Two trumpet players walk into a bar…

How do trumpet players traditionally greet each other? “Hi. Nice to meet you. I’m better than you.”

A good friend of mine recently reopened a wonderful little spot in Tacoma, complete with tasty craft cocktails and a wonderful food menu that matches nicely with each featured drink. I decided last Sunday that I would go pay her a visit.

It was relatively late, and the evening crowd had died down to just a customer or two, and the friend I went to see had actually taken the day off. As it turned out, the head chef, who also happens to be a friend, was sitting at the bar and I decided to join him.

It was a beautiful, warm summer night. I ordered a glass of Bastille 1789 Whisky over ice, and we sat and listened to a cover of the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Take Five (which is titled The Russians are Coming) done by Jamaican reggae saxophonist Val Bennett that was playing over the sound system. It was a perfect setting to talk about music, and that is exactly what happened for the next several hours.

Here is the catch: Riley (the chef), was  highly trained at multiple conservatories as a classical trumpeter. I attended and played trumpet at one of the best jazz schools in the country. That might not seem all that interesting, but the reality of the joke that I started the blog post off with is something that many trumpet players find true, even in the most casual and friendly of settings and conversations.

The earliest settings for a young trumpet player, be it a concert band or a jazz big band,  are designed to create competition. No matter how young, there are auditions, and musicians are encouraged to challenge each other for their chair. The best gets to play the solo, the rest of the section gets to sit there and watch. Who can play higher? Who can play faster? Who has the best tone?

Riley and I get along magnificently, and this conversation was no exception. We have had so many conversations about other things during the course of our relationship that it had almost escaped both of our minds that the other person had a legitimate musical background.

As I mentioned earlier, Riley focused primarily on classical, while I focused on jazz. Riley, as he explained, was known for a beautiful tone and his ability to incorporate personal creativity to his classical performances. I, at one point, had great range, which I eventually gave less attention to in order to become a better improviser.

At the end of the day, Riley is and was a better trumpet player and overall musician than I am, and we probably both know it. But there are rules to being a trumpet player. And once you and a fellow trumpeter start talking horn, the inevitable “trumpet measuring contest” proceeds, even in the most friendly of settings.

One of us would mention a venue we had been to or played at. The other one “out-venued” that first venue. There was the inevitable comparison of horns that we had used. We compared our experiences with Wynton Marsalis. There were several causal “You know who trumpeter John Doe or composer Jane Doe is, don’t you? Oh, you don’t, well let me tell you why you should.”

Through all of this, the conversation was interesting, friendly, and in good nature. There was not a malicious or derogatory word or tone included, and we were never tired of what the other person was saying. But just like a “friendly game of tennis”, it is instinctual,  if it is not intentional, that both players show off their chops.

There is always one easy, yet often uncomfortable way to end a conversation where trumpet players are talking trumpet: compare embouchure changes. An embouchure change is when a trumpet player changes the way the mouthpiece sits on his or her lips in an effort to improve tone, range or some other sound related element. It is rarely easy, takes a considerable amount of time, and is almost always frustrating. When this topic came up between Riley and I, you could see the life slowly leave our faces, as we were reminded of more painful times in our trumpet career. There was no need to continue our trumpet conversation after that, no more need to compete, and we both knew it without saying another word. We sat in silence for a minute or two, until one of us brought up bad horror movies that the other should see.

Since the first draft of this post, I made sure to ask Riley if it was OK to use his name and our discussion in this post. I informed him that I was using a trumpet player joke at the top of the post. He replied with “Oh man, I’ve got a ton of trumpet player jokes if you want to use one of mine.”

Now in Stores

Here is a look at five jazz releases that recently hit the shelves and are worth giving a listen to. Enjoy!

1. harryEvery Man Should Know by Harry Connick Jr. (Columbia – June 11, 2013) CLICK HERE TO BUY

Harry Connick, Jr. has built a reputation for musical and emotional honesty. Never one to rest on his ever-growing list of laurels, Connick exposes his feelings as never before on Every Man Should Know. The new CD contains twelve original songs for which Connick wrote music, lyrics and arrangements.

“No rules, no limits,” is how the multi-talented artist describes the songs in his liner notes for the new collection. “I don t recall ever reaching quite as deeply or confidently into my inhibition pool.”

2. jarrettSomewhere by Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, and Gary Peacock (ECM Records – May 28, 2013) CLICK HERE TO BUY

Now in its 30th year, the Keith Jarrett Trio is widely considered, as the NY Times recently remarked, to have set the gold standard for jazz groups, and this sparkling concert recording from 2009 is issued to mark a milestone anniversary.

The Somewhere in which the Standards trio find themselves is Lucerne, Switzerland with a performance both exploratory and in-the-tradition. The Neue Zurcher Zeitung headlined its review of the show Kontrollierte Ekstase controlled ecstasy an apt metaphor for a set that begins in improvisational Deep Space modulates into Miles Davis Solar, soars through the standards Stars Fell On Alabama and Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea and climaxes with an extended romp through West Side Story, as Bernsteins Somewhere and Tonight are bridged by the freely associative Jarrett original Everywhere.

3. terenceMagnetic by Terence Blanchard (Blue Note Records – May 28, 2013) CLICK HERE TO BUY

“I’ve always believed that in life, what you keep in your mind is what you draw to yourself.” That’s how trumpeter/composer Terence Blanchard explains the title of his 20th album, Magnetic, which finds a stunning variety of sounds and styles pulled together by the irresistible force of Blanchard’s vision.

4. peacockAzure by Gary Peacock and Marilyn Crispell (ECM Records – June 11, 2013) CLICK HERE TO BUY

Gary Peacock and Marilyn Crispell made outstanding music together in her trio with the late Paul Motian, the three kindred spirits recording the ECM albums Nothing ever was, anyway (1997) and Amaryllis (2001) each a modern classic. The New York Times called the pair two of the most beautiful piano-trio records in recent memory. The Peacock-Crispell duo project also has a history, albeit one undocumented on disc until now, with Azure. This extraordinary new album proves that these two musicians shared sense of lyricism, their distinctive compositional styles and their profound backgrounds in free improvisation make them exceptional musical partners in the most intimate of settings.

5. walterGet Thy Bearings by Robert Walter’s 20th Congress (The Royal Potato Family – June 25th, 2013) CLICK HERE TO BUY

Robert Walter performs all his own stunts. For 20 years, the San Diego native has been pulling drawbars and pushing the limits of the Hammond B3 organ. As a founding member of the Greyboy Allstars, he helped usher in the funk-jazz renaissance of the early ’90s and has continued to keep one hand comping chords in the instrument’s funky past, while the other explores ever-new melodic terrain. On June 25, his long-standing project, Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, returns with, Get Thy Bearings, via The Royal Potato Family. It was a recent move from New Orleans to Los Angeles that jump-started the 20th Congress who hadn’t recorded a studio album in ten years. The nine-track effort presents Walter’s organ, piano, Rhodes and synthesizer driving an all-star line-up rounded out by guitarist/bassist Elgin Park, drummer Aaron Redfield, sax players Karl Denson and Cochemea Gastelum, and percussionist Chuck Prada.

Pianist Mulgrew Miller in intensive care following stroke

Mulgrew-MillerJazz musicians and fans have been sending out their thoughts and prayers via Facebook and Twitter following the news that pianist Mulgrew Miller suffered a serious stroke yesterday. Details are somewhat limited but it is reported that Miller is currently in intensive care.

Miller, who has been called a protege of Oscar Peterson, suffered a stroke back in 2011 and made a full recovery. Musicians such as Terence Blanchard, Geoff Keezer, and Charlie Haden have been sending out well-wishes on Twitter.

A Jazz Tune Recorded in Heaven

They Died Before 40, a new jazz film, features eight jazz artists, most of them relatively unknown. They all died before reaching the age of 40. Actually, four of the eight died before reaching the age of 30! Seven died before 1944 and one died in 1956. The greatest jazz band in history has been playing in heaven for more than 50 years!
The film presents this band, organized in heaven, playing Stardust, “a tune recorded in heaven.” (They each recorded Stardust individually as a leader or sideman before they died. An audio engineer has been able to take some of each of these individual recordings and produce a beautiful version that can be heard in this film for the first time.)
When these men were chosen, serendipitously, by Howard E. Fischer, the producer, director and writer, he did not realize that they actually comprised what could be a functioning band – rhythm section (piano, drums, guitar and bass), two tenor saxes and two trumpets. Who are these men?
The rhythm section consists of Fats Waller, piano (died at 39 in 1943); Charlie Christian, guitar (died at 25 in 1942); Jimmy Blanton, bass (died at 23 in 1942); and Chick Webb, drums (died at 34 in 1939) who was not available for this recording (he never recorded this tune), so Big Sid Catlett sat in for him. The two tenors are Herschel Evans (died at 29 in 1939) and Chu Berry (died at 33 in 1941). The two trumpeters are Bunny Berigan (died at 33 in 1942) and Clifford Brown (died at 25 in 1956).
The film also presents one piece of music each artist recorded that highlights his great talents. Interspersed is biographical information, expert commentary, photos and other material related to each. The film introduces these musicians and their music in the hope that more people will explore their music and learn about their lives. In addition, as an important aspect of the film, music historians talk about how the musicians’ lifestyles contributed to their deaths and how they died. At the end of the film a scroll lists about 20 other jazz musicians who died before the age of 40.
Additional funding is needed to complete the film.
More information about the film can be found on Kickstarter, a funding platform -