Sunday, October 26, 2014

Batting Out of My League

The wonderful musicians that seem to have accepted me in Los Angeles since moving here three years ago from New Hampshire continue to astound me. The resumes of the people I played with just this week include tours, recordings or individual dates with Ray Charles, Stan Kenton, Dr. John, Carlos Santana, Eddie Kirkland, Pete Anderson, et cetera. They are far more advanced than I, far more, and I’ll never catch them in terms of instrumental command, but the crazy thing is that I seem to fit. And I have a simple theory about why all of that is so, and it all comes down to listening.

One area of my playing that I have high confidence in, and that I focus on pretty intently is intonation. I almost always play in small sections, like tenor and trumpet, or at the largest, tenor, alto, two trumpets and trombone, and Ithink it fair to say that my trumpet sits in as fine a tuning within the chords as any of these very advanced horn players I stand next to so often.

The next bit is tone; the timbre of the sound. I have lately been cultivating a less eager and more relaxed sound, and I think it’s working. I still put a lot of air in the horn, as I always have; I definitely play loud, but I try to get as much color into the sound as I can. Another part of the tone has to do with having pulled my equipment together this year. I have a new model of Jupiter trumpet called the1600XO. It’s the most perfect horn for me I’ve ever owned, and I didn’t expect that to be so. I have owned a Bach, a Yamaha and a Stomvi, all of which are pro horns, and each of which brand is more traditionally prestigious than Jupiter, but this one suits me best out of all of them. Likewise, I stumbled upon on a beautiful Blessing flugelhorn. The equipment end of things is all about listening as well; not buying on price, cachet or brand name, but rather on fit, and that fit for me has been all about the sound.

Next is always being aware in the tune; at the top, at the turnaround, at the solo cue, at the end. I am never anywhere else but in the music. A lot of the playing here is pickup, small dates, standards, Motown, R&B, whatever. If I don’t know the lick, you bet I have it by the second time around, and I am not happy until I am fully in the section. Since the arrangements are being put together on the fly, I keep a close eye on whoever the leader on a particular tune seems to be, and it often changes tune to tune, even within the same tune once in a while, and they all have slightly different ways of telegraphing what they’re after. I pay strict attention at all times.

While I don’t have the stratospheric range or the fluent jazz improvising skills of some of my trumpet colleagues, I am welcome in a number of pretty high-quality playing environments, and it’s all because of listening, and also showing up on time and not being a dick.

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