Happy birthday, and the importance of Story, Song and Support

It all started three years ago with a little post about, well, starting this website. And now Trumpet Journey has grown to more than 90 published posts about all kinds of trumpet-related things. There have been many interviews, but also “Top Ten Lists.” There have been posts about jazz, renaissance and baroque music, orchestral playing, the jobs market, and even language learning. 

Of the 117,000 people who have visited Trumpet Journey, I am really happy to receive the occasional comment or question. Especially from places like The Netherlands or Italy. Or even India! (sorry, India, I haven’t gotten around to answering you, yet). 

15th-century manuscript with a bearded figure blowing a trumpet

15th-century manuscript with a bearded figure blowing a trumpet

I haven’t posted much of my own writing in a while, because I have been doing so many interviews. So, I’d like to shake off the dust and talk about the three “S”s. These are what I think are the three key elements that each great trumpet player has: Story, Song, and Support

Each of us has a unique story. That story may be an actual account of some event, or even the story of our life. But we also have our own stories that we keep coming back to, such as “beauty is great,” or “old things are cool” or “technology is what I’m about.” These are our thematic points that our choices point to. Choices about repertoire, style, equipment, venues, and even the clothes we wear when we perform can help create our own story and the story that each generation needs to hear. Many players perform to a story that is going on inside their heads. As listeners, we can sense that something dramatic is happening. 

Trumpeters like Jean-Francois Madeuf, Doc Severinson, and Philip Smith seem to have a really strong story. Their playing seems to spring effortlessly from their personal story. 

Authenticity (played on an authentic natural baroque trumpet–very rarely heard):

Showmanship–notice how Doc adjusts his story to suit the Lawrence Welk Show audience:

And this story telling in the orchestral realm. I remember hearing Philip Smith talking about the way he thought about this opening excerpt from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. He said he pictured Death (as the shrouded skeleton) reaching out from a dark fog. Closer and closer he comes, until you see his grotesqueness clearly. Sound quality is not quite perfect in this example.

 

Then there is the song. This is how we play what we play. This song can be sung with heart-on-the-sleeve romanticism, laser-beam clarity, or rhetorical interpretation. This is our personal song we sing on the trumpet when we play. Each of our voices are different–and they should be. Our song is the meeting place of our phrasing, our interpretation, our experience and, of course, our tone. I learned a beautiful lesson about tone from a former colleague of mine, the great euphonium player named Roger Behrend. He said it helps him to think about tone in terms of color, texture and taste. So, for instance, if you are thinking about maroon, velvet and chocolate, you get an especially luxurious sound. Or, perhaps you’re thinking golden, rough and with the taste of jambalaya, like I do, when I hear this trumpeter:

Trumpeters that have a great sense of song are many, but for me, some of the most astounding “trumpet singers” have been, besides Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and Maurice André. 

I found this unusual example of Maurice André playing the Hindemith “Trumpet Sonate.” While this is not normal repertoire for André, nor is it a standard interpretation of the renowned German composer’s piece, it so well shows André’s glowing song-making style.

 

But to keep the song going, which keeps the story fresh, we all need the support of our technique, our fundamentals, our use of air, and our “chops.” For most of us, this comes down to consistent, mindful practice over many years. We are also looking for the right equipment to help us get there. Equipment and practice routines seem to be the subjects of most the trumpet chatter out there on the web and in studios. We all want to be able to play better, faster and higher. I know I do. But I think we all understand the limitations of mouthpieces, technique and high notes without a great singing style. Or without a musical story to tell. Let’s let support be what it is: help for a greater cause. Nevertheless, there are some great examples of technique and equipment.

Wynton Marsalis’ amazing technique and unique equipment do not get in the way of his song or story.

Malcolm McNab is a paragon of fundamentals, and he spins them into the most amazing recordings.

And, or course, there are the high note players like Arturo Sandoval and the late, great Maynard Ferguson. 

Talk about support!!! 

I think all of these examples show exceptional Story, Song and Support, and hopefully will give us some inspiration to communicate with our audiences, too.

In a very meaningful way, Trumpet Journey has been one of my trumpet stories that I have been able to tell over the last three years. 

 

 

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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: www.pinmusicpress.com
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”: http://paragonragtime.com/store/minding-the-score-the-amazing-harry-l-alford/
 
Equipment:
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)
 
Mouthpieces:
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?
 
MB: SLEEP!!!
 
SC: Michael, thanks so much for your time!
 

 

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