Randy Dunn is a trumpeter from Houston, TX with incredibly broad experience across diverse musical styles as a performer and educator. It was fascinating to interview him on a whole range of topics including his approach to playing and teaching as well as working on mouthpiece designs with Legends Brass.
What drew you to the trumpet as a child?
For some reason, I was always highly interested in music as a child, in spite of the fact that neither of my parents were musicians. There were a couple of things from my early childhood that I suspect were responsible for my great general interest in music. In the early 1960s, when I was very young, our family had bought a tiny, wind-driven (by a small electric motor) portable, table-top reed organ that had medium-small-sized black and white keyboard keys (they were probably just the right key size for my little 5-year-old fingers) and it also had two rows of accordion-like chord buttons and bass buttons that played a limited selection of chords that were arranged in an order that made sense regarding key relationships.
Even though this little organ was bought for the amusement of the entire family (to be used sort of like a toy), I was the member of the family who was playing with it most of the time, and I spent hours and hours entertaining myself with it. This tiny organ was made for use by non-musician amateurs, and it came with some little songbooks that had some easy, familiar songs in them (folk songs and old pop songs, mostly) and I sort of taught myself to read music by playing the songs in those books, and I also enjoyed just freely improvising on those keys. My improvising probably wasn’t that great, I’m sure, since I knew nothing about music theory at the time. But it was at least good enough to please and entertain the child version of myself. It just occurred to me for the first time in my adult life that I might be able to find some pictures and other information about that little organ online, and I did! It was a Sears Silvertone Model 603 Organ (no doubt ordered out of the Sears catalog.) Here is a link to a YouTube video of that organ in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cORy05zY_gU
I also had a small record player when I was very young (my parents must have bought it for me when I was around 5 years old), and I also had a lot of vinyl records (singles and full albums) to play on it, and I really loved listening to those records over and over, and spent a lot of time doing that. I had vinyl records with all kinds of music recorded on them, including music genres such as “kiddie music” recorded specifically for children, pop music, movie soundtrack albums, classical music albums, easy listening music (“elevator music”), and also some jazz and jazz pop music. This was the early to mid 1960s, so there was still a good bit of new jazz-influenced popular music being recorded at the time. I didn’t spend very much time listening to the children’s records that I owned, instead choosing to play all of the other records over and over again and really enjoying them all, especially the ones that featured orchestras and big bands.
So, I think having both that little Sears organ (which was almost like a toy) and that little record player when I was a young child really taught me how to listen to music and also encouraged me to mentally analyze music that I was listening to, even though it was in a musically uneducated way.
Later, when I was about to turn age 11 and was also about enter the 6th grade in public school, I knew that I wanted to play an instrument in the school band, but I had a really tough time deciding on which instrument I wanted to play, since I liked all of the instruments. I remember really liking the clarinet a lot back then, and I had thought that was the instrument that I wanted to play. But my parents talked me into playing the cornet instead, for some reason. They had a couple of friends who had been in the school band who had played the cornet, and I think they also might have just really liked the cornet and trumpet better themselves. So, I became a cornet player (and later, a trumpet player) more or less by random accident.
Did you have any particular early musical influences or heroes?
Growing up as a young child in the 1960s, I heard a lot of great trumpet music on the radio that I really enjoyed (much of which I heard well before I ever even played the cornet or trumpet), since there were a lot of hit singles that featured the trumpet back then, such as the hit single recordings by Al Hirt and by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. And, I also remember really liking the trumpet and brass section on those early Blood Sweat & Tears hits (Lew Soloff in particular later became a huge influence on my trumpet playing.) Those artists continued to record big hits into my early days of playing the cornet (trumpet) when I was in junior high school, and I sometimes tried to play their music myself by ear, or at least what little of it their music that I could play back then. Herb Alpert’s hits were heard everywhere at that time, and so everyone knew them and recognized them all, and the same was true with some of Al Hirt’s recordings. Once I began playing the cornet myself, I checked out a couple of Al Hirt’s albums from our local public library (on the recommendation of my middle school band director), and I listened to those recordings over and over again, and I really loved every Al Hirt track that I ever heard, even though I was a very weak young cornet/trumpet player at the time, and wasn’t yet serious about playing the trumpet myself.
Entering into high school was a big musical game-changer for me. That’s when I started buying and listening to lots of albums recorded by Doc Severinsen. My high school band director and Doc had met one year at the Texas Music Educators Association convention one year before I had ever entered high school and they had become good friends. As a result of that friendship, Doc played concerts as a featured soloist with my high school band every year that I was there, in addition to also playing those concerts several years before and after I was in the high school band.
When I was still in middle school (or “junior high school”), I had heard Doc play a live concert with the high school band and I was totally mesmerized with how beautifully and musically Doc played the trumpet, and that’s when I became Doc’s fan for life. So Doc is definitely a big personal mentor and inspiration of mine, and I have had the pleasure of getting to visit with Doc and reminisce about those times on several occasions over the years when Doc had come to Houston to perform with various different professional musical ensembles that he has led.
While I was still in high school, I also starting listening to a lot of Marice André albums, and as a result of that listening, he was a great influence on my piccolo trumpet playing once I added that instrument to my collection when I was in college. I also first began listening to a lot of great recordings of many of the standard trumpet concertos (recorded by many different soloists) when I was in high school, such as concerti by Hummel, Haydn, Torelli, Telemann, Franz Richter, and others. Also around that same time, some of the other, older high school band students had introduced me to the music of Bill Chase (and his trumpet-heavy jazz-rock band, Chase), as well as to the big band music of Maynard Ferguson, which resulted in my loving and idolizing those great trumpet players as well. And, of course, I was also also staying up late and watching and listening to Doc Severinsen play with (and lead) the orchestra for the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson on TV most week nights.
Rafael Mendez was another great trumpet soloist whose recordings I had also listened to a lot beginning when I was in high school. Also in my high school days, I became a big fan of the group, Chicago (beginning my freshman year in high school), and later, Tower of Power, and both of those bands had great horn sections that featured some fine trumpet playing. And, I also began to really like and appreciate the music of Henry Mancini back then, which included Mancini’s great trumpet sections and soloists, such as Bud Brisbois and Conte Candoli, and Mancini’s music was heard in many movies and television shows of that time period. Mancini even had his own weekly musical TV show called The Mancini Generation during that time period.
I definitely need to mention that Bob Odneal has been a huge influence on my lead trumpet playing. I have known Bob and have been listening to him play for many years, ever since I was in high school (Bob and I attended the same high school in our hometown of Baytown, Texas, although he is older than me, and therefore attended that school—and played concerts with Doc there—before I did.) I have really learned a whole lot from Bob throughout my entire lifetime, and I still continue to learn things from him. In addition to Bob being an extraordinary trumpet player, he is also a really great teacher and band leader.
Going from late high school into college, I added even more trumpet heroes to my list of major influences, including Clifford Brown, Jon Faddis, Marvin Stamm, and Arturo Sandoval (during his days in Cuba when he played with the band, Irakere.)
While I was in college, I also began to gravitate much more toward classical music (which became my primary performance genre throughout most of my life), and in that genre, I was most greatly influenced by my college trumpet professor and former Houston Symphony principal trumpet, James Austin, who is to this day, my idea of what the perfect symphonic trumpet player should sound like. But Bud Herseth, Vincent Chicowicz, and Gerard Schwarz and several other trumpeter players who were playing with the major symphony orchestras at that time also greatly influenced me as a classical trumpet and orchestral trumpet music performer, along with Maurice Andre, of course, who is the gold standard of piccolo trumpet performance.
There are so many other great trumpet players whose music has touched and influenced me greatly, and I think that, as trumpet players, we are each a product of everything and everyone we have ever listened to. But the trumpet players I mentioned above are the ones who have had the biggest influence on me, especially in my earlier years, from childhood up through early college in particular.
What have been some of your career highlights to date?
Probably the most enjoyable moments of my career have been getting to perform often with some of Houston’s finest classical and orchestral musicians, including many who perform with the major local professional orchestras, such as the Houston Symphony, Houston Ballet, and Houston Grand Opera orchestras, and also with musicians who are members of the great local professional theater orchestras. But, it has been equally rewarding for me to be able to perform with some of the Houston area’s greatest jazz and pop musicians. Houston has some of the finest musicians you will ever find, in all genres.
I have also really enjoyed getting to perform in orchestras and bands with some well-known singers and instrumental soloists, including Johnny Mathis, Casey Abrams, Doc Severinsen, Dennis Dotson, Kirk Whalum, and many others. Since I got to play concerts with Doc Seveinsen back when I was in high school, that experience has been hard to top!
I have also done some interesting film and television music recording work, including playing the fanfares in the 2015 BBC-TV movie, The Dresser, staring Anthony Hopkins and Ian McKellan, and also writing and performing a trumpet fanfare duet for a Zappos Shoes television commercial. I have also worked as a composer and music producer for several up-and-coming film directors both Houston and Austin, Texas, writing and producing music for some short films (made for film festivals) and some television programming. I even played trumpet and flugelhorn (among other instruments) in some of that film and television music that I produced.
I really enjoy playing a lot of different types of music (which keeps me from getting bored), including classical chamber music, orchestral music, big band jazz, small jazz combo, pop/R&B/funk/rock, and latin music. And speaking of latin music, I’ve even played in bands in which all of the other band members were fluent in Spanish (since it was their first language) except for me, and the rehearsals and performances of those bands were conducted completely in Spanish. Fortunately, music is the universal language, which makes communication among musicians easy, in spite of any language differences.
As an experienced educator and player, have you found that your approach to playing and teaching the trumpet has changed over the years?
I am a retired music educator, having taught band and music for many years in the public schools in Texas. Before I retired from teaching, I was also working part-time as a free lance professional trumpet player all those years that I was a teacher (the trumpet gigs were mostly in the evenings and on weekends.) Before becoming a life-long career classroom teacher, I also spent four years working as a full-time private trumpet teacher in the Houston area. During that time period, I was teaching between 90 to 110 trumpet students each week, while also simultaneously working as a free lance trumpet player. (I had also taught trumpet lessons part-time my last couple of years in college.)Even though I am retired from teaching, I still enjoy continuing to work some with band and music students from local high schools, middle schools, and colleges, in addition to continuing to work as a free lance professional trumpet player.
The biggest change to my playing and teaching the trumpet over the years is that I now personally spend a lot less time on practicing warm-ups, etudes, and technical exercises (you know, all of that “trumpet stuff”), and I instead spend a lot more time practicing repertoire for upcoming concerts and other performances. It is important to practice all of those trumpet techniques basics, but you encounter a lot of those in the repertoire you play anyway (especially if you are playing professionally.)
I do continue to play certain exercises on a regular basis (see next question for more details), but I often divide and spread those routine exercises out over 2 different days rather than practicing all of those different routine and technical exercises all on the same day (which, if I did practice them all on the same day, might leave little time for me to practice my performance repertoire, which is much more important, since that’s what I’m getting paid to play.) Splitting up my routine practice exercises and warm-ups and spreading them out over a couple of days also makes my practice days more interesting, since every day’s practice is a little bit different, with more variety. (Again, see the next question for more details about how I do all of this.)
As a performer, are there any particular routines that you follow to keep yourself in good shape for performance? How do you keep on top of your trumpet playing while you are traveling or really busy?
There are two very important things that I do to keep myself in good shape for trumpet performances:
(1) I make sure that at least 50% of my daily trumpet practice and playing is done in the middle to low register and/or playing very softly. This is an important technique for developing and maintaining good endurance (and also important for a strong upper register, which seems to be closely associated with good endurance.) This type of daily practice (when at all possible) has been recommended to me by many great trumpet players from all music genres, from classical and orchestral to jazz and beyond.
I keep a written practice journal that keeps running totals of how much time I have spent so far each day practicing soft/middle-low register stuff: I draw a smooth circle around the numbers of minutes (or hours and minutes) that I have written down for this type of practice that I have done. And, I draw a jagged, spiky circle around the minutes of loud and/or high register practice that I have done in each of my practice sessions. If I do a combination of the two types of playing during the same practice, then I circle the practice time for that session by making part of the circle smooth, and part of the circle spiky-jagged, approximately indicating the ratio amounts of the two types of practice done. After my last practice session of the day, I add up all of those minutes (from my two running totals of those two different types of practice) in order to get a grand total of hours and minutes that I practiced that entire day, and I write that total practice time amount in the left margin, next to the day’s date in my journal, and then I draw a rectangular box around the grand total of hours and minutes that I practiced that day.
(2) The other thing that is important is that, instead of practicing just once a day for a long time period, I like to practice in several relatively-short practice sessions throughout the day (always beginning my first practice session of the day fairly early in the morning), and then I rest and don’t play the trumpet for at least as long as I just practiced in the previous session before I begin the next practice session of the day. And, the moment when my lips are starting to feel either a little tired and fatigued, or “wobbly,” or maybe even feeling a little bit painful sometimes, then I stop playing immediately and take another long rest (or, I’ll stop practicing for the rest of the day, if my lips are too tired, or if I feel like I have practiced enough that day.)
As for what I practice, I probably spend about 90% of my time practicing music for upcoming performances, since that’s what I’m getting paid to play. It’s very easy to get distracted with practicing too many warm-ups, technical studies, etudes, lip-slurs, and long-tones, and other “trumpet player stuff.” Nobody will ever pay you to play any of those things! Not that those things don’t have value, because they do—I admit that I do think that they are important, and so I still spend a little time practicing and playing them—but no more than about 10% of my daily practice time on them, usually. Younger and developing trumpet students may need to spend a little larger percentage of their practice time each day playing these types of exercises though, in order to learn those techniques that are still new to them and therefore haven’t mastered yet. (That’s called “paying dues” and developing the basic skills of fine trumpet playing.)
I always warm up carefully each day, starting on second-line G (with at least a fairly long note, getting the best, most centered tone quality possible), and then I gradually expand my way down lower and then up higher throughout the total commonly-used range of the trumpet (or maybe even higher, if I am about to play some lead trumpet music or something that goes extremely high.) I do these expanding-throughout-my-entire range warm-ups with either some slow scales and/or arpeggios, or sometimes with expanding lipslurs and/or lip glisses (octave glisses), very carefully moving into the extremes of the lower and higher registers, and concentrating on relaxing and using as little mouthpiece pressure as possible, while getting the most beautiful, well-centered sound I possibly can.
I have a list of several things in my practice routine that I like to do regularly. When I was a student (especially in college), I would practice and play each of those things every day, if at all possible. But, after many years of playing all of those basic trumpet techniques, I now usually split them up and spread them out over 2 days (occasionally even having to spread them out over more than two days) so that I don’t spend more than 10% of my daily practice time on warm-ups and technical studies (“trumpet stuff.”)
I do have a set of “trumpet technique basics” that I like to start my practice day with, not only as a warm-up, but also to focus my practice, and to maintain all of the basic skills that I need to play the trumpet the way that I want to be able to. Each day, I practice each of those trumpet technique basics on only one pitch (or “key”) in all possible octaves (or, I might instead stick with that same pitch/key for two days, if I split this routine up and spread it out over two days.) After I have played through all of these exercises on that particular pitch or key, then I will move on to a new pitch to focus on for the next new day’s warm-up and routine practice. (I do this with all twelve possible pitches/keys, going through them in the order of the circle of fifths.)
Here is that list of daily (or semi-daily) essential exercises and skills for trumpet playing that I practice every day (or, sometimes over the span of 2 days, if I split this routine approximately in half and do only half of it a day over the span of 2 days), and I practice these regularly in order to keep my basic trumpet skills and techniques in good condition:
1. Longtones and Tonguing Exercises—I play long notes very softly on the “pitch of the day” in all octaves possible, holding each of these notes for as long I can in one breath (I count the number of seconds I hold each note), until I can no longer hold the note out without still being relaxed (and then stopping before I would have to squeeze the last of the air out in order to go any longer.) I do this a couple of times with each note (in each octave), and then I also play a long, single tongue exercise on that same note, starting with a whole note, and then going to shorter and shorter note values (whole note, 2 half notes, 4 quarter notes, 8 eighth-notes, 16 16th-notes, and then ending with a whole note with a fermata over it.) I then play various common double-tonguing and triple-tonguing rhythmic exercises on that same note. I repeat this process with the same pitch in every octave that I can comfortably play it in.
2. 4ths and 5ths—I slur between the “note of the day”, up a perfect 5th, then up a perfect 4th from there, etc., playing these 2 different pitches in all registers (also taking them down into the lowest register possible.) These 2 pitches function like tonic and dominant, or the 1st and 5th pitches of a scale, and therefore, these intervals are often found in music. Then, I start with the “note of the day” and this time, I slur up a perfect 4th first, then up a perfect 5th from there, etc., playing these 2 different pitches in all registers possible. In this case, these 2 pitches function like dominant and tonic, or the 5thand 1st pitches of a scale. [In other words, my “pitch of the day” serves as both tonic and dominant in these 4ths and 5ths interval exercises that I practice.]
3. Octaves—I play octave jumps, up and down, using the “pitch of the day,” playing these cleanly in all possible octaves, slurred, tongued, and also glissed. For even more of a challenge, I’ll jump up and down between all possible octaves that I can play of that “pitch of the day.”
4. Scales & Arpeggios—On the “pitch of the day,” I play a scale and an arpeggio, playing each in as many octaves as possible, first by memory, then I either play some arpeggio (chord) studies from the Arban book, or a I simply make up my own, similar arpeggio/chord studies. The “scale and arpeggio of the day” that I play as part of my practice routine is always selected from one of the following pairs:
(Notice that the first five pairs listed below are scales and arpeggios that are often used with the same harmonies or chord symbols.)
●Major Scale and Major (Triad) Arpeggios (maybe with a little bit of Major 7th chord arpeggio also);
●Mixolydian Scale (Dominant 7th Scale) and Dominant 7th Arpeggios;
●Minor Scale—I like to mostly practice the Dorian Minor scale, because that’s the minor scale that I use most often in jazz improvisation (but I also sometimes play the other minor scale forms a bit: Melodic, Harmonic, and Natural Minor scales) and Minor (Triad) Arpeggio, and also the Minor 7th Arpeggio;
●Diminished Scale (also known as Octatonic Scale or Whole-Step—Half-Step Scale) and Diminished 7th Arpeggios
●Whole Tone Scale and Augmented (Triad) Arpeggios;
●Blues Scale, and Pentatonic Scale, and also Stacks of Perfect 4ths (the stacks of 4ths, which represent extended tertian harmonies, such as 13th chords—are practiced here instead of the usual arpeggios)
●3rds Studies (scales with broken 3rds), plus Clarke’s Technical Studies (my choice), plus favorite “licks” or I’ll review some of the most technically challenging scales and arpeggios of my choice.
I eventually work my way through all of the “scales and arpeggios” pairings listed above, playing each set in all 12 keys/pitch centers. Since there are 7 of these pairings, and 12 different pitch centers (or keys) for each one, it takes me at least 84 days to work my way through all of them, if I do a new one every day (7 x 12 = 84.) So, in other words, it takes me almost 3 months—minimum–to complete this cycle. If I spit the daily routine in half, it will take me twice as long to work my way through all of these routines. I have a deck of color-coded index cards with each of these scale+arpeggio sets in each key/pitch center written on them that I use to help me keep track of which one I’m currently on, along with notes about which ones I have practiced on each day that I keep in my practice journal.
5. Interval Studies—from the Arban book, etc. (These are extremely important in developing and maintaining accuracy in playing.) I do these starting on the “pitch of the day” only, using the “scale of the day” from my practice routine.
6. Clarke’s Technical Studies by Herbert L. Clarke (the study of my choice from this book—I often rotate these), played in the “key of the day” only, but in all of its possible octaves.
7. Chromatic Scale, starting on the “pitch of the day,” going up as many octaves as possible. (It’s important to be able to play chromatic runs starting on every note, and the First Study from Clarke’s Technical Studies is also a great study for achieving great chromatic scale technique.
8. Range Practice—For playing in the extreme upper register, I will play some exercises (such as octave jumps—slurred and tongued—or arpeggios or scales or favorite licks) starting with one that goes up to high C above the staff, then going up from there by half-steps until I go as high as I can possibly play. For me, that’s usually about a double-high C, but sometimes a little higher than that, and on some days it’s a little lower (if I’m having a particularly bad chops day.) I rest frequently, as necessary in order to avoid tiring my lips out and injuring myself. I usually do these range exercises going up to double-C every day, but on the rare day that I might be having a “bad chops day,” I might skip these that day. I know some very fine trumpet players who also have great endurance and a great upper register who only practice these types of range exercises every other day. So you have to do it the way that works best for you personally.
9. Lip Glisses (Glissandi)—These sort of go along with the Range Exercises listed above. I start on C in the staff and gliss up to high C, glissing up and down several times, usually a total of eight times without stopping in between each one at these different dynamic levels: mf, mf, pp, pp, ff, ff, mf, mf. I then continue going up chromatically by half-steps, doing the same thing, but moving up gradually to higher and higher notes, until I am playing octave glisses up to double-high C (or as high as I can go on that particular day, at least.) NOTE: When I was younger, I spent a lot of time practicing lower lip glisses, going through all 7 lip-slur fingerings and starting on the lowest note that I could play with each fingering, and gradually adding more and more notes to these lipslurs/glisses, working my way up to playing 7-note glisses with each fingering, then later even 8-note and 9-note glisses. Those are really great exercises for learning all of the notes in the harmonic series for each of the seven fingering combinations of the trumpet.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: When I was a student (in high school and college), I spent a lot more time practicing the “trumpet basics” that make up my daily routine, but that’s because those skills were new to me then (or at least newer), so I was still learning these skills then and developing those basic techniques and establishing the muscle memory needed to perform each of them well and accurately. In my student days, I spent a lot more time practicing long-tones, lip-slurs, and scales (and later, also arpeggios.) Every great professional trumpet player I have every known, no matter what age and generation (trumpet players from all music genres, from classical/orchestral to jazz and beyond) has stressed the importance of practicing these things, and I have personally heard many of them warming-up with them and practicing them.
As I got older and had learned my lip-slurs extremely well (along with their accompanying harmonic series notes) and was therefore very skilled at playing them, to the point where they were almost boring, and required little concentration or effort from me when playing them, I then stopped practicing so many lip slurs, relying instead mostly on arpeggio studies to help me to maintain my lip flexibility in much the same manner, only I also get arpeggio fingering technique practice in with those exercises.
Throughout high school and college I also spent a lot of time practicing lip trill exercises in all registers (starting out with the lip trills in the middle and low registers only at first, in my early high school years.) But, again, after I had gotten really good at those and they had become extremely easy for me to play (even the lip trills in the upper register), I no longer spent much time practicing lip trills, with the exception of the ones that I would encounter in concert and gig literature that I would be playing (lip trills are especially common in big band music, of course.)
Also, as a student, I spent a lot of time gradually learning all of the different common scale and arpeggio forms listed above in my practice routine. Beginning a little bit in middle school and continuing into high school, I had learned all 12 major scales and major triad arpeggios, spending a couple of weeks on mastering each one of these 12 scales (along with the corresponding arpeggio) when I was in my first year in high school so that I could learn them really well and in order to play them really fast if I needed to (or wanted to.) Then, after learning all 12 of them (in all keys), I would quickly play through all of my major scales and arpeggios every day, starting with the lowest one (F# or Gb) and going up chromatically by ½ steps to as high as I could go playing these scales and octaves two octaves each, and then I would play the remaining scales/arpeggios that were then above my two octave range only one octave each (or, one octave “plus”–with a partial extra octave, as my young high school range would permit.)
Late in high school, I started to learn some minor scales and arpeggios a little bit, but I didn’t really woodshed those and learn them really well (along with the other scales and arpeggios I mentioned above) until I began my college years of study and realized that I still had a whole lot more to learn in order to achieve really good, comprehensive, basic trumpet technique.
Technology has produced the biggest changes in the way that I practice now compared to when I was younger. Metronome and tuner apps, instead of actual metronomes and tuning machines that I used in the pre-computer days when I was younger, as well as music audio and video files that can be instantly downloaded or streamed from the internet have all been major game-changers in the way that I practice now. Also, some other music-related computer programs, such as Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) programs have also changed the way that I sometimes practice and make music now.
As far as what I do to keep my chops and my trumpet playing in good shape when I’m traveling or really busy: I always travel with at least one instrument (Bb), even if it’s only my cheap little Bb pocket trumpet. No matter where I travel to, I always manage to find a some place there where I can get some practicing done without disturbing others. Over the years, I’ve practiced in many empty hotel ballrooms and meeting rooms, in empty classrooms of schools and universities, in empty Sunday school rooms and sanctuaries in churches, in parking garages, in empty stairwells, in empty office buildings—after office hours, in empty wooded areas, etc. When traveling, I find myself constantly analyzing every place that I see and evaluating it for its use as a temporary practice room or practice space.
If I’m staying in a hotel when I travel, I sometimes might do a little bit of my warming up and such in my hotel room, but if I do, I’ll point my trumpet bell toward something that will either absorb or dissipate the sound somewhat (pointing my bell toward pillows, or chair cushions, or heavy clothing, etc.) If I’m staying with relatives or friends who live out of town, I’ll usually wait to let my really loud and really high practicing rip lose when everyone else leaves the house for some reason or another.
Before I retired from teaching, I always kept my pocket trumpet in my car, where I often played warm-ups and chop-builders on it (long-tones, lipslurs, etc.), as well as tonguing exercises and other things on it, sometimes even playing these one-handed while I was driving to and from work (which was usually about a 30-minute trip each way for me, depending on the Houston traffic.) Every time that I had to stop at a traffic light, or got caught in a stop-and-go traffic jam, or got stuck behind a train that was either very long or that was stopped on the track, I got some really good practicing in. (There was a train track very close to the school that I taught at.) When I traveled to conventions, I would often carry my pocket trumpet in a small gig bag and then put it in a backpack that I carried around with me.
Other than practicing, I sometimes “set my chops” to embouchure position (but sort of relaxed—not too tense) during times when I’m sitting idle, but am unable to play the trumpet (in meetings, in waiting rooms, watching a TV show, etc.) I have always made the most of every minute that I have had to practice, even while I was still working a day job. Any time that I had before school, or during my lunch time (after I had finished eating) I would use these opportunities to get in a little bit of practicing (every little bit of practice that you can do helps.) Always getting my first practice session of the day done as early in the day as possible really helps with keeping my chops in shape also.
Can you tell us a little about the current relationships that you have with manufacturers? What was the process like, working with Legends Brass on new mouthpieces? How have these new mouthpieces helped your trumpet playing?
Working with Legends Brass on my signature custom mouthpiece, the GIT R DUNN trumpet mouthpiece, was a wonderful experience for me. Derek Saidak and his wife, Leslie (who own and operate Legends Brass) are both mouthpiece-making geniuses, and I am extremely impressed with the way they run their business, their great selection of unique mouthpiece designs that can meet the needs and preferences of just about any trumpet player, and their amazing attention to detail and creativity.
Derek designed the GIT R DUNN mouthpiece for me to use primarily for me to use for classical and orchestral trumpet playing on my larger trumpets, such as my trumpets in the keys of Bb, C, D and Eb (not for piccolo trumpet use.) Before Derek began designing that mouthpiece (at my request), I had recently switched to using two different Legends mouthpieces for my lead trumpet playing (and similar playing) and also for my piccolo trumpet playing. Both of these Legends mouthpieces have different advantages and different qualities in the way they sound and play and are therefore each best suited for different situations. (See below for more information about this.)
I loved the comfort and the feel of my Legends JT CS .600” lead trumpet mouthpiece so much (which is my primary lead trumpet mouthpiece) that I wanted to play on it all the time! And, even though the sound is great on it, it doesn’t quite get that characteristically orchestral trumpet sound that virtually all professional orchestra and classical trumpet players typically get. Also, it was always difficult for me to quickly switch back and forth between my lead trumpet/piccolo mouthpiece and my old “classical” mouthpiece, because the feel and the blow of the two mouthpieces were so different. This had really become an issue with my playing in recent years as I began to play a lot more different kinds of gigs requiring me to play a lot of different styles of music (classical chamber music, orchestral music, big band, jazz, pop, etc.) Similarly challenging was the fact that more churches (and therefore more church gigs) were moving toward blended services that required me to quickly switch back and forth between playing more contemporary lead trumpet-type jazz and rock style music to playing traditional classical, baroque, and romantic style music, all within the same church service, and often switching back and forth between the two different styles.
To solve this problem, I wanted a special custom mouthpiece that had the same rim, throat, and venturi cylinder design as the Legends JT CS .600” “lead trumpet” mouthpiece that I had been using for lead trumpet and piccolo trumpet playing, but I wanted the new custom mouthpiece to have a more open, broader, darker-sounding backbore (like the Legends Chicago backbore), and I also wanted this new custom mouthpiece to have a little bit deeper cup (but not too deep.) Derek and I both believed that these changes in the design would fatten up and darken the sound a bit more, yet would still provide good support in the upper register as well as enable good endurance, all while still being able to produce a rich, fat sound that still produces some “classical” brilliance and richness to its tone. The result was the new Legends GIT R DUNN .600” trumpet mouthpiece, which I am very pleased with, and I now use that mouthpiece exclusively for my general trumpet playing and practice, as well as for performing “classical” style chamber music and orchestra music. (I use the GIT R DUNN mouthpiece for everything except for piccolo trumpet playing, lead trumpet playing, and for some jazz solo playing.) By the way: I know many other older professional classical trumpet players who, like me, played on typical large inner diameter rim trumpet mouthpieces when they were young college students and young professional players, but who now play on much smaller inner diameter rim mouthpieces.
Not long before working with Derek on designing the GIT R DUNN mouthpiece, I had begun using two other Legends mouthpieces that were from the standard Legends mouthpiece catalog. I was using those two mouthpieces for lead trumpet-type playing and for playing piccolo trumpet, and those are the mouthpieces that I still use exclusively for those purposes. And now I can’t imagine having to use any other mouthpieces for those types of playing.
For most of my lead trumpet playing (probably about 80% of the time), and for all of my piccolo trumpet playing, I use the Legends JT CS .600” mouthpiece, which is inspired by the classic Jet Tone Charlie Shavers model mouthpiece, but with some significant improvements that Derek made to the original design. This mouthpiece has the most comfortable rim of any trumpet mouthpiece I have ever played on in my many years of trying hundreds of different trumpet mouthpieces. And, it is so easy to play on, giving me great results with less effort, and also encouraging me to relax more when I’m playing. It gets that big, fat sound that I want on piccolo trumpet without requiring me to work too hard, greatly improving my endurance on the piccolo trumpet as well as making the upper register much easier.
And that same Legends JT CS .600” mouthpiece has a similar effect when I use it for lead trumpet playing on the standard Bb trumpet. On that instrument, it also gives me a big, fat, beautiful sound that requires less effort than any of the lead trumpet mouthpieces that I had ever used or tried before. Likewise, this mouthpiece also greatly improved my lead trumpet endurance, and it also really stabilized my extreme upper register (from normal lead trumpet range up to double-high C and a little beyond), making my extreme upper register playing so much easier and much stronger-sounding and more beautiful-sounding than every before. The tone quality of this mouthpiece is so great in all registers that I also usually use it for playing jazz trumpet solos, in addition to using it as a lead trumpet mouthpiece.
Sometimes when I’m playing lead trumpet, I will instead use the Legends RM 16S .595” mouthpiece (which I use for playing lead trumpet about 20% of the time), which is a mouthpiece inspired by the classic Rudy Muck mouthpiece, but with some very important improvements that Derek made to the original, classic design. Like the Legends JT CS, the Legends RM 16S is also very comfortable, with a wide, cushion rim. And, the rim of the RM 16S feels like it is the same size as the JT CS, even though its inner-rim diameter is actually slightly smaller (but the outer rim is even wider, providing even more cushion.) I use the RM 16S for lead trumpet work that requires me to play gigs that last for an extra-long time, or that require almost continuous playing, or that involve an unusual amount of extreme upper register lead trumpet playing. The RM 16S requires me to back off and relax when I play even more so than the JT CS does, because of the way that it blows, which is extremely efficiently. And that, in addition to the extra-wide extreme cushion rim, makes it feel almost like I don’t even have a mouthpiece touching my lips when I play on it.
The RM 16S also has a bit more edge and brightness to it than the JT CS does. But on the other hand, the JT CS is a little fatter-sounding, yet still has plenty of brightness to allow it to cut through a big band also. Flexibility is also just a little bit easier on the JT CS than on the RM 16S. But, my choice of which one of these two mouthpieces I use when playing lead depends both on the style of the piece of music that I’m playing, the type of sound that I want for that particular piece, and also sometimes the type of performance that I’m using it in. (I’ll often switch back and forth between these two lead trumpet mouthpieces during a big band gig.)These three trumpet mouthpieces of mine that are made by Legends Brass (GIT R DUNN, JT CS, and RM 16S) are the only trumpet mouthpieces that I ever use now. I don’t have any formal relationships with any instrument manufacturers, and I use a variety of great instruments made by various manufacturers. (See the list of these below, at the bottom of this interview.)
2020 so far has been a ‘challenging’ year to say the least? What has this meant so far for your work? How have you been adapting to online work?
Well, like everyone else, I’ve had a lot of gigs and performances canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine. For many of us living in the United States, the quarantine began in full shortly before Palm Sunday and Easter, so many of us musicians had our Easter gigs canceled. Several bands that I often perform with usually play a lot of festivals and party gigs beginning about early to mid-spring and going on into the summer, and those gigs will also all be lost this year, as well as the many weddings and wedding reception gigs that we do. Also, the jazz quintet that I sometimes play with abruptly had all of its restaurant, club, and wine bar gigs canceled after all of those venues were ordered to close down in order to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
My wife (who is a professional organist/pianist) and I are both more fortunate than many other musicians because we are also both retired public school music teachers, which means that we are both still getting our monthly teacher pension payments. Even during the quarantine, my wife still continues to work as a church organist, but she and the rest of her church’s staff are now streaming church services via live video broadcasts on the internet each Sunday morning. These services are presented to an empty sanctuary with nobody sitting in the pews, and the staff members who are delivering the services are all carefully practicing social distancing by remaining far away from each other while they are at work.
In addition to our pensions, my wife and I also have some stock-heavy retirement investments that have lost a lot of money during this current stock market crash and economic crisis. Fortunately (I think?), we are still in the early years of our retirement, so hopefully the stock market will be able to recover quickly enough so that our investments will regain their original pre-stock market crash value before too long, and before we start drawing down extra funds from that retirement nest egg of ours.
During the quarantine, I have been able to keep my trumpet practicing going strong, in spite of the fact that I have no performances scheduled for the foreseeable future. I begin my first practice session of each day, as always, early each the morning, shortly after waking up and having some coffee. It’s been difficult to be as productive as normal for most of us, I think, because most people haven’t been sleeping very well during this quarantine, for various reasons. That’s one of the main reasons why I make sure to get my trumpet practice out of the way early, while my somewhat sleep-deprived mind is still in its freshest and most productive state.
I originally thought I would be making a number of new trumpet videos to post online while under quarantine, but—so far, at least—I’ve been busy with other things. In between keeping up with the pandemic news and standing in long lines for groceries and other essentials from time-to-time when I need to get them, I’ve also been hard at work finishing up my income tax returns (which, in the U.S., can be rather complicated and time-consuming, unfortunately.)
My wife and I have also been busy dealing with a cat who gave birth to kittens behind a swimming pool chemicals storage chest in our back yard. First, I had to build a fence in our back yard to close off the part of the yard that the cats were in from the rest of the yard where our two dogs roam around so that I could protect the cats from the dogs. After a few days, we took pity on the cats and moved them inside, into our house. But that meant that I then had to install a temporary screen door going into the part of the house where the cats are living in order to, once again, keep our dogs away from them. It also meant making and furnishing a cat nursery box, buying cat food, a cat litter box, kitty litter, and all of the other necessary cat accessories, since we hadn’t had any cats during our entire adult lifetime, just dogs. The learning curve was also steep, since we had to learn all about cats, and what to do with them and how to take care of them. Thank heavens for Google and YouTube!
Also, during the earliest days of this quarantine, before the cats arrived in our back yard, I was bored enough and had enough time and energy on my hands that I started to work on designing some new trumpet mutes that I had been thinking about making for a while. I spent a lot of time experimenting with various prototypes for these new mutes and, as a result, I came up with a really great set of unique mutes (or, more accurately, a mute system) which is extremely versatile and can be used for several different types of common mute indications found in trumpet sheet music, or for discretionary trumpet solo use, or even as excellent trumpet practice mutes.
The result of this effort is that I have now created the best trumpet mutes of the following types that I have ever played: bucket mute, hat mute, “in stand” mute, practice mute, and whisper mute (soft mute.) I am so thrilled with the results that I am planning on manufacturing these mutes of mine commercially once we all start recovering from the current economic crisis that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. I’m hoping to be able to launch these new mute products beginning in early 2021, and I think that I’ll be able to sell them at a very reasonable price so that they are afforable not only for professional trumpet players, but for students as well. I really believe in these mutes, and I think that they will become revolutionary new accessories that every trumpet player will want to have.
It’s interesting that it took a pandemic and a quarantine for me to be inspired to invent and perfect those new mutes. I read an article recently that said that, when Sir Isaac Newton was quarantined during another famous pandemic that you might have heard of, known as the Plague, he continued his studies and work at home. It was during this time of quarantine that Newton did some of his best and most famous work, including inventing calculus, studying optics and light, and studying gravity, which led him to the creation of his famous laws of motion. https://www.biography.com/news/isaac-newton-quarantine-plague-discoveriesI’m not saying that my newly-invented trumpet mutes are as significant or as important as all of those things that Newton invented, of course. But, I do think that my new mutes will be significant to trumpet players and that they will also be greatly admired and appreciated by trumpet players and their audiences. This is just another example of how we can all use this time of quarantine and isolation to accomplish some great things, or at least to continue to get some work done so that we are ready to resume our business as usual once the quarantine is lifted. Once the quarantine ends and live music performances are finally allowed to resume, those of us who kept our chops in shape by practicing throughout the quarantine period will be ready to work, and we’ll be the ones getting all of the gigs and keeping our performing reputations going. (And each student who continues to practice hard throughout this quarantine will likely wind up being first chair in their school band when school finally starts back up again.)
What advice do you have for young aspiring trumpet players out there?
I recommend practicing daily in multiple practice sessions, and always practicing with daily goals as well as long-term goals. (It helps to write everything down.) Also, you should find the best teachers you can to study with, and don’t be shy about asking questions of pro players who you see perform, or who maybe that you yourself get to perform with. (You can learn a lot from older players, especially.)
Also, make sure that other people hear you play, and that you are always prepared to sound as good as you possibly can, even if you are just playing in rehearsals or in semi-public practice areas. (Such as university music school practice rooms.) A university jazz band director happened to walk by my practice room in the school’s music building once when I was in the middle of playing a Maynard Ferguson solo (from his latest album at that time), and that jazz band director (who hadn’t met me before) introduced himself to me and invited me to audition to play lead trumpet in his jazz band, since his hot-shot lead trumpet player that was in his band had just graduated and left the university. I wound up winning the audition for that spot in the band, which means that there must have been a bunch of trumpet players with weak upper registers at that school that particular year, because I didn’t even think that my range and upper register were that great at that time! But that was a really great experience for me, as it was my first opportunity to play lead trumpet in a big band.
I also recommend that you make friends with other fine professional trumpet players and other serious trumpet students, and that you also develop strong friendships with other fine musicians who play other instruments besides the trumpet. Not only can you learn a lot from these types of connections, but these relationships could also help you to get some future gigs and other jobs of various types (such as music teaching jobs.)
If you ever get bored with your practicing and playing, then do something to shake things up a bit. Start playing some styles of music that are outside of your typical comfort area. For example, classical and orchestral specialist trumpet players could start practicing some jazz also. And, jazz or big band specialist trumpet players could practice and play some classical trumpet music. Not only will this give you more musical diversity, but it will also make you a better musician, and will present you with the opportunity to learn and develop some new skills.
Listen to a lot of recordings (over and over again) and also listen to live performances of the trumpet players who you want to sound like, and then make an effort to copy their sound and style when you practice.
Thank you, John. This interview and discussion was a real pleasure.
Randy plays on the following Legends Brass mouthpieces:
GIT R DUNN .600” (for general playing, classical and orchestral music on the larger trumpets)
JT CS .600” (piccolo trumpet mouthpiece, primary lead trumpet and jazz trumpet mouthpiece)
RM 16S .595” (extreme situations lead trumpet mouthpiece!)
MouthpieceOnline readers can get a 10% discount on any Legends Brass mouthpieces by using the code ” TEN% “. Please visit the Legends Brass website to see the range!