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
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.
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.
David Smith is a young and awesomely hip trumpeter
David Smith is a professional trumpet player and music educator. He is well versed in many different musical genres and has had a multitude of different musical experiences.
Melvin Miles Jr., director of bands at Morgan State University, with David Smith
He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in music from Morgan State University, and a Masters of Music degree in trumpet performance from Penn State University. His studies at these universities has given him the opportunity to participate in master classes with Wynton Marsalis, Terrance Blanchard, Wallace Roney, Nicholas Payton, Jimmy Heath, Goerge Rabbai, Cyrus Chesnut, and Regina Carter just to name a few.
Penn State trumpet ensemble with the great Dr. Langston Fitzgerald III (who was also a member of the US Navy Band)
David has aspirations to continue to perform live music, and to give back to the community by contributing in the field of music education. After three years as Musical Director for the cruise ship company Celebrity Cruises, he is now ready to share his vast experiences and knowledge attained from playing internationally. He is currently serving in the U.S. Navy Band as the trumpeter for the Cruisers ensemble in Washington D.C. He also regularly performs with various local groups, keeping a busy freelance schedule.
Interview with Navy Band Rock Trumpeter, David Smith
The interviewer is Stanley Curtis
SC: How did you get started in music and in trumpet playing?
David Smith living up to his childhood dreams!
DS: I first started at Hyattsville Elementary School in Prince George’s County public schools. I actually initially wanted to play saxophone after many years of watching Lisa Simpson in the Simpsons, but the sales man and my mother convinced me otherwise. He buzzed his lips and had me do the same. I looked at the trumpet and only saw three “keys” and thought I would be easy. Little did I know….
SC: Who has been your most influential teacher?
DS: My high school band director, Mr. Anthony Townes, has been my most influential teacher. He was very passionate about music and making sure we were exposed to different genres as well as professional possibilities. He’s the reason I even knew the Navy Band program existed.
SC: Who are your top three artists or groups to listen to?
DS: When I listen, I try and listen to players and groups that would best help me fulfill my professional responsibilities. That being said, I love Roy Hargrove’s playing. Jazz, Latin, Gospel and R and B—his style of playing is very soulful and he plays with conviction! I also enjoy listening to Earth Wind and Fire for horn sections. And Stevie Wonder—his music is inspirational.
SC: How do the Cruisers prepare their repertoire, and how do you, as a “horn line” guy, and a trumpet player, prepare yourself?
DS: The cruisers were looking for someone with “commercial skills:” someone who basically plays all styles—including jazz and classical. I have a masters in trumpet performance with a focus on orchestral studies, so I was able to fulfill that requirement. When rehearsing and preparing music, we all come together as a group and suggest songs for our repertoires. We strive to play songs that reach a multicultural audience, everything from Motown to Taylor Swift, EWF to Bruno Mars. After selecting songs, we make our own arrangements, writing horn lines and composing the charts. As a horn line guy, I prepare the same I would as an orchestral guy. You have to listen to the style that you will be performing in and emulate. Play along with recordings. Listen to the style of attack and how the music is being phrased.
SC: What is your most memorable performance?
David Smith with family at the National Harbor
DS: Right now, my most memorable performance is when the Cruisers performed at the National Harbor. It was a homecoming for me as my family was there, and I grew up here. It was the culmination of all the hard work and patience I’ve developed as a musician trying to “land the gig”!
SC: How do you see the trumpet’s future in contemporary popular music? Is it diminishing, increasing?
David Smith, jumping into the spotlight
DS: I think trumpet is pretty safe. I thank God that I play the trumpet. In popular music as far as I can see, they just continue to reuse some of the same stylings as the ones from the 50s-80s. I don’t really see anything that original. Even though I enjoy the music of Justin Timberlake, Pharrel Williams, Janelle Monáe, and Bruno Mars—all of whom use horns—in my opinion they’re doing what’s already been done by innovators like James brown, prince, Michael Jackson and so on. Not that I’m complaining. Any artist that uses live horns in their songs is fine with me!
SC: How can a trumpet student best prepare for playing in a contemporary/pop/rock group?
DS: Play anything and everything as often as you can, especially while you are in school! Play in orchestras, jazz bands, blues bands, rock bands, salsa bands, never limit yourself, the more ground you cover the better it serves you and the more opportunities it presents to you.
SC: Do you teach? What are some of your guidelines and thoughts about teaching?
David Smith at Loyola University Jazz Faculty Recital
DS: I teach trumpet at Loyola University in Baltimore, and this fall will be leading their jazz ensemble. I try to keep things as simple as possible. Long tones, lips slurs, and repertoire. Arban, schlossberg, and Clarke. There are two ways to learn and two ways to teach. Some students learn because they’re passionate, but most students learn because they’re being forced to. So, I try and gauge which category that student fits in, and I generally find out by the second lesson, if they have practiced or not. My goal is to find out whether they are into the music or not. And then I try to get them to a higher level by the end of the semester. If they are a non music major, we will work fundamentals and I’ll have them work on a piece to perform. For music majors, I’m relentless about preparing them for the world outside of the safe walls of the school.
SC: What do you do when you’re not playing the trumpet?
David Smith, relaxing at the beach
DS: I like to work out, in trying to keep up with the saxophone player in the cruisers. He is a fitness guru. I spend time with my family, trying to plant seeds of wisdom into my nieces and nephews. I even started teaching my nieces how to play trumpet. Honestly I play trumpet all of the time. It’s what I do for fun and how I serve this world.
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
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.
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
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!!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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?
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
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.
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.
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
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
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”
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
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
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.
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.
Tower of Power Horns around mid-2000s (Adolfo Acosta and Mike Bogart, trumpet)
This was a fun list to work on, because the world of Rock, Pop and other commercial genres has usually been far removed from the trumpet realm. But there have been some fantastic trumpet players over the years who have captured the attention of popular music audiences. We must not forget that jazz, at one time, was THE popular music, and, because of this, Louis Armstrong really deserves to be at the top of this list. Instead, I want to focus on Rock and pop music from the 1960s and onward. Some bands, like the Beatles (British trumpeter David Mason was the piccolo trumpet soloist on “Penny Lane”), worked with trumpeters from time to time, while other bands, like Earth, Wind and Fire, always had trumpets. Here is my list of the greatest of these trumpeters.
1. Lew Soloff. Deeply entrenched in the jazz world, Soloff nevertheless won a Grammy while playing on Blood, Sweat and Tears’ famous “Spinning Wheel” among other great tunes during his tenure from 1968 to 1973 with BS&T (Chuck Winfield also played trumpet in the group at this time). Soloff has also collaborated with Tony Bennett, Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithful, Aretha Franklin, Lou Reed, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon and Barbra Streisand. ll
Speaking of Blood, Sweat & Tears, the band that has blended rock and jazz for more than four decades, here’s a list of all the trumpeters that have played in the band: Randy Brecker and Jerry Weiss (1967-68); Lew Soloff (1967-74); Chuck Winfield (1968-73); Tom Malone (1973); John Madrid (1973-74); Tony Klatka (1974-78); Joe Giorgianni (1974-75); Forrest Buchtell (1975-77); Michael Lawrence (1977); Chris Albert (1977-78); Bruce Cassidy (1979-80); Mic Gillette (1980-81); Tim Oimette (1984-85); Steve Guttman (1985-2005); Teddy Mulet (trombone from 1985-86 and trumpet from 2005-2013); Barry Daniellian (1985-86 and 2013-14); Jerry Sokolov (1987-94); Craig Johnson (1994-98); Jon Owens (1998-2000); Dave Stahl (fill in, 1995-99); Winston Byrd (fill in, 1998); Joe Mosello (2000-02); Nick Marchione (2002-04); Steve Jankowski (2005-13); Chris Tedesco (fill in, 2006-07); Brian Steel (fill in, 2008), Carl Fischer (current); Trevor Neumann (current).
Here’s a video from 1969. You can see Lew at around 1:22.
2. This entry is not really a single trumpeter—but dedicated to all of the trumpeters of Tower of Power. Greg Adams, who, along with Mic Gillette (who also plays trombone), defined the Tower of Power sound. Both of these Grammy nominees have a very long list of affiliations in the Rock world. Now, Adolfo Acosta is the lead trumpeter in the group.
Here’s a video of “What is Hip” from 1973. Adams is the trumpeter on the left, Gillette is on the right.
3. A “must-include” for this list is the 5-time Grammy Award-winning trumpeter and arranger, Jerry Hey (the Grammys were won through his arranging, but his trumpet and flugelhorn playing are captivating). To get yourself acquainted with some of his arrangements, go to Hey’s section in this L.A. Studio Musicians Tribute Site. You’ll definitely remember Jerry’s 20-second flugelhorn solo on Dan Fogelberg’s 1979 hit “Longer” (solo starts a little after 2:00).
Here’s a video with an image of a transcription of Hey’s solo on “The Hornet.”
4. Robert “Spike” Mickens was mainly known for his association with Kool & The Gang.
I love this tune called “Jungle Boogie.”
5. Trumpeter and founding member of Chicago, Lee Loughnane, has a great interview in the February, 1998 International Trumpet Guild Journal—in this article there is a transcription of Loughnane’s solo on “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon.” Here’s a video of that 1970 hit.
Maurice Davis–Motown trumpeter, educator, minister
6. Motown great, Maurice Davis, not only recorded over 1,500 songs, but also was a dedicated teacher in Detroit Public Schools for 32 years and at Wayne State University, AND was also an ordained minister and philanthropist.
Here is Davis soloing on the 1972 “Papa was a Rolling Stone” with The Temptations.
7. Jazz trumpet great (for example, he started his career in the Count Basie Band of 1968), Oscar Brashear also played with Earth, Wind & Fire throughout the 1970s and into the 80s.
Here’s Oscar playing on the 1973 classic “Zanzibar”:
8. But enough of the old guard. Wayne Bergeron is a trumpet great of today–mainly in jazz circles, but also as a sideman for such artists as Beyoncé, Michael Bublé (and others that don’t even have an acute accent in their name!). Known for his high notes, Bergeron has been in high demand in trumpet conferences. Oh, and if you like the lead trumpet playing on the movie The Incredibles, that’s Wayne.
Here’s a video of Michael Bublé with Wayne blowing lead over the tune “It’s a Beautiful Day.” Wayne is playing the solo at the very end.
Here’s a little excerpt from a Dave Matthews Band live concert in 2009.
10. Although I could add Wayne Jackson of The Memphis Horns, Randy Brecker (although I think he stands more in the jazz world), and a host of other giants, I will round out my list by being loyal to the U.S. Navy Music program by plugging Mike “Iron Mike” Bogart of the Tower of Power for nine years. Here is a humorous video of “Iron” Mike playing his high notes while he does his gym routine.