Interview with trumpeter Neil Brown

Neil Brown playing with the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra

Neil Brown (left) playing with the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra. (right: Paul Johnson)

Trumpeter Neil Brown enjoys a multi-faceted career as a performer, educator, composer, arranger, and bandleader. Currently a member of the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, he is also the founder, principal composer, and trumpeter of the classical, jazz, and rock influenced group Phonic Wrinkle. Neil can frequently be heard playing with many Washington D.C. and Baltimore area ensembles including the National Philharmonic, Apollo Chamber Orchestra, Maryland Symphony, Peacherine Ragtime Orchestra, Concert Artists of Baltimore, and Tryos Ensemble.

Originally from Guilford, Connecticut, Neil earned his Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from the University of Maryland and was a member of the United States Navy Band in Washington D.C. from 2009-2013. He attended the National Orchestral Institute, Colorado College Summer Music Festival, Las Vegas Music Festival, and Boston University Tanglewood Institute. As an educator, he has performed numerous educational concerts, presented masterclasses at both the university and high school levels, served on the faculty of the Suitland Performing Arts High School and the Sheridan School, and leads a private trumpet studio. Neil’s teachers include Chris Gekker, Steven Hendrickson, and Allan Dean.

 

Websites:
www.phonicwrinkle.com
www.facebook.com/phonicwrinkle
www.tryosensemble.com

 

Equipment:
Bb trumpet: Bach Stradivarius 180ML 43
C trumpet: Yamaha YTR-9445CHS Chicago
Eb/D: Schilke E3L
Piccolo: Kanstul Custom Class
Rotary: Ricco Kühn T053/C
Flugelhorn: Yamaha 631G

Mouthpieces
:
Bb/C/Eb: Bach 1 ½ C with 24 throat
Cornet: Laskey 75SB
Piccolo: Laskey P50
Rotary: Yamaha 16E4


 

Interview with trumpeter Neil Brown

The Interviewer is Stanley Curtis

 

Trumpeter Neil Brown playing with Phonic Wrinkle

Trumpeter Neil Brown playing with Phonic Wrinkle

SC: How did you get interested in music? Who were some of your initial influences and teachers? What other things were you interested in when you were young?

 

NB: I was extremely fortunate to grow up in a school system in Guilford, Connecticut that required all students to either sing in choir or play in the band or orchestra when they entered 5th grade. I have an older brother and had attended several of his middle school band concerts, so by the time I reached 5th grade, I was very excited at the prospect of playing in the band. Though my initial first choice for an instrument was the drums, I settled on the trumpet after the band director gently redirected my interests. My classmates had an overwhelming demand to play drums and in an act of balancing the band I was fortuitously assigned to the trumpet section. Looking back, this ended up being one of the most important choices of my life as it is hard for me to imagine playing a different instrument other than the trumpet.

 

SC: When did you get really interested in the trumpet? Who were your most important teachers? What sorts of experiences were critical to you becoming a professional trumpeter?

NB: I led a fairly normal childhood with a strong interest in sports, particularly basketball and baseball. I enjoyed playing the trumpet, though not as much as sports, and I practiced regularly, but sometimes only because it was a valid reason for putting off homework. Gradually in late middle school or early high school I began to take the trumpet much more seriously. I really enjoyed the process of improving on the instrument and started listening to many kinds of music in addition to the popular music on the radio, particularly classical and jazz. I had an especially influential middle school band director, Eric Gerhardt, who happened to be a trumpet player and former student of Chris Gekker. He had been a freelance trumpeter in New York before arriving in my town in Connecticut and really expanded my perspective of excellent music and fine trumpet playing. Together with inspiration from listening to great musicians, terrific guidance from my music teachers, and a great group of friends that I played music with, I began to strongly feel that a career in music was what I wanted.

In college, I studied with Chris Gekker and Steven Hendrickson at the University of Maryland. I cannot even begin to express the level of gratitude I feel towards them for all of the knowledge and inspiration they bestowed upon me during lessons, not to mention the fine examples of musicianship and professionalism each demonstrated through his active performance career.

 

MU1 Neil Brown playing "Taps" at Arlington National Cemetery

MU1 Neil Brown playing “Taps” at Arlington National Cemetery

SC: You served in the U.S. Navy Band for one enlistment. What did you like about the band? Why did you leave?

NB: The Navy Band was a great job and I was truly fortunate to play amongst so many fine musicians. One of the most important and meaningful aspects of the job was to play Taps for funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. Each performance meant so much to the families of the service member and it was a great honor to play for people who had often sacrificed so much in their service. Though there were many other aspects of the job—playing concerts for the public, performing at important Navy ceremonies, formally welcoming foreign dignitaries with our music, even playing for the President on occasion—rendering Taps for service members, for me, was the most important part of being a trumpet player in the Navy Band.

Playing "Taps" at Ft. McHenry (Maryland) at anniversary of the battle with the British Navy when Francis Scott Key penned the "Star Spangled Banner"

Playing “Taps” at Ft. McHenry (Maryland) at anniversary of the battle with the British Navy when Francis Scott Key penned the “Star Spangled Banner”

The decision to leave the Navy Band was very difficult and only made after considerable thought. Ultimately, though, I had aspirations for my musical career that I had to pursue. I wanted to spend more time performing in orchestras, playing chamber music, and teaching. Most of all, I wanted the opportunity to lead my own group. A group for which I could compose music, provide the musical direction, and feel a sense of ownership. I left my nice steady job with the Navy Band and jumped off the cliff into independence, an uncertain future, and full pursuit of my dreams.

 

 

SC: You have an interest in fitness and nutrition. What are your views on staying in shape and eating right. Does this regimen help your trumpet playing?

NB: I have an interest in living a healthy lifestyle both for the long-term benefits and the present day advantage of feeling better throughout day to day activities, but I am not a doctor and wouldn’t try to play one, even on a trumpet blog! I know of many fantastic trumpet players that don’t put a strong emphasis on nutrition, so I would not say that it is a particularly impactful aspect of trumpet playing. I will just mention briefly, and this is nothing revelatory, that I think it can be beneficial to minimize heavily processed foods, particularly heavily processed carbohydrates, and increase the intake of foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids such as fish or avocado. These diet choices may have a small impact on trumpet playing as processed carbohydrates are often linked to elevated levels of inflammation throughout the body, which for trumpet players can mean slower healing from a heavy day of playing or more swollen chops. Of course the greater factors are taking care to not overdo your practicing and managing the demands of a tough rehearsal or concert intelligently, but when you do those to the best of your ability perhaps diet would be one more tool to add.

 

 

Phonic Wrikle: L to R, Kyle Augustine, Paul Keesling, Neil Brown, Nick Montopoli, Natalie Spehar

Phonic Wrikle: L to R, Kyle Augustine, Paul Keesling, Neil Brown, Nick Montopoli, Natalie Spehar

SC: Tell me about your most recent project(s).

NB: Phonic Wrinkle has been a really fun and interesting project. I started the group about a year ago and we made our debut on a recital at University of Maryland. I compose or arrange most of the music we play, and I play trumpet in the group. Phonic Wrinkle consists of five musicians: trumpet, violin, cello, electric bass, and drums. I think we have crafted a unique sound both from our unusual instrumentation and by combining elements of classical, jazz, and rock music, but we are not so progressive that our music is esoteric. We want to connect with listeners on an emotional level, and we hope people can really enjoy our music and be moved. I am fortunate to work with four other fantastic musicians and friends in the group, and I think collectively Phonic Wrinkle has tremendous potential. My vision is that we will continue to grow our audience, do more recording, and hopefully some touring in the future.

Tryos Ensemble: L to R, Kevin Businsky, Neil Brown, Kevin McKee, Hyojin Ahn

Tryos Ensemble: L to R, Kevin Businsky, Neil Brown, Kevin McKee, Hyojin Ahn

I also play in a chamber group with a great group of friends called the Tryos Ensemble. The group takes form in a few different instrumentations, one of which consists of three trumpets and piano and another as a trumpet and cello duo. We have been playing recitals, weddings and other events. There is not a large repertoire for these instrumentations so I have done quite a bit of arranging, which has been time consuming but rewarding. Some of the real classic wedding pieces, despite being overplayed, are really beautiful pieces of music and as a trumpet player it is a real joy to get to play them.

[audio:http://www.trumpetjourney.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Pachelbel-split.mp3|titles=Tryos Ensemble: Pachelbel Canon, arr. Neil Brown] [audio:http://www.trumpetjourney.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Telemann-Concerto-in-G-mvt-1.mp3|titles=Tryos Ensemble: Telemann Concerto for 3 trumpets, arr. Neil Brown]

 

Trio illumino: L to R, Neil Brown, Virginia Lum, Stephen Czarkowski. Photo credit: Bruce Vartan Boyajian

Trio illumino: L to R, Neil Brown, Virginia Lum, Stephen Czarkowski. Photo credit: Bruce Vartan Boyajian

 

 

Recently I have also begun performing with a group called Trio illumino, consisting of trumpet, cello, and piano. There are a few fantastic pieces written for this instrumentation including substantial works by Eric Ewazen and Carson Cooman, and I have also done some arrangements ranging from the Bartok violin duos to music from the Brazilian composer Pixinguinha.

 

 

 

 

SC: What do you see yourself doing in 5 years?

NB: The unpredictability of a career in music is both curse and a blessing. Though stability can be in short supply, every day brings a new exciting project or group to play with and life rarely gets boring. I don’t know what twists and turns my career will take, but I do have some definite goals to pursue. I would like Phonic Wrinkle to continue to grow. I would like to write more music for the group and I hope our music can really connect with our audience. I also really enjoy working with my good friends in the Tryos Ensemble and Trio illumino and hope these groups continue to be increasingly active. I will continue playing orchestral music and always cherish any opportunity to play with any of the fine orchestras in the Washington D.C. area. Lastly, I have really begun to enjoy teaching trumpet. I may pursue teaching at the college level some day, but for now I am getting great satisfaction and am learning a tremendous amount from my students.

 

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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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