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Chops: Secrets of the Slide Trumpet

Steven Bernstein explains the ins and outs of an esoteric instrument

Steve Bernstein
Steven Bernstein with his custom Dick Akright slide horn (photo: Alan Nahigian)

In late June, at the club Nublu in Manhattan’s East Village, I sidled up to the musician and bandleader Steven Bernstein at the bar. I said hello and explained that I needed to interview him for an article on the slide trumpet, that obscure brass instrument he’s long been synonymous with. I wasn’t rolling tape, but I’m sure his response went like this: “Oh, man—that is the worst idea for an article I’ve ever heard!” I added that this harebrained concept was among the last story ideas I’d come up with as editor of JazzTimes. Wait for the punch: “No wonder they fired your ass.”

But Bernstein, 56, was smiling and chuckling all the while. (And let the record show that I quit.) You could make a very strong argument that he’s the funniest living person in jazz, and he’s certainly among the music’s few true characters—a torch carrier for Nat Hentoff’s edict that the golden-age jazzmen he knew could have existed in a novel. He’s also a rare musician whose ax channels his personality absolutely, emitting all manner of chortles, wails, and bleeps, not to mention plenty of beautiful melodic playing, touched up with a faintly shimmering vibrato.

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Originally Published

Evan Haga

Evan Haga worked as an editor and writer at JazzTimes from 2006 to 2018. He is currently the Jazz Curator at TIDAL, and his writing has appeared at RollingStone.com, NPR MusicBillboard and other outlets.