July 23, 2012

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!


Cline Cellars Wine & Jazz Festival 2012

July 23, 2012

There is a plethora of jazz festivals. Sacramento used to be the Holy Grail of jazz festivals – at least for traditional jazz musicians such as myself. However, that festival has changed and is no longer one of the premier traditional jazz festivals, in my humble opinion. However, Bay Area traditional jazz lovers do not have to mourn, as there is a wonderful jazz festival in the Bay Area – at the Cline Cellars Winery in Sonoma. The festival was begun almost twenty years ago by Fred Cline and Ken Keeler, who leads the Devil Mountain Jazz Band and has been going strong ever since. Unlike many festivals, it is solely a traditional jazz and ragtime festival – no zydeco, or other forms of music. Swing music is considered to be acceptable, however.

This year I had the honor of performing at the festival with the Fog City Stompers. I was substituting on tuba and it was a wonderful day. The weather was perfect and the lineup of bands was exemplary. In addition to Fog City, the festival featured Natural Gas, Devil Mountain, Golden Gate Rhythm Machine, Jambalaya Big Swing Band and the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra. In addition, there were some solo performers such as Marty Eggers, Virginia Tichenor, Ray Skjelbred, Frederick Hodges, Bob Hirsch and Tom Brier.

The festival is very well laid-out, with three separate venues – the Barrel Room, the Mission and the Great Lawn. Each venue is far enough from the others that there is virtually no overlap of sound and each venue is prepared with plenty of chairs, as well as a dance floor for those attendees who wish to kick up their heels. Food is available and there is plenty of space for children to run – it is a very family-friendly festival.

Fog City began the day in the Barrel Room. This is the most dangerous room for a band as the accoustics take some getting used to. This is also where the bands are recorded, so it is incumbent on the musicians to ensure that they are in tune and well-balanced. We were the first group and so we had a little bit of trial and error to reach our preferred balance, but the set went well and the audience seemed appreciative. We then moved on to the Mission. This is the smallest venue and the furthest from the main buildings. Here we followed the Natural Gas Jazz Band. Fog City plays a lot of the original Bix Beiderbecke arrangements, and we did a Bix-only set here – every tune was an original Bix arrangement. This was probably our best set – we really were in a groove. Our final set was on the Great Lawn and we cut loose a little bit, to the audience’s pleasure.

Once our sets were done, we stayed to listen to some of the other groups, being fortunate enough to catch Ken Brock’s Jambalaya Big Band in the Barrel Room. They are a really fun group and they really had the dancers going. Wonderful music. The Fog City trombonist Jeff Walton was playing with Jambalaya and he did a wonderful job.

The sun was slipping slowly over the horizon as we finally left Cline. A wonderful day and I cannot recommend the festival highly enough. If you love traditional jazz played by fine musicians in a lovely venue, don’t miss the Cline Cellars Wine & Jazz Festival! And we’ll hope to see you in 2013.