Chris Gekker is Professor of Trumpet at the University of Maryland School of Music and currently lives in the Washington, DC area. He has been featured as soloist at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. After performances of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Brandenburg Concerto no. 2 at Carnegie Hall, the New York Times praised his “bright virtuosity” and described his playing as “clear toned and pitch perfect.” Chris appears as soloist on more than thirty recordings and on more than one hundred chamber music, orchestral, and jazz recordings.
In the Washington DC area, Chris serves as principal trumpet of the National Philharmonic at Strathmore, is a member of the Washington Symphonic Brass and performs regularly with the Post Classical Ensemble and Wolf Trap Opera.
His Articulation Studies, 44 Duos, Endurance Drills, Piccolo Trumpet Studies, and 24 Etudes are available from Colin Publications and are sold worldwide. Chris was born in Washington D.C., grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, and is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music and the University of Maryland. His teachers include Emerson Head, Sidney Mear, Adel Sanchez, and Gerard Schwarz.
Monette B-flat trumpet LT 2000
mouthpiece: Monette B15M (with an altered .420 cup)
Bach C-trumpet large bore (with
a 229 bell and an H lead pipe)
previously owned by Adel Sanchez
Schilke D-E-flat trumpet E3L
mouthpiece: Monette E15
Schilke Piccolo A-B-flat trumpet P5-4
mouthpiece: Monette P6
Yamaha C Piccolo trumpet (Brandenburg)
mouthpiece: Bach 11EW
Yamaha Flugelhorn 635ST
mouthpiece: Monette FLG15
Interview with Chris Gekker, Recording Artist and Teacher
The Interviewer is Stanley Curtis
SC: Chris, tell me about your music education.
CG: My parents were both European, so I grew up hearing a lot in our house. My father was a fine amateur pianist, his favorites were Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms. As a kid I heard Bobby Hackett on the Jackie Gleason Show and wanted to play trumpet. In Alexandria, Virginia, we had great public school teachers: my band directors, Robert Baden, George Randall, Roy Smith, and Jack Dahlinger, all fine performers who could get up in front of an audience and really play. Roy and Jack were trumpeters, Robert a percussionist, George on French horn. I had good private teachers, Glen Bell (Army Band) and Ron Vierra (Airmen of Note). In high school I started studying with Emerson Head, who was a real inspiration, he could play those Bellstedt solos better than I’ve ever heard live. He lived far away, I could only have lessons about once a month, and that’s when I started writing out a lot of my own exercises.
I went to Eastman, studying with Sidney Mear. He had studied with HL Clarke, and he also taught me how to practice Schlossberg and Sachse. During summers I studied with Adel Sanchez, who taught me about flow studies, playing Bordogni, Caffarelli, and Getchell, really important to me. I took occasional lessons with Gerard Schwarz, who was unbelievably inspirational to me. What he taught me out of the Arban book remains some of my biggest influence. The singer Jan DeGaetani was also a mentor to me and I remember so much of what she taught. She set up my lessons with Gerard.
SC: How did you get your start professionally?
CG: While at Eastman I played regularly with the Rochester Philharmonic, starting sophomore year, and was in the faculty Eastman Brass Quintet my senior year. During the summers I taught at the Tidewater Music Festival and with the Tidewater Brass Quintet recorded 4 LPs in New York. At the end of my senior year I auditioned for the Kansas City Philharmonic and joined them as associate principal.
SC: Shortly after this time, you started playing with the American Brass Quintet and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, right? How was that experience?
CG: I stayed 3 years in the Kansas City Philharmonic, really learned a lot, made many friends, but realized that I didn’t want to be in a full time orchestra. In 1981 I got a call to audition for the American Brass Quintet in New York City, and joined them that year. Soon after coming to New York I was appointed principal trumpet of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, which made something like 50 recordings while I was with them, including my first solo recording, Copland’s Quiet City. I also shared principal with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (with Ray Mase) and was soloist with them a number of times (Hummel Concerto, Bach Brandenburg, Barber Capricorn Concerto). I was a regular guest with Chamber Society of Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic (still visit them nowadays) and did a lot of studio work, movies and television. Also was on the faculties of Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, and Columbia University. In 1998 I came back to the University of Maryland to be professor of trumpet. It’s a job I really love, and I still go up to NYC now and then for things – I just did a solo appearance at Carnegie Recital Hall and will go up in 2 weeks to record the pieces I did. I have always been involved with jazz and contemporary popular music, too, having recorded with Wayne Shorter, Sting, Billy Joel, etc.
SC: So many trumpeters have played and learned from your teaching materials—your etudes and scale studies. Have you been influenced by other trumpet studies?
CG: The more advanced one gets, I believe, the more important are the basics: Schlossberg, Arban, Clarke, Sachse, melodic studies, etudes like Boehme, Charlier, Getchell and so on. I have five books published by Colin Publications that I use, lots of scale and chord studies, my own etudes that work well for me and have seemed to appeal to some of my colleagues. The most staggering trumpet playing I have ever witnessed was Gerard Schwarz playing some simple Arban exercises sitting next to me.
SC: Tell me a little bit about your recording career.
CG: I was fortunate to be in New York City during a time of very busy recording, both concert and commercial. But I was lucky to do a number of recordings before I got there, and continue to be active since I left. If anyone is interested, go to my website www.chrisgekker.com for a partial list and a few examples. Here is an mp3 of the latest thing to appear on CD. It is on an Albany CD of Brian Fennelly’s music. It’s the Corollary III for Trumpet and Piano, written for me in 1989, recorded in 2010. Rita Sloan is the pianist.
SC: Could you tell me a little about some of the commissions for trumpet compositions that you have made happen, or have encouraged to happen?
CG: I’m involved with many different composers, continually getting new works done and recorded. Recent ones include Brian Fennelly, Carson Cooman, Eric Ewazen, Lauren Bernofsky, Richard Auldon Clark, and Howard Cass.
SC: Who, of the younger, successful trumpeters, has come through your studio doors?
CG: There are way too many to name, I’ll leave many out if I get started. But I’ll mention David Krauss, principal Met Opera, Fernando Dissenha, principal Sao Paolo in Brazil, Ben Wright, Boston Symphony, Jack Sutte, Cleveland Orchestra, Michael Leonhart, tours with Steely Dan and Lenny Kravitz, solo jazz artist, Carol Morgan, solo jazz artist, and also Mike Blutman, who is a very active freelance in NYC, playing with St. Luke’s, Orpheus, American Symphony. But there are so many more, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount from students over the 30+ years I’ve been teaching at the college level. I also enjoy teaching younger students, which I continue to do.
SC: Do you have a teaching philosophy?
CG: Basics are everything: how you start a note, how you end a note, and everything in between. Rhythm is crucial, become completely comfortable with every possible subdivision. Also learn cultural rhythm, how music is supposed to sound in different contexts. Be completely at ease in every key. Use transposition as a basic practicing technique; in other words, transpose everything, all the time. By all means keep stretching your technique, but never stray from the ideal of playing simple music beautifully. Never obsess about your sound, rather obsess about your ideal sound that you carry inside as a basic concept (Arnold Jacobs). The ultimate talent is tolerance for repetition, both physical, creative, and psychological (Armando Ghitalla).
SC: Thanks so much, Chris, for agreeing to share some of your ideas and experiences with me.
CG: Thank you very much for the opportunity. Best wishes to you and your family, and I hope you’ll have a nice summer!