Trumpet Artist Profile : Diego Urcola

‘Trumpet Artist’ is far too narrow a description for Diego Urcola. Perfomer, Band leader, composer, multi-instrumentalist and jazz educator are all monikers that should also be added. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, three‑time Grammy nominee Diego Urcola has been a member of the Paquito D’Rivera Quintet since 1991. Additionally, the oft‑in‑demand trumpeter performs regularly with the legendary saxophonist Jimmy Heath, the Caribbean Jazz Project and the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All‑Star Big Band.

It was great to catch up with NYC-based Schilke artist, Diego for this interview:

Can you give a little background to getting started with the trumpet?

I started playing trumpet in my school band in Argentina when I was 9. I played in the concert, marching and jazz bands. The marching band routine had a New Orleans Jazz part so I started doing that without even knowing that I was playing jazz. My father who was the band director at the time, was a big fan of Sidney Bechet and he had regular jam sessions every Tuesday night at the school with some friends. Those sessions had a big influence on me because I loved the vibe and the improvised music that they were doing… so I decided then that I wanted to be able to do that.

When did you decide that you wanted a career in music?

Around when I was 14, I told my father that I wanted to be a professional musician. He told me that he was OK with it, but from now on I had to practise the trumpet for no less than 2 hours per day. And I’ve been doing that for the last 40 years…

What styles of music have you listened to most over the years?

After my “very early” New Orleans period, I discovered Dizzy, Bird and Miles and I got obsessed about learning the bebop language. I was also studying at the conservatory at that time so I was practicing and listening to a lot of classical music too. Later, already in the USA, I got into more modern jazz styles and also Brazilian, Cuban and South-American music.

How was the transition moving to and studying in Boston, and then later moving to New York?

Well, before I finish high school in Argentina I was already working as a professional trumpet player. I started working with singers, rock bands, musicals, and some orchestral work too. Also I was playing with my own small jazz groups and other jazz bands with musicians 20 or more years older than me. That was when I decided that I needed to move to the USA if I wanted to get better. I won a very good scholarship from Berklee College of Music and that helped me a lot to make the decision to move to the US. After 3 great years in Boston I kind of felt the same way. That in order to get better I needed to be in New York. That was 30 years ago…

I think that I may already know the answer to this, but what have been your favourite gigs?!

Paquito’s Band of course! I‘ve been doing that for the last 30 years! But working with masters like Jimmy Heath, Slide Hampton, Joe Henderson, Ron Carter, James Moody, Bebo Valdes and many others are highlights of my career.

How do your Argentinean roots influence the music that you make today?

A Lot! Especially tango music, the music of my home town Buenos Aires. Also South-American music in general. All music from Latin America has similar roots but they sound very different if you really study them. It’s very rich music, especially rhythmically. 

Can you talk a little about the horns and mouthpieces that you play, and the process of working with Schilke to find the right setup?

Right now I’m playing a Schilke HC2 trumpet with a custom 24B mouthpiece. The HC2 is for me the perfect jazz trumpet. Very flexible and with a dark but very rich sound with a lot of overtones. I have been playing very big rims for a while and I love the Schilke 24 rim. The regular cup of the Schilke 24 is too big for jazz so Schilke made me a 24B that is not in their catalog but it is exactly what I need. I also play a  Schilke 1040 Flugelhorn with a custom 24F mouthpiece. Before, I was never a big fan of the flugel as an instrument because most of them play out of tune, but the new Schilke flugels have perfect intonation and a beautiful sound.

Do you have a set practice routine?   

Yes, I start my day with about 20-30min of long notes. Then I go into a selection of exercises from different books like Caruso, Schlossberg, Flexus and Clarke that I picked out through the years. I play these exercises with different instruments: trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn, piccolo, euphonium, valve and slide trombone. 

How have you managed during this global lockdown? How do you think that musicians are going to need to adapt in the future to deal with may be a very different musical world?

It has been a very interesting time. In a way I have been busy doing videos for social media, home recordings, skype lessons and also working on the promotion of my new album “El Duelo” that came out on September 18th. I don’t think anybody knows exactly how things are going to be after this pandemic is over. All the Internet/Social Media things are interesting but they don’t come close to the experience of performing live. I hope we can get back to that very soon.

What advice would you give to young and aspiring trumpet players?

Practice, practice and practice…but also to diversify. To learn how to compose, arrange, record, computer music (sequencers, loops, samplers, DAW, etc…) and to produce content like videos, music for film and TV. I think this type of knowledge is going to be crucial if you want to make a living as a musician in the future.

What are you working on at the moment or in the future?

I just got a commission/grant from the Jazz Coalition so I’m going to start working on that. Also hopefully in the near future play live the music of El Duelo. 

Thank you very much for the interview and I wish everybody to stay healthy, positive and active until this pandemic is over!

You can visit Diego’s website for more information.

Information on his latest release, “El Duelo” is here.

Click here for the Schilke HC2 trumpet that Diego plays.

And the Schilke 1040 Flugelhorn is here too.

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