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Clark Terry, Terence Blanchard, Ron Miles & Doc Cheatham: Brass Fantasy

Doc Cheatham
Terence Blanchard
Ron Miles
Ron Miles (photo: Richard Peterson)
Clark Terry

Around Christmas, 1991:

“Yeaaah,” Dizzy Gillespie says to me, fingering the valves of his trumpet. “When she gets broken in a few weeks down the road, this is going to be a nice horn.”

“Sounds like she blows real easy, Diz,” I say.

He fixes me with a stagey stare. “Sheeeeet. Ain’t none of them blows easy.”

This is a chimerical colloquium, a gathering that took place outside the space-time continuum. In this session we are privileged to hear from two of the boldest young voices among contemporary trumpeters, Ron Miles (RM) and Terence Blanchard (TB); reigning master and tribal elder Clark Terry (CT); and a representative of the greater oral tradition, speaking on behalf of the ephemeral, the eternally graceful Doc Cheatham (DC). As we went to press, Brother Gabriel was off fishing with Brothers Armstrong and Bowie and was unavailable for comment.

Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton (Verve) proved to be the elegant Mr. Cheatham’s swan song, a cross-generational evocation of classic jazz stylings that allowed the elder statesman and the gifted young Payton to pay tribute to Louis Armstrong, the New Orleans tradition, the trumpet and each other.

Now approaching 80, trumpet innovator Clark Terry has made countless recordings as a leader and sideman, both in small combos and as valued soloist in the leading big bands of the past 60 years. From a classic Verve session, such as Oscar Peterson Trio + One: Clark Terry (featuring his jocular scatting on “Mumbles” and “Incoherent Blues”), to One on One, the inspiring set of 14 piano/trumpet-flugelhorn duets he recorded in Dec. 1999 for Chesky, the master’s voice and conception grows ever richer and more profound.

Terence Blanchard first established himself as a rising young trumpet star through his work with one of Art Blakey’s finest ’80s editions of Jazz Messengers, and having of late established himself as first-rate film composer, the New Orleans native has finally returned to his first love, fronting a superb modern jazz combo on Wandering Moon (Columbia).

While Denver native Ron Miles first garnered international attention as a member of The Bill Frisell Quartet (Nonesuch), and as the musical director for drummer Ginger Baker’s imposing postmodern aggregation on Coward of the County (Atlantic), Miles proved himself a supremely original solo voice and a fearless composer-arranger, even as Ron Miles Trio (Capri) showcases his adventurous touch in a chamber setting.

Terence Blanchard: You know, we can sit and speak about mouthpieces and horns, but the bottom line is that it is just a tool. I mean, during my first lesson my teacher asked, “What is a trumpet?” And I came up with all of these answers, and he said, “No, that’s wrong. The trumpet is a mirror of the mind.” And that’s the way I’ve always approached it. I hear people talk about mouthpieces, and all of those things certainly play a role in getting a tone, getting a sound. But for me, I’m always trying to better my part of it, the human part. Developing my muscles and also my brain to respond to music in particular and not just think in brass terms-it’s about the musical idea. And that’s what you’re trying to get to, that’s the whole notion of being free. And while some instruments do respond to the musician better than others, you always have to be on a personal sojourn, trying to figure out what it is that you like.

Ron Miles: I have like a closet full of mouthpieces. I must have like 50 mouthpieces that I’ve played at one time or another, and what’s really freakish is that they’re all about the same size. They’re just slightly different, where you’re looking for that little bit of edge to get something going. Whereas nowadays, I’ll just pick up my horn and play it and I don’t even think about mouthpieces. Because there’s no point in thinking about it. And it makes me realize how much time I wasted in my youth looking for the magic mouthpiece, and realizing that the problem wasn’t the mouthpiece-the problem was me.

Doc Cheatham: Mouthpieces are very mysterious-none of ’em are the same. You got sizes. You go through millimeters. You drive yourself crazy. Like what kind of rim do you like to use? Some people like flat rims, some people like cushioned rims. Some like a medium backbore. Some people like a wide backbore. Some people don’t know what the hell they like! That’s the way it is with me. I don’t know what I like now [laughter]. Some people like a wide cup-Louis’ first mouthpiece was pretty wide on his cornet. I know some people have a narrow cup. Some people have shallow cups; some people have deep cups. Then, what is the throat like? You got a number of openings. And then the backbore-the under part of the cup-they’re all different. Now Louis, when he first started, he had a 30-something throat, and I don’t know how he did it.

JazzTimes: Once in talking with Nicholas Payton, the way he described the cup on Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues” mouthpiece made it sound as big as a soup bowl.

Ron Miles: Yeah, I believe it! And Miles Davis played on that Heim mouthpiece, which is also like a really, really deep cup. And again, I think that kind of mouthpiece was what a lot of us were searching for. Only Holton wasn’t making that mouthpiece at the time. Now they do. I believe that Wallace Roney plays on that kind of big cup mouthpiece. And Clark Terry, too. I think he plays on that kind of V-shaped cup thing. When I was coming up, it was something that we all heard about, but nobody made anything quite like it, and the [Vincent] Bach mouthpiece was something that seemed to be the closest thing to it. Before I got my Monette Raja [Samadhi Nirvikalpa trumpet], which has an integral mouthpiece, I always used Bach mouthpieces. A pretty big one, something similar to a 1C for a long time, and then sometimes I would change over to a different company but they were all basically like a Bach 1C or

11/4 C. Kind of a symphonic cup.

JazzTimes: So the jazz as opposed to the symphonic mouthpiece is employed more for inflection and less for articulation?

Ron Miles: I think it’s for a sound that’s a little darker and richer as opposed to zingy. It wasn’t a zingy type of mouthpiece at all. Like lead players would use shallower cups. But the interesting thing that I recall from when I took a lesson from Lester Bowie is that he used a very shallow cup, and yet he got a very dark sound. Of course he was a freak of nature, God bless him-there’ll never be another one like him again.

Clark Terry: Miles just loved the Heim mouthpiece that Joe Gustav [a top teacher and symphonic player in St. Louis] insisted all of his students play, even though Miles was one of the few trumpeters in St. Louis who didn’t study with Joe. A wafer-thin mouthpiece; deep, but it was curlicued outside and it was a bowl. So Miles would always have me running around hunting for Heim mouthpieces. See, my chops were a little bit too thick to use those little curlicue thin mouthpieces, so I had to resort to something different. I got the mouthpiece I’m using now years ago. We were going through a thing here in New York, where most of the brass players had discovered that in the orchestra, all of the French horn mouthpieces were V-shaped-straight down and flat rimmed. You never saw a French horn mouthpiece with a bowl or cup-they all go straight down. So we came to the conclusion that this was far more conducive to what we were after than any other configuration: it’s good for longevity; it’s good for intonation; it’s good for range; it’s good for sound. So we decided to get into that, and Giardinelli fixed a couple of them up like mine, with a flat rim and a V-shape; and it’s comparable to somewhere between a #3 or a #5 Bach mouthpiece. And it seems to be a mouthpiece than almost any player can use. So we recommend something similar to that for students, because it gives you the flexibility and maneuverability to keep a nice range and a good sound. Some guys get on a versatile kick and they want to play higher than anybody so they have a mouthpiece with a thimble for a cup and a pinhole for the bore. It lets them play high, but then they can’t make a sound to match anybody else’s.

JazzTimes: Trumpeters used to tell me about how Cat Anderson had a trick mouthpiece. And I’d get kind of defensive. “Oh, yeah? Does he have a trick lip, too?”

Clark Terry: He had a trick everything [laughter]. A trick neck, a trick attitude. He was a strange cat.

Doc Cheatham: I sat beside Cat in a lot of big bands, and I never saw him switch mouthpieces. He’d keep his thumb over his cup, and switch mouthpieces like a magician. One time he stepped out somewhere, and we went into his dressing room. His horn was hanging on the wall, and he had a deep-cup mouthpiece, and that’s definitely not what he was using [laughter]. So we never had a chance to see his real mouthpiece. I never saw it and neither did anybody else. He was a genius.

Clark Terry: Well, he may have done that in his early years but I used to watch him, because I’d sit next to him, and I never saw him do that. He reached the point where he could do anything he wanted to do on one mouthpiece. And I don’t think anybody else in the world could make a sound on his mouthpiece, but him. And his lower register was big and his upper register was big, so he mastered that thing. A lot of guys who can take all sorts of deficiencies and make something positive out of them, like the trumpet player Byron Stripling. He plays all wrong-up under the lip, on the soft part of the lip-but instead of correcting his fault, he’s mastered it. And he plays great. He has a big sound and his range is fantastic, so he never bothered about changing the mouthpiece. I had a little friend from London who played almost like Byron and I couldn’t stand the sight of him [laughter]. So I asked him if he would give me two weeks to correct it. And I had him do what we call the tuck and roll, where you tuck both lips over the top of the teeth and then a little roll down to that area where you can make a buzz [makes a robust, eminently musical buzz sound]. Now, when you can make that buzz so that you can control it and put it right there [makes it dance up and down in identifiable scale tones and phrases, concluding with a low register descent] when you reach that point then you know you’re in the right area. But if you go too far over into the red part [makes indistinct flapping sound] you can’t make any upper notes. So it has to be close to center. Well, he did this for about two weeks without his horn, and then used his mouthpiece, then he put it in his horn and now he plays five notes higher, his tone is bigger and besides that, he won the honors of the little girl singer in the band [laughter].

Doc Cheatham: Well, Louis played along the side, didn’t he? I was reading in a book that he’s the only trumpet player in the world who plays with an open lip. That’s why he always used that handkerchief-for the saliva that comes out. I’ve got two big pictures of him with his horn and the sides of his lips are open! As a guy told me in Germany, they made the horns before they made the books [laughter]. Like sometimes if you’re playing a passage on your horn, it’s easier to do it with the first valve or the open valve, because it’s closer to the next sound. Louis always played his A’s with the middle valve, because he could do it faster. So it comes down to whatever you think. If it’s right for you, then it’s right-I don’t care how you play it.

Clark Terry: About the time Dizzy first came through St. Louis with his big band, the board of education was cracking down on teachers with all of these kids who idolized people like Dizzy and Harry James. So they went to Harry and Dizzy and told them that every kid was puffing out their jaw. So Harry, bing, he just quit right away and just played-he was phenomenal, just a phenomenal trumpet player-and he stopped puffing his cheeks and yet he could play the same way as before. And so when Dizzy came to St. Louis they asked me to take him down to Joe Gustav, who was a very domineering type of personality who would scare the hell out of you. “Play something for me!” And Dizzy went [sings a boppish descending phrase]. So he was walking away when Dizzy played that, and he whirled around and said, “Do that again.” And Dizzy did something even more spectacular. So he says, “Play me some eighth notes,” and Dizzy says bip-bip-bip-bip. “Faster!” and Dizzy goes bipbip-bipbip-bipbip-bipbip. And each note his jaws would fill out like a bladder. And Gustav says, “How long have you been doing that?” So Birks looked down and said, “Well, I’m sorry G, but I’ve been doing this all my life.” And Joe said, “Well, you just keep doing it-now get the hell out of here!”

JazzTimes: Clark, when you were making all of those different sounds, I was thinking of how you described the French horn mouthpiece, and a lot of their training involves controlling the tone without the valves, a practice going back to the ancient horns.

Clark Terry: Sure, that’s exactly the same principle that we use on the bugle [makes long, complex phrases with his chops alone] without valves. As a matter of fact that’s why there are so many good Mexican trumpet players-what do you call them cats, the mariachis? They were taught to use the mouthpiece long before they were allowed to touch their horn. So that’s why you never hear of any of them Spanish or Mexican players having trouble with single, double or triple tongues. They always have excellent articulation, and that’s because they were taught to master the mouthpiece first.

Doc Cheatham: I’d rather have a good mouthpiece than a horn. You know, years ago, you’d buy a horn with a stock mouthpiece that was pretty good, like a Buescher or Conn. But they got a lot of guys around here makin’ mouthpieces, they don’t know what they doin’. You should see some of the mouthpieces I got. I just throw ’em out-they no good. Instead of a tone, there’s a buzz.

JazzTimes: It seems to me as thought the older generation, connected as you are to the oral tradition, have much more personal, evocative ways of extending on the so-called legitimate tone while still maintaining a pure bel canto focus to your sound.

Clark Terry: Well, that’s one of the things where we have a lot of difficulty teaching students. To find the center pitch of their tone-the center of their tone-and to be able to maneuver. This is one of the lessons that we were taught by the old timers that are not in the books. They used to say, “Son, you’ve got to go back home and learn how to bend that note.” Which means coming from below [sings upward bend] and find that pitch before you vibrate or go down to it [sings a downward slide]-but maintaining the center of the pitch in your mind. It’s not an easy thing. It’s not nearly as easy as some people think it is. Look at Johnny Hodges. He could actually milk it, but he would always get to that pitch before he vibrated or changed.

JazzTimes: To me, Clark, you were always the Johnny Hodges of the trumpet, and what baffles me these days, is that you don’t see that many cats able to manipulate the horn in a manner that emulates all sorts of vocal effects.

Clark Terry: The reason being, Chip, is because not that many people are conscientious enough to teach kids from whence you come. So they don’t know for the most part about bending a note, finding that center pitch; they don’t know about moaning and what you call flips. Things that we learned from the old-timers, which are in no books, like shakes, fall-offs, rips, doinks, buzzes and things that were concocted by the older players. Because of the fact that most trumpet players of that period, who got involved years ago, they had no teachers, so they saw all of these instruments in the pawn shops that had been ostracized by the classical players, such as the cornet, and things like that. And there wasn’t much call for these types of instruments, so the pawn shops were loaded and cats saw these shiny instruments in the windows and they were self-taught. They didn’t know the proper place to place the mouthpiece on their lips-over on the right corner, on the left corner, over towards the upper lip, down towards the lower lip, almost on the cheek-and so they couldn’t produce a proper sound. They couldn’t produce a sound that was good enough to fit in a section and play a part with legitimate sounding players; sometimes their tones would be kind of tinny. So somehow they had to find a way to make their sounds more acceptable, so they began to do what we now call buzz, which simply means to hum as you produce your sound, which makes your sound bigger [produces a lip tone then adds a moaning sound an octave below, a la Slam Stewart]. Roy Eldridge used to play like that, and Vic Dickenson, even the saxophone players such as Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins-they all used that sound. So buzzing became a very important ingredient. Now not too many legitimate teachers would even bother to want their kids to know that shit. And I think it’s very important that they do know it. As well as the three areas of the tongue that are very, very valuable for producing different sounds: the tip of the tongue, which is a flutter; and the back of the throat is called a growl, like a dog; and then way down in the bottom is the hum. So you’ve got all three of those areas, which along with the manipulation of the plunger-another forgotten instrument-they can produce all sorts of wonderful sounds. Like the type of tonguing that is used, called the doodle system: a-e-i-o-u, in order to prevent the kids from reiterating the second syllable. The -dle in the word doodles, the last syllables are ghosted, they’re swallowed: d-dood. So it’s daadle, deedle, diidle, doodle duudle. And if they don’t learn to do that, they’re going to play dato, deto, dito, doto, duto. You want noodle soup, you don’t want noodo soup, because noodo soup don’t taste like noodle soup [laughter]. So these are some of the things that a few of us, some old folks who are still around, like to impart to the kids. And please believe me, it makes for a much better player when they couple that with the legitimate techniques.

JazzTimes: What sort of trumpets work best for jazz and classical?

Clark Terry: Some people like heavy horns for classical or jazz. Some like light, quick horns. Some like plated; some feel that the silver horns are more conducive to playing brassy-type sounds; other folks feel that gold gives the tone a darker character. I’m using a Martin Committee now. They gave it to me as a 75th birthday gift at the JazzTimes Convention. And so I’ve been using that religiously since then. As far as comparing them with classical-type instruments, they’re basically the same. It depends on what gets the best results for you. Wynton Marsalis all of a sudden feels that the mouthpiece should be continued through the rest of the horn and not detached. It wasn’t invented that way, but as the old saying goes, “Different strokes for different folks.”

Ron Miles: At that time, before all of these custom made horns, the Bach Stradivarius was just the finest trumpet you could get. And also, since it was the horn that everyone used in the symphony orchestras, it was the standard. Also, at that time, when I was coming up, they weren’t really making Martin Committees.

JazzTimes: Is the Martin Committee trumpet analogous to the Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone?

Ron Miles: Exactly. Everybody played on them, and they were legendary because they weren’t making them. It had a really dark timbre and a very nice upper register, and particularly when Dizzy was playing on that horn in the ’40s and the ’50s, I just thought his sound was glorious. And of course Miles Davis always had a great sound, and Art Farmer, too. And it also had this other kind of color that you could elicit from it that to me was always a little warmer than the Bach Stradivarius color. Also, at the time I came up I was playing a lot of classical music and you couldn’t really show for the symphony playing a Martin Committee. That wasn’t heard of. And Bach’s had a very nice ring and projection to them that was really great. I got a Martin later, but I gave it to a student who is actually playing it; once I got the Monette it felt strange to have this Martin just sitting around. But he lets me use it from time to time. I actually played it on a few tracks on Bill Frisell’s most recent recording project.

JazzTimes: What are some other popular horns that people play?

Ron Miles: I know that Bobby Shew plays a Yamaha, but I’m not aware of any other guys. In a way, they’re kind of like Bach copies, only without the quirkiness, which is why I don’t care for Yamahas-because I like the quirkiness of a Bach. Yamahas are almost too perfect. The seem kind of cold to me. And the Martin Committee is very popular now. I’ve heard Wallace Roney playing on one, and Mark Isham, who plays a Monette mouthpiece but on a Martin trumpet, which seems like a popular direction, as they’re well made and have a sound that a lot of people like. The Schilke has always been a real popular one. I think he was a little younger than Vincent Bach, and I believe they were located in Chicago, and were one of the first really custom-y kind of horns. They had a lot of nice features. They were one of the first horns to tune at the bell instead of at the lead pipe; there’s like a bum that happens when the air goes into the lead pipe, whereas he was able to kind of tune at the bell, which was a really radical thing to do. Some people like it a lot, and some people will say customize a Bach to have a Schilke tuning slide. And their little horns are great; almost everyone plays on the Schilke Piccolo and E-flat horns. I’m pretty sure that the classical recordings Wynton did are on the Schilke Piccolo or the Schilke E-flat trumpet, like for Haydn.

JazzTimes: What other horns do you have in your arsenal?

Ron Miles: I have a Selmer balanced trumpet, which is one where the valves are closer to the bell, so it’s balanced in that way. Louis Armstrong played on one of those for a long time and so did Harry James, and I really love that horn a lot. I have a Pepper cornet, which is from the turn of the century. A Holton cornet, which is from around 1910. A Scherzer rotary valve piccolo trumpet. And I have a Endsely Natural trumpet, which is like a copy of a baroque trumpet with no valves, pitched in D. And a corneto, which is an older instrument, fingered like a recorder, but has a trumpet-like mouthpiece on it. I used to play a lot of that music, and I still practice on it, but I don’t get to perform on it. I do like trumpets, I must say.

JazzTimes: How is the cornet really different? Different tubing?

Ron Miles: The cornet is more conical in the bore, which means that it expands to a full body, as opposed to the trumpet which is more cylindrical throughout, the same throughout until you get to the bell section where it starts to flare out. Which is why the trumpet is a little brighter. The blow is really nice. It’s a different kind of blow rather than an easier one. It’s softer. Flugelhorns are also conical in that way, which is why I think that people like them. I’ve never really been drawn to the flugelhorn. I have a Selmer Signet flugelhorn, which I used to play all the time, but when I did I felt like my trumpet articulation got really sloppy.

Clark Terry: What made me choose the Selmer flugelhorn was that it sort of made me go back to the days when the Jimmie Lunceford Band used to play flugelhorns-all of the guys in the section would from time to time, just to change the mood. One of those flugelhorns is still around. Sy Oliver had one, and he passed. And that reminded me of going back to get this type of sound. So much so, I used to put felt hats over the bell of my trumpet to sort of get that sound, close to that sound. And we had a chance to do it. We worked with Keith Ecker, who was a technical adviser for brass to Selmer, and we put together a horn in his basement while drinking his homemade red wine [laughter]. And put it together and sent it off to Paris, and they checked it out mechanically and made sure it was okay, then they gold-plated it and sent it back to me. The flugelhorn is actually in the cornet family in that it’s conical shaped from the receiver straight through to the bell; gradually gets bigger all the way through the bore both ways. Whereas the trumpet goes one bore until it passes through the valves, and then it flanges at the beginning of the bell.

JazzTimes: So that would account for the brilliance of the trumpet and the mellowness of the flugelhorn.

Ron Miles: Absolutely. Right.

JazzTimes: Is there any difference in terms of blowing into flugelhorns in terms of air pressure.

Ron Miles: Oh, yes. It has been said that they’re illegitimate scales, so you can’t blast ’em; you can’t overblow them; you have to be very, very tender-you can’t be too cruel with them [laughter]. You have to be very careful, because they can very easily be played out of tune if you don’t know how to use the tuning slide. It took us years of really serious research on the flugelhorn to figure out that you need to tune each pump instead of in one spot with the tuning slide. And the tuning slide on the flugelhorn is in the leader pipe; as you enter the mouthpiece into the receiver, then after you’ve made your regular tuning, you tune each pump, each slide individually and pull them into a position where it’s more conducive to you to make the notes that you want using that combination of valves…in tune. So the minute you see a flugelhorn player, unless he’s been doing it for a long time, playing with all of these pumps-middle valve, first valve and third valve-not being altered somewhat or tuned, you can almost bet he’s going to play out of tune. It’s sort of like a violin or a trombone. Each little position may be marked-first, second, third, fourth-and if you go to the second position and it’s a little bit flat, you’re going to pull up a little bit with your lip or your slide; the violin the same thing. What might be an A on the violin for one player, might be a wee bit sharp or flat for another player. So they have to adjust according to their articulation, manipulation and their ear. So there’s a whole lot of things that go into producing one tone [laughter]. On the flugelhorn, the violin, any instrument.

JazzTimes: What is it that’s so special about David Monette’s trumpets?

Ron Miles: I think the thing that’s really so striking about the Monette Raja is that he’s really the first person to change the design of the trumpet radically since the old French Besson of the early 20th century, which is what Bach and Schilke and everybody kind of modeled their trumpets around, in my opinion. He did a couple of things. First, he went back to using a two-piece bell, instead of a one-piece bell. From what I gather, it was really too hard to make a perfect bell flare out of one piece. And so Monette felt like the two-piece bell was really the best way; and Martin Committee’s employ a two-piece bell-you can see the seam clearly on those trumpets. Also, he began to experiment with mass in different ways, and eventually he was able to also change the design of the mouthpieces with links that corresponded to the pitch of the trumpet-to make the horn play in tune from the top to the bottom.

Terence Blanchard: They have a very thick sound. There’s a core to the sound that’s really very wide. The thing that’s interesting, at least for me, the first time I picked a Monette Raja up years ago I felt right away that finding the center on every note was very easy. There’s not much resistance to the horn, but you have to produce a lot of air to produce a tone on it. But the thing that I love about it, is that you can control the sound; you can get a dark sound or sometimes, if you open up on it, you can get a very brilliant brassy type of sound. But the thing that’s interesting about it is while there are all those variations in the timbre, it still falls within the context of a Monette sound.

Ron Miles: The weight took some adjustment. The first month I had my new Raja, my neck would be kind of sore, my back would be kind of sore, my hand. What I found is that’s because my posture was so bad. Having such a heavy horn made me realize how inefficient I was playing and how badly I was standing.

Terence Blanchard: There’s a lot of thick bracing on the horn between the slides and the curves on each end-you don’t want the sound to get lost in the vibrations of the tubing before it hits the bell. And I think that the bracing is there to deaden the vibration of the horn-but the bell rings like crystal, and gives it that unique kind of tone. And the integral mouthpiece design is just key. I think you tend to lose a lot when the mouthpiece is detachable. You gain a lot in sound by making it all one piece.

JazzTimes: You know, obviously it’s the human being who is the true instrument, but on the other hand, having a such an intimate relationship with a great instrument is inspiring in that it eliminates all of your excuses.

Ron Miles: Exactly, and it does have this thing to the sound, a light fuzziness-an aura, I guess-that kind of hovers around the sound that is really quite beautiful. I can’t tell you how much I love my Monette. I heard Terence play on a Raja last year, and he was just unbelievable. He plays so much trumpet. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a very engaging, warm sound. Even when I heard the symphonic guys playing Mahler, it had this thing about it that was very present. And I always tried to attain that quality on a Bach horn, and while I liked the sound, I couldn’t quite get it.

Doc Cheatham: There are no other horns like the [original] Vincent Bach horns. They never found another metal like that. They never found nothin’ like that. You know, Vincent Bach was a good friend of mine. He’s from Austria. I used to go see him once a week, and we would talk a lot about horns. And he told me that during the war, he’d send people out to gather up metal from exploded bombshells. And that’s what he started making horns out of. And they were out of sight. Now [Vincent Bachs] don’t sound right. You thumb ’em up on the bell and you hear plunk-plunk. You don’t hear a ring or nothin’ [laughter]. They’re made well, but they’re not the same-like the new cars.

JazzTimes: So what sort of horn do you play, Doc?

Doc Cheatham: I have a Vincent Bach trumpet [laughter]. What are you going to do? You got to play something. I’m doing the best I can with it [laughter]. You’ve got to take a chance of going through a whole lot of horns to find one that you like. I got the lousiest mouthpiece out there. Irving Stokes give me this thing-it must be 50 years old, and it’s the smallest mouthpiece I ever tried to play. And it’s sort of deep. And it has a brassy quality to it. And that’s what I’m using now. That’s the way it goes. Play some blues. Dirty-ass mouthpiece. Scratched up. Small. You get up on the bandstand with a lousy mouthpiece and you sound better than you think you would sometimes.

Terence Blanchard: You know, playing the trumpet is a daunting task. I mean, you cannot be lazy and play that instrument. You cannot pick it up and blow some riffs and think that you are going to have the kind of results you want. It is physically demanding. It takes a lot of resilience and strength just to play something that sounds very even, and smooth and simple.

Doc Cheatham: It’s all up to you and how you feel. I tell you what. If I had it to start all over again, I would never pick the trumpet. Never!

Originally Published