Pip Eastop, Horn player, Photographer, Trumpet player

Horn player, Photographer, Trumpet player

Posts tagged “jazz

Jim Rattigan – double record review

This is a review of two new CD albums by the British hornplayer, Jim Rattigan (that’s “French horn”; not trumpet, sax or trombone). Being a British hornplayer myself I’m very conscious of the possible confusion of instruments here, particularly in the context of jazz music where “horn” means almost anything that you blow. So, to be clear, when I use the word “horn” I am referring to that curly, backwards-aiming flared spiral with four or more valves which is most commonly used in baroque, classical, romantic, commercial, pop and film music …but almost NEVER as a frontline solo jazz instrument.

Why is this? In my opinion there are several reasons: jazz is by nature cool, laid-back, spontaneous and easy. The horn is none of those things. Its traditional use is to convey a reassuring degree of control, finesse, and romantic heroism. In film music it’s horns you’ll hear whenever something heroic is going on. The horn is terrifyingly difficult to learn and virtually impossible to control. For rhythmic bounce, speed, clarity and ease of use the instruments of choice for jazz are always going to be trumpet, sax, piano, guitar, clarinet, voice; almost NEVER something so fiendishly difficult as the horn.

Like Jim, I too have had the urge to play jazz but I decided not to pursue it on the horn, it being far too difficult. Instead, I went with the trumpet – a much more practical choice. At this point I have to admit to my prejudice and own up that my underlying feelings around the concept of using a horn to play jazz are those of scepticism, disapproval and even plain dislike.  So, what business it is of mine to be reviewing jazz horn records when I am hard-wired to dislike them? It’s a good question; one which I hope I might answer for myself by writing this.

I have noticed, in me and in other hornplayers, a difficulty accepting the freedoms of jazz music. In jazz one can improvise (meaning one can play what one wants) to some extent whereas hornplayers are traditionally taught to play exactly what has been written by composers, down to the tiniest details of dynamics and nuance. Furthermore, to keep the traditional hornplayer to the composers’ written commands, a conductor is usually employed whose job it is to keep a check on the accuracy of the reading and to punish minor transgressions with, for example, public humiliation and/or sacking. It is generally believed that conductors do much more than just this but after more than 35 years of puzzlement I have yet to understand what they are really for.  Why do they like waving their arms around while musicians play music? Why do they commonly get paid more than an entire symphony orchestra? In a nutshell, playing symphonic horn parts is all about being controlled by someone with a baton, a huge income and the power to have one sacked whereas jazz is all about freedom. Alternatively put, orchestral musicians are soldiers following orders whereas jazz musicians are hunters in charge of their own destinies.

There is a great divide across which traditional hornplayers gaze at their distant cousins, the jazz musicians, with wonderment. The jazzers look back at their classically trained counterparts with admiration and respect but also incredulity and incomprehension at the strangely archaic power structure in a typical orchestra which subjugates individual musicians.

As an example of the distance between the cultures of jazz and so-called “classical” musicians, it is often the case that classically trained hornplayers have great difficulty listening to recordings of Miles Davis, the greatest giant of all jazz giants, without wincing. In our highly refined and thus limited way all we tend to hear is that he cracks notes, makes a flaky, unfocussed sound and seems to be rather short on what we call “technique”. By default we tend to judge what we hear from players like him by the criteria we employ to continuously refine and perfect our own playing for the purposes of performing Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler. But give Miles Davis the first trumpet part of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and he would be laughed off the stage. I’m absolutely serious – he would not be able to play it, or any classical repertoire, with sufficient finesse and polish to be invited back.

So, the whole thing is quite difficult for me and, I’m sure, for many other hornplayers but Jim Rattigan has somehow overcome all of that and left such problems way behind. Jim is our UK jazz horn champion. Around the world there are a few other jazz hornplayers here and there but it is a very rare breed indeed and, frankly, none are as good as our Jim. Uniquely for a jazz musician his credentials as a straight hornplayer are beyond reproach. He was a member of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for six years and played with all the major London orchestras and chamber ensembles as well as being a busy session player. He is one of those extremely rare types who really can traverse more than one musical culture.

In discussing differences between the jazz and the “straight” world of classical music there’s one other thing I should mention about both of these new CDs; something which will make hornplayers and anyone else of an orchestral persuasion gasp and wonder: it is that there was no rehearsal for any of it. No rehearsal! How is such a thing possible? From talking to Jim I have understood the following: that the musicians arrived at the studio and arranged their seats around a sensible setup of microphones; a quick balance test was carried out while they blew a few notes to get warmed up and briefly discussed how the music should go. The “music”, in this case, was a printed melody and some hieroglyphic chord symbols. Then, the red light came on and off they went, playing together for the first time and recording it! Such is the miracle of jazz. I gather, from talking to Jim, that there were more or less two takes of each of the tracks and the editing was simply a matter of choosing the best of the two. So, this is live music – living music – the artists performing to each other, to the microphones and to the recording engineer. It’s very straightforward, very spontaneous, very special and beautifully pure.

The two albums are “Shuzzed” and “Strong Tea”. Both were recorded in 2010 at Fishmarket Studios, London.


“Shuzzed” is a quartet album in which Jim is joined by Phil Robson (guitar), Phil Donkin (bass) and Gene Calderazzo (drums).  Three of the tracks (Timbuckthree, Shuzzed and Mung Beans) are Jim’s own compositions while the remaining six are jazz standards. Jim wanted the personal challenge of  making a “Bebop” jazz horn CD and here it is, true to Wikipedia’s definition: “Bebop is a style of jazz characterised by fast tempo, instrumental, virtuosity and improvisation based on the combination of harmonic structure and melody.”

Jim’s compositions are quirky, colourful and intriguing. “Shuzzed” (meaning, according to Jim, embarrassed or humbled in the context of playing the music of the legendary Charlie Parker) is the title track and it struts along majestically on a walking bass with a curious interplay between the guitar and the horn – sometimes in octaves, sometimes in parallel tritones. “Mung Beans” is a very catching angular blues in the manner of Charlie Parker. It starts off moving briskly over Caldarezzo’s brushes. Jim’s sure-footed and highly chromatic horn improvisation is handed over to Robson’s guitar for some in-depth exploration of the blues changes. When the catchy melody returns there is no mistaking it, which is a sure sign of a good tune. Of his three compositions, “Timbuckthree” is my personal favourite being enjoyably brisk, virtuosic and well structured. The head (that’s the tune at the beginning for those of us with no jazz jargon) is derived from three oddly sourced fragments knitted together into a very attractive tune. Two of these are from the horn concerti of Richard Strauss, and the third quote is from Ravel’s piano concerto in G. The funny title apparently comes from a spat Jim once had with his eight year old son which resulted in Jim turning and walking away in anger. When the boy asked where he was going, Jim shouted back, “Timbuktu. Where are YOU going?”. The response, shouted back at Jim, was a triumphant, “Timbuckthree!”

The other six tracks are Giant Steps (John Coltrane), Sweet Rain (Mike Gibbs), Cherokee (Ray Noble), Donna Lee and Yardbird Suite (both by Charlie Parker) and Come Sunday (Duke Ellington). These are all brilliantly executed and thoroughly explore the many combinations of guitar and horn sounds. It’s a curious thing that these two timbres are uncannily similar in places, while the attacks, the note-shapes and articulations could not be more different. It’s a fascinating mixture of sounds.

Jim chose his three companions wisely – and they are all brilliant. Again, the lack of any rehearsal for this recording is something which will always amaze me. To prepare for the album, Jim says he spent a whole month practising “Giant Steps” for eight hours every day.  “This is a really tough one”, he says. “It’s extremely hard to learn and basically it only has three chords so it shouldn’t really be that difficult, but it is!”

“Sweet Rain”, is a tune made famous by Stan Getz and written by Jim’s colleague and friend, Mike Gibbs (bandleader and composer). Robson uses a very cool guitar sound and drapes some beautiful crystalline chords under the complex twists and turns of the melody.

“Cherokee” begins with an authentic Cherokee chant in a slow, clear pentatonic statement after which it launches directly into its improvisations and there’s no sign of the well known head until right at the end of the track. Phil Donkin nails the eighths with amazing energy throughout. Apparently there was no retake of this as Gene Calderazzo didn’t want to play it through again because his arms were “falling off”.

“Donna Lee” (Charlie Parker) begins with the tune broken up into segments with the guitar and horn in unison – a unique and lovely sound. Jim, uncompromisingly, keeps this version to the original key which forces him to jump octaves now and again to keep it in the most effective range of the horn’s voice. For a definition of “swing” just listen to Phil Donkin’s incredible bass solo.

“Come Sunday” (Duke Ellington): Jim says that he played this one with an American big band in the Rowan Jazz Festival 2009 and loved the tune. It is all about longing and persecution.  It is the only “traditional” ballad in the album and features acoustic guitar unlike all the other tracks.

“Mung Beans” (Rattigan): Jim says that this title has no meaning at all (“…apart from being some kind of a lentil”) but that he just liked the sounds of the words. It’s an excellent melody followed by improvisations which push the blues structure to its harmonic extreme, stretching it almost to breaking point.

Jim included the Charlie Parker tune, “Yardbird Suite”, because it lends itself to being played on the horn by virtue of its ideal register. He says that tunes written for alto sax are usually uncomfortably high or impractically low for a horn but that this one fits right in the centre of the horn range and is lovely and comfortable to play.


“Strong Tea”, is a big-band album with Jim playing horn along with his eleven hand-picked top-notch London-based jazz musicians: one each of alto, tenor and baritone saxes, three trumpets (one doubling on flugle horn in “Dulwich Park”), tenor trombone, bass trombone, piano, bass and drums. There are five tracks, each of which is a new and original composition by Jim Rattigan.

The first half of  “Parkwood Fair” is completely improvised. Jim wanted to feature the bass in this track and it starts with a dark and mysterious improvised bass solo with dramatic streaks of colour added by drums and cymbals. It then falls easily into a hypnotic groove over which Jim begins the soloing interspersed with decorative piano splashes. Jim uses handstopping technique to introduce echo elements in his lines. It’s a technical tour to force, using lip trills, pitch-bending and other impressive extended horn techniques. More structure is added until the whole piece becomes melodic and richly harmonic in its development. This track has a natural and satisfying shape to it and due to the rising energy of the brass and wind lines towards the end gives the impression of deeply layered musical form.

“Dulwich Park”, track two, opens in a wonderful chin-jutting strut. Jim says it is supposed to give the impression of a walk in the park, and that Dulwich Park is one of the nicest places on earth, being full of lovely, busy, happy folk running, cycling and walking their dogs. The whole track has a wonderful fresh and free feel to it. Each solo is divided by a short burst of ensemble writing to introduce the next soloist. After a truly amazing tenor solo from Andy Panayi there is an equally stunning flugle horn solo from Percy Pursglove.

Jim says that the band were very fired up for the third piece, “Strong Tea”, and urged that a “burning” track – meaning an up-tempo, high energy one – would work better at a much faster tempo than he had originally intended. It transformed the piece into something even more spontaneous and exciting. There is a lot of detail here in Jim’s arranging and there is much to reward the careful listener. The improvised sections are based on the so-called “Rhythm Changes”. The angular melody has an intriguing middle-eight based on falling triads over an E pedal. Brilliant solos by trumpet player Steve Fishwick, altoist Martin Speak, Jim and finally Hans Koller on piano, seamlessly lead us back into the head. The piece ends with three muted trumpets blending with the handstopped horn – a fantastic and highly original sound.

The horn part of “Won over the Eight” is completely improvised with no actual written notation. Its heavy limbed nine-bar phrases reek of smoke, alcohol and ruin. The gutsy, raw, sleazy sound brings to mind famous recordings of the Mingus Big Band of the late fifties and sixties.

The title of the final track is simply a date, “24/7”, which is Jim’s birthday. The significance here is that the creation of this album was Jim’s 50th birthday present to himself. Instead of a party he decided to get together a lot of the great players he’d worked with over the years and do something both creative and serious. The parts are all tailored to his friends’ own particular styles and idiosyncrasies. It’s a very busy track, full of surging brass chords and the sounds of energetically clicking sticks in a twelve-eight feel.

For both these amazing albums Jim has surrounded himself with the very finest musicians. His writing is absolutely first rate and the recorded sound is as satisfying as any I’ve ever heard. It’s dynamic and colourful, and if it wasn’t for the absence of any audience sounds it would have the feel of a live recording.  Jim’s playing throughout both CDs treads a fascinating path between refinement and spontaneity, successfully revealing and integrating two very different sides of the French Horn. Jim Rattigan is teaching us something new and brilliant here. Listen and celebrate.

Jim’s CDs can be purchased online at www.jimrattigan.com

portrait of Jim Rattigan

Portrait of Jim Rattigan - photo by The Imaginal Eye

Superfluous scales

The harmonic minor scale. What’s all that about?

Nothing. It’s useless. I’d ban it if I could. Anyone here from the Associated Board reading this? Well, please scrap the harmonic minors. They are a useless and irritating waste of everyone’s time. Amen.

‎…and while I’m at it I’d also scrap the of silly downward difference of the “melodic” minor. The melodic minor going up is a fine scale, but why come back down by a different route? Why? Good question. There’s no reason.

So, lest just have two scales.  Major, and the Minor (the same but with the third flattened, keeping the major seventh). Just two scales …and all their modes, of course, haha! Hey, this is what they do in jazz. It makes a whole lot more sense as a workable and useful system.

My son, Zak, wins the Yamaha Jazz Competition!

Here’s my son, Zak, playing trumpet, leading his quartet, “Blueshift”, at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 1st May 2010. Their performance was part of the final round of the Yamaha Jazz Experience Competition. There were three age groups: 15 and under, 17 and under and 19 and under. Blueshift, won the 15-and-under section.
Zak is 12 years old.

A Kind of Blue

On May 20th there’s a concert at St. James’ Church, Piccadilly, London.
It’s a live performance, or interpretation, of the album, “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis. I think it’s going to be a sextet, but what I DO know is that I’m going to be the one playing the trumpet and thus, to some extent, trying to “be” Miles Davis.
This is, of course, an impossible task but aside from the difficulty of doing it well the principal thing that needs sorting out is how the band should approach a performance of this legendary recording.
The choices are, either to try to reproduce the original as near perfectly as possible OR to perform the concert as an “interpretation”, in a similar manner to an orchestra+conductor performing, say, yet another Brahms third symphony. Brahms wrote his symphonies on paper whereas Miles Davis and the rest of that amazing sextet “wrote” theirs directly onto magnetic tape. There seems to be no point in attempting to play a perfect replica of “Kind Of Blue” as it is, itself, already a reproduction – and it would take years of rehearsals and ultimately would serve no purpose. Rather than that it would be better simply to fix up a big hifi system in the hall and play the CD to the audience! So, the only sensible option is for us to perform some kind of interpretation …for want of a less lofty word.
Actually, we’ve done this show once before, a few years ago, and in the same venue in Piccadilly. I kept very quiet about it, only inviting one close friend of mine who I knew wouldn’t be critical of it, and of me, however badly I played! The hall was less than half full and we were pretty badly under-rehearsed. In fact, the performance itself was the first time we’d ever met the drummer! Also, nobody used a mic – and I really needed one because it’s very hard to get a decent Miles Davis harmon-mute sound without a mic poked right into the mute!
This time around I feel a bit different about it and, as you can see, I’m going public. Most of us will have microphones, we’ll be better rehearsed, I’ll be more confident and I hope we can fill the hall this time.
So, these days I’m trying to learn Miles’ solo from Love For Sale. I’m trying to learn it exactly, with every nuance of articulation, decoration, rhythmic idiosyncrasy, pitch bend – everything. I’m spending hours at it every day. It’s not even guaranteed that we’ll play this track when it comes to the show (it’s not on the original version of the album – only later, extended ones. It was originally on the album, “Circle In The Round”) but I absolutely love it and it’s packed full of useful little Miles “signatures” which I hope will infect my playing and come out in my improvisations. That’s the plan, anyway. I feel the need for some sort of a plan, however flimsy…

rusty trumpet – note to self…

I must admit to having got out of the habit of practising trumpet every day during the last few months. This is because I’ve had so much tricky and important horn stuff to play recently, which has taken up all my practise time. But this won’t do. I’m going to have to find a way of doing at least a little jazz every day. I’m sure the key to learning jazz improvisation is to do it often – even if it’s little and often.

So, note to self: from today, I’m going to try to do at least some trumpet every day.

America’s first jazz president!

How wonderful to know that those evil warmongering Republicans have been shown the door!

Despite far too little sleep (I was watching the election results coming in during the night) I’m feeling euphoric. I feel like I did when Tony Blair got rid of the tories (this was before he became one himself).

America has elected a jazz president! I don’t mean because he’s black. I mean his voice. Listen to him addressing a large crowd – his performing voice. It’s wonderful! It’s pure jazz. He’s got rhythm. I’m going to find a recording of one of them and transcribe it for trumpet and see if I can get some of it into my playing.  

I’m allowing myself to suspend my cynicism today and to believe that the world might become a better place. 

(That’s what I felt when Tony Blair became the Prime Minister …before he screwed up.)

(Tony Blair didn’t swing, though….)

“Thank you for your patience…”

...coming soon...

...coming soon...

If you go to the new “Give It One” website you’ll be thanked for your patience while the site is being built.

In that respect it’s a bit like this one (so, er, thank you for your patience). 

I’ll be writing more about Give It One in due course but it’s something we (me and lots of my hornplaying colleagues) have been waiting for, patiently, for AGES!

What is Give It One?  
During the last few days of 2007 a large body of hornplayers met in Air Studio, Hampstead, London, to work on a new album:


According to its website, the album…

“…will be released during October 2008, as a companion to “The London Horn Sound“. Sixteen of London’s finest horn players have come together to form the world’s first French Horn Big Band, in collaboration with Britain’s leading young jazz pianist (and sometime horn player) Gwilym Simcock.”

It’s been a very, very long wait! I can’t wait to see it and hear it. What I can tell you is that without a doubt it’s going to be an absolutely AWESOME CD! The new pieces and arrangements are magnificent, the sound is stunning, and Gwilym Simcock is wonderful. I can’t say much about the actual hornplaying because quite a lot of it is me… but aside from my own contribution I can tell you it’s pretty impressive stuff.

Taylor Trumpets’ “Phatboy” flugelhorn

Here’s something exciting!

It’s not a conception or a birth but some siginificant moment halfway between the two. Today, the building of a new instrument began. It’s an Eb flugelhorn. A big fat flugelhorn sounding one fifth lower than a normal Bb one. It’s being built by Taylor Trumpets and it’s going to be based on their amazing Phatboy flugel. Which looks like this:

My Eb tenor Phatboy flugelhorn is being made in this style

My Eb tenor Phatboy flugelhorn is being made in this style

If that is not a thing of great beauty then I’d like to know what is!

Why do I want one?

Well, this is a hard one to answer… Many reasons, I suppose. I’m a french horn player, mainly, but I’m learning jazz trumpet and I love to play the flugelhorn, too. My orchestral french horn is rather special in that it has an Eb alto section to it, a kind of “stealth jazzhorn” – exactly the same pitch as this new Phatboy Flugel I’m having made for me. Why Eb alto? Because it’s perfect for jazz, whereas the Bb of a modern french horn is – in my own personal opinion – not reeeeeeally suitable. It sounds a bit too gloopy for my taste.

So, I like to play jazz on my modern orchestral horn – but only on the Eb side of it. This is great because it’s so handy – I’ve nearly always got it with me – right there on my lap. Most convenient. BUT, it’s not a perfect solution, because, as it’s a french horn, it points backwards and this is not good for jazz. Jazz has to be right “in your face”. That’s my opinion – and it’s only that. Not a religion – just the way I feel about it.  I think jazz needs a horn with a forward-facing bell.

Another thing I like to do is play jazz on the tenor horn. I’ve not done it in public before but it really works as a jazz instrument – almost perfectly but not quite…  And why not? Because it points straight up in the air – not forwards. So, one thing I could so, I suppose, is to get an Eb tenor horn and bend the bell so it points forward. Yes, that would work fine – but it would look AWFUL.

Now look above at that beauty! See what I mean?

So, I’m hopeful that my new Eb “Phatboy” tenor flugelhorn will sound fantastic, play in tune and look fantastic. Fingers crossed!

I’ll try to get some photos of it, while it’s being built, to put here.

First lesson with Martin Shaw – before and after

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 !

Slowing things down

I spent a while ripping some carefully chosen Aebersold tracks into MP3 files in my PC. I’ve done this so that I can open the tracks up in special software which enables me to slow all or part of the tracks down, loop them or transpose them, or do all those things.

I’ve found it’s a very efficient way of disecting jazz solos for learning them by ear.

The Amazing Slowdowner.

Specific finger exercises

But where has this urge to learn jazz come from? I think it’s been there, just below the surface, for a very long time. It’s come to the surface now partly because it’s now or never – I’m 43. I have a slight sense of urgency and a feeling that at last I’m doing something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time.
It’s also a fascinating learning process and to a large extent it’s uncharted territory for someone like me, already possessing a certain amount of technique from a parallel discipline but not the language itself.
Another aspect of this is that I’m finding the study extremely satisfying, musically. The way I’m practicing the cornet is completely different from any way I’ve ever practiced the horn. Yesterday, for example, I spent part of the evening going through all the modes in all keys, first saying the name (i.e. Db Mixolydian) then trying to play them by ear but also picturing the geography, as if written down, so that I’m aware of which notes I’m playing, this being the hardest part because I’m not used to holding the visual map in my mind while playing.
I’ve noticed a fingering difficulty emerging: during the modes practice it happened quite a lot that when going from 2+3 to 1 the 2nd finger would come up slightly later that the 3rd making quite a messy transition. I need to isolate this problem and work out some specific finger exercises to clear problem. I wonder why I find this compelling – exciting even.

At the beginning

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.