Roxanne Layton in the news.....
Published Wednesday December 23, 2009
Review: Steamroller rolls out good cheer
Published Wednesday December 23, 2009
By John Pitcher
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
Mannheim Steamroller is celebrating its 25th anniversary Christmas show in high
The band’s holiday juggernaut, which rolled into the Orpheum Theater on Tues-
day, has become a Christmas tradition for thousands of fans. The group gave its
Omaha audience an earful and eyeful of seasonal good cheer on opening night.
For nearly two hours, the popular new age band cranked out one yuletide favorite
after another. All of the tunes were arranged in the familiar synthesizer- and
percussion-heavy style that Steamroller founder Chip Davis calls 18th-century
rock ’n’ roll.
Naturally, the concert featured lots of holiday trimmings — for the eyes.
Three giant video screens displayed wintry scenes, such as crackling fireplaces,
snowy fields and even an ice-skating ballet. There also was footage of the band
over the past 25 years, performing for everyone from Dick Clark to George W.
Davis was no less visually resplendent, appearing at the start in full 18th-century
regalia that included periwig and stockings. The only thing historically inauthentic
about his get-up: his white Nike athletic shoes.
“Historically accurate shoes would have been Re-Bach’s,” said Davis, clearly
pleased with his own P.D.Q. Bach joke.
Davis, otherwise, was mostly absent. The 62-year-old composer traditionally
played drums during tours. Neck surgery earlier in the year has sidelined his per-
So pianist Jackson Berkey, one of Mannheim Steamroller’s founding members,
served as master of ceremonies. Berkey introduced the rest of the band — key-
board player Almeda Berkey, bass player Ron Cooley, percussion and recorder
player Roxanne Layton, drummer Logan Penington and violinist Becky Kia, who
also is a member of the Omaha Symphony.
Steamroller began with its signature opener, a rhythmically jagged and pulsating
rendition of the “Hallelujah” chorus. An appealing arrangement of “Feliz Navidad”
— featuring Jackson Berkey on harpsichord — came next.
The use of early musical instruments — harpsichords, lutes, recorders — in rock
arrangements was arguably Davis’ most original touch. Those instruments seem
almost contemporary when arranged in a rock setting. They also have a way of
making rock seem timeless.
One of the most satisfying blends of old and new was “We Three Kings,” which
featured Layton on recorder. Her performance was a beautiful sonic marriage of
Elizabethan consort music and contemporary pop.
Smoke machines, colored lights and other visual effects enhanced the songs, in-
cluding Steamroller’s lush and romantic rendition of “White Christmas” and the
bright, celebratory “Deck the Halls.”
The concert repeats tonight and is guaranteed to warm the soul during a wintry
Contact the writer:
Contact the Omaha World-Herald newsroom
Photo courtesy Roxanne Layton
Roxanne Layton can be found locally, playing with Zoe Lewis in small venues, but in her other life she’s one of six members of Mannheim Steamroller, playing concerts in major arenas.
Photo courtesy Roxanne Layton
Mannheim Steamroller in concert last year.
Roxanne Layton of Mannheim Steamroller hits the concert trail
Did you ever make one of those calls to a radio station trying to be caller number nine to win some prize? Roxanne Layton did, and she won more than the two tickets she was hoping for. She got a whole new career.
Layton was hoping a call to WBOS in Boston would get her in to see Mannheim Steamroller back in 1990, and it did. But a chance encounter with one of the musicians led to a backstage pass, which eventually led to an offer to join the band.
Layton, who lives much of the year in Provincetown, is a low-key kind of gal. She has worked in local restaurants as a waitperson and can often be found playing backup on recorder for Zoe Lewis in her busy musical life. One would hardly guess that Layton lives another life, one that takes her on a whirlwind winter tour to play before audiences of over 12,000 people in large arenas, but she does. Layton has been one of the six members of Mannheim Steamroller for 10 years, and around Thanksgiving each year they all come together to put on the holiday extravaganza tour that always ends in Omaha.
This year they will be playing at the TD Banknorth Garden (formerly the Fleet Center and before that the Boston Garden) for a single performance on Saturday, Dec. 17. Tickets are $30 to $95. Contact www.tdbanknorthgarden.com.
And although there are only six of them on stage — Layton on recorder and percussion, founder Chip Davis on recorder and electronic drum set, Ron Cooley on lute, guitar and bass, Arnie Ross on violin, Almeda Berkey on keyboard and Jackson Berkey on harpsichord and keyboard — it takes seven tractor-trailers to carry the show from town to town. And by the time they have added in all the extras they hire for the lobby and floor and the symphony orchestra they hire in each city, it turns into something quite large.
Layton describes the shows. The day before, the tractor-trailers roll in and unload, high school kids get hired as extras to work as costumed greeters and Mannheim rehearses with the local symphony orchestra. Then it all comes together the next evening. (Chuck Pennington is the traveling conductor for the Christmas tour.)
“During the performance there are three video screens and a light show,” she says. “People are in costume all over the place dressed as elves and gingerbread men. They meet people in the lobby, welcome them, have their picture taken. Inside, the whole floor of the arena is turned into a Christmas village with kids ice-skating, a train running around on a track laid just for the night, a traditional schoolhouse and church and people dressed as toy soldiers marching around protecting the village.”
Most venues have cabaret-style seating on the arena floor level with wine and cheese and an up-close look at the performers.
But her career began a long way from the big stage.
Layton started playing recorder at age six in Miami, where she grew up. Her dad was building a sailboat to take around the world and wanted her to have a portable instrument. That plan didn’t come to fruition then, and the family moved to New Orleans when she was 13. In the city known for music she went to the Center for Creative Arts High School with some well-known entertainers like Wynton and Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr.
“I was the only recorder player,” she says with a laugh.
After high school she went to New York to study music but after six months quit school and went back to New Orleans to reinvent herself as a jazz drummer. She played with a girl band called The Causeways, named because they all drove into New Orleans over the causeway across Lake Pontchartrain.
“We played Beatles and cover songs and I worked during the day as a microbiology lab assistant. Basically, I took four years off.”
At that point, she says, she was torn between following in her father’s footsteps and building a sailboat or shifting gears and becoming a physical therapist because she was into sports. Instead, she auditioned for the New England Conservatory in Boston and was accepted.
If you think she was finally on track, think again. When she graduated she went to Hilton Head and taught windsurfing. Then she got a call from the Von Hune Workshop, the top recorder makers in the country, who asked her to be a test player. She says the idea of being paid to practice and the opportunity to work in a machine shop was too tempting, and she came back to the Boston area.
That’s when the fateful call to WBOS took place.
After she won the tickets, a musician from the band came by the place where she worked. They started talking, and he invited her to rehearsal. She met Chip Davis, Mannheim’s founder, and they wound up talking until 2 a.m. She gave him one of her tapes, and he called later and asked if she wanted to be part of the group.
Mannheim is a sound and an industry unto itself. While most well-known for its Christmas concerts and CDs, which can be described as a merging of baroque and rock ‘n’ roll, Davis also puts out other CDs which celebrate the hours of the day and the Fresh Aire series. What seems to drive their popularity is their energy and their uniqueness.
“He is an amazing arranger,” Layton says of Davis, “and he probably produces music with the highest fidelity and quality of sound. There is nothing like this out there. No bin in Tower Records for this category, you have to have your own. It’s a mixture of acoustic and electronic. Mannheim exposes people to this music they don’t normally hear.”
So for most of the year Layton lives a regular life, playing gigs with Zoe, traveling, holding down a job. She says that she loves the way her life balances out between the intimate venues with Zoe and the arenas with Mannheim.
Still, the spotlight is intoxicating. She has played for both the Clinton and Bush administrations and performed on television on the Today Show, the Tonight Show, Barbara Walters and The View, just to name a few.
“I never thought I’d play a solo for 12,000 people,” she says. “When you play an arena, there is so much energy. When they all start to applaud, I swear I can feel a little breeze blowing toward me.”
In the Arts