A Little Different And A Lot Of Talent

392920_10150920650568876_2005699815_nI recently came across a very talented trio fronted by a young trumpet player you must hear. Noticed I didn’t say your “should” hear. The trio is called Sweet Talk and no matter what kind of music trips your trigger, you need to listen to and follow the progress of this interesting ensemble (an experimental jazz trio based in Brooklyn, NY. Jake Henry – trumpet; Dustin Carlson – guitar, Devin Drobka – drums).

Each member of the group is able to contribute artistry in every composition. And when you combine only a guitarist, a drummer and a trumpet player, you are putting it on the line every time you kick off a tune. When I first realized the instrumentation, I have to admit that I started the video with the intention of proving to myself that this strange combination of instruments would never keep my interest. Was I wrong!

After reading my interview with Mr. Jake Henry (trumpet player and leader), start the video, set back and begin to listen to a style of music you may hate, love or even question. If you have the same reaction I had, you will want to learn more about this group and for that reason I suggest you first read about Sweet Talk and then play their video. In this way, you will better understand why I was so “blown away” with their work.

And here is my interview with Mr. Jake Henry-

How would you classify your style of jazz?

Genre is always a bit tricky for new jazz music, but I’d say it probably lands in avant-garde jazz, though free jazz and noise have been thrown around as well.

If it is free Jazz, I noticed that you all were very organized as far a structure and you had charts in front of you. Please explain. To me it sounds like “Well organized Free Jazz” if there is such a thing.

The reason I say avant-garde over free jazz is because of the emphasis on compositional elements. We improvise within the constraints set by the pieces, similar to traditional jazz, though the constraints are often construction and deconstruction of themes as opposed to an ongoing form.

How long has you group been together?

We’ve been together since 2011, but Dustin and I started playing together a year before that.

What type of venues do you perform in?

It’s a mixture of jazz clubs, art galleries, house shows, noise venues and DIY spaces.

How is a new composition created?

My compositional process is something I’ve settled on after a lot of trial and error. I mostly start with some form of material, whether it’s melodic, harmonic or rhythmic, and then map out the structure of the piece from there… melody, how we get to the improvising, what material we improvise on, and how we exit into more composed material. Most of the work is done in the “editing” phase though.

How do you decide when to come out of the free sections?

It really depends on the piece. Often I will write bookends to the improvising to provide a unique contour to each song, as the improvising is generally free of predetermined form and harmony, I try to vary the material we start and end with enough to make each piece’s improvised section(s) distinct. A little bit of exit material really helps to make a song identifiable, and ensure that the ends of pieces always make an impact. With that said, sometimes we will stop organically in which case the end material may be disregarded

Are your ensemble sections written in notes or rhythms?

Absolutely. The piece we play in the video is actually one of the simplest in the book. Even for freely played or rubato melodies, the way they appear on the page is carefully determined.

How did you come up with this instrumentation?

Touring is a bitch. This band fits in a car.

Who do you consider an influential trumpet player in the development of your style of improvisation?

Man, that’s tough (as you well know there are so many). I’ve definitely spent a lot of time with Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Wheeler and Lee Morgan, but in terms of modern players that have had a more relevant impact stylistically Ralph Alessi, Peter Evans, Dave Douglas, Shane Endsley, Nate Wooley. Super important to my concept as well are my friends Brad Henkel, Kenny Warren, Joe Moffett and also saxophone players Tony Malaby and Tim Berne

What equipment do you use?

I play a Marcinkiewicz Rembrandt trumpet with a GR 66mx mouthpiece and valve oil I make myself.

Who do you most often listen to?

Jake Henry’s Sweet Talk is an experimental jazz trio based in Brooklyn, NY. Jake Henry – trumpet; Dustin Carlson – guitar, Devin Drobka – drums

My friends and contemporaries. There is very inspiring music out there right now. Some of them are Adam Hopkins, Patrick Breiner, Sean Ali, Will McEvoy, Josh Sinton, Chris Weller, Kate Gentile, Matt Mitchell and David Grollman. Also here are some names of some other folks I like: Bartok, Beyonce, Messaien, Curtis Mayfield, Frankie Valli, Kendrick Lamar, Ben Monder and The Tallest Man on Earth

What kind of musical background do each of your players have?

Devin, the drummer’s background is mostly jazz and free jazz, though he definitely played in a few metal bands in his day. Dustin, the guitarist’s background is a lot more rock and funk bands. As for me, I started young as a jazz guitarist and gradually switched over to trumpet in my mid to late teens. My musical taste has definitely broadened over the years.

What do you hope to do with your group in the next couple years?

Well I don’t want to give it all away, but we’ve got another album that we’re set to record this year, and I plan to take the band overseas. Also in March we’ll be playing the Canadian Festival of New Trumpet Music in Montreal.

Every trumpet player, young old, professional or amateur should listen to this group for I feel that the music which they are producing is worth the time to evaluate. Some of you may not like their work and that is alright. Some of you may wonder what is going on and still others may “flip” over the group. Whatever your reactions you experience after listening to these talented musicians perform, your musical taste will have been expanded and that is good.

For those able to make the “Canadian Festival of New Trumpet Music in Montreal” in March, I will be jealous for I would love to be at that festival and hear this important trio in person.

The very best to our new friends in Sweet Talk.

Now meet Mr. Tatum Greenblatt

188927_150323081699342_2054809_nIn our never ending quest to showcase the best in trumpet playing….

A Seattle native, Tatum Greenblatt is a musician, composer and bandleader who has established himself as one of the most in-demand trumpet players on New York City’s music scene and performed with artists such as Wynton Marsalis, Joe Lovano, The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, The Mingus Big Band, Richard Bona, George Gruntz, Donny McCaslin, Jacques Swartz- Bart, David Berger, George Garzone, and The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, among many others. Having earned his master’s degree from The Juilliard School, Tatum has toured extensively with The Richard Bona Group and The Mingus Big Band, performing in 38 countries across 6 continents, and can be heard playing frequently around New York City with a wide variety of groups, including The Mingus Big Band, Orrin Evans’ Captain Black Big Band, The Fat Cat Big Band, and The Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra.

The New Schagerl “Raven”- The Best Of Both Worlds

IMG_0570James Morrison explains his newly designed piston/rotary valve trumpet as only he can…..

This is my new trumpet from Schagerl – although it looks a bit like a cornet, it is definitely a trumpet.

The design comes from my wish to have a rotary valve instrument due to the different articulation you get compared to piston valves. I find the rotary sounds more precise and there is a smaller “dead spot” between when you push the valve and when the next note comes out clearly. This is particularly noticeable when playing quickly in the upper register (something I like to do).

So if I want a rotary trumpet, why not just use one of the many Schagerl’s that already exist?

Rotary trumpets vary from their piston cousins in another way than just the valves… the lead pipe on a typical rotary is very short and goes from the mouthpiece straight into the 1st valve. The lead pipe on a piston trumpet is nearly 4 times as long, it goes out towards the bell and back into the 3rd valve. This difference in lead pipe length has a considerable effect on the sound and feel of the trumpet, particularly the power in the upper register.

So the Raven was conceived to be a rotary valved trumpet with a long lead pipe. This lead to several prototypes of different shapes and configurations until the beautiful instrument you see now. It actually still has the lead pipe going into the 1st valve (like any rotary) but only after a long trip out towards the bell and then back towards the mouthpiece – giving a length similar to a piston trumpet.

The ‘cornet – like’ appearance was due to the fact that the rotors needed to be placed low (increasing the vertical dimension) and this lead to a decreased horizontal length – like a cornet. But as far as the tubing goes, this is all trumpet. The valve actuators, that look like pistons, were placed on top – so the instrument can be played with one hand. I need this for various reasons, including using a plunger mute, playing piano at the same time and conducting a big band whilst playing. It means the Raven is played ‘upright’ like a piston trumpet, rather than on it’s side like most rotarys. In this respect it is similar to that other wonderful Schagerl – the Gansch horn.

One characteristic of the Raven is that it is extremely warm sounding when played softly, almost like a flugel horn. When you blow it hard, it goes the other way and is even brighter than a regular trumpet. This ‘breadth’ of tonal range is very appealing to me for jazz work, as I can create a very intimate sound even without a mute and still ‘scream’ any time just by increasing the air.

Finally, why is it called the ‘Raven’?

It was decided to plate it with a combination of platinum and silver that looks black, hence the name of the black bird. Unfortunately there is a delay with this type of plating and so I asked for my first Raven in gold plate. There is a second prototype on the way that will indeed be black and should look wicked!

Apart from playing it on all my gigs from now on, I’ll be recording with the Raven over the next few weeks and will get that up on Youtube so you can hear it. Also some better pictures are coming, this was just taken with my iPhone on the hotel bed before jumping on the plane home.

Robert Schagerl has done an amazing job and created yet another masterpiece.

A Musician Must Be Flexible

When speaking of flexibility in this case, I don’t mean that you can do back flips and hand stands. Flexibility in this case refers to the ability to adapt to your surroundings and situations. Another word I could use to describe this valuable trait for musicians could be adaptability. I will try to cover a few examples of adaptability or flexibility which you may run into in your journey down the page.

Flexibility when practicing- Many times we find a groove in which we enjoy pleasure in our playing. We search for just the right combination of loud and soft playing, high and low playing, solo and ensemble playing and while we relish the experience, we tend to get bored doing the same thing over and over again (See post- Bored practicing). Even though we recognize that what we are currently doing is beneficial, after an extended period of time, we tend to move into other practice habits which do not benefit us as much as what we have already decided works best for us. It is human nature to want greener pastures and more interesting practice habits. Is it bad to wander from the most beneficial routine to something less productive? In most cases it is but if you are addicted to one outline for practice, you will find that your improvement will eventually become stagnant and unproductive. You must learn to be flexible.

Your basic areas to practice for most musicians would be the following-

  • Strength exercises
  • Flexibility exercises
  • Loud playing
  • Soft playing
  • Fast playing
  • Slow playing
  • Tonguing exercises
  • Sight reading
  • Solo playing
  • Ensemble playing
  • Style changes (both symphonic as well as commercial)
  • Technique of changing notes (trombone- slide work, trumpet- finger work)
  • Excerpts (orchestral)
  • Improvisation (jazz)
  • Playing just for the shear enjoyment

I’m sure many more areas could be added but for now, let’s assume that theses are the most important.

If all you currently play is loud high notes with your rock band or only soft notes in the middle to low range, why would you spend any time practicing the opposite areas, i.e. soft when playing in rock bands, loud and high when only playing in a sweet band? The reason is obvious for if you relegate all of your playing in one area, you will eventually loose other areas of your playing. To make sure that you do not fall into this habit you must first identify what the majority of your playing requirements are at this time and supplement the opposite material in order to keep the best balance.

I remember back about thirty years (the old days I remember, what I did last week is a problem) when one of my students came to me and with great excitement, told me that he was going on the road with a band I had played with. The student asked me for advice while on the road and I began first by telling him to make sure he was paid regularly (preferably in cash) and that his road expenses could wipe out his salary if he wasn’t careful. Because I had played with this band before, I also shared with him the style of music and pointed out to him that he would not be challenged and because of that fact, he would need to practice regularly even though he was playing every night. The band was one of the last full time “Sweet Bands” meaning the music was dated and the trumpet player was required to play the melody exactly as written, most dynamics were between p and mf. Another characteristic would be that you play all the time. This was markedly different than what he was used to at the university. When he returned from his gig he thanked me for without regular work outs on his horn, he would have had no chops at all when he returned.

Rule #1- Set aside time to practice the opposite of what you are currently performing.