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

Doc Cheatham
Terence Blanchard
Ron Miles
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.

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