Interview with Brant Tilds, Versatile Latin Jazz Trumpeter and Percussionist

1081550_10151520735701432_16330921_nTrumpet player and percussionist Brant Tilds 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 Interlochen Arts Academy, and then Indiana University, he moved to Los Angeles, California, to study with Charlie Haden 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, Eddie Palmieri, 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



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




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


  • 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, Dave Douglas, 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 Musicians Union 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.



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