GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Part music, part “teacher talk,” a hybrid concert was held Wednesday night in Cofrin Family Hall of the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Admission was free, as is always the case with UW-Green Bay Music’s “6:30 Concert Series,” which looks at music in depth by way of the university’s resources and personnel.

Some of the concerts are esoteric/academic. Previous concerts have been held in the center’s 275-seat Fort Howard Hall.

This concert would nip into the popular realm and feature a well-known local band, so the larger hall came into play of necessity. Big Mouth & The Power Tool Horns attracted 600 or so very friendly folks – friends, family and fans.

The night’s goal in hearing the group’s music, as curator of the series Michelle McQuade Dewhirst told the audience, “is to take it apart and see what makes it tick.”

Cutting to the quick, the band’s process:

+ Guitarist/frontman Jay Whitney has an idea for a song – something to say. After that, he thinks of the guitar’s role. Next come directions to take for a beat in the music and a bass line.

+ These basics he passes on to drummer Matt Buchman for rhythm section ideas and development.

+ The gist of the song, on computer, next is emailed to Los Angeles, where group member Forrest “Woody” Mankowski works/resides.

+ Woody Mankowski does his arrangement magic with elements for the Power Tool Horns and so on and delivers the result to a drop-box file for the band to rehearse.

That is what happened with the new “A Change is Coming,” a song of meaning rooted in a beat. “A change is coming, and I pray it doesn’t take long,” Jay Whitney sang in his jazz/blues-gravelly voice at the start. The thought became “but we’ve still gotta long way to go” at the end.

Wednesday’s performance of “A Change is Coming” was its first, a world premiere.

Performing: Bill Dennee (trombone), Danny Lueck (drums), Jay Whitney (guitars/vocals), Marc Jimos (saxophones/vocals), Matt Buchman (piano/keyboards), Patrick Phalen (trumpet), Paul Sowinski (bass/vocals), Rick Piumbroeck (lead vocals/percussion) and Steve Johnson (saxophones).

The thing about this concert was it was very much about University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Music.

Big Mouth & The Power Tool Horns is it its 30th anniversary year, Jay Whitney said. The band’s first concert was at Bayfest, a festive music-food-fun event that took place on the rolling hills of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus to raise money for the university’s sports coffer.

Products of the UWGB music program are Bill Dennee, Marc Jimos, Woody Mankowski, Paul Sowinski and Steve Johnson.

One theory about a university is this: A university has a product – graduates. Graduates go out into the community, elevating it. So, among numerous other results, something like Big Mouth & The Power Tool Horns appears.

Many players in the band are teachers (another result), and that surfaced during the evening.

Marc Jimos kidded about “teacher talk” in a detailed description he gave about how music for the horn section is developed.

Later, Bill Dennee said teachers appreciate teachers, and he presented a roll call – a touching recognition – of UWGB faculty who were instrumental in shaping the UWGB-graduate players in the band: Lovell Ives, Cheryl Grosso, Arthur Cohrs, Wayne Jaeckel, John Salerno, Kevin Collins, Robert Bauer, Terence O’Grady, Trinidad Chavez and Margaret Charnon.

A question from the audience gave the players pause: “How often do you rehearse?” The players searched for an answer on stage and didn’t come up with anything better than not much. They know each other so well and have played so long and are involved in the general landscape of music that they don’t need much – I guess.

The performance was filled with power – the band is about jazz-blues drive with a beat – and it was about pride, a powerful thing.

After playing all originals, the band ended with The Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Running,” rousing the crowd to action and, eventually, a call for an encore.

Another groove started, that of Earth, Wind & Fire” in “September,” which starts, “Do you remember…” and continues into joy.


NEXT (for 6:30 Concert Series): “Pierrot and Other Fantasies,” April 21, Fort Howard Hall, Weidner Center.

THE VENUE: Cofrin Family Hall is one of three performance spaces within the Edward W. Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. At its maximum capacity setup, the hall seats 2,021 over its three levels of maple-and-burgundy seats. Opened Jan. 15, 1993, the hall was built to adapt to the needs of orchestra concerts, operas, musicals, plays and organ, band and choral concerts. For acoustical properties, wood is emphasized on the seats, mezzanine and balcony surfaces and walls near the stage. Many surfaces are curved to help shape the sound. Wood is featured for an aesthetic reason, too – a “from here” aura of woodsy Northeastern Wisconsin.

THE PEOPLE: The name Cofrin relates in great degree to A.E. Cofrin, founder of Fort Howard Paper Co., and his son, Dr. David A. Cofrin, who was instrumental in building the Weidner Center through multi-million-dollar donations. A friendship developed between David A. Cofrin (1921-2009) and Edward W. Weidner (1921-2007), the beloved founding chancellor of UWGB. Weidner spoke slowly and carried a big idea. Weidner arrived when there were no buildings on the present-day campus on rolling hills near the shore of Green Bay. His interests ranged from academia to birding to sports. He loved building projects. It was in his blood. He guided the building of the Weidner Center, so named from early on in construction. Weidner admitted his eyes welled once when driving to a performance and seeing a green sign along the highway: WEIDNER CENTER.