Updated Band Websites

December 29, 2014

As those of you who follow this blog know, I currently hold down the trombone chair in the Fog City Stompers, and the second cornet chair with the Mission Gold Jazz Band. These are my two regular bands, though I also play with Pat Dutrow’s Jazzmeisters and the East Bay Stompers as well as subbing with a number of other traditional and swing bands in the Bay Area. With 2015 looming, I decided to do a little publicizing.

Mission Gold’s online home has long been hosted on a site called JazzDance.org. However, JazzDance’s webmaster recently passed on, so we have decided to move. After some research, we chose Reverbnation as our new home, mainly due to the many tools it offers for bands. Mission Gold’s leader, trombonist John Soulis, and I spent some time a few weekends ago transferring data from the existing site, and I am pleased to announce that the new site is now live. It contains our upcoming schedule, member biographies, sample MP3s for downloading, and even a few YouTube videos of the band in action. The new site can be found at the following URL: http://reverbnation.com/missiongoldjazzband

. Stop by and say hello!

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Thoughts on Doubling

December 28, 2014

As a musician who doubles between trombone, bass trombone, tuba, and cornet, I thought it might be useful to post some of the methods I use to aid the transition. As an autodidact, I do not mean to imply that these are methods anyone else should use, but they have worked for me, so I thought I’d put them out there.

  1. Preparation: I mainly play trombone and euphonium. When I know that I’m going to be playing a smaller size mouthpiece than my normal one for a sustained period of time, as opposed to a one-off during a gig, I tend to want to prepare for it. Cornet requires a vastly different embouchure than does trombone or euphonium, so I usually try to make sure that I have several days’ concentrated practice on the instrument before I play the job. I usually like to warm up with some long tones or scales, and then go through the repertoire for the gig, before warming down with some more long tones. When this is not possible, I’ll simply play the cornet as much as possible in the days leading up to the performance. I find that this provides my embouchure with the necessary flexibility and endurance to make it through the gig.
  2. Planning: Switching from a large mouthpiece to a smaller one and vice-versa is very demanding – especially for those of like me who are not professional musicians. You don’t want to constantly be switching back and forth unless you are an extremely experienced doubler with an iron lip. So planning is important to make sure that you will not overstress your chops. Personally, I prefer to switch from small to large as opposed to vice-versa. However, it is sometimes necessary to go from large to small, or small-large-small. Each of these requires different strategies, but essentially, they all boil down into ‘find the progression that makes it easiest on your embouchure’. Plan your performance as carefully as possible so that the stress is minimized until you have achieved the necessary strength and stamina that will enable you to perform these changes without any ensuing difficulties.
  3. Repetition: As I stated above, only practice and repetition will make you a true doubler. Work constantly on the horns that you plan to perform in public. I prefer to focus on one at a time, and then slowly begin to switch between them as I practice so that I accustom myself to the process. However, some musicians seem to prefer to go back and forth between the various instruments to build the lip’s flexibility and stamina. Whatever method you use, there is no replacement for concerted hard work on the fundamentals of each instrument. Only time and hard work will give you the necessary base to become an accomplished doubler.

Ultimately, only you can determine the best methodology for how you approach doubling, but hopefully, this will give you some ideas that you can then develop more fully.


Wessex Tubas BBb Contrabass Trombone

December 20, 2014

Many low-brass musicians have a tendency to be collectors, and I am not an exception. Through the years, I’ve gathered quite a collection of instruments, and I now possess every model of trombone from soprano to bass. But I did not have a contrabass, so I set about looking for one. I’ve played both the Kanstul F and the Miraphone CC, but after my struggles with the Eb alto trombone, I preferred to stay with the BBb version, despite the many horror stories I had heard.

I spent some time looking around, and finally settled on a Chinese-built copy of the Miraphone BBb contrabone, manufactured by Jinbao for a company called Wessex Tubas. The price was reasonable and I finally broke down and ordered one in silver plate. It arrived a few months back and I have played it quite extensively. Here is my feedback.

Pros:

  • Sound: The horn has a very good sound, though it is neither quite trombone-like nor tuba-like. However, by varying the mouthpiece, it can produce a satisfactory trombone bark or a more mellow ‘tuba’ sound and it blends well with other low brass. So far, I’ve got about a two and a half octave range on the horn, which is better than I expected. A good professional would probably get more, but the working range of the horn is about three octaves, or so it seems. So I’m not too far off.
  • Quality: The build is very good – Chinese instruments have vastly improved in quality and although they are not equivalent to a professional US or European (or Japanese) instrument, they are infinitely better than what they are only a few years ago. This particular instrument is well-made and the silver plate looks to be thick and even. We’ll see how it ages, but the initial impression is good.
  • Price: Nothing else out there is anywhere near this price. These horns are going for around US $2500.00, and an instrument from Kanstul, Thein, or Miraphone is going to run you at least US $7500.00.
  • Versatility: This horn can take either a tuba or a bass trombone mouthpiece, by using an adapter that Wessex sells. My horn did not come with the adapter, but Wessex has promised to get me one. Once it arrives, I’ll try a few of my bass trombone mouthpieces and update this post. The main point of interest is how each mouthpiece affects the sound of the horn. It is very mouthpiece-dependent. Kind of like my Conn Victor 80A in that respect.

Cons:

  • Weight. This horn is very heavy and carrying it for a long period is very wearing on the arm and the hand. The balance is good, but the weight is something to take into account. If weight is a problem, then get the Kanstul F contra – it is noticeably lighter.
  • Tone: As previously noted, this horn is very mouthpiece-dependent for its sound. I have tried several different tuba mouthpieces, and the difference in sound is fascinating. I mainly use the one that came with it – a copy of the Miraphone contrabass mouthpiece. It gets a more trombone-like sound. When I want a more tuba-like sound, I put in the big Helleberg. But whichever mouthpiece you use, the horn does have a tendency to be somewhat foggy – you will need to work to produce a clear sound.
  • Slide action: This horn, like the Miraphone on which it is based, has a double slide. This means the action is Not Good. Period. Experience and practice will improve your results, but the slide is sluggish. Be prepared to anticipate and play on the leading edge of the note, so that you won’t drag.
  • Case: The horn comes with a hard case, which also is a copy of the Miraphone. While the case is acceptable, I recommend IMMEDIATELY getting a good leather gig bag – preferably the Glenn Cronkhite BBC. The hard case allows the horn to move around and mine already has two small dents – one of which was incurred in shipping. Miraphone cases have a reputation for allowing damage, and the Chinese copy is at least as prone to this as the original.

Overall Verdict:
I like this horn. Yes, it has its idiosyncrasies and yes, it is a demanding instrument – it is not an easy horn to play and you should not expect to pick it up and promptly start blowing Dorsey’s ‘Trombonology’! Contrabass trombones – especially the double-slide varieties – are somewhat unique instruments and they require a great deal of practice in order to master them.

Having said that, I’m glad I got it, and I’m enjoying getting acquainted with the instrument. And of course, my trombone collection is now essentially complete! To close, if you’re a trombonist looking to get into playing the contrabass, this is a very good place to start. The price is unbeatable and the quality is definitely good enough for a casual contrabass player. I know a few pros who play this instrument as well and who like it.

As a final note, Wessex also sells a slightly more expensive F contrabass, which is copied from the Thein ‘van Dijk’ model.


2015 Schedule

December 20, 2014

I’ve got quite a few jobs coming up in 2015, both with the Fog City Stompers and with the Mission Gold Jazz Band. For performance details and a complete list, please see my Reverbnation website, or you can check the band websites. I’ll list a few of the highlights here:

January:

  • Sunday, January 11: Performing with the Mission Gold Jazz Band at the Monterey Hot Jazz Society.
  • Sunday, January 25: Performing with Pat Dutrow’s Jazzmeisters at the South Bay Traditional Jazz Society.

February:

  • Sunday, February 1: Performing with the Fog City Stompers at the Santa Rosa TRADJASS Society.

March:

  • Sunday, March 1: Performing with the Mission Gold Jazz Band at the Santa Rosa TRADJASS Society.
  • Sunday, March 15: Performing with the Flying Eagles Jazz Band at the New Orleans Jazz Club of Northern California.
  • Sunday, March 22: Performing with the Mission Gold Jazz Band at the South Bay Traditional Jazz Society.

April:

  • Sunday, April 19: Performing with the Fog City Stompers at the New Orleans Jazz Club of Northern California.

July:

  • Saturday, July 11: Performing with the Fog City Stompers at the Cline Cellars Wine & Jazz Festival.

In addition, I perform with the East Bay Stompers every third Thursday at Bronco Billy’s Pizza Palace in Fremont from 7-9PM. Admission is free, and the pizza is good, so stop by if you’re in the area. More shows will be coming up, so watch this space!


2014 Schedule: July/August

July 12, 2014

July and August are when I mainly spend time listening to other groups, and jamming at the various local jazz societies. However, I do have a few performances booked so far. Hope to see you at a few of them!

  • July 04, 2014: (PRIVATE EVENT) The Fog City Stompers perform at the Aegis Assisted Living in Fremont California
  • July 12, 2014: The Mission Gold Jazz Band performs at the Jack of All Trades market in Oakland’s Jack London Square from 12-4 PM.
  • July 17, 2014: The East Bay Stompers will play at Bronco Billy’s Pizza Palace, 41200 Blacow Road, Fremont California. from 7-9 PM.
  • July 20, 2014: The Fog City Stompers are the featured band at the New Orleans Jazz Club of Northern California. 1-5 PM at Champa Restaurant, El Sobrante California.
  • July 26, 2014: (PRIVATE EVENT) The Mission Gold Jazz Band performs for the Masonic Home in Union City, California.
  • August 10, 2014: The Fog City Stompers are the featured band at the Napa Dixieland Society. 1-5PM at the Embassy Suites hotel in Napa California.
  • August 21, 2014: The East Bay Stompers will play at Bronco Billy’s Pizza Palace, 41200 Blacow Road, Fremont California. from 7-9 PM.

For more details, please visit my website or my Facebook artist page.


More Cornetting…

July 12, 2014

I may have mentioned on this blog that I have a 1917 Conn Wonder ‘Vocal’ cornet that I got from my late friend Max Spikes. However, I have long heard that the most sought-after model was the Conn ‘Victor’ – particularly the 80A variant. Many of the greatest cornetists – including Bix Beiderbecke – played this model. It is this model cornet that Bix is holding on his knee in the most famous picture of him shown below.
Bix Beiderbecke with Conn Victor 80A

In fact, Bix thought so highly of the 80A that he reportedly bought one for Jimmy McPartland, who replaced him in the Wolverines in 1924 when he left to join Jean Goldkette. Jimmy played the 80A that he received from Bix for the rest of his professional career.

I had been casually looking for an 80A, as these horns have such a great reputation, and recently I found one on eBay. The horn looked to be in pretty good shape and I corresponded with the owner, learning that the horn did not have the original case or accessories, but that it played well. Turns out the previous owner is a trumpeter, and he took good care of the horn. After the bidding subsided, I managed to get it fairly inexpensively and it arrived a week later.

Well! These horns deserve every bit of their lofty reputations. At .484, they are definitely large-bore, and for a guy who primarily plays trombone like me, they are much easier to play than the smaller bore models like my Vocal. I have been astonished by how free-blowing the Victor is compared to my Vocal. My particular model is from 1927, meaning that it has the quick-change mechanism to convert from Bb to A intact – Conn removed it from this model in 1939 or so, though they continued making the horn on into the 1950s. Very cool to be able to do that on the fly. The micro-tuner also is in very good shape, so I can tune the horn precisely as I desire.

I have also found that the descriptions of them as being very dependent on mouthpiece for their sound are accurate. These horns really do deserve their reputation as chameleons. When I used the 1917 Conn Wonder mouthpiece or the similar-vintage H.L. Clarke mouthpiece, the sound is the dark, mellow, ‘Conn’ sound of the early 20th century. However, when I put in one of my modern mouthpieces, such as my Bach 7c, I obtain a sound much more similar to what I can get from my 1994 Bach Stradivarius 180-43G trumpet.

As far the as my horn’s physical condition, it is not bad. The silver plate is deeply pitted and no longer shines well in several places, though the gold-wash bell interior is in very good shape. But the valves, the slides, and the compression are stellar. The horn plays quite well, and I am very pleased with it.

The bottom line is that if you play cornet and you have the chance to get one of these horns in good condition, do not hesitate. There are a lot of them out there in various conditions, and the prices are not exorbitant since there are so many. They are highly-esteemed for a reason and I think you will be pleasantly surprised by how well they play.


New Mouthpiece – Conn ‘H.L Clarke’

July 12, 2014

I have been experimenting with my early-20th century Conn cornets ( I own a 1917 Conn Vocal and a 1927 Conn Victor 80A), and I found an original ‘H.L. Clarke’ model Conn cornet mouthpiece on eBay. In near-perfect condition! These mouthpieces were designed for Conn by the world-famous cornetist Herbert L. Clarke. Clarke was probably the pre-emininet cornetist of his day. He was the long-time cornet soloist with John Philip Sousa’s band, as well as being a famous teacher, composer, and author of a set of standard cornet/trumpet exercises and lesson books that are still widely used today. In addition, he worked with C.G.Conn, Ltd., one of the oldest and most famous musical instrument manufacturers in the United States, to do instrument design beginning in 1905 and so this mouthpiece is probably right around one hundred years old. I managed to negotiate a fair price with the seller and am now using it as my primary cornet mouthpiece.

I have a few comments on this mouthpiece. First, it has a contoured rim, so that it molds itself to the player’s embouchure. This means that it is not a perfect circle – it is more oval shaped – and the contour means that it is important that the player turns it so that he or she can achieve the correct fit. If the mouthpiece is incorrectly aligned, it will be highly uncomfortable. However, if the player correctly orients it, it is extremely comfortable.

The second aspect that has really emerged is that the mouthpiece is able to generate the classic ‘Conn’ cornet sound, but also improves the instrument’s range for less-than-expert cornetists like myself. I’ve used the mouthpiece on both the Vocal and the Victor, and both instruments have responded well. The Clarke does not seem to have quite the mellow nature of the similar-vintage Conn ‘Wonder’ cornet mouthpiece, but the is probably a result of my lack of familiarity with it. The more I play it, the closer I can get to that ‘Conn’ sound.

In conclusion, let me say that these mouthpieces – especially in the near-mint condition that this one was – are very difficult to find. However, I think that they are definitely worth the price, so my recommendation is that if you can find one in decent condition, buy it!