The American Brass Quintet made their debut in 1960, when brass chamber music was relatively unknown to concert audiences. This necessitated building a repertoire almost from scratch -- in stark contrast to the modern-day string quartet, which has some 300 years of literature to choose from. The ABQ have since given over 100 premieres of new works for brass while amassing a discography of over 40 recordings. This is the largest body of serious brass music ever recorded by a single ensemble.
While many brass quintets have prospered by performing arrangements of popular, jazz, and rock styles in pops concert settings, the ABQ are known for their serious, thoughtful approach to the genre. The ensemble's core literature consists of contemporary works, their own editions of Renaissance and Baroque music, and rediscoveries of forgotten 19th century brass repertoire. The many composers who have been commissioned by the ABQ over the years include Jan Bach, William Bolcom, Elliott Carter, Jacob Druckman, Eric Ewazen, William Schuman, Ralph Shapey, Gunther Schuller, Virgil Thomson, and Melinda Wagner.
Having toured throughout Europe, Asia, South and Central America, the Middle East, Australia, and the United States, the ABQ have been hailed as "the high priests of brass" by Newsweek, "positively breathtaking" by The New York Times, and "of all the brass quintets, this country's most distinguished" by the American Record Guide. The quintet has never wavered in its dedication to serious brass music, as evidenced by its ongoing residencies at the Juilliard School (since 1987) and the Aspen Music Festival (since 1970).
The ABQ have remained true to both their mission and their sound as the ensemble has entered its second half-century of existence. None of the quintet's original five members still plays with the group, but changes have been gradual, and trombonist Michael Powell joined in 1983. Even after the 1980s' and 1990s' vogue for brass quintet music passed, the group has succeeded in arranging significant commissions, most notably one from Joan Tower in celebration of the centennial of the Juilliard School in New York in 2006. The ABQ released their own anniversary recording, a double-CD album featuring all new music, in 2010. They received the Richard J. Bogomolny Award for chamber music in 2012. Signing with the Summit label in 1992, the ABQ have kept up a steady recording schedule; their album Perspectives, offering works by Sebastian Currier, Eric Ewazen, Robert Paterson, and Jay Greenberg, appeared in 2017. At that time the members of the quintet were Powell, bass trombonist John D. Rojak (joined 1991), trumpeter Kevin Cobb (joined 1998), trumpeter Louis Hanzlick (joined 2013), and hornist Eric Reed (joined 2014).