Richard Goldfarb, founder of the Mozart on Fifth woodwind trio, has spent 10 years trying to make a name for the group, which will perform twice Saturday at Mission Viejo High School.
"Having a band is a difficult assignment," Goldfarb said in a phone interview from Salina, Kan., where the group recently played at a town festival.
"There are different elements involved in making it successful--personalities, traveling, life styles, let alone the music. Things are just beginning to come together for the group.
The trio took its name from playing Mozart on Fifth Avenue in New York. "Right across from where the Trump Tower is now," Goldfarb said.
"We were musicians right out of school. We did that for about a year, then played on the Staten Island ferry--inside. Then as we developed our eye to the spots to play and the crowd we would attract, we started playing ragtime and swing."
The trio began touring in 1978 and has steadily built up an audience for its mix of classics and pop fare. The group consists of two original members--Goldfarb, 39, and Dan Kelley, 35--and Daniel Block, 31, who became the group's arranger after replacing a clarinetist. Each member plays a variety of wind instruments.
Each also likes to project a slightly dated, upbeat image: Goldfarb is billed as Buddy "Cruise Control"; Kelley is "Cash," and Block has become "Dr. X."
Explained Goldfarb: "Once when (Block) didn't get credit in a program, a critic in North Carolina mentioned that we did an arrangement 'by an unknown genius.' So he became 'Dr. X.' "
The monikers camouflage the members' serious musical backgrounds:
--Goldfarb, who is from New York, received his music training at California State University, Northridge, and the University of Southern California.
--Kelley, a native of Texas, graduated from Brooklyn College and performed with the American Wind Symphony and the U.S. Air Force Band in Washington.
--Block, from St. Louis, is a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music in New York.
The group's program on Saturday--the free concerts are at 3 and 7 p.m.--will include music by Mozart, Bizet and Scott Joplin.
"We'll play this suite from 'Carmen,' with all kinds of different instruments--tenor and alto saxes, a couple of bass clarinets, flutes and piccolo," Goldfarb said.
"We keep the music going all the time by switching instruments. But it's not a spoof. It's just a medley."
The three frequently talk to the audience as part of its act.
"Sometimes we incorporate little stories about experiences that have happened to us on the streets," Goldfarb said. "We have a tape of cars honking and different costumes so we can dress up and play different people walking by and reacting to our playing."
They also occasionally play impromptu concerts on the road.
"One time in St. Louis, we ended up going into a White Castle (a fast-food outlet) after midnight and played (Hagen's) 'Harlem Nocturne,' " Kelley recalled. "Immediately, people just stopped in their tracks and just looked shocked. Then these smiles broke over their faces. They really enjoyed it.
"We're all basically clarinet players, and we all started out as aspiring classical musicians. But as you get older, you get more concerned about earning a living."
Goldfarb added, "We took all our styles and said, 'What's the best shot to get popular?' We figured it was classical. Our arrangements of Ellington are really great, but who on radio is going to play our arrangements: They're going to play Ellington. Who plays ragtime on the radio? Or Jewish music? So we figured if we did classical, that might get us a shot on KFAC-country."
Currently the group is "trying to put a demo together--with a classical edge," according to Goldfarb.
"We have a record, but it's with the former combination (of players). We produced it--'Redeemed by Music'--ourselves, on our own label, Marengo Records.
"It's now a collector's item," he said wryly.