This horn is quite heavy, and it’s going to take some time to get used to it – by which I mean many hours of practise. And this means stiff neck, shoulders, back-ache …PAIN.
I’m not all that keen on pain. I believe in “No pain = GAIN”. So I asked Andrew Taylor, of Taylor Trumpets, the maker of this marvellous horn, if he would make an adaptor for me so that it would sit on a camera monopod. This he has done and you can see it in the photo. The adaptor is basically a highly elongated bottom-end valve cap with a screw-threaded hole at the bottom which is the same size as those found on the underside of cameras.
So now, whether I sit or stand, I can have the “Phatterboy” floating weightlessly in front of me. I’m not sure if I’ll use it for actual gigs any time, but it makes practising very comfortable.
I’ve been practising pretty regularly and, I feel, steadily improving but increasingly feeling myself to be in a musical vacuum. What I need now is fresh air, not my own stale stuff to breathe; so with that in mind I’ve arranged to have a lesson with Martin Shaw, who has been enthusiastically recommended by both John Barclay and Derek Watkins.
I’m taking a trumpet and a flugelhorn but no books or printed stuff of any kind – jazz is supposed to improvised – plus I don’t want to be telling Martin the way I want the lesson to go.
What do I want? Not sure, but I’d like him to get me to loosen up my playing and then guide me towards better ways of doing it. The fact is I don’t know if I’m any good at any aspect of it. John Barclay has been vey encouraging, even flattering, as have Valentin and Dan Newall, but I don’t really know if I’m heading in the right direction, hence the need for a lesson …or several.
Well, that was amazing. Martin Shaw is a terrific teacher, and very generous with his time. He gave me two hours! It felt like half an hour. It seems that I’m basically on the right track and he was very encouraging about my attempts – after hearing me struggling through All The Things You Are, although several things came up which I’m writing down now to remind myself about.
1. General articulation: I’m doing it too softly! My tonguing needs to be more positive, or harder, less “classical” – this surprised me but he demonstrated the difference and convinced me. It’s part of coming from my highly classical horn technique and rounding the starts of the notes. “It’s a beautiful sound but not right for jazz trumpet”, I think he said… So I must try to remember that.
2. Learning the modal flavours: Up and down scales thinking in terms of raised and lowered 2nds, 3rds, 6ths etc.. Make cards or use Psion… Go to the ninth and back down each time. Then learn them from the ninth down then up. Then in broken thirds, fourths etc…
3. Playing Aebersolds using only the chord notes. Up, then up and down the scale notes.
4. Playing Aebersolds up and down the straight simple scales notes – so, for example, when encountering the altered scale Calt, just stick to C7 (for now).
5. Same as above but improvising using only the scale notes first in minims, then in triplet minims, then crotchets, then triplet crotchets then quavers, then, triplet quevers etc…
6. Don’t use double tonguing in the fast stuff – it’s almost never done in jazz. The fast licks seem to all be slurred pairs or threes, across the main beats.
7. Learn the closed-tongue Clifford Brown thingy sound. Like muting the sound by putting the toungue against the teeth so the air has to squeeze around the teeth to get through. This is a new departure – something unheard of in classical technique and I don’t think it’s been analyzed much by jazz trumpet players. They just seem do it. I don’t know what it’s called, even.
8. The timbre can be less bright – Martin’s was considerably smokier, or more lush than mine. No idea how to do this.
9. Chromatic scales: very useful and need to be clean and accurate and fast. Good for warming up. Use a more postive finger action – slam the valves down a bit more !
I’ve just played a couple of concerts in Mallorca. I was in a new group – a brass sextet called “Tuba Mirum”. the instrumentation was like a regular brass quintet line-up but with an extra trumpet part. The players as follows:
Trumpet: John Wallace
Trumpet: Andreas Koenig
Trumpet: Valentin Garvie
Trombone: Leon Ni
Tuba: Oren Marshall.
What a fantastic four days! We had the luxury of two whole days for rehearsals before the concert days and the group really worked well together, right from the start.
It was quite a varied and dangerous program. The audiences were very responsive and the atmosphere was great as a result. John, Oren and I played solo pieces, which were possibly the most challenging for our audiences. Mine was called “Lost In Space” – a 7 movement improvisation involving the use of a flugelhorn on the opposite side of the stage, linked to where I sat with my horn by a long length of hosepipe.
Valentin did brilliant arrangements of a couple Tangos for the group and nobody seemed to mind me trying to do some jazz improvisation in the extended take-it-in-turns middle section. I swaggered out to the front, aimed high and blasted out my stuff as loud as I possibly could. It must have been a complete load of rubbish! Still, it was fun – and at least it felt like jazz. The trumpet felt really comfortable and natural in my hands.
I’m trying to get a bit of practice in every day.
More books and playalongs have arrived, so there’s no shortage of stuff to work on. The trumpet and the flugel are hanging up next to the piano, and the cornet (and mute) are upstairs next to the bed. Most of the playalongs and tons of other jazz recordings are on minidisc so I’ve always got stuff to listen to or play-along with. Also, my Revo has an ever increasing selection of “Grigson” grids to study.
It’s going quite well, although I detect a certain reluctance to get stuck into any standards. I’m not sure quite why this is but I’m hoping that Kenny might help me work this out when I go to see him this afternoon. He’s reluctantly agreed to see me for some kind of “lesson” although it’s clear he really doesn’t want to be a “teacher”.
I think what I should do is ask him to help me work on Stella – I think I have a bit of a foothold in that one.
What I really need is a tame pianist to help me work on some tunes. I’m going to phone Julian Jacobson (a very good pianist, who dabbles in jazz) in a few weeks, when he’s back from some cruise or other, and I’m hoping we can work up some tunes together.
The “LoadsOfModes” is working well. I think I’ll know them all in a couple of weeks and then I’ll just have to start speeding them up.
I’ve noticed something important. There is a tonguing difference between the horn and the trumpet. It’s a larger mass of air inside the horn so starting it and stopping it takes a bit more clout and steadier air pressure. This is the dreaded “support” but I hate the term it means totally different things to different people. I don’t think the trumpet needs any less of it than the horn but the tongue has to be used in quite a different way. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to switch tonguing styles as I switch instruments – rather like people who play both violin and viola have to learn to switch gears as move from one to the other.
Hmmm… It’s been 7 months since I entered anything here. What happened? I think I got a bit bogged down and lost my momentum. I had my third keyboard lesson with Ken, in October, and we decided I would come back for another one when I felt needed to rather than book up the next lesson there and then Kenny phoned up and left a message with Carrie asking how I was getting on and if I still wanted to go and have a blow with him. I was finding it a bit difficult to pluck up the courage to call him so it was great he called or perhaps nothing would have happened.
I went around to his place on 18th December. I was quite nervous and worried about having to play something to him. Would he laugh at me? I felt a bit silly with my cornet and unable to ask him the right sort of question. He’s a bit of an awkward fellow too, which didn’t help much. Eventually I found myself asking him what goes on in his head when he’s reading chord symbols, improvising over them. He really wasn’t able to tell me but something useful did come out of our meeting: I discovered what for me was THE crucial thing, which was that he always knows what note he’s on and what the “flavour” of the chord is. I had already come to this realisation for myself but Kenny kind of hammered it home and a result of this was that I set my resolve to light up the part of my mind which monitors what notes I am playing, the actual names of them and/or their positions on the stave. A consciously visual, non-aural analogue of the pitches I am playing.
He put on one of the tracks from the Bill Evans book in the Aebersold series and got me to play along with it. He seemed pretty impressed with my “ear”, and somewhat mystified when I told him I had no idea what notes I was playing. We both came to the conclusion that I had to find a way of knowing what notes I am playing. So from that moment – an important one, which got me working at the jazz again – I put a lot of energy into that.
Kenny Wheeler very kindly lent me one of his flugel horns. It’s a beauty with a gorgeous copper bell section and an absolute delight to play – made by Kanstul. It’s incredibly well in tune. Here’s a photo:
Unless I was dreaming, today I played at the Vortex (a jazz club in London) with Kenny! He was making a guest appearance with the Evan Parker Trio and asked me to come along. At first I thought he meant for me just to listen but it turned out he wanted me to actually play! I was stunned and amazed, and I only agreed to join him because he said we would be playing “free” jazz rather than jazz jazz – so it would be relatively easy.
The first thing we played was a duet – just Kenny and me, in two sections – Kenny on the trumpet, me on flugel, followed by Kenny on flugel, me on horn. It’s hard to say if it was any good or not but it was certainly interesting and great fun. We made a lot of noise. Needless to say, Kenny was great – firing off powerful torrents of scaleic and arpeggiated notes, all fascinating. I made various squawks and rips and noodled around trying not to get in the way too much and mess things up.
Nearly all of the free jazz I’ve done before has been with non jazzers so this was very different to the kind of stuff I used to play with Derek Bailey back in the eighties, for example.
After that we played for 40 minutes or so with Even Parker’s trio. My abiding memory is of the sensation of playing the flugel, standing up, the sound firing outwards in the direction I was facing – something of a novelty for a rear-facing (French)horn player.
After that I drove Kenny home.