A Friendly Friday Trumpet Battle

Some fun old footage with Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Ted Buckner and Bill Coleman. Enjoy!

Building a “Trendy” Dream Big Band Part 1 of 2

I recently made a post talking about trendiness in jazz, and in previous posts I constructed my own personal dream big band, consisting of my favorites of all time, living or deceased.

I’ve decided to mix the two. I’ve created a big band that consists of living musicians that I consider to be some of the trendiest or hippest or most visible musicians today. Just like my original dream big band posts, this is purely my opinion, and no doubt every person out there might construct something different (which is why I always ask for you to post yours).

That being said, enjoy (or hate) this grouping of musicians that I think are doing what it takes to keep jazz entertaining, edgy, fun, exciting, trendy, hip, etc., etc., etc. In part 1, the trumpets and saxes!

The Trumpets

Lead Trumpet: Arturo Sandoval

Arturo is still the big name these days in screaming trumpet players. It is rare to attend a show of his and not be a part of a excited, roaring audience.

Watch Arturo Sandoval play Groovin’ High:

Second Trumpet: Wynton Marsalis

I don’t know if it helped or hurt his “trendiness rating” by recording with Willie Nelson recently, but appearances on shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report still make him the most visible jazz musician alive.

Wynton’s trendiness shown in an IPod ad:

Third Trumpet: Roy Hargrove

Roy represented all trumpeters in 2008 with an album that was likely the best jazz album of the year. Always with a hip band and getting better all the time.

Hargrove’s solo on Impressions with Herbie Hancock and Michael Brecker:

Fourth Trumpet: Terence Blanchard

This guy oozes cool. Someone who absorbed every minute he spent with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and made his trendiness known by writing and recording scores for multiple Spike Lee films.

Terence in Tokyo 2005:

Fifth Trumpet: Nicholas Payton

He has a tendency to become your favorite trumpet player after you see him perform live. He is extremely versatile and his recordings show a wide range of talents.

Watch Nicholas Payton play Bags Groove:

The Saxes:

1st Alto: Kenny Garrett

Whatever it was that he picked up from working with Miles Davis, I’m happy he did. He is extremely inventive and entertaining, and has managed to soak up some of that edginess from Miles in the 80’s.

Kenny playing Wayne’s Thing:

2nd Alto: Maceo Parker

So what if he advertises himself at 98% funk and 2% jazz? Every band needs some funkiness (Just ask James Brown when Maceo was his music director). His shows are as entertaining as it gets.

Watch Maceo Parker perform Pass the Peas:

1st Tenor: Branford Marsalis

Although he might have been considered a little bit dry during his short run as Jay Leno’s band leader on the Tonight Show, it was network exposure of a great jazz musician, earning him trendy points. He also continues to produce some of the most artistic albums in modern jazz.

Branford shows off his trendiness playing Roxanne with Sting:

2nd Tenor: Joshua Redman

The coolest man holding a sax these days, and maybe the smartest. The Ivy League grad has put out some of the coolest recordings in the last decade.

Joshua Redman and Stevie Wonder pay tribute to Duke Ellington:

Baritone Sax: Ronnie Cuber

A ton of power and energy. No wimps in this all star band!

Ronnie plays Filthy McNasty:

The rest of the band next time!!!

Building a Dream Big Band Part VI: The Bandleader – A Stunning Conclusion

Well it all comes down to this. The musicians are in place. All that they wait for now is some direction.

If you haven’t read any of the previous “Dream Big Band” blogs, let me fill you in. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve pieced together my own personal dream big band, section by section. Five trumpets, four trombones, five saxes, guitar, bass, piano, drums, male vocalist, and female vocalist. The only criteria for musicians to make this band is that I personally would want to see these people up on stage, all together, at one time. Alive or dead, it doesn’t matter.

LET ME REPEAT: this is not a “Top 10” or “Best Ever” list. It is simply who I would get the most joy out of seeing on stage at the same time. While I have received lots of positive comments on the band, I have also heard from others who disagree with some of my selections. I completely encourage everyone to share who they might like to see in their own dream big band…in fact I would enjoy it. The wonderful thing about jazz is that there has been so many great musicians that there is no way that one persons dream band would look the same as another persons band. If one legend of jazz is not selected, it should not be considered a slap in a face to the legacy of that musician. Just a personal preference. That is exactly what makes this project fun and interesting, as opposed to trying to make it an exact science. And I hope it has encouraged you to think about your dream big band, and who might participate in it. And again, thanks so much for your feedback.

Here is how the band was sectioned together:


Lead: Arturo Sandoval

2nd Chair: Wynton Marsalis

Third Chair: Freddie Hubbard

Fourth Chair: Miles Davis

Fifth Chair: Thad Jones

Trombones (selected by former KPLU host Troy Oppie):

Lead: Bob Burgess

Second Chair: Frank Rosilino

Third Chair: Al Grey

Bass Trombone: Bill Hughes


First Alto: Charlie Parker

Second Alto: Cannonball Adderley

First Tenor: Michael Brecker

Second Tenor: John Coltrane

Baritone Saxophone: Cecil Payne

The Rhythm Section:

Guitar: Charlie Christian

Piano: Herbie Hancock

Bass: Jaco Pastorius

Drums: Jack DeJohnette


Female Vocalist: Carmen McRae

Male Vocalist: Lou Rawls

And now, the bandleader.

I probably pick, and then scratched of the list a dozen or so leaders, and more or less for all the same reason. If they were the band leader, as legendary as they might be, would the band sound original, or would it sound just like the band of that leader? For example, if I picked Count Basie, would it just be the Basie Band with a bunch of charts by Nestico and Hefti? Same thing if I picked Duke Ellington or Benny Goodman. If I pick Glenn Miller, is this all-star band limited to playing charts from the late 30’s to early 40’s like Tuxedo Junction or In the Mood? Buddy Rich might be a reasonable option, but there is always the chance that he would fire the entire band on the tour bus before it showed up to the show (because, well, it has happened before).

One of the things that made the previously mentioned band leaders great is the fact that their band had its own unique, identifiable style. With the versatility of the band I constructed, I wanted someone different, someone who wasn’t necessarily defined by an era, or a band that was defined by a certain sound. I also wanted someone no one else would think to pick. And so, my band leader is:

Band Leader: Doc Severinsen

doc-severinsenDid anyone see that one coming? Sure, laugh, but how much fun would that be? And don’t think that Doc doesn’t have his credentials in order. Severinsen was likely the best know band leader and trumpet player in America for 25 years, heading up the band for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show, widely considered one of the best big band jobs ever. He’s recorded nearly every type of music, making him extremely versatile.

Doc’s experience with big bands is far from limited to television. Dating back to 1945, Doc was a featured musician with bands headed up by Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet, Benny Goodman, and Noro Morales, while also backing the likes of Dinah Washington and Anita O’ Day.

His album sales as a big band leader and as a small group leader have all proven well, including a Grammy win in the big band category. Bands he directed contained members with a vast background of big band experience, including Conte Candoli (Woody Herman, Stan Kenton), Snooky Young (Jimmy Lunceford, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis), Ed Shaughnessy (Charles Mingus, Benny Goodman), Ernie Watts (Buddy Rich, Oliver Nelson), Bill Perkins (Woody Herman, Stan Kenton), and Ross Tompkins (Benny Goodman).

And finally, Doc is a whole lot of fun. A flashy, bright (be it a tad tacky) wardrobe and sense of humor would make him a great leader for this or any band. Add the fact that he is a true trumpet virtuoso, it would be fun to see him pick up the horn and play a solo too. I’ll just mention that he also recorded with Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, Gene Krupa, Chris Connor, Tito Puente, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Ruth Brown, Bob Brookmeyer, Gil Evans, Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Smith, Stan Getz, Milt Jackson, Mundell Lowe, Billy Taylor, and Tony Bennett.

My band leader needs to have the ability to direct a top notch band with creative arrangements, entertain the audience between songs, and wear a flashy outfit. Doc has that all covered, and then some.

So that is the band. Check out videos from Doc Severinsen below, and look see a layout of the entire band. And dont forget to let me know who you would like to see in your band!

Watch Doc Severinsen conduct and play Stardust in this video:

Watch Doc and the gang team up with Buddy Rich for We’ll Git It:

Watch a fun little sampler of Doc performances, concluding with Doc playing for Ronald Reagan:

And finally, Doc leading a band, way back in 1965, playing Blues in the Night:

Building A Dream Big Band

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be piecing together, section by section, my ideal jazz big band. This band will be comprised simply of my favorites, and there are no requirements as to who may be a part of this band, including whether or not the musician is alive or dead. I encourage you to offer your opinion on how your dream big band might differ.

The band will consist of 21 members: five trumpets, five saxes, four trombones, piano, bass, drums, guitar, two singers, and a bandleader.

Today, I submit to you the trumpet section. Enjoy!

Lead Trumpet: Arturo Sandoval

A lead trumpet player has to be able to hit any high note with the same quality of tone as if he or she was playing middle range notes. Jazz virtuoso Arturo Sandoval was probably my easiest pick for this band. Arturo is easily the most versatile trumpet player in all aspects. Amazing tone, an unmatchable range, fast fingers, and technically perfect. A dream lead trumpet player for any band.

Watch Arturo Sandoval play Cherokee:

Second Trumpet: Wynton Marsalis

Second chair in a trumpet section is typically the featured soloist, so my second chair has to be extremely creative and entertaining. To me Wynton is as creative and interesting as it gets when playing a trumpet solo. He has been a featured soloist in nearly every band he has played in, which is why he sits in chair two as the sections featured soloist.

Watch Wynton Marsalis play Harmonique:

Third Trumpet: Freddie Hubbard

I have often credited Freddie Hubbard as my all-time favorite trumpet player. In his prime you could hear him solo for ten minutes and never hear him repeat a single lick. Freddie is the guy that could play a fast solo or a beautiful ballad…no matter the solo, you would never get bored.

Watch Freddie Hubbard play Straight Life:

Fourth Trumpet: Miles Davis

Traditionalists may hold it against me for seating Miles at fourth chair in this section, if for no other reason than his legend, but this is my band and this is where I seat him. Miles gives this section personality and genius. He might not play as high or as fast as the others, but his personality, sound and perspectives on improvisation truly perfect this trumpet section.

Watch Miles Davis play So What:

Fifth Trumpet: Thad Jones

I actually like this band with a four-piece trumpet section, with Thad stepping out on the stage to be featured on ballads on the flugelhorn. I still don’t know if there is a horn player who can play a ballad as sweetly as Thad Jones.

Watch Thad Jones play Only For Now from Suite For Pops 2:

So far, a great start to my dream band. Let me know what you think! And I hope you enjoyed the great recordings!

Next time, the trombone section.