Interview with Grammy Award-Winning Trumpeter C.J. Camerieri

C.J. Camerieri

C.J. Camerieri

As a trumpet, French horn, and keyboard player, C.J. Camerieri has enjoyed an active, diverse, and exciting career since completing his classical trumpet training at Juilliard in 2004. He has become an indispensable collaborator for numerous indie rock groups as a performer, arranger, improviser, and soloist and is a co-founder of the contemporary classical ensemble yMusic. yMusic’s debut record was named Time Out New York’s #1 Classical Record of 2011, the same year that Camerieri won two Grammys as a member of Bon Iver for the band’s sophomore record, which later reached gold status. He is currently the newest member of Paul Simon’s band, joining for 2014’s “Paul Simon and Sting: On Stage Together” tour.

CJ Camerieri performing with Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band

CJ Camerieri performing with Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band

CJ began working in alternative music as the trumpet player and keyboard player for Sufjan Stevens in January of 2006. He then went on to tour the world as a member of Rufus Wainwright’s band in 2007-2008 before starting yMusic with Rob Moose in the spring of 2008 and later joining Bon Iver in 2011. C.J.’s discography includes well over 100 recordings, including current and forthcoming releases by Bon Iver, yMusic, Sufjan Stevens, Rufus Wainwright, David Byrne, Antony and the Johnsons, Martha Wainwright, Loudon Wainwright III, Gabriel Kahane, The National, Julia StoneMy Brightest Diamond, A Fine Frenzy, Baby Dee, Diane Birch, Joan Osbourne, Sean Lennon, Yuka Honda, GOASTT, Jesse Harris, She and Him, Harper Simon, Chris Garneau, Clare and the Reasons, Welcome Wagon, Anthony Coleman, ACME, New York Trumpet Ensemble, Argento New Music Ensemble and the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra.

CJ Camerieri performing with Sean Lennon

CJ Camerieri performing with Sean Lennon


B-flat Trumpet: Bach 37 (3C mouthpiece)
C Trumpet: Bach 229
E-flat Trumpet: Bach Artisan
Piccolo Trumpet: Schilke P5-4
Flugelhorn: Yamaha
Horns: Alexander Model 90; Conn 8D

Interview with C.J. Camerieri, New York City Trumpeter, Hornist and Keyboard Player

The interviewer is Stanley Curtis

SC: What are some of your early musical experiences?

CJC: I started playing the piano at the age of four. My dad is a middle school band director and has always taught private lessons at the house. I remember begging him to let me take lessons from him starting at the age of 3 and his rule was that I couldn’t start until I could read all of the notes on the treble and bass clef staves. I convinced my mother to teach me how to read the notes in “secret” and, although I’m quite sure my dad knew what was going on, we surprised him one day with my new ability to read music. After that I mostly just remember giving piano recitals at the house, which were probably just excuses for my parents and their friends to have a good laugh at my unknowing (yet cute) expense.

SC: Who were you trumpet teachers?

CJC: My first trumpet teacher was my dad. He started me on trumpet in 3rd grade. I began studying at around the age of 10 with a man named Jim Mark, who was the high school band director in my hometown and also happened to be a good trumpet player. I then studied classical trumpet with Roger Blackburn from age 14 through the end of high school and jazz with Rick Kerber. Both of these men were exceptional trumpet players and great teachers who always encouraged me to pursue all types of trumpet playing and musicianship. They both always stressed being as well rounded as possible and being the guy who can always say yes to whatever gig I was called for.

SC: How did you develop your musical interests, tastes and skills?

CJC: I guess I was just always interested in all different types of music. Classical music seemed “easy” to me when I was young so I pursued jazz. I of course learned my lesson about classical trumpet playing being “easy” upon showing up to Juilliard as an overly confident 18 year old. When I moved to New York it was to be a jazz musician–I figured I would get my technique together at Juilliard and then pursue a jazz career. It was then that I really fell in love with playing chamber music. I had never felt that level of musical intimacy playing jazz or commercial music and was super-drawn to it.

Upon graduating from school I played all kinds of gigs. Broadway, ragtime, orchestra, jazz, a lot of free improvisation, big band, and contemporary classical chamber music–but I wasn’t feeling completely fulfilled musically. It was then I started seeking out singer/songwriters. Working with alternative songwriters provided me with the sort of musical opportunity I had always been looking for. I could improvise, write arrangements, play solos, play keyboards, learn new instruments like the French horn, play technically demanding parts on one song, keyboards on another, and then a poppy trumpet solo on the next. My first real gig in pop music was with Sufjan Stevens in Lincoln Center in January of 2006 and I was hooked for life.

SC: What are the challenges to playing horn and trumpet? Are there advantages to doubling?

CJC: They are truly two different instruments. It’s really fun for me. Learning to play the French horn has been great for my trumpet playing. It gets me moving so much more air than I did when I was just playing the trumpet as the horn is twice as long as the trumpet. It’s also been great for my career. The horn is a more flexible instrument in an arrangement context as it can blend or cut through a texture where the trumpet mostly just cuts – so it’s been a great tool for the artists I work with who want the feeling and sound of brass without the distraction of brass!

SC: Tell me about your chamber music experiences.



CJC: My chamber music experiences these days are basically limited to yMusic…which is such a wonderful thing! In a more romantic sense though I like to think that a lot of the work I’m involved with in pop music is literally a chamber music way of making music with other people.

[audio:|titles=”Beautiful Mechanical” CJ Camerieri performing with yMusic]

SC: What is it like being a New York trumpeter?

CJC: It’s fun and exciting. I love it although it’s completely exhausting. In the past two weeks I’ve recorded on 6 records, played 2 cd release shows, 14 Broadway shows, and written 2 arrangements. Tomorrow I fly to Wisconsin for a week to play French horn, trumpet, and keyboards on a new record with a group from the UK called The Staves that Justin Vernon is producing and after that I have 4 weeks to learn about 183 songs for my new gig with Paul Simon.

SC: What is it like playing on Broadway, accepting gigs and working with contractors?

CJC: It’s fun. Contractors are musicians too! They want to be around other fun musicians who sound good and are doing interesting things with their musical lives. A lot of people are walking around scared trying to find a way onto the next gig whereas the best musicians I know are working hard on their own skill set and letting the contractors call them. New York is full of amazing musicians doing amazing things. It’s such an exciting place to live.

SC: What are the social and political realities of Broadway that help someone get ahead?

CJC: Play well. Play all styles. Show up on time. Be enjoyable to be around. Easy!

SC: Yes, it seems easy, when you say it like that! Who are some of your favorite musicians?

CJC: Impossible to list….but here are randomly the first ten to come to mind. Louis Armstrong. Miles Davis. Clifford Brown. Bob Dylan. Jimi Hendrix. Paul Simon. Michael Lewis. Chris Thile. Justin Vernon. Neil Young.

SC: How did you get to play with Bon Iver?

CJ Camerieri on trumpet and keyboard with Bon Iver

CJ Camerieri on trumpet and keyboard with Bon Iver

CJC: I met Justin Vernon of Bon Iver while playing at Music Now in Cincinnati in March of 2010. My group yMusic, that I cofounded with Rob Moose in 2008, was playing a concert there and Justin was performing a solo show the following day. The festival organizers, Bryce and Aaron Dessner, asked the group to stay for the next day on the off chance that Justin would need some extra musicians for his show. I was a big fan of Bon Iver so I, of course, said yes. We had an absolutely incredible musical experience working with him and that concert is one of the most special and moving nights of my life. A few days later Justin called and asked Rob and me to come to his house in Wisconsin to work on his new record and the rest is history!

SC: What are some of the projects and recordings that you have done of which you are the proudest?

CJC: Bon Iver. That was such a special and magical record to work on…and I got to give one of my Grammy’s to my mom and dad, which was really a special thing for me to be able to do. The first yMusic record wildly exceeded all of our expectations and I think really showcases the group’s ability. That was the first time I ever put my own money and time into something and to get such a wonderful product and response was really wild.

SC: What advice do you have for an aspiring professional musician to do similar things that you have done?

CJC: Create your own brand! That’s it. I like to think I’m a unique musician in that I play both Trumpet and French horn (sometimes with effects pedals) and I can improvise, write, and arrange, and play keyboards. That is my brand. It’s been a lot of work. I took harmony lessons for two years after graduating college. I played some really bad concerts on French horn early on. The first few concerts I used effects pedals on I had major technical failures…but it was all worth it. Brand. As freelance musicians, we are basically products in a marketplace. The stronger the brand the more often you are called upon.

SC: What are your ambitions for the future?

CJ Camerieri with yMusic

CJ Camerieri with yMusic

CJC: My ambitions are fully behind my group yMusic. Our first record did well and got a lot of great press and we are so excited about the next record (it’s almost done being mixed)! We have a lot of exciting concerts this year and I think the group is really special. It’s literally 5 of my closest friends playing music written for us by our favorite composers. What could be better than that! Oh! Also, I’ve just become the newest member of Paul Simon’s band and we have a tour coming up in early 2014 with Sting, which should be incredible! Paul’s band is amazing and I feel so honored to get to work with such a legend. It’s hard to speak of something that hasn’t happened yet – but needless to say I’m quite excited.





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How not to get a trumpet job

IMG_3951From yesterday’s post, we know that trumpet unemployment in the U.S. is more than 87% for new college trumpet degree graduates. I think the real figure is more like 95%. But that’s okay, because today, I want to help those who do not want a full-time job or its equivalent in the trumpet world. Sorry this list is so long–but the journey toward unemployment is long.

  1. Before college, be satisfied with your public schools’ music programs for all of your trumpet needs. You should not feel the need for a private teacher. The professional orchestra performs nearby, but why would you need to hear them when you can hear your own band play every day?
  2. Don’t worry about your embouchure. If there are problems, then you can fix them later.
  3. Don’t listen to art music. Yes, you have to play trumpet for the school band and marching band, but when you are on your own, you want to listen to pop, rock and roll, country, or hip hop.
  4. Don’t have a favorite trumpet player or players. Again, who cares about music with trumpet? You just want to follow the hottest pop bands.
  5. Don’t enter solo and ensemble contests, and avoid All-District and All-State competitions. Those are on the weekends, and weekends are made for fun!
  6. Choose a college to go to because they have a great football team. Bonus points for choosing a college because it’s where your friends or family went. Go with the school that seems to be the most enthusiastic about recruiting you–you’ll be happiest there.
  7. When you’re are at college, major in trumpet performance because those band trips in high school were so fun and because the humanities and sciences are boring. 
  8. At college, choose the easiest music courses and teachers, because that will help your grade point average.
  9. Don’t practice more than an hour and a half per day. If you played it once correctly, then move on.
  10. Don’t bother ordering all those pieces that your trumpet teacher asked you to purchase. You can get a lot of music online. Also, you need to be working on wind ensemble and pep band music anyway.
  11. Study ear training only enough to pass the music theory exams. It’s really called, “ear straining.”
  12. Keep bringing in the same pieces to your lessons over and over. “I had a really hard time getting around to the new etude this week, but here’s Egmont Overture for the 10th time.”
  13. Join a social fraternity. Become popular.
  14. Don’t bother trying to get a C trumpet, a piccolo trumpet or an E-flat.
  15. Argue with your teacher. This shows your independence as a musician.
  16. When you finally get around to practicing excerpts, practice them only while warming up before band rehearsal–that impresses the other trumpeters. Just learn the excerpts and not the whole piece, because they will only ask the popular excerpts at auditions.
  17. Once you start practicing excerpts, decide that an orchestra job should really be your only goal (because it’s so hard to get in, it makes the job pretty exclusive).
  18. Do not practice technique, long tones, articulation exercises, or scales because those types of things are not needed at professional auditions.
  19. Don’t go to summer music camp.
  20. You’ll be more of an intuitive player if you don’t organize your practice. Play what comes to mind!
  21. Don’t bother building good relationships with your teachers. They’re very old and don’t matter. No need to offer to help with projects.
  22. When you get really close to your recital date, it’s time to start practicing 6 hours a day, so you can learn all of your repertoire.
  23. Don’t dress nicely for juries or recitals.
  24. Change your equipment to fix your sound. 
  25. Don’t listen to recordings of yourself.
  26. Don’t play with a metronome. It tends to speed up. 
  27. Don’t play with a tuner. 
  28. Don’t keep a journal. 
  29. Don’t sing your pieces. 
  30. Don’t bother learning to transpose.
  31. Don’t buzz your pieces with your mouthpiece.
  32. Don’t memorize your pieces.
  33. Don’t learn how to play other musical styles. 
  34. Drink heavily and try out drugs.
  35. When you go to an audition, realize that your whole life hinges on winning this audition–that will help you focus.
  36. For your first job, only try out for the top five orchestras–that’s where the money is! Please don’t consider joining a military band.
  37. If you win an audition, be sure to act haughty around your peers.
  38. Don’t speak with the conductor. If you do, argue with him or her. If you lose the argument, do what you want to do anyway at the concert. Because being passive-aggressive is always effective.
  39. There’s another audition coming up for a better job, so don’t waste your time practicing for your current job.
  40. If you’re a section player, be sure to show the principal trumpeter how strong your sound is and what a good leader you are. Blending is for sissies.
  41. Be sullen, unpracticed and unprofessional at pops concerts. Because you want to play classical music, not pops.
  42. Talk poorly about other trumpeters when they’re not around.
  43. Don’t try to create a new sound or a new group. 

Hopefully this list will prove helpful to those trumpeters who enjoy hanging out with their friends after graduation. You can’t really hang out as much if you have a job.

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