Upcoming Performances

June 9, 2015

The past few months have been quiet on the musical front, but I do have some upcoming performances. The main one takes place on July 11, as I will be playing trombone and alto trombone with the Fog City Stompers for the annual Cline Wine & Jazz Festival. We will be performing two sets – the first at 1:10 PM in the Mission venue, and the second at 3:20 PM on the Great Lawn. Both of these venues offer plenty of seating, and lots of space for dancing. Fog City also will be performing on August 9 at the monthly meeting of the Napa Dixieland Society.

I also will be playing cornet with the Mission Gold Jazz Band at the Union City Veterans’ Home on June 20. This is a private event, but you can catch the band in September at the New Orleans Jazz Society of Northern California and in October at the Napa Dixieland Society.

You can always catch me with the East Bay Stompers every third Thursday at the Irvington location of Bronco Billy’s Pizza Palace in Fremont from 7-9 PM.


Alto Trombones

February 21, 2014

I came home from work a few days ago to find a large cardboard box in my front hall. Not expecting anything, I was mildly surprised until I noticed that the box had the word ‘Trombone’ prominently displayed on the side, just under the stickers marked ‘FRAGILE’. At that point I recalled my recent conversation with the guys at The Horn Guys. They import a JinBao-made alto trombone that they then sell under the name of ‘Meister Hans Stauffer’. In the course of that discussion, i had asked to have my name placed on the list for the next shipment of alto trombones. But I had not expected it to arrive so soon!

I unpacked the horn and proceeded to try it out. My initial comments are as follows:

  • The horn is very well-made. Finish is very good, and the laquer looks to have been applied in an even manner. I didn’t see any bad soldering, and the brass feels substantial – not too thin. The gold brass bell is particularly nicely made.
  • The tone is very respectable – in fact it is surprisingly rich. I played it at a gig last night and was pleased with the results. Full, and dark (that is the gold brass bell), but with plenty of bark when I need it.Good replacement for the tenor in places where there isn’t much need for the bottom range, and the upper range makes it a great little solo horn.
  • The horn came with a mouthpiece, but I haven’t used it yet. I first tried the Schilke 51D1D that I used on my euphonium and my tenor trombone but it proved to be too deep – the sound was a bit muddy. I then tried my Denis Wick mouthpiece and was pleased with the results, as the shallower Wick proved to produce a better overall sound.
  • The positions are a challenge. I was expecting to have a relatively easy adjustment due to my experiences on EEb tuba, but this horn is really different, and I haven’t quite mastered it yet. I’ll get there, but it is a completely different experience from the tenor trombone.
  • The range on this horn is…interesting. The horn bottoms out at around a low A-Ab in the octave below middle C, and then there is a complete lack of the chromatics down to the pedal tones. However, the upper end is nice – I easily attained a high D in the octave above middle C which is about the upper end of my normal range on tenor trombone without too much effort and with practice could probably do even better.

Overall, I am pleased with the horn and the price was excellent. I had The Horn Guys install a custom leadpipe from Stauffer Brass, but even with the custom leadpipe, shipping and tax, the horn came in under US $500. I would definitely recommend it for anyone who is interested in getting into alto trombone, but doesn’t want to spend the US $2-3,000 dollars that a professional model would cost.


Stencils & Brands

January 24, 2014

I have been running across some instrument brands that are unfamiliar to me. I am acquainted with such brands as American Standard (made by H.N. White) and some of the other more familiar ones, but many are completely foreign. For instance, I saw a ‘Grand Rapids Band Instrument Co’-branded horn the other day and got to wondering who actually made it.

This led me to a term I had heard many times before, which is ‘stencil horn’. But what is a stencil horn? Fortunately, the Internet gives us a great deal of ability to find the answers to these kinds of questions from the privacy of our own homes. On the invaluable Trumpet Herald forums, I ran across this extremely informative post begun by a member named Tom Turner. Mr. Turner wrote an extensive explanation of precisely what a stencil horn is. To summarize, it is a horn made by  manufacturer which is re-branded by the seller and sold under that seller’s name, instead of the actual maker’s. Later in the thread, a member named ‘farbewerk’ included a list of many of the known stencils and brands produced by the major manufacturers.  According to ‘farbewerk’, the list is as follows.

AMERICAN ARTIST: BUESCHER OR MARTIN
ACADEMY: BUESCHER
AMERICAN PROFESSIONAL: CONN
AMERICAN KNIGHT: CONN
AMERICAN STANDARD: H. N. WHITE /KING
GREAT GRETSCH AMERICAN: CONN OR BUESCHER
GRETSCH ARTIST: CONN
DICK STABILE: MARTIN
GRETSCH: CONN, MARTIN
ARTIST: BUESCHER
ARTIST BRAND: CONN
BARONET: BUESCHER?
BRUNO: CONN
BUNDY: CONN, BUESCHER, SELMER
CAPITOL BAND INSTRUMENTS: ?
CARL FISCHER: BUFFET OR BUESCHER
CAVALIER: CONN
CLEVELAND: H. N. WHITE/ KING
COLE AMERICAN: CONN
CLAXTON: CONN
CONTINENTAL: CONN
COLONIAL: CONN (MARTIN ALSO?)
COURTURIER: CONN
GRAND RAPIDS BAND INSTRUMENT COMPANY: YORK
EMBASSY: BUESCHER
KING: H. N. WHITE
HARWOOD PROFESSIONAL, JENKINS MUSIC COMPANY: CONN, BUESCHER
CONCERTONE: MARTIN
ELKHART: BUESCHER
ELKHORN: GETZEN
GLADIATOR: H. N. WHITE COMPANY
HARMONY: BUESCHER?
GRAND OPERA: CONN
INTERLOCHEN: MARTIN
INDIANA: MARTIN
JENKINS: CONN
LAVELLE: BUESCHER
LEFLEUR: CONN
LIBERTY C.K.C.: CONN
OLIVER DITSON: BUESCHER
OLYMPIAN: CONN
ORPHEUM: CONN
ORPHEUM: SUPER CONN
VELVETONE, KEACH & GREEN, PHILADELPHIA, PA: CONN
PAN AMERICAN: CONN
HARRY PEDDLER: MARTIN
SEAR AND ROEBUCK: CONN
SILVERTONE: BUESCHER
WURLITZER: MARTIN, CONN OR BUESCHER

This is undoubtedly not a complete list, but it is a good place to start – especially for some of the older manufacturers such as H.N. White, Conn, Buescher, and so forth. The only element of this original post I would take issue with is the naming of H.N. White as a stencil. In actuality, H.N. White was the company that made a number of brands, including ‘King’, ‘American Standard’, and ‘Cleveland’ so I have corrected the original list to show that.

Today of course, there are many stencils, including such brands as ‘Dillon’, ‘Schiller’, and so forth. Most of these are made by Chinese companies such as Jinbao and marketed to students or players who lack the funds for a professional horn. Some of them are good; some are not.. But the existence of multiple brands by a single manufacturer has a long history, so there is no read that things should be otherwise today. Buyer beware, as always.


Cornetting – Updates

October 2, 2013

Back in 2012, I posted about my struggles preparing for a weekend leading a jam set at a local jazz society while playing mainly cornet. Since that time, I have continued to practice – albeit somewhat infrequently – and in December of 2012 I was invited to join the Mission Gold Jazz band as the second cornet. This came as a rather large shock, since I am not what anyone would call a good cornetist. However, I tentatively said yes and commenced to work on my cornet chops.

Ten months later, I am still not sure I will ever be able to build the stamina necessary to play a three-hour gig on cornet. But my tone, my range, and my stamina have all definitely improved, and I am no longer afraid of embarrassing myself on the instrument. I am finding the band a challenge due to the instrument, but it is a challenge I am enjoying, and it seems I have been doing acceptably, so I will probably try to continue with the band if at all possible.


All About Sousaphones

October 2, 2013

As a huge fan of all things helicon (I own a 1909 Conn E-flat helicon, and would dearly love to get my hands on a B-flat version), I have long been interested in how the sousaphone came to replace the helicon in the United States. The last US-built helicon was made circa 1930, although they are made to this day in B-flat, E-flat, and F- versions in Europe.

But how did sousaphones replace helicons in the US? And when did the famous bell-front design come into existence?

The classic story is that they were the brainchild of John Philip Sousa. As it turns out, that part of the story is quite true, but there are several aspects of the classic story that are not true. To wit:

  1. They were not intended as marching instruments
  2. They were originally not bell-front – in fact one of Sousa’s main reasons for wanting something other than the helicon was to find an instrument that did NOT project in a specific direction.
  3. The very first sousaphone was actually made by the J.W. Pepper Company circa 1895, although the C.G. Conn company was probably the most famous publicist and purveyer of these instruments.
  4. The first bell-front sousaphone was built in 1908 by Conn, but Sousa himself did not use it – he preferred the original upright bell design and continued to use that one until his death in 1931.

For a lot more detail on sousaphone history, please visit Dave Detwiler’s fantastic blog Strictly Oompah, wherein he delves deeply into the history of the sousaphone.


R.I.P Bob Kennedy

October 11, 2012

One of my best friends and a valued mentor in all aspects of life passed away this morning. Clifton (Bob) Kennedy was a musician, entrepreneur, family man and all-around good guy. I first met him in October of 1987 when I first walked into his Dew Drop Inn on the corner of Shaw Avenue and Hwy 99 in Fresno.

Over the years, I’ve had the honor of working for him and with him in a variety of endeavors. As a musician, he was superb and as a friend, he is one of the best I’ve ever known. He and his family essentially took me in when my own father passed away and over the years, they have been strong and steady supporters of my efforts. When times were bad, they were like a rock to lean on and when times were good, they celebrated my successes.

Bob, I’m going to miss you. Thank you for everything and God bless you. Farewell.


Clarence Clemons, RIP

June 18, 2011

I read today via the Power Line crew that Clarence Clemons, the powerful saxman who added so much to Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, has passed away at the young age of 69. I was never much of a Springsteen fan, but Clemons’ saxophone work always stood out.

Clemons had suffered a stroke last Sunday and was unable to recover. The music world has suffered a great loss with the passing of Clarence Clemons. He will be missed. Rest in peace, Big Man.