A light hearted, satirical approach to the instrument that we both love and hate simultaneously. At trumpetastic.com you will find all sorts of trumpet related news, articles, product reviews, events, blatant advertising and some completely useless stuff that will make you laugh or curse, depending on your take on playing the trumpet.
Once in while, not terribly often, a trumpet player is born with a brain. One such player is Aussie commercial and jazz artist Greg Spence. I met Greg a few years back on one of his legendary Mystery to Mastery tours and was immediately struck by not only his awesome playing but also his ability to analyse and reflect on what it is we are trying to do with this 3 foot length of pipe.
I urge you to get involved with Mystery to Mastery and listen to what Greg has to say. Your playing will improve, period.
WHAT IS MTM? Mystery to Mastery (MTM) is the most modern, easy to use and logical approach to trumpet playing available. MTM offers you Step-By-Step troubleshooting advice.
MTM is for people who love the trumpet and want it to be easy.
A ground breaking and top selling method by Dancing with the Stars (OZ) lead trumpeter, Greg Spence.
Whether you want to play as a hobby or as a professional, MTM is here to help beginners to get off to the best start, and to help players of all standards troubleshoot limitations.
“What makes your book so incredibly rich is that it’s a collection of basic, gradual and pragmatic skills which can be made as complicated as one pleases. So regardless of one’s level (beginner or advanced) it is an unlimited recourse of training. I should have known it 40 years earlier!” Andre
“The Mystery to Mastery Method taught me how to go beyond the playing plateau that most players hit. Understanding how the body and the instrument work answered many questions other regular methods could not.
The Step-By-Step layout and gradual approach allows players of all styles and standards to recognise and overcome technical flaws. An absolute must for all brass players!”.
Greg with Wayne Bergeron at Melbourne International Brass Festival
From performances at Carnegie Hall with the Adelaide Symphony to backing Herbie Hancock with the Queensland Symphony and playing alongside Tim Minchin with the Western Australian Symphony to grooving with Olivia Newton John at the Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, add 15 seasons as lead trumpet for Australia’s Dancing With The Stars…
YAMAHA ARTIST and Dancing With The Stars/Strictly Come Dancing (Australia) trumpeter GREG SPENCE. Greg is a renowned clinician and freelance studio trumpeter. His impressive industry experience in performance and education places him at the forefront of modern trumpet teaching. Whether you are a complete beginner, advanced player or teacher looking to advance your skills, Greg’s insightful lessons, endorsed by world class players, will inspire and extend you in all aspects of trumpet playing and teaching.
There are innate traps that only the lucky few avoid when beginning their trumpet playing. Overblowing and lip pinching are the primary problems I see in 99% of my students. It is very easy to recognise these issues having done them myself for so many years.
Over the last 25 years, I have researched many methods and approaches for improving on the trumpet. Being self taught originally, I have fallen into most of the many traps that the trumpet can present you with.
I am inspired by my idols Maynard Ferguson, Raphael Mendez, Bobby Shew, Doc Severensen, James Morrison, Bill Chase, Lee Morgan, Maurice Andre and the likes.
I have dedicated my life to this wonderful instrument and in doing so have learnt amazing information from world renowned teachers such as James Stamp, Claude Gordon, Carmine Caruso, Dr Charles Colin, Max Schlossberg, Jerome Callet, Bill Adam, Arnold Jacobs and Jean Baptiste Arban. Although these methods are quite different in their approach, they all have an underlying message that has helped me to progress my playing way beyond my expectations and this same information will undoubtedly help you in your quest for trumpet mastery.
Above that, I dedicate this method book to Maynard Ferguson, Bobby Shew, Roger Ingram, Allan Vizzutti, Wayne Bergeron, Charlie Davis, Arturo Sandoval, Chuck Findlay, Gary Grant and Lew Solloff, all of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting personally and talking trumpet with. I have also been lucky enough to have had lessons with or been to masterclasses and workshops by all of the above mentioned Superstars.
The aim when writing these books was to compile and explain great information in the clearest, most concise way for players of all standards, then to combine basic to advanced exercises and to demonstrate them on CD. That is the real key to the success of this book – a step by step guide to help you understand, to hear and to copy!
I am very proud to have received brilliant feedback from players from all over the world. It has certainly made the hundreds if not thousands of hours that I have put into practise and research over the years very worthwhile.
Please enjoy the book and I am sure you will find plenty of information at this site to keep you motivated on your lifelong trumpet journey.
While it’s clear that both the trumpet and saxophone have been integral to jazz music’s development, the former instrument has arguably been the more important of the two. That’s because in jazz, all roads lead back to one man – Louis Armstrong. Not only one of the best jazz trumpeters of all time, Armstrong was one of the greatest musical improvisers ever and his innovations helped jazz to evolve into what it is today. As Miles Davis once said: “You can’t play nothing on modern trumpet that doesn’t come from him.”
Armstrong wasn’t the first notable jazz trumpeter in history – he was superseded by Buddy Bolden, Bunk Johnson and cornet player King Oliver – but he was more significant, combining virtuosity with popular appeal and, with his Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings in the late 20s, lit the touchpaper to what became known as the Jazz Age.
In Armstrong’s wake came trumpeters such as Doc Cheatham, Muggsy Spanier and Bix Beiderbecke – all contenders for the best jazz trumpeter crown. But Dixieland jazz was superseded by big band swing in the 30s which gave rise to a new breed of horn man, epitomised by Hot Lips Page, Cootie Williams, and Harry “Sweets” Edison, who played with the day’s pre-eminent bandleaders, among them Count Basie, Artie Shaw and Duke Ellington.
As swing gave way to bebop in the mid-40s, one of the new music’s architects, puff-cheeked wind machine Dizzy Gillespie, gave jazz trumpet a complete makeover. The bop era produced a welter of other fine trumpeters, but one in particular stood out from the crowd: Miles Davis. Though not as technically accomplished as Gillespie, Miles had a lyrical tone and knew how to use space, light and shade. Though he would go on to influence the development of jazz music into the 70s, Davis would have earned his place among the world’s best jazz trumpeters for his work in the 50s alone, and had a profound influence on jazz musicians everywhere. Clifford Brown, too, cast a deep spell during the early 50s and helped to shape the trajectory of jazz trumpet playing.
A steady stream of trumpet players emerged in the 60s, including innovators such as free jazz maven Don Cherry and micro-tone experimentalist Don Ellis. In the 70s, when jazz-fusion and jazz-funk came to the fore, Miles Davis led the way once more, closely followed by Woody Shaw and Eddie Henderson.
No small number of the world’s best jazz trumpeters have emerged in the last 30 years, the most significant of which has been Wynton Marsalis. More recently, Roy Hargrove, Christian Scott and Ambrose Akinmusire have demonstrated that there’s no shortage of talented horn men waiting to break through into the spotlight. They are all part of a long lineage that stretches right back to the legacy of Louis Armstrong.
Partial to a horn of plenty? Look no further than our rundown of The 50 Best Jazz Trumpeters Of All Time…
50: Marcus Belgrave (1936-2015)
Though he was born in Pennsylvania, Belgrave was a key player on the Detroit jazz scene in the 50s, 60s and 70s. He studied with Clifford Brown in the 50s but ended up playing R&B with Ray Charles for several years and then, in the 60s, performed on Motown sessions. A versatile trumpeter who could play jazz, R&B and pop, Belgrave was also a noted and highly respected teacher.
49: Erik Truffaz (born 1960)
Space and a minimalist less-is-more aesthetic are the chief characteristics of this Switzerland-born Frenchman’s sound, which is indebted to Miles Davis’ avant-funk 70s work, especially in his creative use of electronic sound effects. Hip-hop flavours and elements from drum’n’bass and African music also permeate Truffaz’s consistently interesting and fiercely contemporary work.
48: Arve Henriksen (born 1968)
Topping the list of Norway’s best jazz trumpeters, Henriksen has a sound all his own – one that equates more to a Japanese shakuhachi flute than a conventional trumpet. His sound is breathy and mellow, and usually framed by ethereal electronics to create an aura of tranquil meditation.
47: Mugsy Spanier (1901-1967)
Chicago’s Francis “Mugsy” Spanier was a cornet player who fell under the spell of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong and launched his career in the 20s; in the late 30s, after switching to the trumpet, he spearheaded a Dixieland jazz revival. In the 40s, Spanier played with Sidney Bechet and Bob Crosby, while in the following decade he joined Earl Hines’ band. A master of the muted trumpet, Spanier played in a vibrant manner that always seemed to exude joie de vivre.
46: Randy Brecker (born 1945)
The elder sibling of saxophonist Michael Brecker, this Pennsylvania trumpet maestro is defined by his I-can-play-anything versatility. In the 60s, he learned his craft playing with Clark Terry, Duke Pearson, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. In 1975, Brecker and brother Mike formed the funky ensemble Brecker Bros. Brecker’s myriad credits as a sideman (he’s recorded with everyone from Aerosmith to Lou Reed) tend to overshadow his own solo work but he remains one of the best jazz trumpeters alive right now.
45: Doc Cheatham (1905-1997)
Adolphus “Doc” Cheatham came from Nashville and started out playing saxophone professionally (he played with singer Ma Rainey in the 20s) before switching to trumpet and landing a long stint in Cab Calloway’s band in the 30s. But it wasn’t until much later, during Cheatham’s twilight years in the 70s, that his career really blossomed and led to a string of albums under his own name, one of which won a Grammy in 1996.
44: Nicholas Payton (born 1973)
From the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans-born Payton was a child trumpet prodigy (he started playing professionally at the age of 10) who, in his early 20s, was playing with drumming legend Elvin Jones and Hammond hero Jimmy Smith. Payton’s recording career as a solo artist began in 1994 and, to date, he’s shown himself to be a versatile, eclectic trumpeter who in recent years has married jazz with electronics, looped beats, and neo-soul.
43: Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (born 1983)
Just 19 when he released his debut album, New Orleans-born Adjuah – the nephew of Crescent City saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr – has risen to become one of today’s young trumpet gods. His sound, which he describes as “stretch music” (after his 2015 album of the same name), is an eclectic coalescence of elements from jazz, hip-hop, rock, electronica and ambient music.
42: Dizzy Reece (born 1931)
One of only a few non-Americans to record for Blue Note in the 50s, Jamaican-born Alphonso “Dizzy” Reece was a professional musician by the time he was 16 but his career rapidly took off after a move to Europe, where he truly entered the ranks of the best jazz trumpeters in history. His admirers included Miles Davis, and fellow trumpeter Donald Byrd guested on the Jamaican’s Blue Note debut, Blues In Trinity. Reece also worked with Hank Mobley and Dexter Gordon, though he remains a cult figure.
41: Roy Hargrove (born 1969)
From Waco, Texas, Roy Hargrove showed early promise and scooped the first of two Grammys while still in his 20s. A superlative improviser with hard bop roots, he also ran a band parallel to his solo career, The RH Factor, which blended jazz with funk and neo-soul. On the recording front, Hargrove has been quiet in recent years but he remains a formable player.
40: Arturo Sandoval (born 1949)
A leading figure in contemporary Latin jazz, this Cuban-born musician fell under the spell of bebop as a juvenile and eventually got to record with his musical hero, Dizzy Gillespie, who became his mentor. Sandoval was also a member of the Grammy-winning Cuban group Irakere in the 70s and 80s. With his flowing, bop-inflected melodic lines underpinned by sizzling Latin rhythms, he’s one of the most technically accomplished trumpeters of his generation.
39: Harry James (1916-1983)
A master of swing, Georgia-born Harry James entered the best jazz trumpeters ranks while learning his craft in the popular big bands of Ben Pollack and Benny Goodman in the 30s, before launching his own ensemble during World War II. An accomplished technician who could play with verve and swagger, James’ band was also renowned for showcasing up-and-coming talent, including a young Frank Sinatra and Buddy Rich.
38: Bubber Miley (1903-1932)
James “Bubber” Miley was an extraordinarily gifted trumpeter from South Carolina whose ingenious use of a mute (with which he could produce a crying, wah-wah effect) helped define the sound and style of The Duke Ellington Orchestra in the 20s. Though he left Ellington in 1929 (and died shortly after from TB, aged 29) the innovations he wrought had a lasting impact on the sound of Duke’s band.
37: Dave Douglas (born 1963)
A prolific bandleader and sideman from East Orange, New Jersey, Douglas earned his spurs playing with hard bop legend Horace Silver but has never been afraid to explore new sonic ground. His shape-shifting, genre-defying music – fronted by his mobile horn – reflects the influence of free jazz, eastern European folk music and electronica.
36: Tomasz Stanko (born 1942)
This Polish trumpeter first became acquainted with jazz via US radio broadcasts in the years immediately following World War II. By the early 60s, influenced by Ornette Coleman, Stanko became one of Europe’s leading exponents of free jazz. Stanko’s signature sound is unique, combining a gorgeous, aching lyricism, à la Miles Davis, with an exploratory, probing, free jazz approach.
35: Terence Blanchard (born 1962)
From New Orleans, Blanchard’s five Grammy Awards secure him his place among the world’s best jazz trumpeters, though he first came to prominence when he replaced Wynton Marsalis in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1982, eventually becoming its musical director. In the 90s, Blanchard appeared on the radar of the wider public via the soundtracks he composed to several Spike Lee movies, including Mo’ Better Blues. A versatile musician, Blanchard has embraced funk- and electronica-inflected music in recent years but without sacrificing the deep jazz core that’s the foundation of his being.
34: Jonah Jones (1909-2000)
From Louisville, Kentucky, Robert “Jonah” Jones first earned a living playing trumpet on Mississippi riverboats before his recruitment into the big swing-era bands of Benny Carter, Fletcher Henderson and Cab Calloway. In the 50s, Jones – perceived by some as Louis Armstrong’s heir apparent – started to enjoy huge commercial success as a solo artist, with his bright tone, lucid phrasing, and New Orleans infections reaping mainstream adulation.
33: Wynton Marsalis (born 1961)
When acoustic jazz was in the doldrums in the 70s and early 80s, New Orleans-born Marsalis (an outspoken critic of anything fusion-esque or avant-garde) became its saviour, reviving the traditional straight-ahead style to great success. In recent years, Marsalis’ music has become more exploratory, and he remains one of the best jazz trumpeters of his generation.
32: Freddie Webster (1916-1947)
Like Fats Navarro, Webster, from Cleveland, Ohio, died before his talent reached maturity and a wider audience. Though his recordings are few (and mostly as a sideman, with Jimmie Lunceford’s band, for example, and Sarah Vaughan), Webster sits among the world’s best jazz trumpeters because of the profound influence he had on other horn blowers – most notably, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. Speaking in the 60s, the latter said Webster “probably had the best sound of the trumpet since the trumpet was invented, a sound that was alive, just alive and full of life”.
31: Hot Lips Page (1908-1954)
Born Oran Page but dubbed “Hot Lips” because of his incendiary, bravura trumpet style, this Texas trumpet titan began his career as a teenager in the 20s before becoming a crucial contributor to the big band swing era in the 30s, when he played with the bands of Bennie Moten, Count Basie and Artie Shaw. Like Louis Armstrong, Page’s talent wasn’t limited to playing the trumpet, as he also proved a capable, blues-style singer.
30: Cootie Williams (1911-1985)
Born Charles Williams in Mobile, Alabama, Cootie worked with stride pianist James P Johnson in the late 20s before joining Duke Ellington’s band (replacing Bubber Miley), where he stayed for 11 years. Williams built his reputation on his skilful use of the plunger mute and creating a wild “jungle” trumpet sound on some of Ellington’s more exotic mood pieces.
29: Cat Anderson (1916-1981)
Few trumpeters could blow as high and wide as William “Cat” Anderson, a South Carolina musician who only made a handful of records under his own name, and who could span five octaves with his horn. He cut his teeth in the bands of Lucky Millinder and Lionel Hampton before landing in the principal trumpet chair of Duke Ellington’s orchestra. Between 1944 and 1971, Anderson enjoyed three separate long stints with Ellington and became famed for his exceptional high-note trumpet work.
28: Clark Terry (1920-2015)
Beginning on the valve trombone, Terry, from St Louis, Missouri, switched to the trumpet and first made his name in the orchestras of jazz aristocrats Duke Ellington and Count Basie during the 40s and 50s. Able to play both swing and bebop with aplomb, Terry mentored a young Miles Davis and recorded a slew of albums both as a sideman and under his own name. One of the best jazz trumpeters of his time, Terry was also a devotee of the mellow, richer-sounding flugelhorn.
27: King Oliver (1881-1938)
Author of the early classic jazz tunes ‘Dippermouth Blues’ and ‘Doctor Jazz’, Joseph “King” Oliver was a principal architect of the New Orleans sound and mentored a young Louis Armstrong, who appeared with him on sides such as ‘Canal Street Blues’ – reason alone for Oliver’s status as one of the best jazz trumpeters in history. The use of muted trumpets in jazz is largely down to Oliver, whose early inspiration was Buddy Bolden. Oliver played cornet up until the late 20s, when he switched to trumpet.
26: Fats Navarro (1923-1950)
Sadly, the promise of this Florida horn man’s huge potential was never fulfilled, thanks to the lethal combination of heroin and tuberculosis that took his life at 26. A rising star of bebop who played with that movement’s chief movers and shakers (including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke), Navarro’s virtuosic style had an indelible impact on Clifford Brown’s style.
25: Louis Smith (1931-2016)
The cousin of Booker Little, Memphis-born Smith relocated to Michigan where he had opportunities to play with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Thad Jones before embarking on a solo career after a stint in the army. Influenced by Fats Navarro and Clifford Brown, Smith’s vibrant sound and ability to both swing and play ballads convincingly resulted in a contract with Blue Note in 1958. He dropped off the jazz radar soon after, only to reappear 20 years later.
24: Booker Little (1938-1961)
This Memphis musician’s death, at the tender age of 23, robbed the world of a sensational player who seemed destined for greatness as one of the best jazz trumpeters the world has ever seen. Though hard bop was hardwired into his musical DNA, Little’s work with John Coltraneand free jazz exponent Eric Dolphy (he co-led a band with the latter in the early 60s) evidenced that the virtuosic Little was interested in exploring jazz’s outer limits.
23: Hugh Masekela (born 1939)
The world at large first became aware of this South African trumpeter and flugelhorn player when he scored a substantial US hit in 1968 with the infectious instrumental ‘Grazin’ In The Grass’. He started out in 1959 as a member of The Jazz Epistles, the first African jazz combo to record an LP. When South Africa’s apartheid regime outlawed jazz, Masekela fled to Europe, and then the US, where he forged a stellar solo career fusing jazz with South African township rhythms. He continues to find new forms of expression, recently collaborating with J’Something, singer with South African house group Mi Casa.
22: Eddie Henderson (born 1940)
Not content with being one of the best jazz trumpeters in history, Henderson is also qualified – and practiced as – a medical doctor. He got his big break playing in Herbie Hancock’s envelope-pushing Mwandishi band in the early 70s before going on to forge a successful solo career. An acolyte of Miles Davis, Henderson – who has a burnished tone and likes to use space – initially played fusion before reverting to a more straight-ahead mode of jazz in his later years.
21: Maynard Ferguson (1928-2006)
It was a long-standing joke that Ferguson could play notes so high that only dogs could hear them. Originally from Canada, he served his musical apprenticeship in Stan Kenton’s band before leading his own groups. A flamboyant showman as well as virtuoso horn player, Ferguson could dazzle audiences with his show-stopping, stratospheric high notes and, in the 70s, embraced rock and pop styles which led to mainstream chart success.
20: Art Farmer (1928-1999)
A prolific recording artist, this Iowan horn maestro emerged in the early 50s as an accomplished purveyor of hard bop who, stylistically, was heavily indebted to Freddie Webster and Miles Davis. Like Miles, Farmer – who often preferred the mellower flugelhorn – had a lyrical disposition and was adept at demonstrating emotional restraint, even though he could blow hard and fast, and swing when he needed to.
19: Don Ellis (1934-1978)
Though his mainstream fame rests with the soundtrack music he composed for the gritty 1971 urban crime thriller The French Connection, LA-born Ellis was a jazz innovator who, as well as being an accomplished soloist, composer and arranger, was a keen experimenter. He played and wrote music in unusual time signatures, drew on Eastern music for inspiration and employed various electronic effects with an amplified horn.
18: Harry “Sweets” Edison (1915-1999)
From Columbus, Ohio, Edison – whose nickname referred to his popularity with the ladies – was a stalwart of the Count Basie band between 1937 and 1950. After that, he relocated to the US West Coast and, as well as making a raft of albums under his own name, he became a first-call studio musician easily earning his place alongside the best jazz trumpeters of all time. Adept at playing muted trumpet as well as an open horn, Sweets showed an acute sensitivity when playing ballads but could swing hard on uptempo material.
17: Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931)
With his purity of tone, relaxed approach and gift for melodic embellishment, this self-taught cornet player from Iowa first recorded with the Wolverine Orchestra in the early 20s before making an indelible mark in the large ensembles of Jean Goldkette, Frank Trumbauer and Paul Whiteman in the latter part of the same decade. He also made recordings under his own name, which helped to cement his place in the jazz history books as one its first great improvisers.
16: Buddy Bolden (1877-1931)
Active in the first decade of the 20th Century, New Orleans-born Bolden – about whose life myths abound – was one of jazz’s early horn stars. Though no recordings of him survive, some of his compositions do – and these, along with his oversized legend, are enough to place him high in this list of the 50 best jazz trumpeters of all time. Preferring to play the trumpet’s close cousin, the compact-shaped, smaller cornet, Bolden was instrumental in shaping the sound of early Big Easy-style jazz, introducing a syncopated drum beat (dubbed the “Big Four”) that was more conducive for group improvisation than a straight marching-band rhythm.
15: Don Cherry (1936-1995)
A sidekick of free jazz magus Ornette Coleman between 1958 and 1961, Oklahoma-born Cherry was a doyen of avant-garde jazz whose favourite horn was the more compact pocket trumpet. Away from Coleman’s band, Cherry recorded with Coltrane and also made many envelope-pushing LPs under his own name, and in later years embraced music from other cultures. His musical calling card is producing a stream of rapidly-blown notes and eerie note bends.
14: Kenny Dorham (1924-1972)
A leading player of the hard bop era in the 50s, but whose work is often unheralded, Texas-born Dorham (real name McKinley Dorham) was in the very first incarnation of The Jazz Messengers. Though he didn’t live to see his 50th birthday, Dorham left behind a rich legacy of recorded solo work and a classic composition in the shape of ‘Blue Bossa’. Technically accomplished, Dorham’s fearless experimentation (he dabbled with Afro-Cuban music and Brazilian bossa nova grooves) more than earns him his place among the world’s best jazz trumpeters.
13: Nat Adderley (1931-2000)
A virtuoso of the trumpet and its close relative, the cornet, Tampa-born Adderley was a longtime stalwart of his elder brother Cannonball Adderley’s band between 1955 and ’75, and was instrumental in the birth of the gospel-blues-infused soul-jazz style (he wrote one of the genre’s key tunes, the immortal and much-covered ‘Work Song’). Outside of his brother’s band, Adderley cut a slew of solo albums, each one distinguished by his bluesy horn work.
12: Blue Mitchell (1930-1979)
Miami-born trumpeter Richard “Blue” Mitchell played with Earl Bostic while still in high school, then later, in 1958, got spotted by fellow Floridian Cannonball Adderley and joined the saxophonist at Riverside Records. Mitchell’s main claim to fame was playing with Horace Silver’s quintet between 1960 and ’69. A hard bop stylist with a limpid and soulful tone, he also enjoyed 19 successful years as a solo artist at a variety of labels, including Blue Note.
11: Thad Jones (1923-1986)
The brother of both drummer Elvin Jones and pianist Hank Jones, this self-taught horn blower from Pontiac, Michigan, was a key figure in Count Basie’s band (as an arranger and soloist) during the late 50s and early 60s while enjoying a parallel solo career that saw him cement his status as one of the world’s best jazz trumpeters with recordings for the Blue Note and Prestige labels. In the mid-60s, Jones joined forces with drummer Mel Lewis to found the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra.
10: Woody Shaw (1944-1989)
Originally from North Carolina and raised in New Jersey, Woody Shaw was the most accomplished and technically advanced horn blower to emerge in the 60s (he cut his teeth with keyboardists Horace Silver and Larry Young), though he didn’t begin to blossom until the following decade when he began to record prolifically as a solo artist. With his use of wide intervallic leaps, polytonal harmonic concepts and absorption of musical elements from other cultures, Shaw was nothing less than a trumpet phenom who more than earns his place among the 50 best jazz trumpeters of all time.
9: Donald Byrd (1932-2013)
Able to synthesise a bravura trumpet technique with a gift for dazzling improv and an astute emotional acuity, Detroit-born Byrd was a leading light of the hard bop scene in the late 50s and early 60s before incurring the wrath of the jazz police by turning to fusion and funk in the 70s. Ironically, Byrd’s best-selling LP, 1972’s Gold-certified Black Byrd, boasted very little improvisation, but took the trumpeter’s name to a wider audience.
8: Roy Eldridge (1911-1989)
Though short in stature (hence his nickname, Little Jazz), this Pittsburgh musician was a true giant among trumpet players. The way he structured his solos stemmed from the influence of Louis Armstrong, but in terms of sound and style, Eldridge found his own distinctive voice and developed a complex melodic, harmonic and rhythmic language that anticipated bebop (Dizzy Gillespie was a huge Eldridge fan).
7: Chet Baker (1929-1988)
With his matinee-idol good looks, Oklahoma-born Chesney Henry Baker rose to fame in the 50s as the poster boy of West Coast cool jazz. Though he had female fans that were besotted by his dreamy singing voice, it was his trumpet playing – spare, unadorned, lyrical and suffused with tender feeling – that was his greatest musical attribute.
6: Lee Morgan (1938-1972)
Boasting a bright tone and dazzling technique, this Philly-born horn sensation was still a teenager when he played on Coltrane’s 1957 classic Blue Train LP. Morgan’s solo career had, in fact, began a year earlier at Blue Note and continued while the young trumpet prodigy was a member of The Jazz Messengers between 1958 and ’61. An exponent of hard bop, Morgan scored a hit with ‘The Sidewinder’ in 1964 but moved to more exploratory jazz in the latter stage of his short career.
5: Clifford Brown (1930-1956)
Affectionately dubbed “Brownie” by his friends, Pennsylvania’s Clifford Brown was tragically cut down in his prime at the age of 25 (he perished in a car accident) but made such a profound impact with his music during his short life that his influence can still be felt and heard today. A key figure in the birth of hard bop, Brown’s warm trumpet sound blended sensitivity with a virtuosic athleticism.
4: Freddie Hubbard (1938-2008)
This flamboyant and charismatic Indianapolis trumpeter laid the foundations of his career playing with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the early 60s before embarking on a hugely successful solo career. For Hubbard, whose technical command of his instrument was breathtakingly brilliant, improvising was as natural as breathing. After beginning as a hard bop exponent, Hubbard ventured into soul-jazz territory, then, in the mid-70s, followed a more commercial path. A veritable trumpet Titan.
3: Miles Davis (1926-1991)
Though his chops and technical abilities were not on a par with the flashier Satchmo and bebop maven Dizzy, no one could play ballads more beautifully than Miles, who infused his lean but elegant solos with a sense of languorous desolation. For Miles, using silence and space creatively were just as important as playing notes in helping to convey a mood or atmosphere. Aside from his trumpet playing, Miles was arguably the greatest bandleader in jazz, leading several groundbreaking ensembles from the 50s onwards that helped shape the course of jazz.
2: Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993)
Famed for his puffed-out cheeks and custom-built “bent” horn, this founding father of bebop and pioneer of modern jazz (born John Birks Gillespie) combined jaw-dropping technical brilliance with ultra-advanced harmonic concepts and set the bar for horn-playing from the late 40s onwards. A disciple of Roy Eldridge, South Carolina-born Dizzy was also a crucial figure in the birth of Latin jazz, and famed for his big band Afro-Cuban fusion sound.
1: Louis Armstrong (1901-1971)
Sitting at the top of this list of the 50 best jazz trumpeters of all time is one of New Orleans’ most famous sons. Before the arrival of the gravel-voiced Satchmo – who rose to fame in King Oliver’s Chicago-based band in the early 20s – jazz was defined by collective rather than individual improvisation, but Armstrong’s unparalleled gift for embroidering melodies led him to reinvent the nascent genre as a vehicle for solo extemporisation. A gigantic, hugely influential figure in the history of jazz, popular music would not be the same without him.
Heeeeere’s Johnny!” That lead-in, followed by a big band trumpet blast, was the landmark of late night television for three decades. The ‘Johnny’ was Johnny Carson, the announcer was Ed McMahon and the bandleader was Doc Severinsen. Beginning in October 1962, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson ruled the night air for thirty years. On May 22, 1992, it came to an end…
Within a week of the final telecast, Doc Severinsen and His Big Band were on the road, and to this day, audiences across America love and respect Doc and his big band, not just because he shared their living room with them for so many years, but because of Doc’s love of the Big Band repertoire. His musicianship keeps this iconic American music fresh to this day. Their repertoire includes Ellington and Basie standards, pop, jazz, ballads, big band classics and, of course, The Tonight Show theme. Severinsen can still blow hard with his horn, and hit the high notes, a result of his continued commitment to the practice studio and the refinement of his craft. But as a band leader, Doc continues to surround himself with the best in the business, and he’s only too happy to give them a turn in the spotlight.
A Grammy award winner, Doc has made more than 30 albums–from big band to jazz-fusion to classical. Two critically acclaimed Telarc CDs with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra showcase his multifaceted talents from Bach to ballads. The Very Best of Doc Severinsen reprises fifteen of Doc’s signature pieces. His other recordings include Unforgettably Doc with the Cincinnati Pops on Telarc, and the Grammy nominated Once More With Feeling on Amherst. He received a Grammy Award for “Best Jazz instrumental Performance – Big Band” for his recording of Doc Severinsen and The Tonight Show Band-Volume I.
In 2006, Doc moved to San Miguel de Allende, in Mexico, ostensibly to retire from performance. Within weeks, he was jamming with the magnificent guitarist Gil Gutierrez. He now tours regularly with Gil in a quintet called The San Miguel Five, performing a mix of Latin and Gypsy jazz and standards, to exceptional acclaim. They just released their most current CD, Oblivion, in January 2014.
Severinsen’s accomplishments began in his hometown of Arlington, Oregon, population: 600. Carl H Severinsen was born on July 7th, 1927, and was nicknamed “Little Doc” after his father, Dr. Carl Severinsen a dentist. Little Doc had originally wanted to play the trombone. But Doc Sr., a gifted amateur violinist, urged him to follow in his father’s footsteps. The Doc Jr. insisted on the trombone, which turned out to be unavailable in tiny Arlington’s music store.
And so, a trumpet it would be. A week later, with the help of his father and a manual of instructions, the seven-year-old was so good that he was invited to join the high school band. At the age of twelve, Little Doc won the Music Educator’s National Contest and, while still in high school, was hired to go on the road with the famous Ted Fio Rito Orchestra. However, his stay with the group was cut short by the draft. He served in the Army during World War II and following his discharge, landed a spot with the Charlie Barnett Band. When this band broke up, Severinsen toured with the Tommy Dorsey, then, the Benny Goodman bands in the late 40’s.
After his days with Barnett and Dorsey, Doc arrived in New York City in 1949 to become a staff musician for NBC. After years of playing with NBC’s many studio bands, Doc was invited to play a gig in the highly respected Tonight Show Band. The band leader at the time, Skitch Henderson, asked him to join that band in 1962 in the first trumpet chair. Five years later, Doc became the Music Director for The Tonight Show and the rest is history.
His loyalty to Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon never faltered, and the warm camaraderie between the three was an enormous part of the show’s success. When Johnny decided to retire from The Tonight Show, Doc and Ed said their goodbyes as well. Of course, free from the nightly grind of the TV studio, Doc Severinsen had far more time to expand his musical horizons and continues to keep an extensive touring schedule.
In addition to his San Miguel 5 appearances, Doc tours regularly with his own Big Band and continues to perform with symphony orchestras all over the country. Over the years has been Principal Pops Conductor with the Phoenix Symphony, the Milwaukee Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Colorado Symphony, the Pacific Symphony and the Buffalo Philharmonic.
Doc performs on a S.E. Shires Severinsen Destino III, a trumpet he developed with Steve Shires and the S.E. Shires Company in Massachusetts. The factory has 25 craftsmen who are professional, working brass players and totally understand what is involved in making great brass instruments. The S.E. Shires Company features a line of trumpets that includes the S.E. Shires Severinsen Destino III which was developed through Doc’s supervision until his exacting standards of quality and sound were achieved. Doc continues to make regular visits to the factory.
Today, Doc has not lost his flair for the outrageous fashion statement or his trademark wit. But his gregarious nature has never interfered with the fact that he has been one of the greatest trumpeters and musicians of the last 60 years, respected in the worlds of classical music, jazz, big band, and now even world music. In the end, Doc Severinsen has transcended his celebrity, and rejoiced in his remarkable ability to simply play his trumpet as well as he can. Which has proven to be good enough for the millions of people who count themselves his fans.
Maurice André did for the trumpet what Segovia did for the guitar, bringing the instrument from its humble origins into both the classical mainstream and popular culture. It had a parallel in his own life: he spent five years down the pits before escaping to music school. The trumpet demands perhaps more physical strength than any other instrument; André attributed his own resilience to those five years at the coal-face, “moving 17 tons of coal a day”.
The importance of André’s example is difficult to exaggerate. Paul Archibald, former professor of trumpet at the Royal Academy of Music and Royal College of Music, said: “The impact and influence that he had on generations of trumpeters was monumental. He defined the art of solo trumpet playing with his beautifully refined phrasing and his effortless technique.” But as well as setting standards for the musicians who were to follow him, André enjoyed a huge popular following, appealing to listeners of every stripe and hue, and crossing musical boundaries with ease.
André was born to the trumpet: his miner father played it, in the colliery band, and for local events. Maurice had two years of school solfège before, aged 12, he began to play the cornet, which his father had won as a prize. He made startlingly swift progress, soon appearing alongside his father, who sent him for lessons with a friend, Léon Barthélémy, a teacher at the Conservatoire in Nîmes. André continued to work in the mines until a near-fatal accident forced him to take time off work – time he used with religious devotion, practising for three hours every morning.
Barthélémy suggested his student join the band of the Eighth Régiment des Transmissions at Mont-Valérien, and it was as a military musician that, at 18, André began studying at the Conservatoire de Paris – though playing in uniform and living in barracks. His principal teacher there, Raymond Sabarich, was demanding and uncompromising, even thumping André when he played a wrong note. The unconventional approach worked: after six months André won the Premier Prix d’Honneur for the cornet and the Premier Prix for the trumpet a year later.
To begin with, there was little demand for a trumpet soloist, and André had to settle for orchestral positions, playing with the Orchestre Lamoureux and the Orchestre Philharmonique de la Radio France, and thereafter with the Opéra-Comique. He also played in night clubs and theatres, but his breakthrough came in 1955 when, asked to join the jury of a music competition in Geneva, he chose instead to appear as a competitor, walking away with first prize.
He was soon making records, many for Erato. He notched up some 300 recordings, and enlarged the trumpet repertoire by raiding those of other instruments. One recording – of Vivaldi concertos with the Berlin Philharmonic and Herbert von Karajan – sold 1.5m copies but got off to a shaky start: when André got a call from Karajan’s assistant, he assumed it was a friend winding him up.
It was with Baroque music that he made his reputation: two signature performances were of the Second of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and the “Badinerie” from the Second Orchestral Suite. He played the high piccolo trumpet with an ease and elegance that astonished – it looked incongruous in his fleshy hands and applied to his round face beneath a thatch of white hair and two bushy black eyebrows. He looked cuddly, approachable, and the TV appearances that began in 1980 brought him an even larger public.
Although André joked that contemporary music reminded him of the noises he used to hear down the mine, composers were hardly going to leave such a resource unexploited, and Boris Blacher, André Jolivet, Jean Langlais and Henri Tomasi were among those who wrote for him.
With the work ethic he had learned as a youth, he had gruelling schedules, averaging 180 concerts a year at his busiest, in the 1970s. But concerts were a family affair: André’s manager was his wife, Liliane, and he often appeared with his brother, Raymond, also a trumpeter, and later with his son, Nicolas, another trumpeter, and daughter Béatrice, an oboist. From 1967-78 he was a professor at the Conservatoire de Paris; his memoir Le Soleil Doit Pouvoir Briller pour Tout le Monde (“The Sun Should Shine for Everybody”) appeared in 2007.
André put the length of his career down to the fact that he had never strained to play and so didn’t tire his lips. He settled in the Basque country in the early 1990s and, though supposedly taking life easier, continued to practise for four or five hours a day, finding time also for painting and wood-carving. His farewell concert was in Béziers in 2008: he should have retired earlier, he explained, but some work on his teeth allowed him to keep going.
For Paul Archibald, the trumpet “was part of him and he sang with an intensity that was pure heart and soul … He was much more than an instrumentalist. His musical personality was natural, honest and sincere and the integrity of his playing is an example to any musician.”
Maurice André, trumpeter: born Rochebelle, Cévennes 21 May 1933; married 1956 (one son, one daughter); died Urrugne, Bayonne 25 February 2012.
Interview with jazz trumpeter, bandleader and Taylor Trumpets Artist, Yervand Margaryan.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Yervand Margaryan: – I was born and grew up in Tbilisi (Georgia). My first interest towards music was in early childhood. I loved singing songs from famous cartoons since I was 4 years old. And at that time I remember I gathered a huge collection of such cartoons with original songs on the vinyls. I played them everyday and sang along all of these by heart.
JBN.S: –What got you interested in picking up the trumpet? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the trumpet?
YM: – My father is a big musical fan especially of the French singer with Armenian heritage Charles Aznavour. He didn’t miss any old or new record of that singer. Besides this he also loved listening to jazz music. All of this didn’t miss my attention. At 14 I discovered a tremendous vinyl of Louis Armstrong and from that moment on fell in love with jazz! I have been lucky in life. When I moved to Yerevan, a famous American pianist of Armenian heritage Armen Donelyan came here with master classes! After literally a couple of his workshops I understood in which direction I had to develop and this was a deciding period in my choice for my future path!
JBN.S: –How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
YM: – Sound is a language . We express an idea with a language. The idea itself is born from the context which is always different. Accordingly sound always arises from context and can change depending on the composition. And in music context is; style, tempo, emotional substance, etc. I have a small daily routine to always maintain the shape of my technical apparatus which is responsible for my context dependable flexible sound.
JBN.S: –What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
YM: – When there is time for practice I love to play and improvise standards in a variety of tempos from the slowest to the fastest in completely different styles from pop and reggae to straight 8 and hard bop in all keys.
JBN.S: –Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
YM: – For me the priority in music, just like in life is the context. Everything arises from the context. For me it all depends what kind of music I play at that moment. Let’s agree, that it would be clumsy to imagine using pentatonic patterns in dixieyland music or to play bibop patterns in bossa nova. Everything has to be natural and arising from the context.
JBN.S: –Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?
YM: – I really like Arturo Sandoval’s last album “Ultimates Duets.”
JBN.S: –What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
YM: – Of course the best that can be done is to combine the intellect with the soul! And I try to walk on that path. But nonetheless for me the priority in music and life is the heart and soul! Only the outcome of the heart and soul can reach out and touch the hearts and souls of your listeners!
JBN.S: –Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
YM: – I have had many memorable gigs, concerts and studio recordings. All of them are precious for me in an equal manner. I can only note that I’ve been lucky to work with such performers as Michel Legrand (France), Igor Butman (Russia), Charles Davis (USA),Roy Hargrove (USA),Ramon Flores (USA) Victor Espinola (Paraguay), Ziad Rahbani (Lebanon), Ventzislav Blagoev (Bulgaria), Roger Wright (England), Arno Van Nieuwenhuize (Netherlands), Arto Tunchboyajian (USA), Adam Rapa (USA), Zaid Nasser (USA), Michel Delakian (France), Stephane Stefan Patry (France), etc.
JBN.S: –Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?
YM: – My main advice is to be dedicated to your work and believe in what you do! Sooner or later it will bring you to success!
JBN.S: –Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?
YM: – Yes, I firmly believe that jazz can also be a business in addition. Everything depends how you do your work and deliver it to the audience.
JBN.S: –Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?
YM: – I consider a very important collaboration with the famous composer and pianist Ziad Rahbani. For me that collaboration has started in the beginning of my musical career and lasts until now. I like his non-standard approach to music. These are original compositions in which you always have to thoroughly approach each of your solo performances. Minimalism, stylistic opportunities and also a unique musical color which combines jazz music as well as national motives; all of this is extraordinarily interesting and captivating! We also talked a lot with Ziad on music and I noticed the similarity of views with him. All of this also influenced me when started composing my own music.
JBN.S: –How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
YM: – That’s a good question! In my opinion there are several ways and they are not mutually exclusive. Most importantly is the form in which the music is delivered. We need newly composed music, which reflects our life with its rhythm, harmony. It will definitely be close to young people because it originates from our daily lives. And evergreen repertuar is a classic. And there’s two ways for it to develop; perform them like classics without changing anything or perform them them using new and interesting rhythmic and harmonic solutions. But this doesn’t mean that the priority here is to change something. The priority is the sense of taste and style! That’s the most important thing!
JBN.S: –John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
YM: – This is how I imagine it all. All of us received this life as a gift. And each one of us has a special mission uniquely suited to him. Our life is the dream of God. And God sent us here to manifest various divine qualities; talents and good acts to make this planet the way God and ideally each one of us would have wanted to see! And only when we accomplish the mission assigned to us we become happy! And we make the people around us happy too! It’s a different issue that a lot of people often don’t believe in their mission in this life, don’t believe in miracles, in good. And it gets them to waste the missions assigned only to them and making them unhappy. You always need to believe in your mission and listen to your heart!
JBN.S: –What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
YM: – I look optimistically into the future. I have a lot of ideas and projects in mind! It also concerns the development of jazz in Armenia. New concerts and festivals by their format. It also concerns Armenia’s presence in the international arena as well as joint international projects! Let’s hope there’s much energy and health to accomplish all of this!
JBN.S: –If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
YM: – Maybe this is a utopia, but I would make all the news channels and shows to broadcast good music, concerts and recordings instead of bad and horrific news about catastrophes,murders, etc. Then our world surely would turn in the right direction!
JBN.S: –What’s the next musical frontier for you?
YM: – From my early devotion to jazz one of my idols was the singer and trumpet player Chet Backer. Quite recently I caught myself on the thought that there are song lyrics that are in sync to my life experience and I have a message to express with them, to sing them more specifically. Very recently I sang “When I Fall in Love” for the first time in my life publicly at the Armas Wine & Jazz Festival. I think everything went alright and I would very much like to prepare a new project in which I would completely sing famous standards in a couple of months. That’s my next goal!
JBN.S: –Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
YM: – There is a little similarity between jazz and world music. But I still think that a mix of genres can give wonderful fruits both creatively and as a means to popularize jazz in the whole world!
JBN.S: –Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
YM: – I always love to listen to a variety of music from classical to rap. From the jazz performers of our time I like to listen to Тill Brönner, Arturo Sandoval, Roy Hargrove, Chris Botti, etc.
JBN.S: –Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
YM: – I really believe that I was born in a time right for me. But often I would like to travel on a time machine through all the historic periods!
JBN.S: –I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself …
YM: – How do you ideally envision the future of jazz in Armenia and the role of the Armenian musicians in the international arena?
JBN.S: –Thank you for answers. I am sorry, I do not want to offend a compatriots.
The maestro, Arturo Sandoval, has brought together an eclectic array of the world’s finest singers, from Pharrell Williams to Placido Domingo, in this album of duets featuring Arturo in a celebration of artistry. As Arturo once said, “It’s all just music.”
Wynton Marsalis is an internationally acclaimed musician, composer, bandleader, educator and a leading advocate of American culture. He is the world’s first jazz artist to perform and compose across the full jazz spectrum from its New Orleans roots to bebop to modern jazz.
By creating and performing an expansive range of brilliant new music for quartets to big bands, chamber music ensembles to symphony orchestras, tap dance to ballet, Wynton has expanded the vocabulary for jazz and created a vital body of work that places him among the world’s finest musicians and composers.
The Early Years
Wynton was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 18, 1961, to Ellis and Dolores Marsalis, the second of six sons. At an early age he exhibited a superior aptitude for music and a desire to participate in American culture. At age eight Wynton performed traditional New Orleans music in the Fairview Baptist Church band led by legendary banjoist Danny Barker, and at 14 he performed with the New Orleans Philharmonic. During high school Wynton performed with the New Orleans Symphony Brass Quintet, New Orleans Community Concert Band, New Orleans Youth Orchestra, New Orleans Symphony, various jazz bands and with the popular local funk band, the Creators.
At age 17 Wynton became the youngest musician ever to be admitted to Tanglewood’s Berkshire Music Center. Despite his youth, he was awarded the school’s prestigious Harvey Shapiro Award for outstanding brass student. Wynton moved to New York City to attend Juilliard in 1979. When he began to pick up gigs around town, the grapevine began to buzz. In 1980 Wynton seized the opportunity to join the Jazz Messengers to study under master drummer and bandleader Art Blakey. It was from Blakey that Wynton acquired his concept for bandleading and for bringing intensity to each and every performance. In the years to follow Wynton performed with Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Sweets Edison, Clark Terry, John Lewis, Sonny Rollins, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams and countless other jazz legends.
Wynton assembled his own band in 1981 and hit the road, performing over 120 concerts every year for 15 consecutive years. With the power of his superior musicianship, the infectious sound of his swinging bands and an exhaustive series of performances and music workshops, Marsalis rekindled widespread interest in jazz throughout the world. Wynton embraced the jazz lineage to garner recognition for the older generation of overlooked jazz musicians and prompted the re-issue of jazz catalog by record companies worldwide. He also inspired a renaissance that attracted a new generation of fine young talent to jazz.
A look at the more distinguished jazz musicians of today reveals numerous students of Marsalis’ workshops: James Carter, Christian McBride, Roy Hargrove, Harry Connick Jr., Nicholas Payton, Eric Reed and Eric Lewis, to name a few.
Journalist, musician, writer. Gets off to Virginia Woolf, Joyce, Faulkner, Toni Morrison, realism, and the Gothic Sublime.
I Flew to New York to meet the enigmatic trumpeter. He felt like talking.
When Miles Davis walked into the Carlyle Hotel in New York City in 1985 I deliberately let him pass me by while he was looking around to figure out who he was meeting for his luncheon interview. He was probably looking for some scruffy dude in jeans like one of those misfits who write for Rolling Stone. I was dressed in a blue jacket and red tie. I remember he was dressed in all black, wearing a black hat and carrying a black cane. He was walking. When he came back by me I called to him — Miles. He looked surprised; I was not who he was expecting. He said — Oh, it’s you? He seemed pleased.
Miles is my legal name, but it is not the name I was born with. My parents named me something no kid should have to go through life with (No, I’m not telling you). I promised my mother that as soon as I came of age I was going to change it, and when I turned 21 I walked into the office of a probate judge and did just that. Had I imagined that I might have even the most remotest chance of ever meeting the man, or that I would someday try to play jazz (at the very least I had to give up the trumpet, so I picked up the saxophone), I would have chosen a different name. I am still haunted by the choice I made. I had heard he hated interviewers, but at the time USA Today was the mammy jammy on the entertainment media scene — everybody wanted to get in it.
The tough sale was with my editors. If you are not the pop culture flavor of the moment you don’t really get into USA Today. I begged for months to interview him. Did he have a Top Ten album? Well, no, but he is Miles Davis. The thing is he had been retired for half a decade and was still just getting back to stride. He had released The Man with the Horn in 1981, hailing his comeback, and Star People two years later, but it was when he released the monstrous Decoyin 1984 that I went to my editor again and, probably to shut me up, she said fine. Go interview him.
He ordered lobster salad for lunch. I have no idea what I ate. I didn’t come there to eat. I sat a tape recorder on the table and we started talking. I do remember asking him about Cicely Tyson, whom he was married to at the time. It was the only time during the interview that he took a bite out of me — Talk about music or don’t talk at all!, he snapped, that fierce look in his eyes. He scared the shit out of me. He saw it. I was young and stupid, and very naive. He lightened up. She balances my life, he said, tossing me a bone. Then he started telling me stories — about the time he was riding a taxi cab with Charlie Parker, who was giving some gal some head and Bird told him to turn his head and not look, to which he replied — Man, I don’t want to see that shit.
I asked him the real story about how he damaged his voice after being told to not talk after vocal cord surgery. According to him, a club manager was pissed because Stan Getz was high and wanted him to do something about it, so he yelled at the guy to go yell at Getz instead of him. After this, he said, is when he began talking in his famously raspy tone. I asked him about death. He said he wasn’t afraid, and offered me as simple an affirmation of belief in an afterlife as I have ever heard — There’s something, he said. He also made a very plain and honest assessment of his career and time on earth, which was simply: I’ve done something with my life.
Near the end of the interview, I’m not sure how we got on the subject, but he offered this comment, which I memorized word for word. He said: If somebody told me I only had one hour to live, I’d spend it choking a white man. I’d do it nice and slow.If I got tired I’d stop, have a glass of water, and choke him some more. I was stunned. I had every intention of using it and I asked him if he was concerned people would think him a racist. He didn’t blink. It’s the prejudice white people I’m talking about, he said. If the shoe don’t fit they don’t have to wear it.
Flashback to 1959. Miles is standing outside Birdland in New York where he is playing a gig. He had just helped a white woman hail a cab, and a white cop saw it. Miles decides to have a smoke and the cop comes over and tells him he can’t stand there. Miles tell the cop he is playing there and points to his name in lights on the marquee. The cop doesn’t care. Miles refuses to leave and a scuffle ensues. A plainclothes cop shows up out of nowhere and opens Miles’ head up with a blackjack. He is covered in his own blood. It was an infamous incident that by the time I talked to him was buried in nearly a quarter century of old newspaper headlines, all but forgotten. At the time it was widely covered. Photos of him — wounded, defiant, and indignant — flashed across the country. Years later, I believe he still brooded over the indignities he put up with being a black man in America. In her 2006 portrait of pioneering jazz musicians, Three Wishes, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, a member of the Rothschild family (born Kathleen Annie Pannonica Rothschild) and who had been a patron to Thelonious Monk and other jazz greats, asks each of them to tell her three things they wished for. Miles gave her only one: “To Be White!”
When the lunch was over and we were both gathering up our belongings, the CBS publicist chaperoning him asked — Do you want anything else, Miles? Both of us, without looking up, blurted — no. We looked at each other bemusedly, simply having forgotten we shared the same name. He smiled at me. He asked me about the name. I told him my father gave it to me because he was a fan. What the hell was I gonna say? A few weeks later I was sitting at my desk and the phone rang. I picked it up. It was him. I was stunned again. Why was he calling me? Was he pissed at the article? Hardly. He called to tell me he was leaving Columbia, where he had been for three decades, and going to Warner Bros, who had offered him a huge signing bonus. Who’s going to turn down a million dollars?Not me, he said. I called around but could get nobody to verify that piece of information, so my editor decided not to run it. It turned out to be true. I remember him saying to me before he hung up — I’m glad I told ‘you.’