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.”