Cool jazz, great cause

Onetime Shepherd student Brad Rambur – now a jazz musician of note in California – returns to Shepherdstown for a benefit Saturday, with ticket proceeds earmarked for the university’s music department.

CHARLES TOWN – The roots of Brad Rambur’s weekend benefit for Shepherd University’s music program go back to his day job in information security at Intuit and the company’s top executive, West Virginia-born Brad Smith.

Rambur isn’t a native of the Mountain State, but he said he realized the state’s impact on his life as he listened to Smith, who grew up near Huntington, describe his love for West Virginia.

California-based jazz musician Brad Rambur, who studied music in Shepherdstown after graduating from Hedgesville High in 1985, is back in the
Panhandle this weekend for a concert to benefit the university’s music program.


“I was born in California and I’ve been back here for more than two decades, but I lived in the Eastern Panhandle in a critical part of my life,” the 44-year-old explained. “Hearing Brad Smith talk about how much he owes West Virginia made me realize that I very much wanted to give back to give back to this community.”

Rambur – who graduated from Hedgesville High in 1985, enrolled in college classes at Shepherd and then eventually earned a degree in finance at San Diego State University – will work with Shepherd music students on Friday and then take center stage along with his California bandmates Saturday night at the Frank Center.

After talking with Rambur after his interest in performing at a benefit, Gina Miller – a former Shepherd classmate who now serves on Shepherd’s foundation – came up with the idea for Saturday’s concert, with all proceeds from the show going to the university’s Department of Music.

Rambur, who lives with his wife and two young sons in the San Diego area, works as the director of corporate information security at Intuit, the software developer and Fortune 1,000 company with annual revenue of more than $3 billion.

Though he values his Intuit post, Rambur clearly feels proud and excited about the success he’s found in jazz. His 10-track debut album – 2010’s “Can’t Put It Down” – was produced by two-time Grammy winner Eric Marienthal, the saxophonist whose own first album was produced by jazz legend Chick Corea.

Over the years, the 54-year-old Marienthal has performed with music legends from B.B. King, Elton John and Billy Joel to Aaron Neville, Johnny Mathis and Lou Rawls.

Rambur’s album also features songs written by Marienthal and Jeff Lorber, the Grammy-nominated jazz fusion icon. Like Marienthal, the 59-year-old Lorber studied at Boston’s Berklee College of Music.

Though Lorber has been a frequent collaborator of Marienthal’s for a quarter-century, Rambur points out that his album was the first time the pair had written a song for an artist other than themselves. Rambur also co-wrote some of the tracks.

Though he has been playing the saxophone, guitar and other instruments since age 9, Rambur said his parents always encouraged him to make music a secondary pursuit. He chafed at that advice as a young person, but today he says he can enjoy making music nights and weekends, while his technology career allows him to take care of his family’s needs and ensure a secure financial future.

The intense demands of his tech work and his work as an artist each help keep him sharp, Rambur said. “It’s an ideal blend,” he said. “I wouldn’t have it any either way.”

At the time he made “Can’t Put It Down,” Rambur was spending weekends playing at the lush La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif. That experience further honed his skills in composition, improvisation and as a bandleader and entertainer, Rambur explained.

The chance to perform at Shepherd again is deeply satisfying, Rambur said. “In so many ways, I wouldn’t be the person I am today had I not had the experiences I had in the years I lived in West Virginia,” he said.

Rambur first came to the Panhandle after his father Richard Rambur began working at Antietam National Battlefield, where he served for years as superintendent.

He credits strong music education programs at Hedgesville and at Shepherd for helping him become a success in music.

“It was a really great experience growing up in West Virginia,” said Rambur, who started playing with Shepherd’s jazz band while still in high school. “Not only was there a very strong music education program in the schools, but also an active musical community in the area.”

The area’s music tradition includes Patsy Cline, one of the most acclaimed country and pop voices of the 20th century. During Rambur’s senior year in high school, actress Jessica Lange came to the Panhandle to film the 1984 biopic “Sweet Dreams,” which recreated Cline’s early life in nearby Winchester, Va.

Others who have made a name for themselves in music are contemporaries of Rambur’s, including Euge Groove, the 49-year-old smooth jazz saxophonist from Hagerstown, Md., and Rambur’s high school classmate Shannon Larkin, now the drummer for the heavy rock band Godsmack.

Saturday’s 8 p.m. show features open seating, with tickets available on site at the Frank Center starting at 7:15 p.m. To purchase tickets or get more information, music lovers can call 304-876-5524.

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