Road Chops

May 10th, 2010

Sometimes playing the trumpet can be hard. Every day you essentially start from scratch on the thing; building as sturdy of a structure as you can from the raw materials of air, vibration, embouchure and neuro-muscular control. It’s a highly psychological instrument as well, a “mirror of the mind” in the phrase of the great trumpet teacher and theorist Prof. William Fielder. Being a professional means you make it work even when you aren’t quite feeling it physically or mentally, and not wearing your unease with the instrument on your sleeve. If you’ve developed that ability, I think you can appreciate even better when things are going well with your relationship with the horn. Sometimes this can happen in the stability and regularity of your home base and familiar surroundings. At other times, the dyanmics of travel and change can make it come to you. When you’re playing a lot and you can keep it fresh, you occasionally get to a place where it almost feels natural to play the trumpet. That is what I would call “road chops”.

My Milwaukee visit had me practicing in a very familar environment indeed, Room 5 in the basement of the Wisconsin Conservatory Of Music, my alma mater. I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours in that room in my formative years, practicing and playing, so it’s a pretty cool feeling being back in there doing my thing! The concert with Charles McPherson was great; McP was in typically great form and was truly taking no prisoners! A challenge and an exhilerating experience to try to hang with him on the bandstand, just as it was 30 years ago when I first played with him as a youngster in San Diego. That’s the sort of thing that will get your attention and let you know where you are at for sure! I also enjoyed playing tunes the next night at the Jazz Estate with fellow trumpeter Eric Jacobson, a fine player and good cat. I had a lot of fun on that gig with my main man, pianist Mark Davis, who was also on the WCM concert and directs the jazz program there. He’s a wonderful, swinging player with all the right stuff.

After the hang at the Jazz Estate, it was an early morning flight to Seattle and a busy day; two rehearsals and the start of a two day residency at Tula’s, the local mainstay jazz club. My good friend (and great jazz trumpeter) Tom Marriott had hooked this up, one night with a fine local trio playing my quartet book (Marc Seales, piano; Jeff Johnson, bass; Matt Jorgenson, drums) and the next with the Jim Cutler Jazz Orchestra, performing my big band charts and other compositions by Jim and other members of the band.

Going right from the plane to the rehearsal; grabbing a quick warmup at the soundcheck; running down a night’s worth of music with a new band in one hour: if you can make it work like that, you will indeed get road chops!

I’m off for a couple of days down in San Diego visiting my folks, then back up to Seattle to play with EP (Eddie Palmieri).

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