My Teaching Philosophy

In addition to my posts on the lessons that I take, I will also be posting some of my own teaching. My goal is to fill in a gap that I see missing in the jazz education world. 

Let me explain...

In jazz, an improviser conveys two forms of information at all times: intellectual information and emotional information. Intellectual information includes things like chords, scales, licks, and patterns. This is the analytical, theoretical, left-brained side of the music. Emotional information, on the other hand, is conveyed through things like rhythmic intensity, vibrato, dynamics, articulation and manipulation of tone. These subtle tools convey the spiritual, emotional, right-brained side of the music. While both forms of information are important, the emotional information should always take precedent. Without it, even the hippest music will inevitably sound lifeless and flat. Compare this with language. A well-written speech is useless without a great orator who knows where in the speech to raise his voice and when to put a dramatic pause. In other words, emotion is the conduit through which great artists present their intellectual information. 

Unfortunately, emotional information can't be found in any book. It is passed on aurally and learned through the simple act of imitation. Think of how you learned your primary language. You didn't go through a "curriculum" as a baby. You  learned to speak by imitating the sounds your parents made when they spoke to you. By this process alone, you slowly but surely developed a large vocabulary, as well as an intuitive sense of the very complicated structure of language. Just as important as the words themselves, imitation also taught you the use of subtle voice inflections to convey complex emotions. For instance, you learned how to transform a statement into a question simply by raising the pitch of your voice at the end of a sentence. These were never techniques you talked about out loud. You just picked them up naturally. Grammar didn't come into the picture until long after you were a fluent speaker.

So why don't we learn jazz the same way? All of the greatest jazz trumpeters from Louis Armstrong to Woody Shaw learned to play by imitation. But things have changed in the jazz world since then. It's no secret that jazz is now institutionalized. Today, many educators believe that jazz can be taught out of a book like Calculus. This results in a many budding jazz players who think that the more books they own, the better players they will be. That's like trying to teach a child about grammar before he or she can even say the word "grammar." For someone who is completely in the dark, too much book/theoretical information up front results in that student feeling more overwhelmed than enlightened, and the books end up getting in the way of what should be a very natural, organic period of learning by osmosis. The truth is, jazz is not Calculus. Nor is it a musical game of connect the dots over the chords of "Donna Lee." Jazz is music, and music is sound. You can learn all of the scales and patterns in the world and you'll never sound as good as the player who only plays three licks, but does it in time, with feeling, using a huge tone and authentic musical inflections.

It's no surprise that many jazz departments and trumpet instructors tend to ignore the intangible aspects of the music. After all, it's hard to give someone an exam on "playing with intensity" or grade someone on how much they swing. It's much easier to hand out a theory test or to make them play their scales in all twelve keys. This results in a lot of jazz trumpeters who come through the music education system lacking any sense of emotion whatsoever. This saddens me deeply because, once this is gone, the spirit and legacy of the music dies and jazz becomes a self-centered intellectual exercise. It's true jazz is thought-provoking on an intellectual level, but at its core, it is a deeply spiritual music. Great innovators like Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane conveyed so much more information in their solos than clever note choices. Their notes - the very sound of their horns - moved people in profound ways. It was the "emotional information" that they conveyed that connected people with their music.

Now that I've had my tirade, let me explain how all of this relates to my blog:

The focus of this blog is not on which notes to play, but how to play them. To use the language analogy again, I want to talk about the "accent" or "inflection" of jazz trumpet playing. I hope to show that musical expressiveness on the trumpet IS TEACHABLE. It is based on actual concrete techniques that have been passed down through the lineage of jazz trumpet. 
There are already plenty of jazz blogs out there where you can go to learn the latest ii-V-I licks and patterns. You certainly don't need me. In fact, you don't need any trumpet player to teach you that. You can learn this kind of information from from a pianist, saxophonist or guitarist. I wanted my blog to focus more on techniques unique to the trumpet. My posts will examine the great trumpet players in jazz history and the different ways they have manipulated the trumpet and expanded its capabilities to make it more expressive. Look for postings dealing with trumpet-specific techniques such as:

- changing your tone with your tongue
- varying your articulation to create rhythmic intensity 
- manipulation of vibrato to create emotional intensity
- bending notes
- different ways to distort the sound of the trumpet (growls, whispers, etc.)
- use of alternate fingerings
- warmups, routines and useful exercises
- signature trumpet techniques of jazz trumpet greats
- common trumpet pitfalls made by jazz players

I'm still a jazz geek, so I'd be lying if I said I'm not going to throw in some analytical stuff. I will also mix in some posts on musical/theoretical aspects of jazz trumpet playing such as:

- signature licks or harmonic concepts of jazz trumpet greats
- solo analysis
- compositional analysis of jazz trumpet greats
With every post, my goal is to keep it simple. These lessons are designed to demystify jazz trumpet playing as much as possible. In every case, I will try to point you to recordings that demonstrate the technique I am introducing. I hope to help you make the instrument an extension of your personality as well as shed light on some basic tricks that are widely used in jazz trumpet playing. On a more fundamental level, I hope to use this blog to push the spotlight away from the analytical and back to where it belongs: listening to music as sound, not just as abstract notes on a page. 

The musical possibilities of the trumpet are endless, so I hope you enjoy the site and keep checking in. If you have questions about various trumpet techniques, or have something to teach me (and I mean that sincerely), I'm all ears.

Musically yours,