Tour de Farce Has a Lot of Brass for a Madcap Music Ensemble

Suffering a little post-holiday letdown? Even if you're not, help is on the way: The comic brass quintet Tour de Farce will take the stage tonight at Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton. "People can just leave their troubles at the door," trombonist Bob Jennings said during an interview this week.

Discussing its approach and overall liveliness, Jennings likened the group to the Marx Brothers, noting that each member becomes known to audiences as a distinct personality--Jennings as "The Captain," trumpet players Jim Aron and Bob Leach as "Jimby" and "Loois Tooloose," tuba player Johannes Mager as "Fritz van der Vol" and euphoniumist Kevin Linscott as "Waldo Chompski."

Regardless of his role at the moment, "Fritz always has to be the center of attention, while the Captain is sort of the straight man. He's in the middle, trying to keep the show going," Jennings continued. A hodgepodge of music flourishes amid this uproarious confusion, drawing on styles that run the gamut from country to opera and rhythm and blues to ballet.

"We're trying to develop a name for ourselves in the United States," Jennings said of the group, which is based in the Bay Area, "because in the last 10 years, we've been playing (mostly) abroad, especially in Australia and Japan."

When Tour de Farce appears in a foreign nation, it faces the ticklish task of presenting its program in that country's language. If no one in the group speaks the language (Netherlands-born Mager speaks Dutch and German), "we go to the language department at UC Berkeley, get a translation and have them speak the lines to get a sense of the flow. (Then we) write it out phonetically and learn it by rote."

Immediately upon arrival, they approach a local to learn appropriate idiomatic insults with which to pepper their pastiche in an effort to include the audience in more intimate repartee.

The group (formerly known as The Brass Band) treats its fans to more than just comedy, though. Jennings said that one reviewer commented that the music was a tour de force while the comedy was a tour de farce (hence providing inspiration for the quintet's new name).

Jennings compares the group's musical prowess to that of the Canadian Brass, a less theatrical but locally better-known ensemble. Like the Canadian Brass, members of the Tour de Farce can boast of healthy musical roots. Three of the five--Linscott, Jennings and Mager--hail from a classical background while the two trumpeters previously centered their efforts in jazz and rock. As musical equals, all assume the same responsibility for programming and interpretation.

"There is no leader. The guys that make up the group are so unique that they're not really going to permit one person to be a leader," Jennings said.

He described their rehearsals as "a push-and-pull technique," their act as having "developed organically." It began as a street group and was hired to play period music at the Dickens Fair in San Francisco. Each member was expected to dress as a character from a novel by Charles Dickens and to affect an English accent.

But unable to take the theme seriously, the musicians dismayed organizers at a press conference with an anachronistic rendition of "Blue Moon." Their clowning "became so popular . . . they put us on stage."

The Tour de Farce musical comedy troupe performs tonight at 8 at the Plummer Auditorium, 201 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton. Tickets: $10 to $15. Information: (714) 773-3371.

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