Interview with Michael Blutman, New York City freelance trumpeter

Trumpet section with Sting, New York City, 2009. l-r: Chris Gekker, Chris Botti, and Mike Blutman

Trumpet section with Sting, New York City, 2009. l-r: Chris Gekker, Chris Botti, and Mike Blutman

Michael Blutman enjoys a diverse career as a trumpeter, music educator, and music publisher. A graduate of The Juilliard School and University of Maryland, his performing and recording credits include: Sting, National Symphony Orchestra, American Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, American Ballet Theater, Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, David Parsons Dance Company, Jonathan Batiste Jazz Band, Westminster Choir, Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera, and many others. Michael’s trumpet instructors include: Chris Gekker, Mark Gould, Steven Hendrickson and William Vacchiano.

Also an educator, Michael’s music teaching credits include: East Meadow’s Fusing Culture and Curriculum program (coordinator and teaching artist), Nassau Suffolk Performing Arts (artist in residence), Usdan Center for the Arts (trumpet and chamber music instructor), and the American Symphony Orchestra (former education manager). He is also a clinician for colleges, primary and secondary schools, maintains a private trumpet studio, and is a published music education author (featured articles in NYSSMA’s School Music News, the International Trumpet Guild’s ITG Youth website, and co-author of the Festival Sight Reading series, published by Pinnacle Music Press, Inc.).

Recordings / Websites:
Pinnacle Music Press:
Not many recordings (mostly a concert player or record for commercial entities), but there are clips from the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra’s “Minding the Score Album”:
Bb Trumpet: Shires (Model A-W) and Bach 37
C Trumpet: Bach 229H
D/Eb: Blackburn MD-19
Piccolo: Schilke P5-4
Bb/A Cornet: Conn Victor Quick-Change Cornet (ca. 1924)
Orchestral Playing: Bach 1.5 C (25 throat, S backbore) for C trumpet, stock 1.5C for Bb, sometimes Curry TF for chamber orchestra
Commercial Playing: Warburton 5S (Greg Black #5 Backbore) or Curry 50S
Cornet: Conn Levy Model #6 (ca. 1910’s)
On heavy teaching days, or long brass ensemble shows: Bach 5C (with Wayne Tanabe’s magic touch) or 10.5C (with Josh Landress’ magic touch)

Interview with Michael Blutman, New York City freelance trumpeter

The interviewer is Stanley Curtis


SC: Tell us about your early interest in music.
MB: My early musical interest came mostly through listening to jazz with my father.  Though not a musician, he has amazing taste!  Basie’s Chairman of the Board album was a favorite – I was being introduced to arguably the greatest big band album of all time and early Thad Jones arrangements.  My dad regularly made jazz mix tapes that included Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz, Ella Fitzgerald, and many others.  Sinatra was also a favorite, especially the Capital Records years.
Mike with the Leon Petruzzi Jazz Orchestra at Whoville Bar and Grill on Long Island.

Mike with the Leon Petruzzi Jazz Orchestra at Whoville Bar and Grill on Long Island. Two of Mike’s band directors from East Meadow School District are in the sax section (Joel Levy on the left and Dave Fletcher on the right). Leon Petruzzi is to the left of Mike in the trumpet section.

When I really started showing an interest in music and willingness to practice in middle school, my parents bought me a subscription to the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, led by Jon Faddis. The trumpeters I got to hear with that band included Lew Soloff, Earl Gardner, Byron Stripling, Randy Brecker and others … absolutely amazing! My parents also started taking me regularly to the Leon Petruzzi Jazz Orchestra; an excellent local big band that continues to play twice per month on Long Island. That band consists of terrific musicians who are mostly music educators from Long Island.

Most of my early interest in music was rooted around big bands. Although I primarily play classical music for a living now, big bands have always been my hobby and first love. I play as often as I am able with the Leon Petruzzi Jazz Orchestra.
SC: Who have been your most influential teachers and mentors?
MB: At every stage of my development, I have been lucky enough to have excellent teachers and mentors who have encouraged and challenged me.
My public school teachers from the East Meadow School District had a tremendous influence on me. Besides being terrific musicians, they are master teachers and were always generous with their time during the school day as well as before and after school. They are incredibly dedicated teachers. In addition to my in-school teachers, Mike Klein and Leon Petruzzi were private teachers who helped encourage solid fundamentals and excitement about performing music.
In my final two years of high school, I also took about one lesson per month from William Vacchiano. It was amazing to play for him, and I taped almost every lesson. The teaching took place then, but I’m learning at least as much from him now and am sure that will continue forever. He was 88 and 89 years old when I studied with him. I’m really glad to have gotten to know him.
I went to the University of Maryland for my undergrad, where I got to study with Chris Gekker and Steve Hendrickson. I first heard Chris as a member of the American Brass Quintet when I was in middle school. His and Ray Mase’s playing had such an impact on me that I really wanted to study with him in college. An added benefit to studying at University of Maryland was also getting to work with Steve Hendrickson, who had a tremendous influence on me as well. Just trying to keep up with him on orchestral rep was lesson enough to try to thicken out my tone! During my senior year at Maryland, Steve invited me to play extra a few times with the National Symphony, a tremendous opportunity and thrill!
After studying at the University of Maryland, I was lucky enough to study with Mark Gould at Juilliard, where I also worked with Ray Mase as a chamber coach.  Both were great mentors and very generous with me.
One of the greatest things about playing in a major metropolitan area is getting to hear terrific musicians regularly (not just trumpeters). I have been fortunate to get to perform with Carl Albach, Lou Hanzlik and John Dent a fair amount; after hearing them, my practicing always gets better for a few weeks trying to emulate aspects of their playing.
SC: Describe the free-lance scene in NYC.
MB: I met with Lou Hanzlik just as I was graduating from Juilliard hoping for some advice on establishing a freelance career in NYC.  The gist of his advice was something to the effect of, “find ways to stay busy, even if it doesn’t earn you much money at first.”  The more I’ve talked with freelancers about their work, I’ve found it to be individual without too many consistent patterns other than figuring out ways to “stay busy.”
SC: How have you “stayed busy” working in NYC? 
MB: Ray Mase asked me a tough question sometime when I was at Juilliard, something like, “what do you need in your professional musical life that you are not willing to let go?”  The answer I came up with was, “I need to play with excellent musicians regularly and I need to teach.”  My version of staying busy includes subbing with several orchestras and other groups, teaching, running an arts-in-education program and running a music publishing company with my brother.  It pieces together into a “way-too-busy-all-of-the-time” schedule!
Besides having great teachers, I also had great mentors just a few years older than me at every stage of my development, including today.  In turn, I always liked encouraging people a few years younger than me.  Upon graduating from Juilliard, establishing a teaching studio in my parents’ basement was a quick way for me to earn money doing something I loved doing.  I continue that studio today and have great, hard-working students.
Other teaching includes running an arts-in-education program in my hometown school district, teaching trumpet at Usdan (a terrific arts day camp on Long Island) and coaching at Nassau Suffolk Performing Arts (a Long Island youth concert band and jazz band program).  As you can tell, my teaching tends to be Long Island-centric.  It’s nice to contribute in that way to the community that helped encourage me to pursue my passions as a career.
Mike warming up at intermission of an Orchestra of St. Luke's performances at Carnegie Hall

Mike warming up at intermission of an Orchestra of St. Luke’s performance at Carnegie Hall

Over the first eight seasons of my career, I’ve been fortunate to sub with several of the freelance orchestras in, and around, NYC, including the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, American Symphony, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Northeastern PA Philharmonic, Stamford Symphony, and others. Between all of them, I end up performing about a half-year orchestra season.  In addition, I’ve enjoyed playing chamber music, with big bands, and as a substitute on Broadway shows.

SC: What are some of your most memorable musical projects?  
MB: I am more of a “gun for hire” on trumpet, rather than one who cultivates my own creative playing projects. My creative energies really come out in my teaching.
Mike with Chris Gekkeer in Avatar Studios recording world premieres with the Manhattan Contemporary Music Ensemble (2014)

Mike with Chris Gekkeer in Avatar Studios recording world premieres with the Manhattan Contemporary Music Ensemble (2014)

Some of my most memorable musical opportunities have been with Chris Gekker over the past few years.  We performed together with Sting in 2009 and more recently with Richard Alden Clark’s Manhattan Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, where we performed world premieres at Carnegie Hall and recorded at Avatar Studios for a week after.  Getting to spend time in the recording studio with Chris was a special treat for me.

Two recent interdisciplinary Stravinsky programs really stand out, both with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.  First was Soldier’s Tale performed in collaboration with The Puppet Kitchen for thousands of NYC school kids; 8 performances in one week. Another was a collaboration with Basil Twist (a puppetry company described as “ballet without dancers”) on a program that included Fireworks, Pulcinella Suite, and Jonathan McPhee’s reduced orchestration of Rite of Spring. I’ve always loved interdisciplinary performances.
Mike Blutman with Jon Batiste

Mike Blutman with Jon Batiste


Jon Batiste was a colleague at Juilliard and has since done amazing things with his Stay Human Band. I performed with him in his “Little Big Band” at the Blue Note, Dizzy’s Club, KC Jazz Club, Rubin Museum, for an NPR national broadcast, Central Park’s Summerstage jazz series with Esperanza Spalding, and recorded at Pyramid Studios. Jon and I also did a few educational recitals based around music by Duke Ellington and William Grant Still.  Jon brings intimacy and excitement to every performance, which continues to inspire me.

Mike's Conn Victor 1924 Bb/A "quick change" cornet in front of the George Washington Bridge and Hudson River before a Paragon Ragtime Orchestra recording session.

Mike’s Conn Victor 1924 Bb/A “quick change” cornet in front of the George Washington Bridge and Hudson River before a Paragon Ragtime Orchestra recording session.


Recently, I have performed and recorded a bit with the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra (on my Conn Victor 1924 Bb/A quick-change cornet). This group performs ragtime, theater music and accompanies “silent” movies. The first CD I performed on featured music arranged by Harry Alford (listen to clips of this CD here).  The forthcoming CD features early cinema music from the “silent movie” era.

There are other really great programs and performances I’ve been lucky enough to play like Elliott Carter’s opera What Next?, an all Kurt Weill / Hans Eisler program at Carnegie with H.K. Gruber, and many others … I have been very lucky so far to have some very cool playing opportunities and hope to continue that into the future.
SC: What are some things that you do other than play the trumpet?
MB: My brother and I started Pinnacle Music Press, a publishing company looking to fill gaps in music education.  Part of this series is Festival Sight Reading, which my brother and I co-authored.  This is the first “job” I’ve had that doesn’t really involve a trumpet up to my face.  I often have to do long tones or lip slurs while I’m doing Pinnacle work just to feel normal!
Outside of music, I’m somewhat “normal”: sports fan (particularly baseball), enjoy following/discussing politics and current events, read (mostly history), long walks around the city, etc.
SC: What would you like to be doing in 5 or 10 years?
MB: My hope is that over the next several years, Pinnacle Music Press develops into a strong business. I believe that our products have a great potential for wide distribution. This is my first business venture outside my playing and teaching and I think it has a great potential.
I want to be a really good musician and teacher, so I need to continually improve my trumpet playing and deepen my musical knowledge and experiences. In these areas, my immediate goals are similar to what they have been to this point. I believe that if I focus on improving the quality of my trumpet playing and musicianship, other good things will follow.
SC: What do you do when you’re not working?
SC: Michael, thanks so much for your time!


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Re-thinking jazz and classical music

I recently read an op-ed in the Washington Post,All that jazz isn’t all that great by Justin Moyer, and it brought to my mind a lot of old conversations and thoughts that I have had about the place of jazz (and classical music) in our culture. Moyer’s piece is a critique against jazz in general. I both agreed and disagreed with Moyer’s views.

Louis Armstrong established his legacy by both playing the trumpet and singing

Louis Armstrong established his legacy by both playing the trumpet and singing

His first point that “Jazz takes great songs — and abandons the lyrics that help make them great,” is partially true. Most jazz today is based on instrumental versions of standards that used to have lyrics. Not wanting to get too bogged down in the fact that there are many great jazz recordings and performances of vocalists, it should be noted that classical music, too, is largely instrumental. Craig Wright, in Listening to Music, writes that “about 80 percent of the Western classical repertoire is instrumental.” Wright attributes the rise in instrumental music to the growing popularity of playing instruments in taverns and homes in the 17th and 18th century. I propose that the rise in jazz popularity in the mid-20th century was also due to the large number of very competent amateurs who could easily play the popular songs of the day and understand the sound of the basic harmonic changes underneath the vocals. Their familiarity with great songs helped create a fantastic backdrop for an appreciation of, and love for, jazz instrumental renditions of popular songs.

The problem today is that there are fewer homes with pianos or other instruments that are played on a regular basis with enough competence to entertain the family. There isn’t enough musical vocabulary understood by the common person of today. I would venture to say that there isn’t even a desire to have live music in homes today. This is, of course, due to the ease in which we can get any recording today for instant gratification. Nobody is compelled to make the effort to learn how to play for the entertainment of friends and family at home.

Moyer’s second point that “improvisation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be” is weak, while taking a needless swipe at Wes Montgomery, the great jazz guitarist. In my opinion, improvisation IS all it’s cracked up to be. Moreover, if there were more improvisation in ALL genres of music, then I think there would be a lot more joyful music making and appreciation. I believe improvisation is none other than the remedy to the decline of today’s music industry. It’s just too easy for everyone to have a favorite tune, to like it only the way it’s recorded, and to only like cover bands that play the tune exactly that way. This mindset has been formulated mainly by the recording industry, which made a huge profit selling people definitive recordings, and by music conservatories and competitions that have promoted correct execution of the musical score over individual freedom. Well, with streaming music today, that profit for the recording industry and the musicians themselves is woefully diminished, and classical orchestras and bands are in great decline. It’s time to start pulling away, at least a little bit, from definitive recordings and scores and to start embracing spontaneous, improvised performances. The difficulty, of course, is that this notion sets the standard higher than most musicians want to go. It depends on developing much better “ears” and knowledge of how the music is constructed. It also tends to by-pass conservatories, at least in the way that they are structured today.

Renaissance wind ensembles improvised their performances in large part

Renaissance wind ensembles improvised their performances in large part

It’s useful, by the way, to point out that classical composers such as Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven, Handel and Bach all were exceptional improvisers. Indeed, an accomplished wind band of the 16th century would have all of their repertoire memorized, and they would decorate their part to such an extent that we would call it improvisation. They called it making “divisions.”


To become a spontaneous, original, improvising musician, you have to listen to others, break down their musical ideas into small portions,  paraphrase these ideas, and then develop the ability to originate your own ideas within the musical language in which you have been working. This is a long process with high demands, but great rewards.

Schoenberg, a masterful composer, is best known now for "inventing" 12-tone serialism

Schoenberg, a masterful composer, is best known now for “inventing” 12-tone serialism

Moyer’s third point is that “Jazz stopped evolving.” This brings up a very important issue that runs contrary to the jazz and classical worlds’ notion that greatness comes in large part from doing something fundamentally new. There is nothing wrong with new ideas in music, but it is just too easy for the human brain to artificially construct an evolution of musical language. And the critics just love to say things like, “Miles Davis introduced the world to cool jazz.” Or, “serialism began primarily with Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique.”

Clifford Brown, one of my favorite jazz trumpeters of all time.

Clifford Brown, one of my favorite jazz trumpeters of all time.

To be able to pin a new trend to someone is just too tempting. Unfortunately, this fascination with music evolution tends to crowd out great artists that were not necessarily innovative in that way (such as hard-bob trumpeter Clifford Brown, British 20th-century classical composer Vaughan Williams, or even J.S. Bach). Innovation is important and needs to be recognized, but beautifully working out one’s personal approach to a musical language should be equally prized. I’m sure there are young composers and jazz artists out there that are afraid to embrace old genres for fear of not being taken seriously as an innovator.

Jazz great Winton Marsalis has let his musical language develop organically. His authenticity has captured the hearts of young and old alike

Jazz great Winton Marsalis has let his musical language develop organically. His authenticity has captured the hearts of young and old alike.


And here I think it is important to point out that Wynton Marsalis is a shining example of a jazz musician that has revived a general public interest in jazz by embracing older styles of jazz and creating a fresh approach to this music. Respighi, Hindemith and Stravinsky were all heavily inspired by Renaissance and Baroque examples, and their music continues to inspire listeners with their grasp of older genres. It comes across as authentic and masterful.

Moyer’s fourth point, that “Jazz is mushy,” rambles on about a number of points. He points out that there are non-musical things that are equated to jazz: President Obama once described his own style of speaking as being “like jazz.” And author Jack Kerouac “may be the closest thing we have to a ‘jazz writer.’” Moyer’s statement brings to my mind another interesting point about artificial vs. organic artistic “evolution.”

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 12.22.27 PMIf you were to go to a library and browse any number of literature genres, you would notice, by and large, a tendency to use the English language in a very recognizable way. Grammar would be mostly correct (and please go easy on my own use of grammar!), and vocabulary would not normally need to go beyond the top 20,000 words (although there are hundreds of thousands of words in the English language). This is true of popular fiction, biography and even scholarly articles. Even most poetry uses recognizable constructions. We do not ask that English literature evolve artificially to some unrecognizable form (even non-sensical poems such as Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” and stream-of-consciousness novels such as Joyce’s Ulysses are largely understandable). So why, I ask, do we put this terrible onus on jazz and classical music to be new and different? Why do we insist on jazz reaching it’s “logical” conclusion in the “free jazz” of musicians such as Ornette Coleman? Why do we snub modern tonal-like or modal classical music as being dilettante-ish? Let’s everybody relax and enjoy the communication of a living musical language that is SHARED between the artist and the audience. There are countless more pieces that could be masterful and innovative in musical languages that seem “dead,” like, for instance, the baroque language of Bach.

Moyer’s final point, “Jazz let itself be co-opted” brings up the danger of getting too conservative. He writes, “this music has retreated from the nightclub to the academy. It is shielded from commercial failure by the American cultural-institutional complex, which hands out grants and degrees to people like me. Want to have a heated discussion about “Bitches Brew” or the upper partials? White guys wielding brass in Manhattan and New England are ready to do battle.” While it is true that jazz has been fetishized by many white intellectuals and largely ignored by young blacks, it would be nice to gently lay aside these racial aspects that divide us. Can’t we all just get along and enjoy the musical language for what it is? It’s a living language available for all to communicate with. On the other hand, I have to ask myself why is it that you can find a jazz studies program in hundreds of American music schools, but you can hardly find any school that might nurture your interest in Rock, dance music, pop and Hip-hop (perhaps with the exception of Berklee College of Music)? The answer to this question is that we are not willing to be spontaneous and profound with our education. We are not willing to really educate our children and youth in how to communicate with music. From elementary and middle school music programs up to graduate schools in music, we take the easy way out. We encourage a quickly-learned ensemble performance without engaging students in how to improvise or compose or even understand the music that is performed. If a band director can demonstrate to his boss, the principal, that some students learned to play “Hot Cross Buns” at the convocation or the “back to school night” then everything is okay. We insist on students writing English essays, but we don’t care about their ability to compose and communicate in music and the arts in general.


Kids Compose! allows hundreds of schoolchildren between second and sixth grades from Monroe County to use their imagination to compose melodies

Kids Compose! allows hundreds of schoolchildren between second and sixth grades from Monroe County to use their imagination to compose melodies

How about this idea? Let’s have a group of students compose, under the guidance of a teacher, their own musical, opera or song. (An example of this is the “Kids Compose!” project in Bloomington, Indiana). Let’s have a young musician, who is learning how to play the flute, improvise over some simple chords. Let’s communicate with our artform!

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