Here’s a nice pic of my friend, Kenny Wheeler. He’s been very encouraging and helpful – and inspiring – and I bought a couple of trumpets and a BEAUTIFUL Kanstul flugelhorn from him.
I’m on holiday with the family in a cottage in Sherringham Park, Norfolk. Nobody lives anywhere nearby so I can practice at anytime and most of what I’ve done so far has been outside.
I’ve brought Kenny’s Benge pocket trumpet with me and I’m doing irregular bursts of modes and jazz-chord arpeggios from an exercise I’ve written called “Lodes of Modes”. See below.
I’ve also had the odd stab at repeat tonguing in the high register – something I find rather difficult. So, I’m not really being very systematic but then this is a holiday. I guess what I’m doing adds up to about 90 minutes or so each day.
The little Benge is perfect for a holiday practice trumpet. It takes up almost no space – it even fits inside my regular horn case, next to my horn, and, most importantly, it’s a serious piece of gear – an excellent instrument by any standards.
With a cup mute in it’s nice and quiet so it doesn’t disturb the kids trying to get to sleep.
Here’s “Lodes Of Modes”:
This evening, I’ve just discovered a good way forward. I sat down with Aebersold’s Turnarounds book and CD (volume 16) and tackled the progressions for what are called “Turnarounds No 3”. It’s basically this progression: DM,F7, BbM,Eb7 repeated three times followed by a variety of unsubtle modulations into another key – and through all the keys.
I started off by playing along with the CD but soon realised I was just deepening previous grooves I had made rather than finding new pathways. I turned off the playalong and started to play just the chord notes of each chord symbol. Difficult! Ken Bartells was right – I must learn to know what notes I am playing and learn play ones I choose rather than playing exclusively by ear.
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.
I went around to Sir Kenny Wheeler’s house and bought one of his spare trumpets from him. It’s a SmithWatkins – a very wonderful instrument. It has a large bell in quite thin yellow lacquered brass and a choice of six leadpipes for me to experiment with. They seem to make quite a difference to the sound and to the intonation of the very high notes but it will probably be years before I know which one is the best all-rounder for me.
Thanks, Kenny, for parting with this lovely trumpet!
This instrument has some weird bits stuck on. Please ignore them. I’m not ready to go public with these just yet!
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.
Now that I think about it a bit, I realise I’m rather scared of going to Kenny’s house and playing jazz with him – him on the piano and me on the cornet. He’s probably brilliant on the piano – I mean, he’s the most modest and self effacing man on the planet, and he says he can “play the piano a little bit”. This probably means he’s brilliant.
On the way back from taking the kids to nursery this morning I bumped into the great Sir Kenny Wheeler – who lives just around the corner.
It was a great bumping into. As soon as I got home I wrote this letter to him:
It was great to see you this morning. Here, as promised are the two minidisk copies of the concert at “The Wardrobe” in Leeds with Peter Erskine and the Creative Jazz Orchestra, 25th May 2001. It’s as good a recording as one can get, I think, being digital copies direct from the master. It was very kindly copied for me by Steve Shepherd of “Somethin’ Else” who engineered the recording for the BBC. I pestered the poor fellow for weeks, by email, until he finally cracked under the nervous strain and sent me a copy.
For me, that little tour was a great musical event. It’s not often one gets to play with one’s musical heroes (that’s you, and Peter and John Taylor) so I couldn’t rest until I had a copy of the recording. And talking of pestering… You did say this morning that I should come over sometime and play with you and we talked about arranging a date in October. I’m back from Japan around 4th October and I have put a note in my diary to phone you up and harass you until we fix up a date. I’ve been doing a lot of practice on my cornet and things are beginning – just beginning – to take shape. I’m very much a novice, though and I hope you won’t be too appalled at my efforts, or my shaking legs (I’ll probably be very nervous).
I’m very serious about learning to play jazz. I’ve been hard at it for a couple of months now, on my cornet (and I’ve ordered a flugelhorn) and my fingers are getting to know the scales. Luckily, it hasn’t completely screwed up my horn-playing embouchure, or confused the fingers of my other hand. I wrote a letter to you a few weeks ago but in the end never sent it because I thought it would be too much of an imposition on you, and that you would be too busy, etc. What my letter said was that I’d love to have a jazz cornet lesson with you sometime and was wondering if you ever did any teaching and if you would consider taking me on, even for just one lesson, etc…
So you can imagine my delight on seeing you this morning and hearing you actually invite me over to play. Incredible! Today, I will do sixteen hours of practice.
I hope you enjoy the recording – and I’ll give you a call in early October.
All the best,
Kenny Wheeler – trying a Schagerl trumpet
This jazz thing has been going on for some time already but I’m still at the beginning so I thought I’d better get writing before it became really too late to do it.
So, the background. Back in 1977 I borrowed an alto sax and started learning some scales. I wanted to play jazz but I didn’t think it would sound right on the horn. The sax only lasted a week or two because the embouchure didn’t come right away. I suppose I should have had a lesson. That was that. Over the years I did other bits of improvising, including a few albums involving four horns (all me), then two (with another player) horns, then three horns (with two others). None of this was jazz.
Then, 1988, or thereabouts, I had a jazz piano lesson with some bloke in Hampstead. He went on about learning all the 2-5-1 chord changes. I did it for a while but didn’t get the point. I suppose it was my failure, but I don’t think this person had any teaching skills – nothing he said seemed very stimulating.
Then, last year, Jim Rattigan, horn (French) player and friend got a CD out called “Unfamiliar Guise”. Very nice, it was, and I interviewed him for the horn magazine, and gave him a really good review to help him shift CDs. It’s a good recording but not what I would want to play. In fact, I don’t know what I’m looking for, really. I just want to be able to play jazz. Simple.
Jim’s album got me thinking about jazz, and the horn, and I talked with him quite a lot about how you learn it. He gave me some photocopied sheets of “all” the jazz scales and I spent hours during the summer of 2000 learning some of them. I also ordered an instrument from Yamaha – the “Marching French Horn” in Bb, on a hunch that this would make the perfect forward facing jazz horn for horn players. I have named it the “Frunting Horn” even though 18 months have passed and there’s still no sign of it. The scales dried up and stopped flowing.
The next wave came during May of 2001 when I was on a short tour with Peter Erskine and the Creative Jazz Orchestra. I was one of three horns (French) playing written out parts of Peter’s music. I heard Kenny Wheeler live for the first time and spoke to him a bit (he only lives a couple of minutes walk from our house). What he said was encouraging – for example, he uses the Aebersold books, still! He’s 72 and still practicing and developing his playing. Incredible.
At last, I stopped waiting for the Frunting Horn to arrive and got out, instead, the beautiful little Besson cornet that Mum and Dad gave me for my 40th birthday and ordered a pile of Aebersold playalong books.