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The Cornet: Secrets of the Little Big Horn

Is the cornet really the trumpet’s warmer, sweeter sister, or is it all in our head?

Photo of cornet
Photo of cornet

Many jazz trumpeters and cornetists are familiar with Herbert L. Clarke’s 1921 letter to Elden Benge. Clarke was then the most famous cornetist in the world, a star soloist in John Philip Sousa’s band and a writer of method books that are still standards today. Benge, who would go on to become a major soloist in his own right, was then a 16-year-old student in Iowa, weighing whether to switch from cornet to trumpet.

Clarke was strongly against it. “[T]he latter instrument is only a foreign fad for the time present, and is only used properly in large orchestras … for dynamic effects,” he wrote to Benge. “I never heard of a real soloist playing before the public on a Trumpet. One cannot play a decent song even, properly, on it, and it has sprung up in the last few years like ‘jaz’ [sic] music, which is the nearest Hell, or the Devil, in music.”

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