Several new projects that I want you to know about have just recently come to fruition. I hope you’ll be interested and want to check them out.
First, our Inventions Trio has recently released a new CD, Life’s A Movie, on the Chiaroscuro label. It is available on this website from my CDs page. This is our third CD, once again showcasing Bill Mays’ marvelous writing skills, the title piece being another Mays extended work—featured along with arrangements of standard fare, both jazz and classical. Among these are Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez combined with Chick Corea’s Spain, Homage To Bill Evans, which includes four Evans classics, and Monk Tribute, comprised of three of Thelonius Monk’s compositions. As Doug Ramsey states in his notes, “Nearly a decade into their musical life together, Bill Mays, Marvin Stamm, and Alisa Horn are having more fun than ever.” That about says it all!
Second, Charles Colin Publishing has released a transcription book of twenty-four of my solos, taken from various recordings of mine. The book also includes a CD of all the solos as well as a lengthy interview done with Jay Nachowitz. It is distributed through Charles Colin Publications and available at music stores nation-wide. Search, “Marvin Stamm Project” online or contact Colin for purchase (within USA and abroad) at firstname.lastname@example.org / tel: 845.680.6880. If you should purchase the book, please read the foreword to the book, which puts into perspective my thoughts regarding the value and use of solo transcription books.
Last—but not least—Bill Mays has released a book, Stories of the Road, the Studios, Sidemen, & Singers: 55 years in the music biz. The book, filled with anecdotes from various parts of his multi-faceted career, is quite entertaining and informative. Bill has a great sense of humor, and, like most professional musicians, has encountered many amusing situations along the way. The book can be purchased from Bill’s website, www.billmays.net. All net proceeds from the book sales are donated to the Musicians Assistance Program of the AF of M to aid those musicians in need.
In the past two or three years I have been asked to perform music coming more from the classical side of my training. Of course, the Inventions Trio has been a wonderful piece of my musical puzzle, and I have a number of times performed with orchestras. But recent experiences over the last several years —performing with a second, classical soloist in an orchestra or wind ensemble setting—have required me to do more in the classical vein. These events prompted my being invited to participate in an interview-type exchange for a College Music Society’s website project. The interview, subsequently entitled “Crossing Over,” became the centerpiece for the website feature. It also became the nucleus from which this article is taken.
The term, “crossing over” can infer a variety of meanings to different people. But as a professional musician, I would define “crossing over” as the exploration of alternative avenues aimed toward enriching our sensibilities, a willing acceptance of challenges that carry the potential for expanding and enhancing our performance vocabulary. Several instances taken from my own personal experience should help to clarify my viewpoint.
My musical journey has been much more than merely that of a jazz musician. When I started playing in Memphis, the public school system offered only traditional band programs. These bands played everything throughout the year—parades, football games, concerts, etc. We had no separate marching band or pep band, and certainly no jazz ensembles in those days. The band WAS the band, the only band, and our one group played everything.
My jazz training came at first from my older brother’s collection of jazz recordings, but with my teachers’ guidance, I was also buying and listening to orchestral recordings. I was performing concert band music while continually working to master my instrument through daily practice. And I was being encouraged by my directors to listen to many other kinds of music as well—for enjoyment as much as education. Having been musically coached in this manner, I came to love many kinds of music—band music, orchestral music, jazz, and—living in Memphis—the blues.
Attending college and going out into the world as a working musician, my appreciation of other music grew as my world expanded. Living and working with older musicians, those who had more life and musical experience than I, opened up new worlds to me. My stylistic repertoire grew as did my tastes for a number of different idioms of music. It follows that this would all be incorporated into my performing, thereby contributing greatly to my versatility, my creativity, and my good fortune to become one of the busy studio artists of the late 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. During this time, I also continued to develop my own voice as a jazz performer while playing with numerous artists from many areas of music, giving me a wide palate from which to create my own music.
My approach to crossing over between both the jazz and classical idioms is really quite simple. Since I have grown up with a love of both idioms and have steeped myself in both for many years, I quite naturally use elements in style and interpretation from both. Though I am a jazz artist, I have been greatly influenced by my classical studies—which, perhaps surprisingly, make up most all of my daily practice materials. Both the influences coming from years of playing and listening to both classical music and jazz, as well as the respect coming from my relationships with musicians from the two sides of the music, are a natural part of my music. I believe the most telling aspect of my music would be my sound—especially when playing lyrical passages in ballads. That’s because I have listened so carefully over the years.
And because I have consistently performed a wide array of music throughout my career, playing what might be considered crossover music seems only natural to me. In my mind, music is music. The player must understand what the composer wants his composition to express, and then work towards bringing this out in the performance—the task being the melding of two individual spirits, that of the creator and that of the interpreter. The music itself will dictate direction and style, and the performer will interpret it.
Any performance demands a serious and respectful attitude, and one should not become involved if both “serious” and “respectful” cannot be felt. My preparation for performing all different styles of music is done with the same serious attitude as for any of my pure jazz performances. I first work out the technical aspects of each piece so that I may then plumb the musical depths it offers. Every composition presents its own challenges, so while working on these pieces I also find suitable parallel material that can aid in my interpretation of the performance piece. Typically, the materials I draw upon are the Charlier and Bozza etudes, and maybe something from the Bitsch studies. By continuing to maintain my fundamental practice, everything culminates at the time of performance. I take every performance seriously because I love to play music regardless of the idiom from which it is drawn.
Regarding interpretation, whatever the music presents from the jazz perspective demands that I draw upon my many years performing in this idiom. I have progressed in my listening and playing from the early eras of jazz (Louis Armstrong, etc.) through the Swing Era, BeBop, and even into some avante garde. If I don’t feel comfortable about my interpretation, I discuss a composition with the composer to understand his or her thoughts on the matter and move forward from there. Many times I will suggest practicing the piece together so I can more clearly understand what the composer wants.
When composer Greg McLean approached me about his writing a new composition for me, we decided the piece should feature two trumpet soloists, one a classical soloist and the other a jazz soloist. The basic palette would be symphony orchestra, but also utilize a jazz trio. From this initial concept, the concerto “The Twain Have Met” came to fruition. [Author’s note: To broaden the performance possibilities, Mr. McLean also orchestrated the concerto for wind ensemble, and the piece is now available in both formats.]
The challenges for me were three-fold. The written parts played with my counterpart had to be played in the classical style and the blend between the soloists that of two classical players; the improvisations were to be deeply authentic; the written “solo” passages were to be lyrically expressive as demanded by the various styles. As the piece developed, Mr. McLean made a synthesizer mock-up of the ensemble so I would be able to hear the direction he heard the music moving. His effort helped me a great deal in working out the parts and hearing the counterpoint between the two solo parts, but it was certainly not like working with an orchestra. That would be several years away.
The real fun always comes in the rehearsing and performing, where one has the opportunity not only to explore the notes on the page, but also to experiment with various ways to bring out the most in the music. My first performance of Mr. McLean’s work, playing with Cathy Leach (principal trumpet, Knoxville Symphony Orchestra) and the University of Tennessee Orchestra, gave me the opportunity to explore the piece in depth. Ms. Leach has a beautiful sound, and blending with her sound and interpretation on the classical parts was an easy task. Playing the written lyrical parts also came together easily because of the beautiful melodic passages Mr. McLean had written. The real challenge might have been the improvised sections—except for the marvelous trio comprised of pianist Bill Mays, bassist Rusty Holloway, and drummer Keith Brown. The importance of having a fine trio with which to play cannot be emphasized too strongly. Any challenges were easily met by having had great colleagues and a fine orchestra with which to perform.
One of the truly fulfilling groups I currently work with is the Inventions Trio, in which pianist Bill Mays and cellist Alisa Horn join me in an ensemble “crossing over” to produce music that includes a rather uncommon mixture of sonorities.
Bill Mays and I have been working together in various combinations since 1995. In 2004 we were invited to perform at the University of Memphis for that school’s Jazz Week. While in Memphis we were invited to brunch at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Howard Horn, friends of mine for many years. Their daughter Alisa, a very talented cellist, was home from school at the time, and I hoped Alisa would play for Bill. It had been in my mind for several years to propose that Bill compose something for us—an extended piece for cello, piano, and flugelhorn. I couldn’t suggest such a project, however, without Bill’s having an opportunity to hear Alisa play. I believed that upon hearing her he would be excited by her musicianship.
Alisa played an unaccompanied Bach cello suite, then Ernest Bloch’s “Schelomo,” accompanied by her mother. Bill asked to play with her, and they went through the Rachmaninoff cello sonata. Bill, a classically-trained jazz pianist, was sight-reading the very difficult piano part! Bill is fearless—suffering absolutely no trepidation, never afraid to try anything—because music is always such great fun for him. As they went through the Rachmaninoff everyone could feel their musical coming together. It was a beautiful moment.”
Bill and Alisa were immediately captivated with each other, so on the flight back to New York, I proposed that Bill compose a piece for the three of us. Bill was taken with the idea, adding that if he could somehow acquire a commission to put aside the time to compose an extended trio, he would love to do so. Over time, Alisa’s father and good friend Dr. Frank Osborne granted the commission, and Bill set to work.
“Fantasy for Cello, Trumpet, and Piano,” a three movement, through-composed piece came to life and gave birth to the Inventions Trio. As previously stated, Bill and I are classically-trained jazz musicians, while Alisa Horn is a classical cellist, a student of Peter Spurbeck, Anthony Elliott, and Hans Jorgenjensen. She now resides in New York, where she performs in concert and recital with various groups as well as doing studio recordings and Broadway shows.
“Fantasy” is written almost wholly in the classical style, but has sections of improvisation from all three instrumentalists throughout its three movements. It is truly a wonderful work, beautifully musical and expressive, giving each of the instruments its due and each instrumentalist an opportunity to shine.
While Bill and I were steeped in both the classics and jazz, Alisa was strictly a classical cellist. The greatest challenge for us, beyond our rehearsing and mastering the piece from a note and interpretation perspective, was Alisa’s “crossing over” into improvisation and learning to “walk bass lines”—that is, perform the functions in certain sections of the music as a bassist in a rhythm section.
Alisa from a very early age learned to play “by ear” as a Suzuki student. She picked everything up very quickly, her only problem being the need to overcome her fear of making a mistake, a malady common to many classical musicians. Most classical musicians strive to play “note perfect” while jazz musicians try for instantaneous creativity—creating music “of the moment.” While perfection may be somewhere in the back of the mind, creativity of mood, lines, dynamics, and feeling are utmost in jazz musicians’ thoughts. Alisa crossed beyond her compulsion for perfection to become a fearless and most passionate musician absorbed in this new kind of music.
The excitement among the three of us was palpable, and Bill wrote new material which we recorded for our first CD, “Fantasy.” As we kept expanding our library, we rehearsed and looked forward to touring. We have now been together for seven years and just released our third CD. “Life’s A Movie.”
Preparation for work with the Inventions Trio requires that I cross over to a different approach than when playing jazz. It is important that I don’t envision myself as a solo trumpet player, but rather as a part of a three-piece ensemble. Though there are a number of moments that the music asks me to play as a soloist, it also demands that I subjugate my sound and style to be part of an ensemble led by the cello—or play in duo with her wherein I must blend as a string instrument—or in combination with the piano to produce a single combined sound rather than our sounding as two individual instruments. This is a very enjoyable challenge for me. It requires my having complete control of my sound and dynamics at all times. I must also be sensitive to and aware of what the other players are doing at all times.
Serious musicians must develop these musical skills, but first one must be able to “hear” them. Let me explain. I hear many players who just “play.” They seem not to truly listen to or hear what they sound like in most of the settings in which they play. They just blow the horn. This would never work in a group such as ours. Even Alisa has to alter her sound for the various combinations called for in Bill’s compositions. This is the challenge, but also the fun of playing with this group. It requires one to use his or her musical skills to the utmost. It is not about “chops” and technique, but rather a musical melding and blending to make the music. One must think beyond “self,” giving up to the group. While there is plenty of room for individual creativity and spotlight, the essence of the composed music is about the group. This is essential to the success of any group such as the Inventions Trio.
To a performer like me, one who enjoys playing many kinds of music, “crossing over” might mean the melding of a broad panorama of musical styles with which to express oneself. To the purist, however, “crossing over” might mean the sullying or “dumbing down” of the art form. Yet we are finding artists such as Yo Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Bobby McFerrin, and others who also enjoy performing music that incorporates different styles of music, receiving accolades in the highest echelons of the classical field for crossing over into music outside of their usual performance areas. Among these are country music, bluegrass, jazz, and other various ethnic musics. Would these artists be accused of “sullying” the art form? And what of the jazz world? Is a classically-trained jazz performer, playing music that incorporates both jazz and classical styles, considered to be dumbing down the music? There have always been those who see this subject from a purist’s viewpoint. This seems to be especially true emanating from the classical side of academia, although I don’t find this to be true of most classical performers—those who increasingly accept and enjoy a rather broad range of musical styles.
Some jazz artists, too, may feel that mixing the music is a dilution of the art, though probably less so than the classical purists. This may occur because most jazz musicians are unable to make a living playing only jazz. They must also perform in other more lucrative areas in order to make ends meet—shows, free-lance concerts, social functions, weddings, and many more. The jazz musician learns this pretty much at the beginning of his career. It’s a choice between purity and survival.
I imagine this subject could be argued endlessly, however, and I highly doubt it will be resolved here. So what does this mean to someone like me? Actually, it means a great deal.
Throughout my career I have performed all kinds of music, especially during my studio years. But my strongest influences were always from the jazz and classical idioms, the greatest thrust being toward the jazz area. In 1990 I left the studios to pursue a career as a jazz artist, but due to my reputation as a versatile player, there were still composers and arrangers who wanted to write for me, incorporating both idioms. I have a great love for classical music, so it seems only natural for me to involve myself whenever opportunities arise. And they still do.
I have mentioned Greg McLean’s trumpet concerto, and just recently, composer James Stephenson also wrote a piece for two trumpets, “It’s About Time,” featuring me and Charles Schlueter, former principal trumpet of the Boston Symphony. We performed it March 8 with the New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble under the batons of Gene Young and William Drury. Gerald Ascione, a dear friend and fine composer, has also written a piece for wind ensemble featuring me as soloist and is in the process of composing another. I continue to enjoy the challenge of developing a piece and bringing it to its musically successful apex.
I feel it’s rather silly trying to categorize music into tiny niches to determine whether it is pure, crossover, or whatever label one might place on it. Music is very personal. And taste is individual. It is not in my place to judge one’s likes and dislikes—only whatever does or does not touch me. Having said this, I never agree to perform anything I don’t musically believe in or that is beyond my abilities. It is not a matter of “playing it safe,” but rather appreciating an opportunity to respect the writer and his music, and to extend one’s ultimate effort in bringing that music to life.
Changes, From My Perspective
By Alisa Horn
Marvin’s article entitled “Changes” in his last Cadenzas prompts me to add my personal perspective to his thoughtful viewpoint. Although his article cites MANY changes that are taking place in today’s musical community, there is one point in particular that really got me thinking: mentoring.
I am one of the lucky ones. Throughout my life, from a very young age, we were often visited at my home in Memphis by my dad’s close friend, adopted family member, and famous jazz trumpeter, Marvin Stamm. Although I was raised in a family of musicians, Marvin was the only professional musician in my family—not only professional, but highly successful in the field of music. But none of that mattered to a seven-year-old. Marvin would come for dinner when he was in town, and he would ask me to play whatever new Suzuki piece I was working on. He always encouraged me and loved to listen, even when he had only a few minutes to spare. He always told me that “one day we will play together,” which (little did I know) would turn out to be true. As I went through high school, struggling with the choice whether or not to pursue music professionally, I would listen to the words and advice from Marvin, who always told me that if I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life, then music was the life for me. Although at the time I didn’t completely appreciate it, I was already lucky enough to have been adopted by a mentor.
When I came home from my last semester of undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan, I found that Marvin had brought his close friend and colleague, Bill Mays, to our home. Bill and I played the slow movement of the Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata together and then my mom suggested that we play Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise as well. When we finished reading through, Bill said to me, “Now, let’s improvise!” The idea excited and thrilled me, but at the same time a terrifying thought went through my head, “I DON’T KNOW HOW TO IMPROVISE!” Bill assured me that whatever I played would be perfect because “in jazz, there are no mistakes!” I shyly started to play with Bill and a huge smile spread across my face. Marvin says that’s when he knew we had a trio and, as most of you know, this is now The Inventions Trio that I share with my mentors and partners, Bill Mays and Marvin Stamm.
Following graduate school at Northwestern University, I decided to move to Los Angeles where I believed I could pursue the career that I wanted. For many reasons, however, I found myself at the beginning of 2007 trying to figure out what to do with my life. As soon as I heard the news that our “Fantasy” album would be released on Palmetto Records, and at the same time being invited to sub on a new hit Broadway show, I made the decision to move to New York City. All I knew was that Marvin and Bill lived nearby and, if anything, we had our Trio; and I wanted to be closer to them.
In the fall of 2007, I moved into my first apartment in NYC and our Trio hit the road for our first tour. It was on this tour that Marvin and Bill REALLY started mentoring me—for not only was I a young cellist in their trio, I was also a newbie on the NYC scene and both of them had a LOT to teach me. When I went back to the hotel after our very first concert, I found Bill counting the money from our CD sales of that first night and he said to me: “First rule of the road: Always know where the money is!” Thus began our list of “Rules of the Road” compiled of serious lessons and rules, as well as inside jokes (of which there were PLENTY!). The rules of the road, in addition to the countless conversations we had on this tour about every aspect of living as a professional musician, changed my life. I learned about social graces between musicians (“never come in to a session and sit in the first chair!”), social graces as a performer at a club (“always tip the waiter even if the food is free!”), business aspects of music (“get set up on Quicken and keep track of everything you pay for and can write off!”), and the thousands of stories that Bill and Marvin shared of their experiences over 50 years as professional musicians.
Most important—the music. Just by performing with these incredible musicians each night, I learned more than I could ever recount about all aspects of performance, chamber music, audience etiquette, and the many hard truths that go into being a performing musician, not to mention listening to the brilliance of their improvisation every night. I maintain that starting to learn jazz with these two experts was both blessing and curse: a blessing for every obvious reason to be listening and playing with the BEST, but a curse because I am now forever spoiled by their artistry and want to play only with THEM! Although Marvin and Bill pointed out that so much has changed since they were my age—mainly the lack of work that exists for performing musicians today—all of the lessons I learned from their life experiences have helped me in every way possible. For a brief time, I took bass lessons from Mike Richmond at NYU. One day he said to me, “You are one of the lucky people who has true mentors! That’s the way every jazz musician used to learn—just by joining in and learning from their mentors, and you have managed to end up in that exact position!”
In addition to knowing Bill and Marvin, I have been lucky enough to have other mentors in NYC as well: most importantly, my best friend and incredible violinist, Hiroko Taguchi. I met Coco while I was subbing at my first Broadway show, “Spring Awakening,” and since then we’ve been joined at the hip. Without Coco, I don’t know how I would have survived the past six years, not only because she has been my true friend, but also because she is a constant source of wisdom and advice gained from her many years of experience as a freelance musician in NYC. I’m also so proud to have befriended MANY other musicians, and most of them happen to be more experienced than I am. I ALWAYS try to take advantage of every opportunity that I have with musicians who know more than I do because I know they have something to share–either good or bad. I have learned more over the past six-and-a-half years living as a professional, freelance musician in NYC than I did in music school. That’s the result of all of my personal experiences (both negative and positive) as well as my many opportunities to learn from those people who have lived here longer and know more than I do.
Unfortunately, I feel that the idea of mentoring is diminishing from the present field of music—not completely, but it seems to have lost the prominence it once had. All parties involved are to blame—younger musicians who think they know everything and don’t have any interest in respecting and learning from their elders AND older musicians who aren’t as interested in mentoring these younger entitled musicians who don’t respect them. It’s a two-way street and it saddens me that so many musicians are missing out on the mentoring experience. I am thirty-one years old and I’m definitely not claiming to know all the answers, but I have been noticing the lack of respect and general interest that music students and players in their 20s/30s have when it comes to learning from their elders. I’ve given numerous classes with (and without) Bill and Marvin at music schools, where I’ve noticed this complete lack of interest in hearing music played by older musicians and/or taking advantage of learning from them. I’ve also come into contact with several young musicians lately (younger than I am), who move to NYC and think they know everything about it. They don’t respect the players who are already established here. Rather, they expect to get ahead merely by being entitled and self-absorbed, at the same time stepping all over/disrespecting the musicians around them. I haven’t found many of them coming to older musicians to ask for advice—and frankly, I think they’re FOOLISH!
I strongly believe that the only way that music can be passed from generation to generation is by younger musicians learning from and respecting the older musicians who have been through it all. I also must place some blame on music schools for overly stressing learning technique and spending hours locked in a practice room instead of emphasizing the importance of LISTENING–going to concerts to hear other musicians play, and listening to the stories, experiences, and advice that other musicians have to offer.
This current lack of mentoring will affect all future generations, and placing that blame goes both ways. Young musicians are at fault for not appreciating the older ones, but many of the older musicians are bitter about the current lack of jobs in our field and (some of) those jobs being taken by newer players. During the past year especially, I have had several negative experiences in which older musicians have treated me poorly/with a lack of respect because they assume I am just another entitled young person. This could not be further from the truth. Unfortunately, the cocky attitude and entitlement of many young players have left a bad taste in the mouths of the older players around them. In addition to that, I feel that the cynicism of many older players is affecting/preventing their acceptance of the younger generation. As Marvin pointed out so beautifully, and many of my other experienced friends have told me, so many changes have occurred in music. And I understand why older players feel so negative about the current state of our industry. However, they should not be taking their frustration out on ALL younger musicians. So, obviously, I am very sensitive to both sides of this conundrum.
I can say without hesitation that I wouldn’t have survived the past six-and-a-half years living in this extremely difficult city, trying to make a living as a freelance musician, if it weren’t for all of the people in my life—Marvin, Bill, Coco, my family, and COUNTLESS others, not to mention my teachers—who have supported and mentored me and shown me how to be live as a musician, both personally and professionally. I don’t care what anyone says, but in order for our field to survive and prosper, we have to respect and learn from all of those who have come before us as well as respecting the newer generation. I find that there is a distinct lack of respect for both. As Marvin wrote in Cadenzas, music is always evolving and the way things are going right now is pretty scary. But if we as musicians don’t stick together and start respecting each other, our audiences, and the musicians who came before us, I don’t know what will be left.
But there is some hope out there. Last year, during an inspirational class with Marvin and Bill at the Stax Music Academy in my hometown, Memphis, Tennessee, I was reminded that many young people are very interested in learning and listening. This experience filled my heart with joy to see so many talented young people in our field. During the class, I told the students that my jazz improvisation is “still a work in progress,” and Marvin said, “Actually, we are ALL a work in progress, no matter what age we are!” I think that’s something EVERY person should remember. We all have so much to learn from each other and if you have had a great mentor in your life, you are one of the lucky ones, too.
How Fortunate I Am!
By Bobby Lewis
Bobby Lewis is a dear friend and was one of the first call studio musicians in Chicago for years. He is also a beautiful jazz soloist with a number of wonderful CDs to his credit. Bobby received his Master’s Degree in music performance from the University of Wisconsin/Madison and as a studio musician played over 7500 recording sessions (TV and radio commercials, records, and films). He toured and recorded with Jack Teagarden, Tex Beneke and the Modernaires, and has been conductor, music director, and featured soloist with singer Peggy Lee. He has also performed with the Chicago Symphony, the St. Louis Symphony, and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestras. Bobby received two music composition fellowship grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and has participated in jazz festivals, concerts and brass conferences in India, Japan, Australia, The Netherlands, Scotland, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Canada and the United States. For a complete bio and more information go to www.bobbylewis.com [This piece first appeared in the newsletter of Local10-208, Chicago Federation of Musicians.]
How fortunate I am:
To have known John (Johnny) Howell and Adolph (Bud) Herseth;
To make Chicago my home where these two great masters of the trumpet resided;
To have met them, played with them, gotten to know them and become good friends with mutual respect;
To play second chair to the great lead trumpet of Johnny Howell.
John was a veteran of the big bands led by Charlie Barnett (trumpet section consisting of Ray Wetzel, Doc Severinsen, Maynard Ferguson, Rolf Ericson and Johnny Howell), Woody Herman, Stan Kenton and several others. He settled in Chicago in 1952.
When I met John in 1961, he was playing recording sessions, performing in radio/TV staff orchestras, doing shows, jazz gigs, and just about everything else. After I established a bit of a reputation in Chicago, John called to book me in a trumpet section for a recording session with Dick Marx, probably the top commercial music producer in the city at the time. The required attire during that period was a suit and white shirt with tie. I arrived at Universal Recording Studio ‘A’ (a favorite of Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton and site of many historical recording sessions) looking good with my trumpet, mutes & ME!
Everything went well until—with about five minutes left in the session, one more take was needed on the last piece which was about two minutes long. From the control room, Mr. Marx hastily said, “I’d like to make a change, but there’s not time to write it down, just remember it.” The take was perfect except that I picked up my pencil wanting to make the correction on my part—for what reason I have no idea—and dropped it on the music stand just after the last note had sounded. Ouch! The expletives from the booth and the glare from Mr. Howell were extremely embarrassing. And, because of ME the session had to go overtime—eighteen musicians, studio time, and lots of money! I dreaded that my recording career had started and ended the same day. Two weeks later, however, John again called for a Marx session; I guess I’d been forgiven. When I saw Dick, he exclaimed, “I remember you!” Apparently, I had made an impression of some sort. The good news was it wasn’t the end of my session work, nor my association with Johnny—only the beginning.
Johnny possessed a sound big as a house, with amazing swing and musical phrasing, and a full high register with F’s and G’s that were astounding! He was easy to play with, and above all, a lot of fun! We played together on many recording sessions all through the 1960s and ‘70s and accompanied musical artists such as Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis Jr., Ella Fitzgerald, Barbara Eden, Nancy Wilson, Dinah Shore, and many others. We played in various Chicago big bands and worked local show rooms as well as played together on the road. John taught by example—keep your ears open to what he was doing and how he was playing the music, and there was your lesson. Stories? Many! Laughs? Lots! Memories? Unforgettable!
How fortunate am I that while in the Seventh US Army Band in Stuttgart, Germany in 1959, I heard a recording of Fritz Reiner conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) playing Bela Bartok’s Concerto For Orchestra. I was awestruck by the sound of the brass section, in particular that of the principal trumpet player. I hadn’t heard of Adolph Herseth prior to this, but hoped someday to meet him and express my admiration of his outstanding abilities and huge sound. The combination of the CSO, Reiner, and Herseth is unparalleled. I had to hear more. The recordings of Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition are an exhibition of this outstanding brass section with Bud’s trumpet on top and Arnold Jacob’s tuba on the bottom, with world class players in-between. Bud’s amazing solos throughout and his soaring trumpet on the Great Gate of Kiev are truly ASTOUNDING!! Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé, Dvorak’s New World Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 (Pathetique), Mahler’s SymphonyNo. 4, and several others in this series on RCA Victor, are all great! I bought them all.
How fortunate am I to have received a call from the CSO to play some youth concerts conducted by Henry Mazur, the assistant music director of the orchestra at that time. My role was to play in the trumpet section, and perform some improvised jazz solos when required. And it was my opportunity to meet the amazing trumpeter I had heard on those recordings. While most of the principal players didn’t participate in the youth concerts, Mr. Herseth did. Inside this great musician was a warm and friendly soul with a smile as big as his sound. Superlatives abound when describing Bud.
One of the Popular Concerts I was hired to play consisted of the Roman Carnival Overture by Berlioz, again with Henry Mazur conducting. The score calls for two cornets and two trumpets. The persons in charge of staffing asked Bud if a symphonic musician should be hired for the piece. Bud informed them, “Will Scarlett and I will play the cornet parts, Bobby and Matt Comerford can handle the trumpet parts.” I received the music several weeks prior to the concert, and to my surprise, the part was Trumpet ONE!! I had never played this piece before, but was up to the challenge. At the rehearsal on the morning of the concert, the time came for the players who were performing the Roman Carnival Overture to assemble on the stage of Orchestra Hall. After just a few bars and before I played a note, Maestro Mazur stopped the orchestra and exclaimed: “We don’t need to rehearse this—everyone knows it.” (Except me! I thought.) The entire brass section looked at me and laughed as the orchestra members were re-assembling for the next piece. Bud came up to me and said “C’mon, I’ll run through the music with you downstairs”. He surely didn’t have to do this. It showed Bud’s compassion and his respect for me and the music. With confidence, the concert went very well with many thanks to the man I so much admire.
In 1998, a concert of brass celebrating Bud’s 50th anniversary with the CSO was held at Orchestra Hall. All the performers were selected and invited by the honoree. Included were Doc Severinsen, Arnold Jacobs, Frank Crisafulli, Arturo Sandoval, Roger Voison, George Vosburgh, Daniel Barenboim, and other notable artists from around the world. I, too, received an invitation to participate. To be included in such an assemblage of talent and to be asked by Mr. Herseth was indeed a high honor, to be sure.
The aspiration to be the “BUD HERSETH OF JAZZ” will always be my driving force, although I don’t think that goal is attainable by anyone.
Johnny Howell passed away May 17, 1980, at age fifty-six; Thirty-three years later, I still think of him often.
Adolph Herseth passed away April 13, 2013, at age ninety-one. No one will ever surpass the fifty-three years and high standards he set as principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Talents such as these occur once in a lifetime. I am so grateful my lifetime coincided with theirs. The valuable experience, inspiration and memories I received with, from, and of them, will be forever present.
Bobby Lewis, May 5, 2013