Why did the Cornet become a second rate citizen?

Cornet

Photo Credit: striking_photography on Flickr

First I need to apologize to the uninitiated followers of trumpet history. This will not be an entertaining document. This might be boring to the casual reader but for the rest of us who are deeply interested in how our trumpet/cornet history has been developing, I think this is worth reading.

Most of us are trumpet players and the thought of playing a cornet sometimes turns us off. The reason could be that many think that we began on a cornet and when we got good, we switched over to a realinstrument. How this idea ever got started is a wonder to many of us. If I were a craftsman and needed to remove a nail from a board, I would choose a claw hammer. If I needed to hammer out some sheet metal, I would select a ball penne hammer. Making the selection between a trumpet and a cornet should be made for the same reason. One instrument does a job that the other can not. Some might argue that they are the same instrument and that might be the real reason there is so much confusion and argument over the importance and use of each instrument. This past week I have been bothered by one thought which has kept me up at night. Why did we put the cornet on the back shelf and replace it with the trumpet? After searching many sources on the internet, I found three possible reasons which I will share with you.

Theory #1

“Did Louis Armstrong cause the switch from cornet to trumpet?”

In a paper written by John Wallace, entitled The Emancipation of the Trumpet, he traces the history and popularity of both the trumpet and the cornet. I strongly recommend that you read this paper for not only is Mr. Wallace a gifted player and trumpet teacher, he is a very interesting music historian (can there be such a person?). In his paper he traces the loss of popularity of the cornet and seems to think Louis Armstrong had a significant roll in the cornets loss of stature. He wrote, and I agree with his theory, that during Armstrong’s evolution as a jazz musician, his switch from cornet to trumpet could have swayed the whole music scenes preference from the cornet to the trumpet. I have greatly simplified and perhaps misstated his thinking and for that reason you need to read his paper as he had originally written it. Mr. Wallace impressed me greatly after reading his play by play analysis of Pop’s transition via the recordings of that time. I was very impressed with his commentary of individual recordings and the subtle changes in Armstrong’s style of playing, first starting as an ensemble cornet player and eventually evolving into a dominating trumpet soloist.

I have no doubt that a figure as revolutionary as Satchmo could have changed history. On page 76 of Mr. Wallace’s paper, he quotes Armstrong as saying “Of course in those early days we did not know very much about trumpets. We all played cornets. Only the big orchestras in the theaters had trumpet players in their brass sections (….) at that time we all thought you had to be a music conservatory man or some kind of a big muckity-muck to play the trumpet. For years I would not even try to play the instrument”. This quote was taken from the book Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans (London,1955), page 190 by Louis Armstrong. As Mr. Wallace continued in his paper, he compares the early ensemble style to Louis’s more leadership playing style and Armstrongs switch from cornet to trumpet was a logical observation. The trumpet was more of a lead instrument and in the hands of such an artist, it would be logical that Armstrong’s dominance in jazz as well as popular music could have cast a dark trumpet shadow over the once revered cornet. Could it have been possible for one man to change the popularity of such a wonderful instrument as the cornet?  I strongly encourage you to read this interesting and informative paper for yourself.


Theory #2

“Did Vincent Bach aid in the cornets fall from grace?”

Good morning class. You now have another reading assignment. This time we will be reading from A Brief History of the Cornet by Tom Turner. I also found this article interesting for it gives another view of the evolution of the cornet. You must read this for your selves for I might not convey the authors true thoughts on this topic.

I have decided to include some material from his writing. This was taken from page one, last five paragraphs of his paper.

“In 1924 Vincent Bach began making revolutionary mouthpieces too. These had much wider rims that were more rounded in the lip contact area and with deep but rounded “C” shaped cups that were brilliant and cutting but not harsh! Also, and very important for sellers and potential buyers, these rims were so forgiving that even self-taught “lip-mashers” as well as those with less development as players could mash the mouthpiece against the chops and last longer!
By the 1930s most cornets that were made were the “trumpet-bell” type “long models.” With traditional funnel-shaped mouthpieces they were still fairly mellow, though not as gentle and mellow as a shepherd’s crook cornet with the same funnel mouthpiece.
However, most young band players (like today) wanted to be heard above their band and the “C” shaped cornet mouthpieces made the kid’s cornet almost as dominant as if he’d bought one of those newfangled Bach Strad trumpets or Conn 2B or 22B cornet-like trumpets cloned from the F. Besson trumpet!
By the 1960′s the poor cornet was (temporarily) dead! Virtually all cornet mouthpieces sold in America were basically trumpet mouthpiece tops on shorter cornet shanks. Plus, some companies made cornets and trumpets that were basically the same instrument except in the leadpipe area where one would be made for a cornet mouthpiece and the other for trumpet. The long model Conn Connstellation cornet/Connstellation Trumpet are a good example. The cornet’s model number ended in “A” (like all Conns did then) and the trumpet ended in “B.”
The cornet died because, in the end, it couldn’t quite project as well as the cornet-like trumpets we now all play. Both instruments had moved towards each other until the gentle cornet sound was heard no more”.
I have one additional comment to make pertaining to the Bach improvement on the rim contour and the subsequent increase in comfort to the player. When first reminded of the change of the cornet mouthpiece to a more comfortable Bach rim, I was reminded of a story I had heard many years ago. Thanks to the internet, I was able to find verifying information about the year Armstrong was forced to stop playing his horn because of an injury to his chops. I wanted to know if this happened at the same time Pops was making the change from cornet to trumpet and in essence making a change from a “cookie cutter cornet mouthpiece” to the modern Bach rim. My answer was found in the following article.


Rupture of the Orbicularis Oris in Trumpet Players (Satchmo’s Syndrome)

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. April 1982
© The American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons
Jaime Planas, M.D
Barcelona, Spain

“Satchmo was a nickname of the great trumpet player of New Orleans, the king of jazz, Louis Armstrong. We used his name to label this syndrome because apparently it fits with the symptoms he experienced in his lips in 1935 that obliged him to stop playing the trumpet for 1 year”.

When comparing the dates of his hiatus from the trumpet with the John Wallace’s The Emancipation of the Trumpet chronology, it confirms the fact that Armstrong had made the convergence to the trumpet at least seven years before his lip injury. In other words, Sachmo’s switch from the old style V cup and narrow rimmed cornet mouthpiece to the modern Bach mouthpiece could not have caused his lip problem. I found this interesting and have only included it to answer any questions that you might have had about an additional reason for his switch from cornet to trumpet.


24 thoughts on “Why did the Cornet become a second rate citizen?”

  1. Since 1986 I have played the E flat soprano cornet and recently moved to B flat cornet with the Eastern Iowa Brass Band. Brass Bands use cornets as well as flugel, tenor horns, baritones, euphoniums, E flat and B flat tubas with only the trombone as a cylindrical instrument. The mellow sound created allows us to play all kinds of arrangements, styles and types of music. Possibly the cornet is not getting the respect it should as it seems to be a “starter” instrument. As Bruce stated, band directors expect us to “move-up” to better equipment as we improve. The sop cornet was the biggest challenge for me to go back and forth from E flat to the B flat trumpet. I have always tried to emulate Mr. Chidesters beautiful mellow sound on both instruments. I was not willing to give up my Schilke 18 but also did not have the time to practice both and keep up 2 sets of chops. I ended up transposing most things that required a B flat to the soprano for 10 years and turning down quite a few weddings and church gigs. If you haven’t heard a brass band, check it out. It is a brass players dream to play and not count lots of measures.

    1. Ms. Force is too shy to list her many accomplishments, so I thought I would.

      In 1989 she was awarded the Renold O. Schilke Memorial Award for Outstanding Soloist at the North American Brass Band Association Championships in Ashville NC. She placed 2nd behind Amy Nelson in Slow Melody in Columbus OH, 2000. She also performed a solo for Studio III, on Iowa Public Television which was recorded before a live audience as well as at the Smithsonian Folklife Arts Festival, DC in 1991.

      I was lucky enough to be one of her early teachers and I would like to say that this woman is one of the most gifted and musical performers I have had the good fortune to have known.

  2. It’s ridiculous to assume that Armstrong was the cause of the change from cornet to trumpet. During the period following WWI, with the rise of dance orchestras playing popular music, the change was made by musicians themselves. Likely the instrument companies themselves helped foster the change, especially with the rise of the symphony orchestras where the trumpet was becoming the predominant instrument. More than likely, Armstrong’s change was due to pressure from the industry first, and secondly, from Mrs. Lil Armstrong – a woman who was trained in classical music. (I can almost hear her saying “Louis – you need to be up-to-date and get rid of that little stubby horn!)

    The problem I see here is that, unfortunately, information regarding usage of the trumpet from the period 1919-1930 is scarce. I have xerox copies of issues of the Conn Loyalist, the trade magazine published by Conn Instrument Company. Although the copies I have are from 1923 – 1933 (nothing prior), in studying the photos of what they refer to as “dance orchestras,” the photos show more trumpet players, and hardly any cornetists. In the sections on bands (i.e., brass bands), there are more cornets. In just a cursory examination of the photos from 1923 – 1924 (the time when Louis was still playing cornet), it’s easy to come to the conclusion that, for the musician who wished to play in a dance band, the trumpet was the choice. I would suspect that if one had access to other instrument company publications (Buescher’s Tune Topics and the magazines published by King and Holton), it would likely be a similar situation.

    What John Wallace fails to recognize is the fact that Armstrong was not particularly well-known by the general public until the 1930s. He would have been known by musicians, and some urban black audiences, and perhaps a small percentage of white audiences in larger cities where he played (NYC, Chicago, Los Angeles) prior to his appearances his films, but we tend to think, in retrospect, that he was known widely by the time he had made the Hot Five and Seven records. I find that to be very unlikely. Those red label Okeh records were geared to black audiences and not widely sold in cities with smaller black populations.

    We need to remember that Armstrong did not appear in a film of any kind until 1932, and then of those two film appearances (the short “Rhapsody in Black and Blue” and the Betty Boop cartoon “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead…”) only the latter would have been seen widely by white audiences. It wasn’t until the 1936 film “Pennies from Heaven” where Armstrong was seen by a much larger audience.

    This said, the trumpet surpassed the cornet simply because it was preferred instrument to use in a dance band or orchestra. Of course, in the jazz world especially, there were musicians who, by personal choice, continued to used the cornet (Bix Beiderbecke, Sterling Bose, Max Kaminsky, Muggsy Spanier, Wild Bill Davison, et. al.). This is certainly the same situation today, where those who prefer to play the cornet, do so.

    1. When reading your first sentence, “It’s ridiculous to assume that Armstrong was the cause of the change from cornet to trumpet”, I was set back by your choice of words. Many times bloggers will strike a nerve in their readers but usually the responder has nothing to substantiate his/her response. In your case I was very impressed with the thoroughness you presented your opinion. You obviously are well read on the subject and it will be a pleasure addressing each of your observations.

      Neither Mr. Wallace nor I would ever say conclusively that either knew the only reason for the decline in popularity of the cornet as we both clearly stated in our writings.
      “……I have no doubt that a figure as revolutionary as Satchmo could have changed history”.
      “……during Armstrong’s evolution as a jazz musician, his switch from cornet to trumpet could have swayed the whole music scenes preference from the cornet to the trumpet”.
      “……The trumpet was more of a lead instrument and in the hands of such an artist, it would be logical that Armstrong’s dominance in jazz as well as popular music could have cast a dark trumpet shadow over the once revered cornet”.

      Your Comment-
      “During the period following WWI, with the rise of dance orchestras playing popular music, the change was made by musicians themselves”.

      My response-
      This change was made as you stated, by the musicians themselves and the reason for this change was because of the better projection of volume when using a trumpet over the use of a cornet.

      Your comment-
      “Likely the instrument companies themselves helped foster the change, especially with the rise of the symphony orchestras where the trumpet was becoming the predominant instrument”.

      My response-
      Seldom does the industry lead popular opinion. It is more likely that instrument manufactures saw the change coming and retooled to meet the need of the market.

      Your comment-
      “More than likely, Armstrong’s change was due to pressure from the industry first, and secondly, from Mrs. Lil Armstrong – a woman who was trained in classical music. (I can almost hear her saying “Louis – you need to be up-to-date and get rid of that little stubby horn!)”

      My Response-
      I am tempted to use your term “ridiculous” at this point but will refrain from doing so. Instead, I will point out the fact that Pops was not the type of person to be influenced by anyone, including our own government (FBI) who was going through his mail and ease dropping on his phone conversations shortly after
      he publicly stated that “President Johnson should personally escort the black children into the schools during the integration of our schools. As far as Lil (Hardin) Armstrong, having any such sway with her husband, that is pure speculation for during that time in history, unfortunately, women did not receive that much respect or have that much influence on their husbands.

      Your Comment-
      “What John Wallace fails to recognize is the fact that Armstrong was not particularly well-known by the general public until the 1930s”.

      My Response-
      What you failed to recognized is the fact that Louis Armstrong’s work and recordings with King Oliver (1923) was well known by many musicians which gets us back to the original issue of the transition from cornet to trumpet. After rereading Mr. Wallace’s article, I would have to agree with his historic statements and can not agree with your statement. I found very little failures in his opinions.

      Your Comment-
      “He would have been known by musicians, and some urban black audiences, and perhaps a small percentage of white audiences in larger cities where he played (NYC, Chicago, Los Angeles) prior to his appearances his films, but we tend to think, in retrospect, that he was known widely by the time he had made the Hot Five and Seven records. I find that to be very unlikely”.

      My Response-
      I agree…

      Your Comment-
      “Those red label Okeh records were geared to black audiences and not widely sold in cities with smaller black populations”.

      My Response-
      Race records as they were called at that time were collected by white jazz followers (and trumpet players) just as the early race records were made popular by the teen agers in the early rock and roll period.

      Your Comment-
      “We need to remember that Armstrong did not appear in a film of any kind until 1932, and then of those two film appearances (the short “Rhapsody in Black and Blue” and the Betty Boop cartoon “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead…”) only the latter would have been seen widely by white audiences. It wasn’t until the 1936 film “Pennies from Heaven” where Armstrong was seen by a much larger audience”.

      My Response-
      I am very impressed with your knowledge of early cinema.

      Your Comment-
      “Of course, in the jazz world especially, there were musicians who, by personal choice, continued to used the cornet (Bix Beiderbecke, Sterling Bose, Max Kaminsky, Muggsy Spanier, Wild Bill Davison, et. al.).
      This is certainly the same situation today, where those who prefer to play the cornet, do so.

      My Response-
      I agree….

      Thank you for your comments. When I woke up this morning, I thought I had some free time to go fishing. I must say I have enjoyed visiting with you as much as going fishing. Please stop back and share your views any time.

      1. Hi, Bruce,
        I’ve read with much interest your comments on my response. Just a few extra comments.

        Regarding Lil Armstrong, there is a large amount of anecdotal evidence about her influence on his career – you might consider doing a little reading up on it, rather than considering the possibility that my comment about her was “ridiculous.” First, while still a member of Oliver’s band, prior to their marriage while they were dating, she gave him “pointers” on how to dress in a manner more in keeping with the times in Chicago. Again, there are quotes from interviews where Louis was regarding as a “hick” because of what he was wearing when he arrived in Chicago. And this is Armstrong circa 1923-25, not the personality known worldwide of the 1950s.

        Lil was the one who pushed him into accepting the offer from Fletcher Henderson, and also, when returning to Chicago, encouraging him not go back to work with King Oliver – to go for the gig with Erskine Tate. It was right about this time he made the switch from the Harry B. Jay cornet to the Buescher trumpet. So my comment about Lil telling him to ditch the short horn, is not so frivolous as one might think. And maybe not surprisingly, she was the one who ended up owning that horn!

        Lil admits (if I’m not mistaken, in the book Hear Me Talkin’ to You), that members of the Oliver band nicknamed him “henny” because of her “hen-pecking” at him. But I believe both Lil and Baby Dodds relate this information in interviews.

        I disagree strongly that Armstrong was “well-known to musicians” of the period from his recordings with Oliver. Without seeing the band, or a photo of them, how would he be known? His name is not listed on the records, save for his last name as a composer. Only musicians in Chicago, or passing through, that saw the band, would have known who Armstrong was. He was, after all, second cornetist, and his solo moments on record are few (Chimes Blues, Riverside Blues, Tears). His first real opportunity for recognition was in New York with Fletcher Henderson, where he WAS recognized by the movers and shakers in the music community there. That said, however, to my knowledge his name didn’t appear on any Henderson records unless mentioned as composer (Sugar Foot Stomp). Bear in mind that at that time, the few music publications, like Orchestra World and those published by the instrument companies, rarely made mention of black groups or musicians. The only mention they received were in publications like the Chicago Defender and the Indianapolis Freeman, publications specifically for black readership.

        Regarding race records. I am very well informed about the distribution of race records. My father was a record collector and a professional musician by age 15 in 1927, in Portland, Oregon. He stated to me he never saw a red label Okeh, or an Oliver Gennett, until he started seriously collecting in the late 1930s. He did, however, find the black label Okehs (their popular series) by Armstrong, at the time they were issued, and this was his first introduction to Armstrong. He didn’t hear the Hot Five and Seven records until they were reissued on Vocalion in the mid-1930s. So even at that time (1927), Armstrong was not as well-known as is generally assumed these days, even amongst people who would have been considered now as “jazz fans.”

        Just FYI, I have spent the majority of my lifetime researching, writing and performing early jazz music (my main instrument is cornet). I take a certain amount of pride in being very careful regarding both my research and my writing.

        Cheers,
        Chris

    2. I’m not so certain about this evolution. It seems to me that dance bands were much more able to use microphones and decent speaker systems as we approach modern times. The need to cut through the roar and blast over the band was vanishing more and more every year. Matter of fact is was a disaster for all wind instruments as big bands became smaller and smaller due to the use of electricity. Then we see long cornets or instruments that were somewhere between a true cornet and a trumpet becoming popular. We also see players in England and Europe in a fit to buy American instruments and get rid of their stuff. Imagine trying to project over a 100 piece orchestra with no microphones available at all. Early cornet players need power even if we think of a noisy small bar on Bourbon St. it takes chops to stand out in a solo.
      One thing that I do believe is that the public had a pretty dead ear in my youth. If you were playing something really, seriously incorrectly, the chances are that the audience never knew it at all. Modern sound systems have educated the ears of the public a bit and we must play much more carefully these days.

      1. Thank you for commenting on our post and I will try to address your concerns as best I can

        I’m not so certain about this evolution.

        On this point I may agree with you for it was only my suggestions which I posted, not the ultimate conclusion as to the real reason for the decline.

        It seems to me that dance bands were much more able to use microphones and decent speaker systems as we approach modern times.

        During the period I was referring to, (the rise of Armstrong’s influence on other players) Electronic devises were very primitive. In fact when Pops was first recording, the bands were limited to one microphone for the whole band. Amplification had not even been invented yet.

        The need to cut through the roar and blast over the band was vanishing more and more every year.

        This is true

        Matter of fact is was a disaster for all wind instruments as big bands became smaller and smaller due to the use of electricity.

        You are completely incorrect on this statement! The big bands began to fail because of two major issues, 1. The war- many of the performers were drafted into service and that was the beginning of the all women big bands, 2, Economics- It was too expensive during the war to support a big band. Gas and tires were being rationed and people could not afford to go out to the ball rooms. The change from big bands to smaller bands has absolutely nothing to do with electronics.

        Then we see long cornets or instruments that were somewhere between a true cornet and a trumpet becoming popular.

        This is true and the reason is that the manufactures realized that the popularity of the cornet had begun to fade.

        We also see players in England and Europe in a fit to buy American instruments and get rid of their stuff.

        This could be but I have no knowledge of this trend so I will have to accept your statement.

        Imagine trying to project over a 100 piece orchestra with no microphones available at all.

        Most symphonies do this every day.

        Early cornet players need power even if we think of a noisy small bar on Bourbon St. it takes chops to stand out in a solo.

        I have no idea as to what you mean.

        One thing that I do believe is that the public had a pretty dead ear in my youth.

        Do you mean they could not hear or that they were not aware of the difference between good and bad music?

        If you were playing something really, seriously incorrectly, the chances are that the audience never knew it at all.

        Same response as above.

        Modern sound systems have educated the ears of the public a bit ……

        Modern sound systems are incapable of educating anyone. Their only function is to amplify sounds.

        and we must play much more carefully these days.

        Being heard more easily through amplification should not change the quality of your performance.

        Thank you for your comments and to get back to my original post, the down fall in popularity of the cornet is still a debatable question. There has been much more discussion on this topic than I ever imagined when I first posted it. If anyone else would like to discuss this topic, I am more than happy to continue the discussion.

    1. I gladly bow to my superior on the history of Pops.

      Due to the fact that you are well versed ii his history and the general history of the cornet, what is you final reason for the cornets decline?

      1. In my opinion, the trumpet became the more useful instrument. As you mentioned in your first response to my post (which I neglected to mention), it had the ability to cut when playing in larger rooms. With the rise of the ballroom post WWI and the increase in size of dance bands, the trumpet made more sense sonically. Another reason might have been those funnel-shaped mouthpieces. Most strict adherents to the cornet (i.e., traditional brass band musicians), believe that the cornet doesn’t sound right unless a funnel-shaped mouthpiece is used. They believe a bowl-shaped mouthpiece makes the cornet sound like a trumpet. I agree. But I like the sound I get with a standard mouthpiece, and I’m not that interested in changing now!

        There are some interesting photos of dance band sections with cornets. I have a 1930s photo of the “trumpet” section of Horace Heidt’s band. Two members are playing cornet and the other has what might be a trumpet, OR a Conn 40A long cornet. There’s a photo of the Bob Wills section – all three players have Conn Coprion cornets. (But then Bob favored old style jazz). Also a photo of Isham Jones’ section.

        It’s interesting that in the course of the twentieth century Conn and Olds both marketed cornets that looked like trumpets. I’ve owned a couple of Conn 40A cornets, a Conn 10A Victor and a Olds Mendez cornet. Oddly enough, I preferred the trumpet versions of the horns to the cornet.

        When I started playing cornet at 15, I preferred it because it was the horn Bix Beiderbecke, King Oliver and young Louis Armstrong played. SInce I had to play drums in the high school band, I didn’t have to suffer from peer pressure to be “more in step” by playing trumpet. But I know that the cornet was looked down upon by most trumpet players at that time (1970s) as a “beginner’s instrument.”

        Cheers,
        Chris

        1. Again, I am very impressed with your knowledge and interest in the cornet. On my other site, I have tried to include some of the earlier cornet solos and when recording some of the softer trumpet ensemble arrangements, I use my Bach Model 31, New York 67. To me, this cornet is perfect for the softer, lighter solos.

          Check out my recording of Napoli when you have time and I have really enjoyed your comments. Stop back and visit often.

  3. In 1961, having read a lengthy and highly technical explanation by a French writer as to why Louis Armstrong switched from cornet to trumpet, I put the question to Louis himself.

    It was Erskine Tate’s idea, he said, and purely a cosmetic one: one short instrument in the trumpet section did not look good to the bandleader.

    1. We appreciate your insight into this question. We all have our own speculations as to the real reason the change was made but when someone has been to the source and asked the question, that definitely trumps speculation.

      Thank you so much for you response.
      I feel the question has been answered.

    2. Chris A. – thanks for sharing that information. It shoots my theory about Lil suggesting Louis play trumpet, but it’s good to know the real reason why. Now all the years of speculation can be put to rest.

      Thanks for your great webpage, btw, and all the great research and writing you’ve done over the years!

      Cheers,
      Chris

      1. The real reason Pops made the change may never be known but it does make one wonder about the decline of interest in the cornet.

        Thanks for visiting our site and if you have a topic you would like to see on our site, let us know.

        The very best to you and yours.

  4. My own theory, and I guess I don’t know if it’s a cause or a facilitator, has already been touched on here. And that’s evolving equipment. You have said in the article that trumpets and cornets started to converge, and Jim Sadler has noted instruments that were somewhere between a trumpet and a cornet. These days a musician can find a trumpet with a bright sound or a dark sound, can choose trumpets in Bb or C or other keys, can find many different sound qualities. Maybe trumpets have just started to overlap the cornet’s domain too much.

    And if the musician really wants the dark and mellow sound, there’s the flügelhorn, which might be serving as the new cornet. Between the flügel, and trumpets with tonal qualities ranging from dark to bright, what is the unique role of the cornet today?

    1. Very interesting observations. I listened to a young girl perform on a Monette trumpet a few weeks ago and I thought it sounded exactly like a flugel horn. Why buy a trumpet if you want to sound like a flugel?

  5. Bruce,

    You must be a bit older than I am. I graduated from college in 1970. This is my (amateur’s) take on the question. A lot is already addressed but not put together like I do. Set me straight where needed. I’m still a student.

    I’ve found the thread really interesting, I came to this site because I have a soft spot for old cornets & just bought a 1917 York & Sons that I’d like to restore (if its worth it). Yet, I can’t play these things! My instrument is the trombone on which I’ve done a lot of research lately, fueled by interest in early Renaissance slide instruments. The sackbut is a trumpet, as opposed to horn. Today’s trombone is distinct from the trumpet, and modern instruments are real mutts in terms of a trumpet/horn distinction. Bugle has evolved from horn to trumpet. Sackbut/trombone are obvious relatives, probably more clearly so than any other brass instrument. I find that an early 20th c. trombone is more like a 16th c. sackbut than it is like a late 20th c. trombone of any configuration. It still had trumpet character. In essentially 400 years of existence, significant changes in the trombone are less than 100 years old. Most of these changes were technical: stockings, plated slides, spit valves, etc. Acoustically, the big changes are (1) lengthening the ‘horn’ from the last 15-20% to about the last 50% of the length, and (2) extreme flaring of the bell. Trombones have become more horn-like, and trombones are more ‘efficient’ than sackbuts in terms of the evenness of the scale, loudness, and tonal range. Trombones are easier to play, regardless of technical improvements. (My sackbuts have all the modern conveniences.) Sackbuts were famous for emulating human voice. Trombones have lost that property- unless that human voice belongs to a brassy & loud jazz singer..

    Prior to the Renaissance, common use of trumpets & horns was not musical. Communication & fanfare were the applications: noise makers. In the early days of ensemble music, the role of horns & trumpets tended to used to invoke these settings, and they had to work to find their place in legitimate music. In the 20th c. market set the tone. My (simple) impression is that Satch set the tone & shifted the market from cornet to trumpet. While Satch’s switch might have been logical, the results were unfortunate. Popular music changed. Manufacturing adjusted and was motivated to make cornets like trumpets, etc. In our day, school band was really big business.

    Sackbuts were custom made works of art. Virtually all modern instruments are off an assembly line. Competition & production cost (economics) have influenced design & sound. Nuance & detail are diminished. Were tastes to change, both the sackbut and the 19th c. cornet could make a comeback– and they’d be better instruments. Meanwhile, the market for both is small & speciallized.

    1. Your comments are very refreshing and thought provoking.

      So much so that, due to the time (10:0PM and also to the fact that “yes, I am older, ever so slightly”, I will reread your comments and address them one by one.
      You knowledge of the history of the trombone is impressive.

      Please stop back tomorrow evening and I should have more comments from my end.

      Later…..

    2. Now I have some time…..

      Thanks for your comments and I share your interest in the older instruments.

      This past week I was giving a clinic to a great band from Texas and I gave them an unusual compliment. I told the trumpet section that they all sounded like cornets! You should have seen the questioning look on their faces. They had no idea as to what I was talking about. I then explained that many of the bands I work with have trumpet sections which are too edgy and harsh for the literature they were performing. In this bands case, the director is a euphonium player and the whole band played with such a warm, sound that even the trumpet section sounded rich and warm. How refreshing to hear rich melodic lines played in a musical style.

      I am playing more and more cornet these days for a couple reasons. My Bach cornet plays more in tune than any of my trumpets and the rich tone quality is a wonderful contrast to trumpet sounds in a show. I have a Dixieland job next week and I will be taking my cornet on that one also.

      I agree with everything you covered about the old Sackbuts and the modern trombones. Modern trombones went the way of the cornet for possibly the same reason- more projection was desired.

      I am now toying with the idea of purchasing one of the new PBones. I play a little trombone and I thought it would be fun to get back to the slide again. Do you know anything about the new plastic pBone designed by Jiggs Whigham?

      It as great visiting with you and please stop back again.
      BC

  6. This is an interesting discussion, and whereas I have no answers or even “blogger-rage” to add the discussion – I would just like to add that the cornet as a second rate citizen is very much an American thing.

    Military bands across Europe still favour the cornet (some with both trumpet and cornet sections) and the brass band movement in the United Kingdom still hasn’t made the switch to trumpets (and most likely never will for reasons covered by amongst others by Joan Force). Most auditions for military bands here would either specify which instrument or for smaller bands, require the player to audition on both to show proficiency in both styles.

    1. I would just like to add that the cornet as a second rate citizen is very much an American thing.

      You are absolutely correct on that. It is unfortunate that we in the US feel that way for the cornet has characteristics which cannot, and should not be offered by the trumpet.
      In the morning I will be fronting a dixieland band which has been asked to portray a band dating back to the 1920′s and nothing can say early music better than the cornet. Maybe in a small way this “rebel attitude” I have for the cornet can make people question why I played it on a cornet.

      the brass band movement in the United Kingdom still hasn’t made the switch to trumpets and most likely never will for reasons covered by amongst others by Joan Force.

      Please excuse me for singling out one of my students without mentioning all the others but it was a pleasure being a part of Joan,s early education (along with our late good friend Dave Kennedy). Joan is/was/and always will be one of those players who had tremendous talent from the start and a student every instructor hopes to have the opportunity to work with.

      Most auditions for military bands here would either specify which instrument or for smaller bands, require the player to audition on both to show proficiency in both styles.

      Bringing back the cornet must first start with the composers. If we can educate them as to the benefits of the cornet, it would be the start of a return to warm, rich brass music again. The British band movement has outlasted the trumpet dominance and its time that we join their bandwagon for a rebirth of the cornet. I as one soldier for the cause proclaim that April 1st, 2012 is the official day of the return of the cornet! I will be proudly marching down Main Street of Branson, Missouri, doing my part for the cause.

  7. Here’s a great segment on Louis Armstrong from NPR. It features interviews of jazz critics, jazz trumpeters that knew and were directly influenced by Louis, and the man himself! Fastfoward to about 24:48 and you’ll hear Louis saying why he switched from Cornet to Trumpet. It was mostly to help blend in visually with the rest of the trumpet section and also for the sound.

    http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=12624640&m=12809009

    1. OUTSTANDING!

      Nothing is better than hearing it from the original!..

      I will go over it tonight and again, thank you so much for stopping in and sharing this VERY IMPORTANT information with us.

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