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The Leading Edge

Jazzed Magazine • July 2011 • July 26, 2011

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In this installment our friends start to give us the inside scoop on their thinking about youthful jazz development. In subsequent issues through 2012, they will discuss definitive attributes of a lead player, experiences that shaped their concepts and conviction, lead chair vs. second chair, interacting with the rhythm section & the other lead players, what to learn and listen for, artistic contributions, and responsibilities and equipment.    ~AB

Please cite some of the ways in which you honed your craft as a young adult, and/or some suggestions for young players to hone their own.

Dave Pietro, 
Alto; Anita Brown Jazz Orchestra, Toshiko Akiyoshi Big Band:

I started by learning how to play the saxophone well with regard to all the important qualities and skills: sound, technique, intonation, phrasing, reading, etc. The experiences of playing in a big band in high school, the many I played with at North Texas, and later going on the road with the bands of Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson and Lionel Hampton all contributed to my growth as a lead player. The best advice I could give any player is to get in as many playing situations as possible, particularly with players that you want to emulate. Listen to recordings, listen to live gigs but play as much as possible.


Steve Wilson, 
Alto; Maria Schneider Orchestra, Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks:

Reference the recordings. Young players nowadays don’t get the opportunity for apprenticeships, so first go listen to a lot of recordings. There are specifics there – valuable information regarding articulation and phrasing. Players should do that first. If you’re playing Thad’s music in high school you need to hear it first in order to execute it.

Take every opportunity to go hear this music live, by established players, if not the original band. As a teenager I got to be around some people who had been with some military bands and although they hadn’t played with Thad’s band they were consummate players. Listen to elder statesmen. For every Jerry Dodgion there are ten guys in every community who know who Jerry is and you can learn from them. So, use what’s available to you.


Dick Oatts, 
Alto; Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Carnegie Hall Jazz Band:

Experience is, by far, the most important learning tool. It teaches you how to teach yourself as well as to prepare, listen, blend, use articulation and dynamics, understand form, structure, harmony, sound, orchestration, balance, and especially teaches a player to understand various rhythms and styles.


Mark Patterson, 
Trombone; Anita Brown Jazz Orchestra, Dennis Mackrel Big Band:

The tradition of jazz is that the music has been learned and passed down aurally, on the bandstand and by listening to and transcribing recordings. You have to develop a sound and a time feel in your ear. Conception of this comes from hearing the great players who have it, either live or on record. Both are valuable. But there is no substitute for sitting next to someone who is a great lead player, feeling first-hand how the time feels, how their sound sings, how they move a phrase. I think that is an essential step, and if you get the chance to play with a great lead player, take it with an eager ear and an open mind.


Keith O’Quinn, 
Trombone; Maria Schneider Orchestra, Bob Mintzer Big Band:

As a young player I listened to thousands of hours of music on records and at clubs. I think hearing great players on all instruments is extremely important to developing the kind of player you want to be and the style you want to develop. That was the greatest learning tool for me. I loved listening to J.J. Johnson and Curtis Fuller, Frank Rosolino and Carl Fontana. But I spent just as much time listening to players like Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Lee Morgan, Miles Davis, Kenny Durham, Freddie Hubbard, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones and Tony Williams. The music that you love shapes you into the player that you become.


John Fedchock, 
Trombone; John Fedchock’s New York Big Band, Woody Herman Orchestra:

In addition to listening to tons of big band music, much of my lead playing concept came through practical application. Two of the more influential musical experiences came with Woody Herman’s band and Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band.

My early playing was inspired by the great trombonists that went through Woody’s band over the years, specifically Urbie Green and Carl Fontana. They, along with Bill Harris, were Woody’s all-time favorites. Because Woody was comfortable with my voice I was able to grow and evolve as a lead player over my seven years with the band. There was always an element of excitement in Woody’s bands, and he wanted that present in every chart. He wasn’t specific about how to achieve that. He was more interested in the end result. Since I was never told how to interpret the lead parts, I had the freedom to develop my own approach.

Gerry Mulligan was extremely fastidious about interpretation, giving explicit instructions to the smallest nuance. Because of this approach, his band’s unique sound was strongly based in nuance and phrasing subtleties. I learned a lot about how to shape a chart from my time with Gerry. He wanted the band to reflect the sound exactly as he had envisioned it in his head.


Jon Owens, 
Trumpet; Anita Brown Jazz Orchestra, BMI New York Jazz Orchestra:

I think it is important to absorb as many different sounds as you can. Get out there and hear some live music! Listening to a broad variety helps you to develop your own sound. Study and listen to recordings of all the great trumpet players going back 100 years, and all types of music. Listen to Maurice Andre, Louis Armstrong, Freddie Hubbard, Bud Herseth, and Conrad Gozzo. Eventually, I started working with some of those players I admired growing up.


Tony Kadleck, 
Trumpet; Maria Schneider Orchestra, Gotham Jazz Orchestra:

I think I was 15 when I started playing 1st trumpet in jazz band. My high school band directors were great and we had a terrific band. We were playing Kenton, Buddy Rich and Maynard charts, because we had the ability to do so. They had a great library and just let us play stuff without too much input.

Later I played in the McDonald’s All-American Jazz Band, directed by Bob Curnow. He was the first director to make stylistic suggestions to me: “OK. Two comments for you. I want you to lose the ‘nanny goat vibrato’ immediately and I want you to start cutting things off with your tongue. I want real precise cut offs.” I was about 18 and no one had ever said anything to me like that. I was thinking, “That’s kind of a cool sound; no vibrato and very precise cut-offs.” He was the first guy that ever told me what he needed from me. It was as though the faucet had just gone from hot to lukewarm to cold. I thought, “Wow, there are actually other temperatures here, not just hot!”

There’s a great class at North Texas that Jay Saunders teaches; a Lead Trumpet class. It’s amazing. Last year they studied several players; Wayne Bergeron, Craig Johnson, myself, and some others. Jay asked us to send him some mp3s of some things that we thought would be worthwhile to check out. The students study each lead player. He encourages them to listen critically, asking “What are they doing? What do you notice about the time, the feel, the vibrato?” They examine as much as possible from recordings and he makes them think about it. He also has them transcribe lead parts without making the charts available to them. He gets it and he’s training these kids to pick apart this stuff, which is great. It’s exactly what you need to be doing: emulating good players.


Earl Gardner, 
Trumpet; Mingus Big Band, Thad Jones/ Mel Lewis Orchestra:

In high school and college, I listened to and played all types of music including rock‘n’roll, R&B, classical, salsa and jazz. This exposure to a wide variety of musical styles has been invaluable to me during my career and I think it is an essential component of being a well-rounded, knowledgeable musician. Another important thing to focus on is sight-reading. If you can read well, you will be able to play any type of gig at a moment’s notice.

For further discussion, clinic and commissions bookings, please visit Visit to learn about Anita’s piece in commemoration of September 11, 2001. Anita Brown Jazz Orchestra is a Charter Partner of the Jazz Education Network.

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