, on top of that, has his own solo career, which Pittsburgh will experience on Saturday.

But if you haven't heard of him ... well, join the crowd. Despite his schedule and credits, "A lot of people don't know who I am," says Mr. Biggs, who turned 59 last week.

He was reared in a musical family. "My older brother and sister played music as well," Mr. Biggs says. "I never had stage fright because I was always performing for the family -- I guess I was destined to be a performer."

Rayse Biggs

Where: JT's at the Club, 1 Racquet Lane, Monroeville.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday.

Admission: $15; 412-567-2804.

That he does. In the course of a show, Mr. Biggs will scat, mumble -- a vocal technique pioneered by fellow trumpeter Clark Terry -- and play two instruments, the other a flugelhorn, simultaneously.

Although he started on piano, Mr. Biggs had always been intrigued by the trumpet. His musical fate was sealed after trumpeter Marcus Belgrade came to his junior high school in 1969 and later became a mentor to Mr. Biggs.

Later, his brother Travis, a violinist, took him to the Metropolitan Arts Complex, where the budding trumpeter would meet Donald Byrd, Herbie Hancock and Freddie Hubbard, the last of whom would "play licks on the phone for me," Mr. Biggs says. "It was just a blessing" to have that contact.

After graduating from the now-defunct Chadsey High School in 1972, Mr. Biggs went on the road with a number of Motown acts -- Smokey Robinson, the Marvelettes and the Temptations, to his recollection. The next year he entered Oakland University, a former branch campus of Michigan State, but "was in and out so much" because of outside work. "It was always a struggle" attending classes, and he never finished.

Mr. Biggs says that he actually prefers straight-ahead acoustic jazz, but when it comes to "eating and surviving, you did everything." To that effect, he's played on all the recordings of Was Not Was, which had some hits in the 1980s, and did a lot of work with, among others, gospel artist Fred Hammond. "I was on most of his CDs when he was here."

The association with Kem began around 2005 through his studio's secretary, who attended the same church as the singer. However, Mr. Biggs couldn't hang around to see the finished results. "I was going back on the road with a tour [a Temptations revue]," Mr. Biggs says.

"I've been working with him, and in the midst of that I was working with Kid Rock as well," on his album "Rock and Roll Jesus."

Also an educator, Mr. Biggs has taught a class on improvisation at charter schools in the Detroit area and leads two bands through the Civic Youth Ensemble, which is sponsored by the Detroit Symphony.

"I have somewhat of a decent reputation," Mr. Biggs says. "They contacted me [through Mr.] Belgrade [and] asked me to take it." In addition to the Ellington Band, with children just starting out, "I have another band with older kids, some in high schools, some in junior high school."

Mr. Biggs hasn't released a CD under his own name in several years but is currently working on two. One features guest contemporary jazz stars Najee and Roy Ayers that was supposed to come out this month; however, "I'm holding it back until the first of next year." Future plans include "a straight-ahead record later that year -- originals and some standards."

As for Saturday's show, "It will be mainly smooth jazz, funky little grooves," Mr. Biggs says. "If they request, I may do a blues."


Rick Nowlin: or 412-263-3871.


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