John Eth is a well-respected trumpeter, originally from Phoenix, Arizona. The Legends Brass artist was kind enough to give up his time to answer some questions below.
Can you tell us a little about what got you started on the trumpet?
I remember every weekend my father playing Harry James records all day Saturdays and Sundays. Even though my father was not a musician he loved the Harry James big band. So when in 4th grade the band director came around to classes asking if anyone wanted to be in the band I immediately raised my hand. When asked what instrument I wanted to play I volunteered for the trumpet. My parents rented me a trumpet before the band would start so I was very excited to try and play it.
I would put Harry James records on the player and listen a little then try to play what I was hearing. I had no idea of what notes were or what valves to push down but I kept trying to play what I heard and eventually played what sounded to me like the same note. I practiced this way until band started at school. Unfortunately this led to me hearing in the key of B Flat. Even today I hear notes that are relative to my trumpet.
My music teacher was a french horn player and also in the Phoenix Symphony. I studied with him through sixth grade. At that time he suggested that I should take lessons from Hershel Kreloff the principal trumpeter in the Phoenix Symphony. I studied with Mr. Kreloff until the summer after 8th grade. I had split my lip very badly in a summer community band and Mr. Kreloff said that he could not help me and that I would probably not be able to play trumpet again. I was devastated. After calling every trumpet teacher in Arizona I came across Tony Picciotto. Tony was a trumpet player who had played with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Tony recently had moved to Scottsdale Arizona and was teaching at Otto Steins music in Phoenix. Tony took me under his wings and was the only one that said he could help me. With Tony Picciotto’s help I was soon back to practising the trumpet.
When did you decide that you wanted a career in music?
I never really thought that music or playing the trumpet would lead to a career. The first time that I realized that you could make money playing music was in High School. A few of us had gotten together and formed a Tijuana Brass type band and was offered a gig at a Frat party at Arizona State University. Non of us were old enough to even drive a car so our parents had to drive us to the job. We each were paid $50 dollars. That was a lot of money for High School kids. That one job changed my thoughts and was the start to my career in music.
What styles of music have you listened to most over the years?
Music styles that have influenced me the most are Big Bands including the Harry James Big Band, all of the Maynard Ferguson Bands and the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Rock and Roll Bands, Blood Sweat & Tears, Chicago and Tower of Power.
How about career highlights?
As I look back to my career some of the highlights would include, in high school through auditions being selected to 1st chair trumpet in the All State Orchestra and in my senior year of high school being granted a scholarship in music to Arizona State University.
My freshman year at Arizona State University I was selected to first chair trumpet in Orchestra, Concert band and Brass Choir. Another memorial moment was being featured at a football halftime performance playing Doc Severinsen’s ‘Monday Monday’.
After Collage I have was blessed with being able to perform with over 30 major entertainers including Elvis Presley, Tom Jones,Buddy Rich, Aretha Franklin, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Sammy Davis Jr., Liberace, and to many more to name.
I have been a guest artist on the TBN network, Featured on World Wide TV as a Christian artist and performed on stage with Phil Driscoll. I have also recorded my own Christian album Titled “God and God Alone”. Another highlight was being selected to be in “The Upper Register” a publication listing over 200 Lead and High Note Players.
My trumpet skills have allowed me to have recorded a number of studio projects including the following, Buck Rogers and The 21st Century television movie , the theme songs for the television series Harper Valley PTA and Sheriff Lobo. More of my studio work has included two Super Bowl half time shows and over 20 CD’s for various artist.
Throughout my musical career I have had the opportunity of meeting three famous trumpet players that I have had a personnel relationships with that have been a blessing and inspiration to me.
I had the pleasure of having lunch with Mr. Clark Terry where we discussed his musical career, the people who influenced him as a player and how he has influenced many young players. Truly an inspirational man.
Bobby Shew and I met at a college performance where I had the pleasure of taking the place of Lou Soloff in the trumpet section. Afterwords Mr. Shew and I have kept in touch for many years as friends. He has been a true inspiration to me and has blessed me by endorsing my trumpet skills.
Bud Brisbois and I became very close friends after meeting each other at a rehearsal band in Scottsdale Arizona. We would meet for lunch at least 2 to 3 times a week discussing everything from trumpet to life. Many of the things that I learned from him I still apply to my playing today. Bud was my friend, an inspiration, and is truly missed.
Of all the accomplishments, playing, recording and being featured that I have had throughout my life I have to say that the most important things to me are meeting and becoming friends with Clark Terry, Bobby Shew and Bud Brisbois. The time spent with these great musicians can never be replaced.
What does your practice routine look like?
My practice is very basic. I constantly work on corner and support strength. Lip trills slow and fast everyday. An example would be trilling from second line “G” in the staff to 3rd space “C” in the staff. I then go down chromaticly, next would be “F# to B natural” and so on. I do these lip trills until I feel a lactic acid build up then stop and rest. It’s the same idea as lifting weights. You have to build up the muscles that are used to play in all registers of the instrument.
I also never practice anything louder than Mezzo forte. By practicing at a softer level it keeps the aperture tighter and more closed. This is very important for playing in the upper register. All my life the routine I have used to build more breath support consists of Long Tones. I practice Long Tones by starting on 3rd space “C” in the staff and going down chromaticly the entire range of the instrument. I hold each note out as long as I possibly can, not breathing until all I can muster is a very small buzz. Make sure that you are sitting down if you do this! You can possibly black out from lack of oxygen.
How about your horns and mouthpieces?
At this time I play Carol Brass instruments. My trumpet is a Carol Brass model CTR-5060H-GSS. It is silver plated with a sterling silver lead pipe. I find that this instruments sound is versatile enough to play all the different styles of music without being to bright or to dark.
I play a Legends Brass custom designed mouthpiece It is the model “ETHS”. A number of years ago My business partner and I started Xstream Mouthpieces. Being a machinist I designed my own mouthpiece with a different style of cup. I call this design a “Compression Cup”. I have played this design cup for over 10 years. 5 years ago we closed our business and sold all of our machines used to make mouthpieces.
I recently was not getting the results that I wanted with my mouthpiece and decided to reach out to Derek Saidak to see if he could help. I asked Derek if he could scan the rim and cup of the mouthpiece that I designed and put it on his backbores. He said “No Problem” so I sent my mouthpiece off to Mr. Saidak and within a few weeks I received 3 mouthpieces with an exact rim and cup match on the Legends Brass mouthpiece design. All three had a different backbore designed by Legends Brass. This gave me exactly what I needed. I am now a fan of Legends Brass and highly endorse their products. I encourage all trumpet players to give them a chance. Legends Brass has more mouthpiece options than any other mouthpiece manufacture I have come across and can make you a custom mouthpiece as well.
My custom Legends design mouthpiece should be available soon if anyone would like to try it. Many Thanks to Derek Saidak for helping me achieve my goals.
How having you been managing during this global Covid lockdown?
The global lockdown has been stressful at best. I found that keeping focus on my music has been very helpful. I recently set up a small recording studio in my office that lets me play along and record using music tracks. This at least gives me a feeling of playing with a musical group. If this is not possible for players to do I would encourage everyone to put on a CD or an MP3 and play along with it. I feel that it is very important to be playing music not just practising exercises.
Only one can guess what the future holds. I believe that after a vaccine is approved things will get back to normal. Music is so much a part of every day life through radio, live concerts, television, movies and so much more that the public will be the driving force behind bringing live performances back.
What piece of advice can you offer young and aspiring players?
Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself and in try new ideas. It used to be a given to start out using a bach 3C mouthpiece or something similar in size. Don’t be afraid to try a smaller mouthpiece! The upper register will be easier to play. Buy a quality instrument. If you cannot afford a new instrument buy a good used major brand instrument. Take lessons from someone that you admire for their abilities. If you would like to be a symphonic player take lessons from someone that has experience in that field of music. Likewise if you aspire to be a Maynard Ferguson style of player take lessons from someone that can help you with the extreme upper register of the instrument. Don’t be afraid of changing instructors if you are not getting the results that you want.
What are you working on at the moment?
Today I am working on a new website, johneth.com that will have everything from tips on practice, how to overcome injuries, video instructions, performance updates and much more. The website should be up and running in early November 2020. I have also started writing a new book “Surviving The Trumpet” which will soon be available. Starting a new recording project is also one of my pet projects. Even though the future is a little rocky right now I encourage everyone not to get depressed. Keep working on your God given talents and everything will be alright.
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