The flugelhorn, also spelled fluegelhorn, flugel horn or flugelhorn has a long history in European countries but is relatively new to ours. Its popularity in the states probably dates back to the fifties through the use of such well known names in jazz as Shorty Rogers, Kenny Baker, Clark Terry, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Nat Adderley and Art Farmer.
The purpose of the flugel was to give the player an alternative to the edgy, powerful trumpet sound. During the Bebop period (1945-1960) the trumpet was king, but when cool jazz started to gain a following in the music scene, the flugel was just the instrument to give the performance a less edgy tone. The flugel and cool jazz were meant for each other. If you have not listed to the flugel in the hands of an artist, I recommend that you listen to the examples listed at the end of this post.
The acoustical design of the flugel is basically a conical construction and the trumpet is based on a cylindrical design. When comparing the two, you will find that the trumpet has the same tube diameter throughout most of its length which is the reason its tone is more focused than its closest cousin, the cornet. The cornet is in between the trumpet and flugel which is the reason the cornet is more mellow than the trumpet and the flugel is more mellow than the cornet. Conical instruments such as the cornet and flugel have increasing tube diameters from the lead pipe to the bell which makes the tone in each more mellow than that of the trumpet. This is the reason that the flugel is so popular with jazz musicians for it gives them an additional timbre to utilize during their performances.
Inherent in most flugel horns is the problem of intonation. Much time and expense has been given to the improvements in trumpets but because of less volume of sales, the flugel has continuously been lacking in improvements. This situation will improve only if the demand increases or we have a super star surface to bring back national recognition to the instrument as was demonstrated by the increase in popularity of the flugel shortly after Chuck Mangione, in the 1970’s. led the charts with his recording of Feels So Good.
If you are contemplating the purchase of a flugel horn, my first suggestion would be to find someone who has one and would let you play theirs or visit a music store which has one on display. Buying a flugel horn without trying it would be a very bad move for even though everyone seems to be interested in playing one, not everyone would have a use for one. Playing a flugel is different than playing your trumpet and many times players are disappointed with the tonal differences. The trumpet is generally bright as stated before and it takes some time to get used to the darker tone of the flugel. Where you plan to play the instrument should also be considered. If you are not a jazz musician, your use is more limited. I’m not saying that the flugel will not fit into the same circles where your trumpet is currently serving but if you plan to play lead in a jazz band, rock band or similar ensembles, the flugel will not do the job. As an inner ensemble instrument, it is ideal. To give you an example of where the flugel is best suited, listen to this arrangement of Over The Rainbow which was recorded with four flugels. Notice that even when the melody goes up to a written A above the staff, the tone is still rich and warn with none of the edgy qualities that a trumpet would exhibit in the same register.
The flugel is a very flexible instrument in an ensemble because of its conical character. When used with trumpets, the flugel takes on a character all its own as in this example of Begin the Beguine. The first and seconds parts are written for trumpets and the third and fourth parts are played on flugels. The trumpets carry the melody as the flugels play the repeated bass figure as well as filling in the harmony.
Here is another arrangement for two trumpets and two flugels- The Beer Barrel Polka. The fourth flugel plays the tuba’s roll as the third flugel is used to represent a French Horn which leaves trumpets one and two available for the upper two parts.
As I have shown, there are many areas the flugel can enhance a performance. It works well as a solo instrument as well as a harmonic instrument. If you are interested in hearing some of the best in flugel horn playing, visit the examples listed below.
In my next post I will assume that you have access to a flugel horn and would like more information on how to play it and that will be covered in my next post. Stay tuned for more information on the wonderful instrument called the flugel horn…
Here are a couple examples of some fine flugel horn playing-