In Door Ants
I get a number of emails inquiring about how I was able to build my chops up. So instead of answering each one individually, I thought that I’d speak a little on how I got to where I am in this blog. As I get older I realize in order to do what I have to do day in and day out, taking care of business, working, home duties, etc, I often find myself unable to answer all of the emails that I get daily. If I haven’t gotten back to you, please forgive me as it’s not done purposefully, I’m just too busy oftentimes to remember to respond and when I do respond, I’m usually long-winded. So I’ll try to make this short and to the point.
I’ll start by talking a little about my history of playing the trumpet. I started off playing in the 6th grade. I passed the “ear test” in 5th grade so I signed up for band going into the 6th grade because at the time it was the cool thing to do. My first choice was the saxophone, but because my last name ended with a “P” and saxophone was everyone first choice, I got stuck with my 2nd choice, the trumpet. My mom then went out and bought me a cornet, thinking it was a trumpet, so there I was.
In my band class throughout middle school (grades 6-8, in NC), the band classes were 60+ students, about 15 of which were trumpet players. We had monthly playing tests to see who would sit in the 1st chair. I was consistently the last chair all of 6th and 7th grade. After my 7th grade year going into the 8th I decided that summer to learn more about this piece of metal. I wanted to be able to actually play songs that I heard on the radio. So I spent that summer trying to learn the popular R&B songs that were playing on the radio. I quickly learned that the songs on the radio had different sounds and shapes to them (which I later found out to be keys) and that each song, in order to be played as it sounded on the radio, had to be played with a specific set of valve combinations. By the end of that summer, I had learned all of my major, dorian minor, and chromatic scales by ear. 8th grade year rolls around and I think to myself that I’m ready to make some music.
In my eighth grade year of band 2 significant things happened to me. First I made first chair of the all-city band in High Point, NC. It was a concert band of winds and percussion that consisted of the best students attending middle school in High Point. High Point’s a fairly big city so when this happened it was a boost to my confidence with the trumpet. The second thing that happened to me was towards the end of the school year a gentleman by the name of Mr. Morton visited our school to tell us about a music camp that was taking place in the summer. Mr. Morton turned out to be a great patron of jazz music and the local musicians that were on the scene in NC. The camp that he spoke about was a jazz camp that was named after saxophonist John Coltrane (who grew up in High Point as a kid). I attended that camp that year and that was my first introduction to jazz music. Two years would pass before I would being to study jazz music on my own.
Fast forward to my 9th and 10th grade years in high school. I was considered a quiet nerd who played the horn, and also had a deadly jumpshot. I was one of the best point guards in my region at the time and I was really starting to get into basketball. My high school won the state while I was there and I also played AAU. In the fall season I played trumpet in the marching band. Now that consisted of a lot of dancing and playing trumpet really LOUD. The result of those years of hard overblowing left me with a calloused lip (which I still have to this day).
My junior and senior years of high school found me more involved with music than with basketball. I eventually started attending the Greensboro Music Academy about 3 nights a week. There I was about to take private trumpet lessons, theory, and I also participated in a small jazz combo with a rhythm section and another trumpet player. I consider myself very fortunate to have started out playing with a small group that featured another trumpeter because now I’m really into that, where as there are not many trumpet players on the scene now that are. You see small groups with two saxophones, two trombones, but rarely two trumpets. Maybe that’ll change.
So I ended up being awarded a scholarship to New England Conservatory in 1997 to major in jazz trumpet performance. I was really excited to be in a big city, studying this music with peers who were just as enthusiastic as me to learn to play. So I go into my first lesson with my trumpet teacher and he asks me to play a C scale two octaves. So I play it and he notices some issues with my embouchure and suggests that I deal with them with his guidance. I essentially put all my trust and faith in him and I learned how to play the trumpet from scratch in the span of a year.
It was John McNeil who first introduced me to the Carmine Caruso technique in 1997. I’ve been doing it every day ever since. What was great about John’s teaching method was that he gave me exercises that catered to where I was chop wise at the time. He really took the time to monitor and document my progress from week to week. What was even more remarkable about my lessons with him was that he was able to deal with these issues in the lessons as well as issues in music. We spent a ton of time working on repertoire, dealing with playing with good time, playing a capella, dealing with substitute chord changes, analyzing transcriptions, intervallic modes, etc. I’ll always treasure my time with him and I consider him to be one of the premier trumpet instructors in jazz alive today.
The Carmine Caruso Techinique was the deal breaker for me. When I started to really get into this method I noticed a sudden ease in the effort it took for me to execute my musical ideas in a live situation for an extended period of time. This method assisted me in getting my muscles in sync involuntarily in order to play the trumpet with the least amount of effort. As soon as the results from doing these exercises everyday and really paying attention to the timing (and not the sound) of them started to kick in, all of my embouchure issues started to dissipate. The only issues that I noticed that were hindering my playing then were insufficient breathing and posture. I found those issues to be easier to deal with than the embouchure.
For me the Caruso Technique, coupled with hours of personal practice time, hitting up as many jam sessions, and playing with as many cats on the scene as I possibly could allowed me the opportunity to build and maintain my IN DOOR ANTS…..