Scattered around a lush, green field, chewing contently in the shadow of the French Alps, they were the happiest cows Steve Call had ever seen.
Spontaneously, the Brigham Young University music professor grabbed his tuba, walked to the edge of the field and began to play, “When The Saints Go Marching In.” Among the small gathering, Call’s son Bruce hit the record button on his camera.
A YouTube sensation was born.
A month or so later, a two-minute video of Call’s five-member band – “The New Hot 5” – playing jazz for a live audience of less than 20 brown and white-spotted cows has been picked up by network television and entertained millions of viewers on TV and the Internet.
“It was one of those serendipitous experiences,” Call said. “My wife kept saying that video of those cows was really amazing, you ought to put it on YouTube. She bugged me for a month and finally last week, our computer-savvy son edited a short version and set up a YouTube account. Three days later it went viral and we couldn’t believe it.”
In the video, cows perk up and move toward the music as Call begins blowing on his tuba. By the time Daniel Henderson, a professor of music at Harvard, added his trumpet, the bells have stopped ringing, the animals have lined up and an outdoor concert is underway. By the end of the video, all five band members, including Clark Burnside on the clarinet, Will Kimball on the trombone and Joshua Payne on the banjo, are playing “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey.” The cows haven’t budged.
The band, an American New Orleans-style ensemble that specializes in playing the music of classic jazz legends, has been together since 2009 when they first performed in France. Henderson, Burnside, Kimball and Payne were all once Brigham Young University students of Call, who trained them as members of the BYU Jazz Legacy Dixieland Band.
“The New Hot 5” returned to the Jazz en Vercors Festival in the region near Grenoble, France, in August and were on their way to a restaurant in Autrans, France, to play a gig at a restaurant when they passed the field of cows.
Call grew up in Brigham City where his father operated a dairy farm.
“I am used to seeing sad cows eating hay, confined to small space, waiting around in manure,” he said. “Those (in France) were the most beautiful cows I had ever seen, they were magnificent.”
The next thing Call new, he was playing his tuba and the cows loved it.
“It was completely impromptu,” said Burnside, an electrical engineer in Fort Collins, Col. “It was a fun thing. We took some pictures and didn’t think much about it until last week. Now my wife and I, our kids, we just laugh.
“Kimball told his wife, ‘Hey, I’m famous,’” Burnside recalled. “His wife told him, ‘It’s not about you, it’s about the cows.’”
While in France, the group played in a constellation of villages in the region and the band was well received.
“The French people love Jazz and know a lot about it,” Call said. “It was a special experience for me to play with these guys, get to know their families, travel together and play for these great audiences. It has just been a spectacular experience."
Call hopes the publicity from the cow video will open doors for the group to perform and receive invitations to future festivals around the globe. The group is also in the final stages of producing a CD. For more information on “The New Hot 5,” visit their website.
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