I am primarily a trombonist, though I have been playing a fair amount of tuba lately, as I have been substituting with Fog City on tuba. However, I obtained a 1917 Conn Wonder cornet from my friend a few months ago and have been working on my cornet chops, with somewhat indifferent success. However, I was asked to lead the jam sessions down at the South Bay Traditional Jazz Society this past weekend and as we never know who is going to attend, I was faced with the possibility of having to play the entire afternoon on cornet. Needless to say, this was not my preference.
But it proved to be an excellent incentive. I pulled out the cornet and spent the week practicing. I spent the majority of my time going over the tunes that we were planning to play on Sunday, but I also spent some time working on my technique as well. Long tones, scales, and so forth. By the time Friday rolled around, I was no longer apprehensive at the prospect of playing the entire afternoon on cornet, though I was still hoping for a reprieve.
Come Sunday, I arrived at the jazz society to discover that the wonderful Don Abel and Paul Hilton were both in attendance, making it unnecessary for me to play the entire afternoon on cornet. However, Paul also plays trombone, so I did use it for a few tunes in the first set, as we switched off – he played trombone on a few tunes and for those I mostly played cornet.
The experience was mostly positive and I was surprised to get a few compliments from the guest band, which featured two very fine cornetists in Dick Williams and Rick Holzgrafe. However, the experience has given rise to a few thoughts about the trombone/cornet double, which I will share.
Going back and forth between tuba and trombone is not too difficult. It is a workout, but it is definitely doable, as they are both fairly large mouthpieces and the player is able to adjust without putting to much of a strain on his or her embouchure. However, trumpet/cornet is an entirely different story. The embouchure is completely different for the cornet (and different again for trumpet) and so the player must really focus. Speaking solely for myself, I find that stamina is the most difficult issue. the smaller mouthpiece is much more tiring and it is very easy to use pressure, which of course is a Very Bad Idea for brass players! In addition, the exercise of transposing from bass clef concert to treble clef Bb is a workout – I am not nearly as comfortable with Bb treble as I ought to be. But the main problem is simply that the smaller mouthpiece and the tighter embouchure is really tough to stay fresh on – especially if one is also playing a larger bore instrument such as trombone. Stamina was a real difficulty and b the end of the first set, my chops were tired. I have nothing but respect for guys like Dick Williams and Rick Holzgrafe who can play entire jobs of two or three sets on the instrument!
However, the experience was very valuable and I enjoyed it. My next goal is to increase my stamina to be able to play leads on cornet for an entire two to three-hour gig. I’ll keep you posted on that goal – I’m not there yet!