Thanks go out to a good friend Mr. Dave Bacon for this interview given by the late great Bud Brisbois
“The main two things that I stress and firmly believe in are: 1. Breathing, knowing how to breath and knowing how to set the air and 2. Building the proper muscles here(chops) as opposed to destroying everything here(chops). There are so many fine trumpet players around the country and the world these days, I’ve found by watching them play that there are two things that they all do exactly alike. First of all, they have a strong anchor or corners and they all take similar types of breath and they support their sound with their air almost identically no matter who the player is. Say, a Doc Severinsen, or a Bud Herseth, or just about anybody and all of the strong trumpet players that I work with in LA.
“What I would like to do is explain the breathing technique that I use and believe in and then explain the building of this and explain some of the other problems that most young trumpet players seem to have when building an upper register.
“First of all, the main and most important thing and not stressed enough upon by teachers is the importance of breathing, learning how to breath, knowing how to set the air and giving yourself a strong foundation for building or getting a good strong sound. I am a firm believer, I’ll preface all of this by saying that there isn’t any good trumpet player who doesn’t start from the bottom up instead of the top down on his instrument. Any brass player that feels he can start high and then build a good low register, I find wrong, I tried it myself and it didn’t work. It only worked so far, then I really had to build a good foundation. I believe that you have to learn your breathing, your instrument from the bottom up instead of from the top down.
“I was just talking to Roy Cummings (long time trumpet professor at the University of Washington) last night and he said something that I guess I have said ever since I have been doing clinics and that is that in order to have good consistent playing in all registers of the horn, you build a foundation just like you would build a building. I have used the same analogy that Roy brought up last night, you never start building a building with the 13th floor and then build the 12th and 11th. You build a good firm foundation, strong foundation and build up and learn your horn from the bottom up. The scales, the techniques and everything else and you build your range gradually, knowing that every step of the way what you do, how to do it and build the proper muscles. I also will draw parallels to an athlete, a good strong miler in track, doesn’t go out the first day of spring training and try to run the fastest mile, he builds up slowly and tries to develop the muscles instead of trying to break the record the first day, he gradually builds and builds and builds the particular muscles that he uses in his body and we do the same thing as trumpet players. So, your not going to wake up one day and all of a sudden have the trumpet licked and know how to play high. You build low and build the proper muscles and build the proper range that you can build as an individual with the strength and the tools that the good lord gave you to build. Some of us can play higher than others, but we can all build a good consistent range, not everybody can play a double C, but they can play higher with more consistency, more accuracy, more penetration if they build properly as opposed to the player that just builds wrong. Now, I will try to show you, I wore this shirt today, my skinny shirt, because it will show you what happens in the middle part of me, if I had a sport coat on I don’t think you could see. Because I have developed this breathing technique that I will go through to a point where it doesn’t even seem hard, sometimes I’ll be playing a high note and it doesn’t even seem like I’m even doing what I’m saying I’m doing, but I do, do what I’m about to tell you.
“Now first of all, taking a good breath, not what we call a Superman type breath or a He-man type breath, but a good strong fill this area of your body type breath, not to the point where your straining everything, but a good one. Taking it in through the mouth and filling this cavity in here. Now there are different books out calling it by technical terms, but I call it the diaphragm, which is not supposedly the correct term, but I call it the diaphragm, not a breath like Superman, this type thing up here (high chest), because that does nothing, you can’t support, you can’t build, you can’t put any concentration on the air if you just take it up here. You fill this area in here and you fill it ALL. You don’t fill just half of it but you fill it all, but you don’t take the type of breath where your really straining. But a good one, and through developing you develop this area in through here. So we take our air and put it here. With this type of a breath, then we put support or what I call compression on the air, we put pressure on the air once we get it down here. Now, the pressure that I put on whether it be in the low register or the high register, we take a breath we put pressure on the air and then we attack the note. But we have set up everything here first before we attack the note. So we take our breath, (plays strong middle C), I put a certain amount of compression for the middle C. As I go lower, maybe a little less compression, as I go higher I use more compression on this area. If I hit a high C I will have air compression and I will explain that in just a minute. (plays strong high C). Now that is a high C and you don’t see all kinds of strain or anything, but there is more compression or more strain or more concentration on the air down here, to hit that note. Now to get this sensation for what I call the compression on the air, it’s a gripping of the air from all sides, it isn’t pushing out, pulling in, it’s a sensation, a feeling of taking the air and setting it with everything we have around here. Now it sounds like I’m squeezing and I’ll tell you about that later too. It’s not a constricting of anything in here, but it’s a feeling of putting pressure on the air down here, pushing it from all sides, from the bottom up, from the top down, from the front in, from the back, so it’s all concentrated, so your putting pressure on it from all sides. So the higher you go, the more of this pressure you put on the air. The only way that I can explain this sensation is that if someone were to come up to you and you were just standing there relaxed and all of a sudden they double up and are going to let you have one, right in the stomach your going to go (breathes in and tightens) place tension, but it isn’t a tension of pushing out and pulling in, it’s a tension that happens everywhere around the air to prepare for that blow, so your feeling the sensation of gripping all around here and that is the sensation you get when you grip this air. Now the higher you play, the more of this gripping of this air that you get or that you put on the air so that the air has more compression, if you have a can of compressed liquid of whatever you have and you feel this ssssss if there’s more pressure, pounds per square inch, that ssssss is going to have more intensity. That is the same intensity that you are going to have as you go higher, you put more of this compression on the air. You grip the air with the muscles that you have. Now it takes time to develop these muscles, it doesn’t happen as I say overnight. But this is the compression of the air. You take the proper air and you put the compression on it. As you’re in the low register, you still put compression on it but as you go higher, you put more of this compression. So we start in the middle register …(plays strong middle G, G, a little more compression and a B, B, a little more compression and a D, D, a little more and a G, double G) now that’s a high G, now most of you, to hit that high G if you were ever going to hit one, which is a good 5th above a high C which is probably a high note for most of you, you’d be pulling in with this arm, about as hard as you possibly could, tensing up here, not taking in any air, not supporting from here, and we get (plays a squeezed high C) or something like that. The mouth squeezed and nothing happened, but if we take a good breath, support it and put compression on it, the proper compression for that note. (strong high C) we have a note that projects, we have it all from down here, and good solid corners and we project the note, we can do just about anything we want to on it, we can put vibrato on it, we can fill it up, we can play it soft, we can play it loud, (plays high C, C with vibrato, G, double G and tongues 8th notes) it’s all from down here, everything we do is from down here, the compression. As we go lower we relax the compression, but we don’t relax, we still have tension, we just decrease the tension as they say, not relax it. As we go higher we put more of this compression or tension on the air. Like gripping it.
“Now as we are developing this breathing and tension or muscles in through here, because this little thing (mouthpiece) isn’t going to do much for us. Oh, by the way by developing and utilizing this compression and building the muscles here, we put our pressure here(stomach) as opposed to here(chops), so we are utilizing less pressure here(chops). I am a firm believer in using a certain amount of pressure, because your not going to get the sound you want if you don’t use some. But we don’t use a lot of pressure, our pressure is down here(stomach), this a pressure tank. I don’t care how strong you are, this dog gone thing(chops) just isn’t going to take it, so we put a pressure here(stomach) (plays high C) it’s all coming from here(stomach). Just a certain amount of pressure, just in order to maintain the mouthpiece there and not kill ourselves. (plays D, high D, double G) I’m not killing anything but down here(stomach) and not busting anything up here(chops). Now if we have good support, and we have good compression down here(stomach), we don’t need it from here(chops). We leave this(chops) with the least amount of pressure that we can get by with so it vibrates very easy and all of our pressure is here(stomach). Now watch me put pressure for the double G, before I hit the note (plays double G), (again), it’s all from down here(stomach). By developing all of this area down here(stomach), we alleviate the pressure and also can breathe totally relaxed in here(throat and neck, upper body). So the note sings out, we don’t squeeze, we don’t have tension. The only tension we have is here(stomach) and we build these corners, right here so that we with compression in the corners here we alleviate everything here(chops) and we are just free to function like it’s supposed to.
“Now we build these(chops) as well as these(stomach) muscles through lip flexibility exercises, right back into your Arban’s or whatever you want through flexibility exercises and breathing and with the compression. That gives us nothing but flexibility, a sound that will sizzle all over a band of any kind and it gives us endurance and everything else. I’ll try to play a two octave arpeggio ( plays G, B, D, High G, B, D, double G, and down) I’m setting, taking a breath, hitting a G in the staff, hitting it, putting more compression on it, tightening up here as I go higher, as I get to the top, this is good and tense, this as all of the compression as I come down. It takes a lot of time to develop this it just doesn’t happen fast. The only thing I think of consciously is thinking of playing everything as open throated as I can , and not thinking of EEE. Every time I thought EEE, I felt pinched. So even as high as I’m trying to play I think Ahhh, so I’m open, Always. EEE just seems to pinch the sound. I’m thinking of the concentration here and here. I try to think of everything as open and as relaxed as I can. You have so much support that you can do whatever you want. (plays G to double G arpeggio). As I get up to the high G, the tension increased here, the compression increased here. With me it isn’t as visual as with most players, because I just put it in one spot. And I’ve got it in one spot so much that I don’t crunch down to hit a double G. It looks fairly evenly relaxed when I hit a G, but I’m working like a son-of-a-gun in here when I am playing a G, and there is total concentration on the air. (plays arpeggio again, then up a step) I went up to a high double A, still with the same intensity and feeling, just a little bit harder here and here then for the G. Maybe just a little more intensity, but the throat was open with an Ahh sound. That’s the only way I could play the A and put vibrato on it. If I was thinking EEE, it would have the tendency to go sharp on me as I squeeze. As I said I am speaking about what works with me and all of the players I work with. They don’t think vowel sounds, they just think open and relaxed and a big round sound with an edge. And it’s all developed here and here.
“I am a firm believer in physical exercise. There are a lot of players that don’t believe, but they are a lot bigger then I am, maybe even 50 pounds bigger. For me I do work out, sit ups, push ups, running in place, it’s a very grueling ten minute workout that I’ve done for the last ten years. It’s very exhausting and it gives me the strength that I need, because I’m just not a very big guy. I’m bigger then say Doc Severinsen , he has a yoga technique, where as mine is calisthenic that I do four or five times a week, it’s very exhausting and it’s taken again a long time to develop. It keeps strength in here that’s incredible then I augment that with one other pushup exercise. I go between two chairs and let all my weight go down and touch with my legs bent, let my knees touch the floor and then go all the way back up. I’ve worked that up to 35 or 40 of those. And that keeps everything extremely strong in the back and everywhere else. Even though your using it here, you need to keep everything else strong and use every muscle in your body to increase the intensity. The exercise helps me to increase my endurance. Like tonight I will play some extremely long phrases and I will be playing in the upper register, and stay there, and when I come off, I can go right back up again, it won’t be that I go up and get stuck, I can go anywhere if I’m strong.
“I have had tests done on me to measure my pressure, I don’t use as much as players who can’t play as I high as I can. I’ve had tubes in my mouth as I play double C’s and G’s above, I just don’t muster up as much compression, it’s just my air. My concentrations in such a compact area and I know exactly what to do with that air and I’ve done it for so long that I only use what is needed, so I don’t over strain anything. We had a 2 hr. rehearsal for the show tonight and I was playing as strong and higher at then end then when we started. For most guys their level goes down, but for me I play stronger, louder, higher as I get going. Sure I start to get fatigued, but I snap back because I’m in shape. For me the physical exercise is very important.
“If I were to think of all of these little tiny things that go on or supposedly take place, I’d drive myself crazy. I don’t think of things in terms of degrees, it’s a feeling, a sensation, it’s building. Now if your going to do lip slurs, which are the best builder for here in the world along with building this part, your going to get a sensation. It’s a basic idea and basic feeling. (plays shake, and flexibility exercise) As we go higher I pull a little bit more, focusing on the muscles. It’s a matter of building the tension and your muscles.
“I can’t stress the lack of importance of this little thing here (mouthpiece) everybody gets caught up with it. It doesn’t matter as long as you have the proper breathing and compression. It’s a mental block that people get into. If your building everything else correctly, it will take care of this (chops). I don’t care if you’ve been sleeping all night and get up first thing and play a high C, it’s not practical, but you can if you have everything else functioning.
“I do pivot a little, but I don’t stress it. I don’t really think about it. It works for me but I don’t know about everybody else. It all boils down to what works for any particular player. I avoid movements of the horn as much as possible.
“I can’t stress enough to work on lip flexibility. Play a scale from middle C to low C, then middle C to high C, slurring it all, repeat it several times, then change keys, or just expand the scale both up and down. Concentrate on your breathing and the compression of air. It’s what works for you, the pivot included (plays G arpeggio 1 octave, then down to low G to demonstrate slight horn tilt) It becomes a natural feeling with the slight pivot and not something awkward. I think of opening up in the low register, just singing the note out to get a full sound, support your low register just like the upper register. We put more concentration on the air when we go higher, but we still focus the airstream as we go lower.
“I can’t stress enough, quit getting hung up on unimportant things, just worry about what counts. Build the things that we all have to have, then you can worry about the small things.
“The best breathing exercise I have ever known, and this works within a week. Stand in front of a mirror, without a shirt on. This takes one week, ten minutes a day. Put your hands high on your sides and take a breath and try to push your hands out as far as you can. Then count slowly as you release your air (1, 2, 3, …) as soon as you completely out of air, take another huge breath. Make sure you are watching yourself in the mirror. The first day you may be able to get up to 15 or 16, by the end of the week, your up to 25, 30, 35, 40, some up to 50 and 60. This is the normal way to breath and take in air, and so few of us really know how to do it. I didn’t know how to do it until I went to see this Dr. to help my singing. That is the proper breath to take. Now as I said before, we don’t take in that huge of a breath to play trumpet. We don’t take in as much air as we possibly can, take the air in to fill what we just developed. Repeat this for ten minutes a day.
“The sensation when we are playing trumpet, that is the area that you fill. That has put the air in the proper space, so at least we know how to breath properly. Now the compression on the air, that is the thing the sensation that I told you was coming up. Bang, we put tension all around the air. We are taking the breath in properly, we know how to put the tension on it, if you want to build strength in this area, you can get all of the information in a cheap book, called the Royal Canadian Air Force exercises. That is the 10 min. exercise I just showed you. I do it the first thing in the morning, so I don’t procrastinate all day long and then give up.
“I probably use more air in the lower register then up high, it’s just the intensity of the air that is important. It’s the pressure behind the air that is important. I really don’t use a lot of air now that I think about it. It’s just what’s behind the air, the compression. (plays high C). Driving it forward, keeping the compression, keeping it open and having it really sing out the best I can. With everything working together. When I got louder, I pushed a little bit more air through the horn.
“My equipment fits me only, it doesn’t fit anybody else. Play what works for you, don’t worry about what other people play. This set up fits me.
“Hey how you doing, here’s another good trumpet player that just walked in the door. If you get a chance, go out and hear him. He was beautiful last night. Freddie Hubbard.?
“The warm up that I use, is always in the low register with long tones and low lip flexibility exercises. Making sure we warm up all of our muscles. The only way to play up high is to be completely limber. Start in the low register, then mid, mid-high, then above. Playing legit exercises and resting in between. If you rest, you give the blood a chance to circulate again, instead of breaking down the muscles and never giving them a chance to rest. I tend to use the St. Jacomes book when I’m at home. I just make sure that I rest in between each section of my warm-up and practicing. I never do pedal tones, the only time I did they just about destroyed the rest of my playing. So they don’t work for me, but you might be different.
“A question from Freddie Hubbard about switching mouthpieces on flugel and trumpet and adjusting the bore size, he was ‘getting sick of it.’ I don’t recommend it Freddie, I don’t know too many guys that do it. Different mouthpiece makers are coming out with different backbores where you can screw the same rim on. But that might work, but I find that when I switch from flugelhorn to trumpet I used to have a heck of a time going from flugel to trumpet or from Bb to piccolo, because the feeling here (chops) was murder. The feeling was just not right, I just wasn’t getting the same resistance from it. So what I did, was I had Bob Reeves who makes mine do some adjusting to my mouthpieces and it all started working much better.
“I have to go out and get some dinner before the concert tonight, so if there aren’t any more questions, I guess that’s all…..