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.

’ 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 jazz/rock trumpeter, Mart Avant

Mart Avant with Vic Carstarphen, keyboardist with the Temptation

Mart Avant with the late Vic Carstarphen, keyboardist with the Temptations

Mart Avant, Founding member of The Tuscaloosa Horns, graduated in 1980 with a B.M. in arranging from the University of Alabama. Named outstanding soloist at the Kentonian Jazz Festival, Mart quickly moved into the studios of Birmingham, Alabama, as an arranger for horns and strings.

 

Mart Avant with a Slo-Gin 60s band revue

Mart Avant with a Slo-Gin 60s band revue

The Tuscaloosa Horns were merged with the Slo-Gin 60’s band in the fall of 1981. Avant was the staff brass arranger for Southwind Drum & Bugle Corps from 1983-1993, winning the DCI division II championship with “The Little Mermaid” & “Robinhood.” Mart began contracting for the Tuscaloosa Horns with the Temptations, The Four Tops, Frankie Valli, and Martha Reeves in 1984. That list has been continuously expanding and now includes Frankie Avalon, Kenny Rogers, Little Anthony & The Imperials, Fabian, Lou Christie, The Tommy Dorsey Band, Guy Lombardo, Peter Duchin Orchestra, and the Denny LeRoux Orchestra. Locally, Mart directs the Alabama Cavaliers Alumni Big Band as well as the Night Flight Jazz Quintet. He also plays from time to time in both the lead and jazz chairs in several big bands in the Southeast. Under his leadership, The Tuscaloosa Horns have gained a reputation for precision and quality that currently makes them the preferred horns with The Temptations at many of their performances through the country. In January 1999, as a member and co-founder of The Tuscaloosa Horns, he was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame Music Achievers.

 

Equipment

B-flat trumpet: Getzen Custom (bore size .462 in.)
Trumpet mouthpieces: Marcinkiewicz modified Bob Findlay model with 3C rim
Warburton, 4.5 rim with ES or S under-part
Flugelhorn: Yamaha Pro Model YFH731 with Giardinelli 6F mouthpiece
(see interview below for the long story of Mart’s equipment)


Interview with jazz/rock trumpeter, Mart Avant

The Interviewer is Stanley Curtis

SC: What are some of the early musical influences in your life?

MA: I began my music career with piano lessons, from the second grade on through my junior year of college. My very first piano teacher was a stern taskmaster but rewarded hard work, and being an only child, I had plenty of time to practice without siblings throwing things at me…HA!

Jerry Bobo with Mart Avant

Jerry Bobo with Mart Avant

One of my two most influential mentors was my band director at Fayette County High School, Jerry Bobo. My time with him from 1967 to 1973 was a time when band and sports were the absolute focal points for our community. Mr. B had an absolutely incredible career as the band director there, amassing superior ratings at state band competition from the late 50’s thru the early 90’s. He instilled a work ethic in us that is with me, and countless others, to this day. You had better come prepared to rehearsal as he would go down the row of chairs seeing who could execute the literature we were working on at that time, and you could find yourself relocating from the first trumpet section to the third in the blink of an eye. Jerry Bobo was a freak clarinet player, but had minored in trumpet while at the University of Alabama. While he and I differed a bit on mouthpiece placement and a few other issues, Mr. B was great at hammering us on the Arban book, the Rubank books, and scales, scales, scales. We learned to articulate accurately, to double- and triple-tongue, and he made sure we had to perform literature that demanded that.

Discipline was never an issue in the Fayette County High School Senior Band. In fact any such problems were handled internally without Mr. Bobo having to get involved. We considered it a huge honor to sit in his band, and those that didn’t were quickly dealt with out behind the gym! Mr. B also allowed me to get my feet wet with arranging, as I co-wrote a massive arrangement of “Lowdown” from Chicago III (the third album by the rock band Chicago) for the band. That pretty much got me going as a writer, along with the three- and four-horn garage bands that I was in from the age of 15. Even in the tiny community of Fayette, there were always three or four working bands during my early- and mid-teens that fueled my desire to be a performer. It didn’t hurt that within a year or two of my beginnings on the trumpet (the year 1967), Tower of Power, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago, Dreams, Ten Wheel Drive, Earth, Wind & Fire, Cold Blood, and many other horn bands sprang into being. It was GOOD to be a pop/rock trumpet player right about then!!

Steve Sample

Steve Sample

Upon moving to Tuscaloosa in 1975 (just south of Fayette County), I continued a relationship with my second, and probably most influential, mentor, Steve Sample, Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Alabama. A nationally renowned arranger and teacher, Steve was the driving force behind an astounding number of musicians that are still working worldwide to this day. Under his direction, the ’70s and ’80s produced a huge number of University of Alabama Jazz Ensemble alumni that all owe a great debt to Steve for his guidance, innate musicality. I majored in Arranging, and pretty much left the drums and piano to those way more proficient on those instruments. I did ruffle quite a few feathers as Dr. Jim Ferguson awarded me First Chair Trumpet in the University of Alabama Symphonic Band my last semester, since there were a ton of classically oriented trumpet majors that I beat out for the position. To them I was “That Jazz Hippie” from Fayette.

My trumpet teacher was Michael Johnson, who I met in 1970 when he came to the University from the Midwest. Michael was an eccentric cat to be sure, but was a great motivator and let me choose the path that I wanted, which was pop/jazz rather than strictly orchestral.

 

SC: Michael Johnson was also one of my trumpet teachers, too. In fact, he was my first teacher and the one I studied with the longest. Tell me more about your experience with him.

Michael Johnson, trumpet teacher at the University of Alabama from 1971 to 2003.

Michael Johnson, trumpet teacher at the University of Alabama from 1971 to 2003.

MA: Mike Johnson and I met when I was a sophomore at Fayette, in the summer of 1970, when he came to U of A from Nebraska. He was a great piccolo trumpet player no doubt and had followed up a very successful touring rock band stint with his turn to full-time teaching. We were the best of friends, and our duets were something that I both dreaded and also looked forward to, as he was really a better player than he was a teacher, and could just toast any of us, laughing all the while. He kind of forced my hand at being an arranging major, as he told me flat out that if I was going to major in trumpet, he would have no part of me being in the jazz ensemble. I would only be able to play in the symphonic band, the orchestra, and brass ensemble. I wasn’t feeling that in the least, but I actually went on to play in each of those ensembles—with my trusty 3C mouthpiece always at the ready.

 

SC: Tell me about your equipment—the long story!

Mart Avant

Mart Avant

MA: While at Fayette, our band director (Jerry Bobo) had a philosophy regarding trumpet players—that it was best to start out on a cornet. Then as you grew into the instrument, the trumpet would be the next step. I started on a student-line Besson cornet, probably with a Besson mouthpiece. After a couple of years I bought a really neat King Silver Sonic cornet from a graduating senior. It had a sterling silver bell with gold plating inside the bell, and I kept it until my junior year.

Tuscaloosa Music Service was the mecca for all things instrument-related in those days. Having tried out two or three different horns that the store’s rep brought to our school, I decided on a Getzen Severinsen Model. It was a 1972 instrument, and other than retro-fitting a large bore leadpipe four years later, I played that horn until I could see the air in it.

I went to Whipkey’s Music in Atlanta and bought a Getzen Custom trumpet in 1999 with the .462/.464 interchangeable tuning slides. I played the bigger slide until on a Temptations/Four Tops run down in Charenton, Louisiana, when Chip Crotts (he was lead trumpet with Maynard Ferguson’s band in 1998) picked it up, ripped a phrase and then declared that he could NEVER play lead with that larger bore! So, I went to the .462 slide and have it to this day.

My flugel was purchased at Giardinelli’s music shop in New York City in the fall of 1977, and is a Yamaha Pro Model YFH731, and it, with a Giardinelli 6F mouthpiece, has been my sole flugel setup! I have never heard a better sounding flugel or flugel piece, and that horn is my soul without a doubt.

As far as trumpet pieces go, I have run the gamut from Giardinelli and Schilke in the ’70s and ’80s to Warburton and Marcinkiewicz since then. Terry Warburton and I are tweaking a piece that is between his stock 4 and 5 rim size. For lead I stay pretty shallow—“ES,” or “S”—on Warburton mouthpieces. The great New York trumpeter Don Harris (Lead with Tower of Power in ’97) let me copy his Marcinkiewicz that started out as a Bob Findlay model with Joe Marcinkiewicz’s version of a Bach 3C rim on it. With this copy I survived the World’s Greatest Singers Tour with the Temps, Tops, O’Jays, and Whispers in the summer of both ’03 and ’04, hernia surgery notwithstanding! We can find no evidence of a horn section other than the Tuscaloosa Horns ever doing that many shows in a row, back to back to back with Temps, Tops, and Jays. Brutal is not an adequate description!

 

SC: How did you learn how to arrange?

MA: Being an only child, and with a strong background in piano from such an early age, I would sit for hours listening to pop records (Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Chicago, Tower of Power, Chase, and Cold Blood, mostly) with sketch score books in my face, listening to the horn parts with first one side of the stereo cut off then the other so the parts were easily discernible. I studied those whopper chord symbols, and over time learned what a “C13b9#11” sounded like under my fingers on the piano. Again we had many working bands during my high school years that allowed me to hone my skills as an arranger because there were so many great horn bands that we were like kids in a candy store learning all this stuff.

As my studies progressed, I was introduced to the world of studio arranging/recording in the real world quite by accident– (there is a great account of this on the Tuscaloosa Horns website). In the summer of 1980 we decided to call our original four-piece section the Tuscaloosa Horns, and that was the beginning of something special for all of us that continues to this day.

Once we made that scene in Birmingham, we began to take off musically in every way. These producers basically let us write whatever we heard as being a complimentary horn chart to the rhythm/vocal arrangements on countless commercial projects for a period of seven or eight years starting around 1979. I actually co-wrote the very first 30-second TV opening for HBO. We had the world by the tail and planned to take it over during those days, as we were learning how to write, how to play in the studio setting, and we were making contacts all over the country through Boutwell Studios, The Music Place, Sound of Birmingham, and Shamblin Sound in Tuscaloosa.

Then came the Synclavier and Kurtzweil keyboards that sampled all the sounds of the music world, and our recording dynasty folded. Overnight, nearly. That forced our hand to look to the live stage.

 

SC: How did you start working with big-name acts, like The Imperials, The Temptations, Kenny Rogers, and others? Are there some favorite group or groups that you like working with?

The Tuscaloosa Horns near Atlanta for a Four Tops concert, July 2015.

The Tuscaloosa Horns near Atlanta for a Four Tops concert, July 2015.

MA: The Tuscaloosa Horns, while still cranking out a few projects in the summer of ’84, got a call from a Birmingham percussionist, Michael Panepento, that was on the Motown Reunion Tour with the Temptations and Four Tops. He knew me from the Boutwell sessions and we had worked together in a band or two as well. He told me simply: “Mart, get your best ten players, as the “TNT” show is coming into Birmingham in a few weeks. If they like you, they will use you when they are in the area in the future.”

Mart Avant with Barney Floyd at a Temptations show.

Mart Avant with Barney Floyd at a Temptations show.

That single conversation launched a life relationship with the Tempts, Tops. Word of mouth got out about us within a few years to include all the other acts that we are family with right now—the O’Jays, Percy Sledge, Martha Reeves, Mary Wilson, Natalie Cole, Frankie Valli, Wayne Newton, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Kenny Rogers, Fabian, Lou Christie, Bobby Vinton, Bobby Rydell, and even a Barry Manilow production for good measure. The Guy Lombardo Orchestra, Glenn Milller Orchestra, Bill Tole’s Dorsey bands, and many other jazz groups look to the “Thorns” when they are in our range. From that first show, we have seen years that afforded us 50-60 shows with just the Temps and Tops, with all the others sprinkled in. According to these groups, we bring a vibe, an exuberance, and an execution of their sometimes brutally unforgiving books that is unmatched in the country. I am exceedingly proud of that designation.

 

SC: What about the Night Flight Jazz Quintet and the Night Flight Big Band? What are some of the highlights from these groups?

MA: My Night Flight Jazz Quintet groups started in the early ’80s as I was called to do many wedding receptions and other events around Tuscaloosa/Birmingham.

The Night Flight Big Band

The Night Flight Big Band

In 2000 I took over a rehearsal band format at a great jazz club in Birmingham called Ona’s Music Room. We called that group the Night Flight Big Band, and we are together even now. We have a standing first Wednesday night of the month date there to simply pass out charts, read them, and have a blast. We do private parties, receptions, and big events out of that venue, and its nucleus is again the Tuscaloosa Horns. Killer band for sure. 

 

SC: How does it feel to be inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame? What are your most significant achievements that you are proud of?

MA: One of the co-founders of the THorns, the immensely talented author, educator, trumpeter and pianist, Chris Gordon, spearheaded the effort to get us Music Achiever status with the Alabama Music Hall of Fame a few years back. For me to be the main organizer of our group, it gives me a sense of humility in that Alabama has produced some of the most accomplished musicians in the world and we are on a list with them! When we are onstage and Ron Tyson or Otis Williams of the Temptations, or Duke Fakir of the Four Tops, or Eddie Levert of the O’Jays turns to us and tells the audience “Ladies and Gentlemen, the greatest horn section in the country, the Tuscaloosa Horns!!” it makes all the phone calls, e-mails, delicate negotiations, personnel juggling, lodging, and travel preparations all worthwhile. And somehow I have maintained enough trumpet face to stay up there with them.

 

SC: Who are some of your favorite musicians?

MA: As far as favorite musicians and albums go, you could plant me on an island with the Michel Camilo Big Band CD (Caribe), some Steely Dan (the album Aja, possibly,) and some Natalie Cole tracks from her impossibly hip and classiest-in-history show book, and I would be just fine, thank you.

 

SC: What is your sound concept?

MA: I found that early on, to be able to get work in the trumpet world, at least with my mostly pop/jazz calendar, I needed to be both a decent lead player and also a jazz player that could grab the solos as well. This probably explains my love for the flugel, as I have always gone for a brilliant, high-end cutting lead sound on the trumpet and let the flugel be my alter ego for the dark, sexy solo color. Many players are content to keep that color on their trumpets by using a really big, deep piece, but that’s not me. Very few of those cats can make that work on a lead book. There certainly are exceptions, but mostly no.

I have always practiced both trumpet and flugel, and I devote at least one third of my allotted time on the flugel to be able to switch back and forth without difficulty. I find that the flugel helps focus me for more lead, as it somewhat refreshes my buzz, often at critical times during a show.

I have always tried to include the basics (to me) in my practice regimen. One simple four-page exerpt has helped me maintain finger speed and dexterity since my early 20s—that is from the John McNeil book “Jazz Trumpet Techniques.” He simply devised a set of low- to mid-range patterns to exercise the fingers, and I can tell in half a set whether I have hit those patterns or not over the previous week’s work. They are absolute finger busters, but when you finish a page, your fingers have the burn, not your corners! Buzzing with the piece only (I use the B.E.R.P. which is a great tool on or off the horn) using the Stamp “Warm-ups” method is a great help to me. It is a great way to power through a reluctant vibrating surface if I’ve had a strenuous last gig or series of shows. I also feel that Clark “Technical Studies” and Charles Colin “Lip Flexibilities” have to be visited on a regular basis if you are going to keep that good foundation going. I am all about the P.E.T.E. from Warburton to work your chops when you can’t get the horn out as well.

 

SC: How do you keep getting high-quality gigs, year after year?

Mart Avant with Blue Lou Marini after a James Taylor concert

Mart Avant with Blue Lou Marini after a James Taylor concert

MA: A word about maximizing your ability and visibility as a player—I can tell you from decades of experience that I have been hired, retained, and referred to for countless gigs for both me as a solo/section player, and our horn section, the Tuscaloosa Horns, as principal contractor, for one overwhelming reason that actually has very little to do with our abilities as technicians, although it is a given that you have to be an A-lister to get those repeat calls! It is that I have developed the ability over my career to be able to do some seemingly simple things—get along with people, make them comfortable around you, add ENERGY to their stage, and be positive and upbeat. You have no clue how many top-shelf acts have come to me during or after a performance and remarked, “you guys look like you’re having fun, you’re smiling, moving, hitting your steps, and THEN you go about Killing the show!” So many times players that are way better than me get one call and then dumped off that list because they have a dour, ill persona about them, and seem to only want to get the show done, and grab the money. Trust me, the money will come if you practice these traits. It has worked for the section and me for 30-plus years.

The Tuscaloosa Horns with the Temptations on “Standing on the Top” 

SC: What do you hope to do in the next 5 years?

MA: In the next 5 years, I hope to infuse enough new blood into the Tuscaloosa Horns to continue our improbable journey that began with a simple phone call from Panepento back in ’84.

 

SC: Thanks so much for doing this interview, Mart!

Mart Avant with wife Donna at the restaurant Commander's Palace after a performance with the Mighty O'Jays at Jazz Fest New Orleans 2015

Mart Avant with wife Donna at the restaurant Commander’s Palace after a performance with the Mighty O’Jays at Jazz Fest New Orleans 2015

MA: Thank you, Stan, for allowing me to share my thoughts, my accomplishments, and my philosophies concerning this curious piece of plumbing that we are all so devoted to, and this wonderful world of music that it affords us. All the best to all of you, and I hope that sharing my thoughts will help or inspire even a few of you to keep on keeping on.

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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 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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Interview with Brant Tilds, Versatile Latin Jazz Trumpeter and Percussionist

1081550_10151520735701432_16330921_nTrumpet player and percussionist was born on a U.S. Air Force Base in South Carolina during the Vietnam War.  He grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and started sneaking into bars and clubs at 15 to play at jam sessions, and joined the Musicians’ Union at 16.  After graduating from the , and then , he moved to Los Angeles, California, to study with at CalArts.  The music scene was so vibrant that he didn’t spend very much time studying, and wound up performing and touring with Ozomatli, , Chali Tuna, Cut Chemist, the Vermicious Kinids, Joe LaBarbera, Melcochita, La Sonora Dinamita, Yari More, Jose Manuel Figueroa, Candido Rodriguez, Johnny Martinez, Danny Moldanado, Domingo Siete, Nimbus Records, Fonovisa, Fox, Telemundo Univision, and others.  After a number of years in Los Angeles, Brant moved to Copenhagen, Denmark, and became an assistant professor at Copenhagen University in the Music Institute, and taught Jazz and Latin American Music.  There, he led his quintet, and his 10 piece group Latin Monster with Humberto Gomez Vera, and performed at various clubs and festivals around Europe.  During this time in Copenhagen, Brant was commissioned to write a number of pieces for audio and video release (Zentropa Films), as well as recording as principal trumpet with the Dansk Radio Underholdnings for some film soundtracks on Metronome, leading his quartet at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, and premiering the Poul Erik Christensen Trumpet Concerto.  Since his move to England in 2004, he’s performed at festivals and halls around Europe, and released his second CD as a leader, Green Gold.  You can get this album on cdbaby here.

"Green Gold" Album Artwork

“Green Gold” Album Artwork

 

EDUCATION

California Institute of the Arts 1993-1995, Master of Fine Arts in Jazz Studies
Indiana University 1988-1993, Bachelor of Music Education and Trumpet Performance
Interlochen Arts Academy 1987-1988, Diploma

 

 

SELECTED PERFORMING EXPERIENCE AS PRINCIPAL TRUMPET/SOLOIST

Los Hermanos Lebron

Los Hermanos Lebron, in London in 2011

Edinburgh Jazz Festival, Marlborough Jazz Festival, Cork Jazz Festival, Kinsale Jazz Festival, Derry Jazz Festival, Fife Jazz Festival, St. Martins in the Fields, Pizza Express Soho, Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club, Carnaval Del Pueblo with Los Hermanos Lebron (Colombia), Roberto Pla (Colombia), Cheo Feliciano (Puerto Rico), Milton Keynes Sinfonietta (UK), Stevenage Symphony (UK), Danmarks Radio Underholdnings Orchestra/Metronome Films (DK), Zentropa Films (DK) Copenhagen Jazz Festival (DK) Malmo Festival(Sweden) SildaJazz (Norway), El Castillo (Mojacar, Spain), The New Millennium Players (USA), Ozomatli (USA), Gileto Y Su Clave (SWEDEN), Latin Monster (DENMARK), Eddie Palmieri (USA),  Cut Chemist (USA), The Ally McBeal Show-Fox Television (USA), Telemundo Univision (MEXICO),  Shades of Jade (USA),  Melcochita (PERU),  CalArts Jazz-Capitol Records (USA), La Sonora Dinamita (COLOMBIA), Pearl-Fox Television (USA), Jose Manuel Figueroa-Fonovisa/BMG (MEXICO), Nimbus Records (USA), Yari More-RMM (USA), The Los Angeles Circus (USA)

You can find out more about Brant at http://branttilds.com.

Equipment:

  • B-flat Trumpet:
    • (primary): One “that’s about 33% Bach, 33% King, and 33% parts made by a guy in Detroit who assembles horns in his mother’s basement. He makes fabulous horns, and this one was built for my trumpet teacher Howard Kagen.”
    • (alternate): Bach 25 Large Bore with rounded tuning slide
    • (alternate): 1947 King Silver Tone with solid silver bell
    • (for intimate club performances): 1952 Paris Selmer
  • Quarter Tone Trumpet: Schilke B6, modified by Denis Wegwood of Cardiff, Wales
  • Baroque Trumpet: Matthew Parker
  • Piccolo: Scherzer
  • Mouthpieces:
    • Monette B15
    • (lead): Bob Reeves Chuck Finlay model

 Interview with Brant Tilds, Latin Jazz Trumpeter

The interviewer is Stanley Curtis

 

SC:  What was your early musical life like?

BT:  My mom was a Beatles fan, and I remember playing those records on my Fischer Price turntable and singing along.  There was a piano at home but no one ever played it, or sang or danced for that matter.  I don’t mean to imply that it was joyless, but my parents were reserved.  Until 5th Grade, when a Suzuki program was started at my elementary school.  I played violin for a term, and for some reason took a dislike to it, and was allowed to switch to the trumpet.  Once a week, Mr. Lane called me out of Math class to come down to the hallway and rehearse with the band that he was putting together, to feed the middle school band.  When I got to Middle School (a week late because of a family trip), I was seated last chair out of 13 trumpets, in order of ability.  We became very competitive about practicing, and challenging the person for the chair above.  Near the end of Middle School I was usually 1st or 2nd chair.  Then of course I got to High School, and I was seated last, and began to work my way up.  At that point I met Howard Kagen, my first really influential trumpet teacher.  Howard ran the Jazz Program at Cass Technical High School in Detroit, which I understand to be the school that the New York High School of the Performing Arts is based upon.  I started listening to trumpet players on records, and at 15 I started hanging out in nightclubs in Detroit.  A schoolmate of mine who was six months older than me (he had his driver’s license) would park down the street, I’d sneak out after my parents had gone to sleep, and we’d go into clubs where a lot of the greats were playing.  And these guys thought it was so funny that a little white kid was there with a horn, that sometimes they’d let me try to play.  So I saw Donald Walden, J.C. Heard, Dizzy, Don Varella, Markus Belgrave, Johnny Trudel’s band, Roy Brooks, etc.  Often, we would wait in the alley outside the club, and then sneak in the fire escape.

 

SC:  What got you interested in Latin Jazz?

Brant Tilds, Mariano Morales (ca. 1990)

Brant Tilds, Mariano Morales (ca. 1988)

BT:  When I got to Indiana University and went to the music building one day, I heard a sax playing an incredibly complex line, and then someone with a heavy Spanish accent yelling, “No! No! Do it again!,” and then the same line, and the same yell…over and over.  I was curious, and walked the stairs up to the top floor, following the sound.  It was coming from a large rehearsal room.  I peeked in, and saw that it wasn’t a sax player, it was a sax section.  They were being yelled at by a small Puerto Rican man, who later became a teacher and friend of mine, Jose Mariano Morales Matos.  He let me join his band, and we rehearsed every week for hours. And he was strict and exacting!  Mariano was one of the most generous teachers that I’ve met and taught me the music, in the right way, which is that you learn how all of the instruments (clave, bongo, conga, timbales, piano, and bass) work together.  You imitate all the parts, and sing the parts in a rhythm section.  Then you learn how your horn part fits in.  So, five years later when I went to audition at CalArts, I met Asdrubal Sierra, another student in LA.  We talked and jammed, and he told me that if I moved out to LA , he’d get me working, because he liked my approach to the music.  When I finally got to LA in ’93, I had 50 dollars, my trumpet, and my car, and two weeks later I was playing 7 nights a week with Asdrubal at Pedro’s on Vermont Avenue, from 9pm until 2am.  They had a great Cuban chef cooking, and lots of the great players coming through LA would hang out and jam with the band.

Brant Tilds with Eddie Palmieri in Pasadena, CA, ca. 1995

Brant Tilds with Eddie Palmieri in Pasadena, CA, ca. 1995

I worked a few years at that club, and as a result got very involved in the Latin scene, and in those years I worked with La Sonora Dinamita, Melcochita, Jose Manuel Figueroa, Ozomatli, Johnny Polanco Y Su Amistad, Johnny Martinez and the Hollywood Salsa Machine, Eddie Palmieri, Yari Moré, Orquestra 8.8, Candido Rodriguez, Danny Moldonado, and many more.  And Aaron Serfati and Otmaro Ruiz, the drummer and pianist from Arturo Sandoval’s group and I played often together at various gigs.  And Opita Ramirez’s band!  Opita was the percussionist at Radio Bogata in the late 1940’s and picked up by Machito’s band (the band with Dizzy responsible for Latin Jazz) to be the timbale player.  He worked with all the greats for 50 years and became my teacher, bandleader, and close friend.  I would go to his house in Irvine and study percussion with him.  His knowledge was so great that I convinced Telemundo Univision (the largest Spanish-language broadcaster in the world) to give me a camera crew and got funding to do a documentary about him.  Opita grew up in a tiny village in Colombia and was playing percussion at three years old.  And he knew rhythms and styles that had never been documented.  Unfortunately, Opita’s age and ill health made it impossible to do the documentary in the end.  So, each musician that I had the chance to work with were really all my idols.

 

SC:  How did you learn your improvisational language?

BT:  The easy answer is to say that I listened and imitated the players whose sounds appealed to me.  Louis Armstrong, Dizzy, Miles, Clifford, Woody, Freddie, Don Cherry, Tom Harrell, Bobby Shew, Lee Morgan, Terrance Blanchard, , Boban Markovic, Luis Varona, Julito Padron, El Negro Vivar, Chocolate Armenteros; and those are just some of the trumpet players!

It’s certainly something that keeps changing as I discover new things.  The time I spent living in Copenhagen really changed the way that I played for a few reasons.  I had a lot of time to practice, and when I was out playing during those years, it was usually with Luis Alvaro Varona, one of the great Cuban trumpet players.  Just a great player, period.  He was the son of Jorge Varona, who worked with the original Irakere, and lots of other important groups during that period, and could really play the Son style of trumpet, which in the West is usually typified by Guajira Mirabal’s beautiful playing with the Buena Vista Social Club, on tunes like ‘Chan Chan.’  Luis would play the most beautiful, amazing, flowing lines when we played Son that I felt were pretty harmonically complex, but when we would get together to play, he’d ask me questions about how Miles would get a certain sound on the chord (which I thought was very simple compared to what Luis was doing), and I realized that his playing was innate; he didn’t think about it, he just played.  So the answer is to learn everything, and then forget it and just play.

Another thing to consider as an example is that now, when I go back to Detroit and walk into the post office to mail a letter, as soon as I speak, the post person says, “Where are you from?” And I say, “I grew up down the street.” And they don’t believe me, because my accent has changed so much from living in so many different places.  I think our improvisational language can be like that; that we collect influences along the way, many of them without intent, just by listening.

Charlie Sepulveda

Charlie Sepúlveda

Another of my influences has certainly been Charlie Sepúlveda.  He was my hero from the first Eddie Palmieri record that I heard.  I listened to him for years, and tried to play along with the records.  So one day around 1994-95, I was called to a rehearsal with a Colombian group in LA.  I got to the rehearsal, and the trumpet section was Enzo Villaparedes (just heard he’s been out with Earth, Wind, and Fire), me, and Charlie Sepúlveda!  He reached out to shake my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Charlie.”  I said, “I know exactly who you are.  I’ve been listening to you for years, and can I get some lessons with you?!”  He had recently moved to LA, so we started hanging out.  I’d go to his apartment and we’d trade phrases over discs that we liked, and play back and forth.  I remember a particular stadium concert with the Colombian group that we were working with, and there was some part in the show where they would feature the trumpet section, and we’d all trade fours, and I can still feel that empty feeling in my stomach, standing in front of thousands of people, trying to keep up with him!

Another musician who really helped me think about the language of the music was Charlie Haden.  He’s one of the reasons that I moved to California, as he was in charge of the Jazz Program at CalArts with the absolutely wonderful David Roitstein.  We played some things as a duo, and he really taught me to listen.  He had me transcribing and playing some things that he recorded with Chet Baker, and at the same time that he would play something that to my ear was very sensitive, he would say, “You have to risk your life with every note.”

When I did my first record as a leader (out of print, but I will be re-releasing some of the tracks soon), I had planned for the keyboard chair to be the wonderful Venezuelan composer Ricardo Lorenz, now Professor of Composition at Michigan State University, as we had performed together for years in various groups.  At the last minute, Ricardo had a premiere booked at Carnegie Hall in New York, and called me up and said he couldn’t do it, but recommended Jovino Santos, who had just left Hermeto Pascoal’s band after 20 years, and moved to Seattle.  I called up Jovino, and it happened that he was scheduled to be in Los Angeles with Airto and Flora Purim the day after the recording session already booked, and they had made a mistake with his plane ticket, getting him in 3 days early.  So we all got together, rehearsed for two days at my house in the Valley, and recorded on the third day, live-to-2-track DAT.  At that time, I was a Hermeto fanatic.  I had tracked down most of what he had recorded and had friends send videos off Brazilian television.  But after hearing the record So Nao Toca Quem Nao Quer, with Silvana Malta on those crazy vocals; for me it was like a bomb going off, and I really wanted to get inside of Hermeto’s music, which led me to a much deeper understanding of Brazilian music in general.  And then to have Hermeto’s music director in my band!  It was like like being an Ellington disciple, and having Billy Strayhorn come by and say, “Hey, let me run your band for a few days and then we’ll go record.”  So to see, hear, and work with Jovino on my music, and his suggestions and changes!  Wow.  Mind blowing.

I’ll mention at this point that every trumpet player should hear Miles’ Live-Evil.  Hermeto is playing keys and singing on that record.  In fact, Herbie Hancock and Hermeto both play piano on the record, and there are a few tracks where Herbie is listed incorrectly as the pianist, but it is definitely Hermeto playing.  Jovino was at that session with Miles and talked about when Hermeto walked into the room.  Miles approached him and threw a punch, as he was an amateur boxer.  Hermeto hit him right back, and then they got on with the session.

 

SC:  Who were your mentors and idols?

Tony Lujan

Tony Lujan

BT:  David Baker, the head of the jazz program at IU, who knows everything there is to know about Jazz.  Grant Manhart, former lead with the Buddy Rich Band, who helped me learn how to phrase as a lead trumpet.  Tony Lujan, one of the great Latin and Jazz lead trumpet players who also has an understanding of Jazz Harmony, and explained to me a lot of things.  Howard Kagen, my trumpet teacher in Detroit who got me interested in really playing.  Charlie Gorham, former head of the brass program at IU, who went way beyond the call of duty to help me learn the fundamentals of the trumpet and of being a responsible adult.  Ed Cord, the gentleman that I studied with at IU after Charlie Gorham, who taught me lots about making music out of what’s on the paper.  Dominic Spera, who wasn’t allowed to teach trumpet because he was running the Jazz Department at IU with David Baker.  I, like most trumpet players at the time around there, took lessons with him about playing lead; really about the fundamentals for having the chops to play lead.  He played West Side Story on Broadway, played with New York City Ballet, and would back Sinatra in Vegas.  And had all the great stories and little sayings about working as a musician, that at least once a week still come to mind, 25 years later.  John Lindenau, the tough guy professor of trumpet at Interlochen who taught me about just plain hard work.  Charlie Davis, with whom I took one lesson about chops, that made a huge difference.  Mark Van Cleeve whom I studied with for a while and use the things he taught me every day.

Brant Tilds with Arturo Sandoval in Oklahoma

Brant Tilds with Arturo Sandoval in Oklahoma

Arturo Sandoval, who taught me a lesson about playing Arbans.  ‘Blue’ Lou Gonzales; I used to meet him at the rehearsal rooms in Hollywood, and we’d work Claude Gordon exercises, but learned so much just playing in a section with him.  And so many other players that I’ve met in my travels that I hope will forgive me for not mentioning them here.

 

 

 

 

SC:  If you were only allowed to have 5 albums to listen to for a year, what would they be?

BT:  Wicked question.

Stereolab ‘Dots and Loops,’

Hermeto Pascoal ‘So Nao Toca Que Nao Que,’

Miles Davis ‘Bitches Brew,’

Eddie Palmieri ‘Lucumi, Macumba, Vodun,’

Woody Shaw, any one of his live records, but particularly now the one that the ITG published.

Those come to mind, but it’s really an unfair question!

 

SC:  How have you had an impact on the music scene today?

BT:  I don’t know that I personally have had an impact on the music scene today, but I’ve certainly been performing with musicians and groups who are responsible for the history of the music.  Cheo Feliciano, Eddie Palmieri, Roberto Pla, Los Hermanos Le Bron, Charlie Haden, Candido Rodriguez, Ozomatli, Joe La Barbera, Cut Chemist, La Sonora Dinamita, Melcochita.  Humberto Gomez Vera, Ernesto Manuitt, Victor Pantoja, lots of the players from the old Count Basie band.  So many great players that I’ve been very lucky and honored to study and work with.

Here’s a video of the Brant Tilds Quartet (with Roger Beaujolais, vibes; Dave Jenkins, bass; and Ed Williams, drums)

SC:  You have travelled more than most musicians.  How has that affected your playing?

BT:  Well, I don’t know that I’ve travelled more than most musicians.  I guess you mean like keeping your chops up while you’re on the road?  When I was a teenager and playing a circus, we did 3 shows a day, 7 days a week, and at the beginning I stopped practicing, because I thought that I was playing enough.  And soon after, my playing got very sloppy.  So I found that when I was playing the same thing every day, I had to keep practicing as well.  But now I rarely play that type of thing (thank goodness).  I do take a practice mute with me, and try and keep in shape while I’m on the road.

 

SC:  What are some of the highlights of your career thus far?

BT:  Playing duos with Charlie Haden; performing with Eddie Palmieri; years of gigs with Candido Rodriguez; rehearsing and recording with Jovino Santos; playing and studying with Alfredo ‘Opita’ Ramirez (who came to the US playing timbales with Machito and recorded on the last Mingus record ‘Cumbia Jazz Fusion’), Humberto Gomez Vera, Ignacio Guerra Acosta; lots of gigs with Ozomatli; playing Roskilde and having thousands of people singing the chorus to my song; playing at El (Mirador del) Castillo in Mojacar, Andalucia, and having the audience in tears after a ballad I wrote; premiering the Poul Erik Christensen trumpet concerto in 2006; recording my CD Green Gold; and making music with, and marrying, Cheryl Frances-Hoad.

Here’s a photo of us playing in Copenhagen last month.

Cheryl Frances-Hoad, piano with Brant Tilds

Cheryl Frances-Hoad, piano with Brant Tilds

SC:  What would you like to see yourself doing five years from now?  Are there any juicy projects that you would like to tackle?

BT:  I had a duo for almost 10 years with a brilliant Danish pianist, composer, and orchestrator, Poul Erik Christensen, and we had such wonderful communication, but he eventually had to retire due to health.  I’ve got a new duo, with Dr. Cheryl Frances-Hoad and we’re doing a series of concerts around Europe, playing some accessible, and some very challenging, classical music. And playing as a duo takes lots of time for things to settle in.

And there’s the quarter tone trumpet that Denis Wedgwood and I built.  I’ve got a gig coming up where I’m playing some Kurdish folk tunes, and all I can say is that my intonation in Western music is a lot better, now that I have to play in quarter tones.  For the record, when I imagined music using quarter tones, I of course thought, “Well, C sharp and a ½, must be exactly in between C# and D (for example).  And depending on what you’re playing, certain quartertones are slightly higher and some are slightly lower.  So I’ve got lots of studying to do.

And then there’s the early music.  One of the things that I was very excited about coming to England, was that this place, with Crispian Steele-Perkins here, must be the center of early trumpet playing.  So I (like you, Stan) finally got a better natural trumpet, and a cornetto, and have been practicing and performing on it a bit here and there, and study with a fine player in London, Daniel Weitz.  In fact, he studies Jazz and Latin music with me and I study natural trumpet and cornetto with him.

 

SC:  What do you do when you’re not playing trumpet?

BT:  When I’m not playing trumpet, I’m playing congas.  Drums and trumpets have a particular relationship.  Not only that they were both considered instruments of war and not musical instruments, but when you look at early music, the trumpet and tympani parts always line up.  And in Jazz and Latin music, they always phrase in a similar way.  When I was young, Dizzy Gillespie came to Detroit, and I snuck out to see him perform, but the best thing was that he did a masterclass, and I got to ask him some questions.  And the most important thing that he said was that he felt the Cuban guiro had everything to do with the swing.  For absolutely brilliant research on this topic, check out any of John Storm Roberts’ books.  I spend time with my two boys, Markus and Andreas, and my dog (who loves listening to the trumpet).  And–I just got married to my beautiful bride, Cheryl Frances-Hoad.

 

My Top Ten Jazz Trumpet Players of Today

The inimitable Wynton Marsalis wins the Stanley Curtis "Best Jazz Trumpeter" once again.

The inimitable wins the “Stanley Curtis Best Jazz Trumpeter Award”–once again.

This is a list of my top-ten favorite living and playing in our time. By “,” I mean trumpeters who primarily play jazz improvisation. Although my list is a little “rearguard” rather than avant-garde, I am sure you will enjoy listening to these guys if you haven’t already. On each name, I give a hyperlink to a website that explains why this trumpeter is great. Then I also give a little taste of that player’s music with an embedded YouTube viewer. I welcome your opinions–feel free to post! Enjoy!

1. Wynton Marsalis. No one can touch him in terms of rhythmic drive, technique, awards, recognition and contributions. A straight-ahead approach with a focus on the roots of jazz. In my opinion he just gets better and better.


2. Tom Harrell. An amazing human being and jazz musician. Check out this solo (unaccompanied) on “Joy Spring” (click the word “solo”). Here’s an interesting interview/documentary produced by PBS–check out how brilliantly he speaks:

 

 

Dave Douglas and I at Blues Alley, Washington, DC (November 13, 2012)

and me at Blues Alley, Washington, DC (November 13, 2012)

 

 

3. Dave Douglas. Very original voice in jazz today. Great musician.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
4. Ryan Kisor. Great jazz trumpeter, sideman and band leader. Here’s a video showing some awesome Woodie antique cars with Ryan’s quartet playing.

 

 

4.5. (Okay, I am going to sneak one–or more–into the top ten list) By the way, if you haven’t heard his brother, Justin, you should check him out! Listen to his group’s video of “Nica’s Dream” (around 2’20”). Justin used to be in the U.S. Navy Band Commodores.

 

 

And while I’m on THAT subject, the Commodores’ MU1s Tim Stanley and Jon Barnes are pretty awesome at improv. Just sayin’. Here’s Tim Stanley playing with the Afro Bop Alliance (listen at minute 4).

 

 

5. Jon Faddis. A traditional Dizzy disciple and, incidentally, a high-note master, a pleasure for trumpet players to listen.

 

 

6. Terence Blanchard. Master jazz trumpeter with a wide palette of jazz styles. Maybe I should have placed him higher in the list–after all he’s won 5 Grammys! He has also written a number of soundtracks.

 

7. Avishai Cohen. Gorgeous sound, thoughtful improvisation.

 

 

8. Claudio Roditi. The Brazilian-born, rotary-valve-playing trumpeter is a class act.

 

9. Dominick Farinacci. From Cleveland, this trumpeter sounds fantastic! Here’s a video of him playing Clifford’s solo on “Jordu” (while riding in an RV). Don’t worry, you’ll find a lot of other stuff that is actually Dominick’s.

 

10. Arturo Sandoval. Okay, I’m sorry for putting Arturo in tenth place–behind some punk from Cleveland. But maybe I saved one of the best for last! Here’s a fairly recent video.