Four Freshmen Bring Jazzy Vocals To Baltimore

Vocal jazz ensemble The Four Freshmen will bring their signature sound to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's SuperPops Series, April 10 at the Music Center at Strathmore and April 11‐13 at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The group, which in its 22nd iteration includes Bob Ferreira, Brian Eichenberger, Curtis Calderon and Vince Johnson, celebrates the 60th anniversary of their founding in 2008.

Though the members of The Four Freshmen have changed over the decades, they remain true to their tradition of popular close‐harmony vocals, performed for generations of vocal jazz lovers. Note: The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra does not perform on this program.

Known for hits such as "Graduation Day" and "It's a Blue World, " The Four Freshmen were among the most important vocal groups of the 1950s, blending jazzy melodies and pop tunes into a style that later influenced The Beach Boys, Take Six and Manhattan Transfer. Winners of the 2007 Jazz Times readers poll for Best Vocal Group, The Four Freshmen's performances incorporate the group's original hits, as well as jazzy takes on American classics such as "Route 66, " "Day In, Day Out" and "Angel Eyes."

The Four Freshmen

One of the top vocal groups of the 1950s, The Four Freshmen formed the bridge between 1940s ensembles and harmony‐based rock & roll bands. The group started in the late 1940s roots as Hal's Harmonizers, a barbershop quartet‐influenced outfit, organized at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Butler University in Indiana by two brothers, Ross and Don Barbour. Their repertoire centered on standards such as ʺMoonglowʺ and ʺThe Christmas Song, ʺ with an unusually free, improvisational approach to their harmony singing. Membership changes brought Bob Flanigan, a cousin, into the fold alongside Hal Kratzsch, and suddenly The Four Freshmen were assembled in all but name, which came a few years later.

The group struggled for a long time, living hand‐to‐mouth while building a repertoire and a sound. Each member played more than one instrument, allowing the others to switch off to different roles. They came to attention of various jazz figures of the era, including Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman and Stan Kenton. It was Kenton who took matters into his own hands, bringing the group to the attention of Capitol Records.

Their first hit single was ʺItʹs a Blue World, ʺ released in 1952, and they enjoyed further success with ʺMood Indigoʺ (1954), ʺDay By Dayʺ (1955) and ʺGraduation Dayʺ (1956). They released their first LP, Voices in Modern, in 1955.

Their contract with Capitol ended in 1964, and the groupʹs last affiliation with a major label was in the second half of the decade with Liberty Records, which yielded four LPs but no hits. By 1977, Bob Flanigan was the last original member, and he retired in 1992. In 2001 Mosaic Records—the company that issues complete catalogs of jazz legends going back to the 1930s, in deluxe packaging—released a multi‐CD box of The Four Freshmenʹs complete 1950s recordings.

Bob Ferreira

The year 2008 marks Bob Ferreiraʹs 16th year in The Four Freshmen. Ferreira's career with the group began when he was approached by former instructor and ʹFreshmenʹ alumnus Kirk Marcy with an offer to audition for the renowned vocal group. One month after auditioning, Ferreira found himself moving to the groupʹs home base of Las Vegas, Nevada. His music studies started comparatively late in life when he started taking drum lessons his sophomore year in high school. He began vocal training in his junior year when he joined the symphonic choir and the vocal jazz ensembles. After high school, Ferreira attended Edmonds Community College in Lynwood, Washington, where he joined the regionally renowned vocal jazz ensemble ʹSoundsationʹ under the direction of Kirk Marcy. After two years of performing with ʹSoundsationʹ and one year playing drums in the alternate vocal jazz lab, Bob transferred to Central Washington University, majoring in music education. However, after one year, Ferreira joined The Four Freshmen and moved to Las Vegas, where he still lives today. In 15 years with the ʹFreshmen, ʹ Ferreira has performed to audiences in 49 states and eight countries and the travels only grow more frequent.

Brian Eichenberger

Born May 16, 1976, Brian Eichenberger was raised in Apple Valley, Minnesota. He got his first taste of jazz harmonies in Minneapolis, when his high school vocal group sang Take 6ʹs arrangement of "A Quiet Place." He says, "When I plunked out my part on the piano, I couldnʹt believe I would actually sing these lines. A few weeks later, everyone was getting a handle on their parts and this amazing thing happened. When all these weird parts were sung together, it just floored me. What a beautiful sound!" He continued studying harmony at Phil Mattsonʹs School for Music Vocations in Creston, Iowa. ʺThere were about 50 music students, living in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do except play, sing, eat, sleep and breathe music.ʺ In 1996, The Four Freshmen were looking for a new member to play bass and sing the second part. With a strong recommendation from Phil Mattson and an audition, Eichenberger got the job. A few years later, Eichenberger moved up to lead singer. He is only the third lead singer in the Freshmen's history.

Curtis Calderon

Curtis Calderon joined The Four Freshmen in late 2001. Three years earlier he had a chance meeting when The Four Freshmen came through San Antonio and saw him performing at the Landing Jazz Club on the riverwalk, and that meeting that led to him being called when their current trumpet player decided to retire from the group. Curtis grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and started trumpet at age 11. He won first chair in the Texas All‐State Jazz band his senior year in high school. After graduating, he went on to play and tour with many big bands, including the modern‐day Glenn Miller Orchestra. Some of his musical influences are trumpeter Clifford Brown, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane. Current favorites include Stevie Wonder, Jason Mraz, Louis Armstrong and Joe Henderson.

Vince Johnson

Vince Johnson sings baritone and plays bass, guitar and trombone. He was born September 3, 1970, and raised in San Luis Obispo, California. In junior high, Johnson knew he wanted to be a musician. He says he has all The Four Freshmen albums and practically wore out the ʺVoices in Loveʺ cassette while driving his car around town in his school days. Johnson brings a distinguished résumé to The Four Freshmen. Johnson received his bachelor of music degree from California State University Long Beach in 1994 and his master's degree in jazz studies from the University of Southern California in 1996. His musical experiences vary from playing principal bass in a symphony orchestra to playing drums throughout his childhood. Before joining The Four Freshmen in 1999, Johnson worked as an accompanist, educator and performer.

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