Recently I acquired a 1937 Silvertone antique radio, after an idea I had to connect old radios with the modern day convenience of AirPlay and iTunes. I connected the line in to an Airport Express, thereby making the radio a veritable Airplay Speaker
1. The song should be recorded during a time in which analog and tube output was the only option. To hear a song in the original “format” as it were, where the only quality assurance done was with speakers using similar technology, is pure bliss. It’s exactly how the people who made it thought it sounded best. Of course, it wasn’t by choice, but the point is the artist or studio would reject recordings because they didn’t sound good in the analog medium. Perhaps a different choice would have been made if digital was available.(sidestepping the entire digital vs analog argument here..)
2. The song should exemplify a poignant moment in history either with when it was recorded, what it’s about or who the artist that recorded it was. It doesn’t have to be a well known song, but the artist should be one that recorded AND listened to(of course) their recordings(along with the general public who would pay to hear it) on analog equipment.
3. The song should invoke feelings of nostalgia. Not just feelings of being somewhere or of some point in time, but feelings of memory. Memories of your parents or grandparents and what it was like to be them when these songs were released. Or of old movies or various antiquities of the time.
Here they are in no particular order,
1 – “Isfahan” Duke Ellington, The Far East Suite, 1966
2 – “Begin the Beguine” Artie Shaw and his orchestra, 1938
I’ve been playing trumpet since I was 10. I remember at first wanting to play trombone or drums(like all 5th graders) but was convinced(probably because no one had been taking trumpet) by the band teacher, Mr Weiser, that trumpet actually would make a much better instrument for me because I had “thinner lips”. Hmm, aight. Are you saying my lips are thinner than Carl’s? Because they look the same to me.(Carl was going to play trombone)
Then in 6th grade I was granted braces on my teeth. Apparently, my teeth pre-braces(I hardly remember them) were in terrible form. Such terrible form that only undergoing such a prolonged torture that is the equivalent of chewing on tiny forks strung together with barbed wire could solve. I had to switch from trumpet to baritone, because playing trumpet with braces only results in pain and blood, even with this “wax” they gave me to pad the anti-tank structures attached to my teeth. I hated those 6 months.
So I switched to Baritone. The fingerings were the same and everything was in bass clef, which was fine because I’d already been taking piano. This lasted a few more years into 7th and 8th grade because, well, they needed a Baritone and I got to sit in the same section as my friend Carl. Ok.
In 9th grade I went back to trumpet and got a new horn. A lovely horn and wasn’t supposed to be a “student” model. I would use this horn for the next 15 years through college jazz band and wind ensemble, and all the touring and beer fights onstage with 3 Minute Hero. This horn now sits in my basement more or less to prove those things happened.
So today I play a different horn. One that I acquired about 6 years ago after being tired of playing on what felt like an amateur horn. I recall how the valves on this new horn were impressively smooth compared to the old one. As I write this I’m realizing that if I continue failing to get it cleaned, it too will become a fixture in the basement.
Theres a few things to remember when playing trumpet, and just like golfing, the more you think about them the less likely you are to do them correctly. First is that in order to play notes, with good tone, you have to know and think what they sound like in your head before you play them. The trumpet has 3 buttons to be used for 40+ notes. Unlike point and click piano and guitar, if you can’t sing the note or run, you absolutely cannot play it. (Guitar players will tell me they need to sing too and I agree to a point, but you can seriously pick up a guitar and play a scale with decent tone even if you’re tone deaf – trumpet, not so much)
Second and most controversial is you have to have a big ego. You’ll usually have the melody in a song(the part that gets stuck in peoples heads) and if it doesn’t come out louder and clearer than the other instruments(exceptions noted) the song is less great. It’s not drum kind of loud, or violin or bass instrument kind of loud, it’s a singing kind of loud. You shouldn’t blare it and bust a blood vessel in your eye(you’re doing it wrong) but you’ve gotta believe you have the most important part in the group; the part where you have to play so people know it’s the melody.
Now the odd part about the second thing is that if you think of yourself in this way, and thereby act this way, you will fail. There is ZERO room for the self-conscience in the trumpet section. If you’re the one to shine, you better not be distracted by thinking about how everyone thinks you’re a dick. Que Arturo Sandoval and his dramatic flob at the Grammy’s one year. Walking around expecting everyone to treat you like the Don will spell doom during the next set. You can’t be a dick and play good horn, be a nice person and think to yourself about how important it is to everyone else you play out. Think Louis Armstrong, the greatest all around trumpet player the world has ever known.
Third and last thing is to focus on having fun. There’s nothing quite like thinking and knowing you’re going to hit a home run and then actually hitting one because of it. If you’re pissy, or sad, or convinced it’s too difficult you’re going to miss the ball. The trumpet is a reflection of a bright shiny attitude that brims with can-do-it-ness and it wants to bring that out of you. It’s one of the few instruments designed and delivered to make sounds that sound fun.
Of course I say all this like I’ve mastered it and it’s all too easy for me to implement. It’s not. I have pissy, sad, distracted, low energy, misdirected chi days where playing trumpet is a joke. The biggest problem I have is soloing. Not just adlib soloing but anytime it’s just me playing, I physically prevent the horn from functioning as designed.
And so I write this as a message to myself and to anyone interested. What we do in life determines who we are, and being a trumpet player of 25 years has definitely influenced who I am.