With a rapidly growing profile on the UK and International Jazz circuits, and an ever-increasing back catalogue of critically-acclaimed recordings to his name, I am immensely grateful to trumpeter and Schilke Artist, Steve Fishwick for giving up his time to share his thoughts and insights…
Tell us about how you got into trumpet playing, and your main influences.
“Aged 8, I started having lessons with a wonderful teacher called John Crosdale who had spent time in the Halle orchestra. My twin brother Matt (now a drummer) made fun of me for a week then decided that he wanted to play too. I think our parents thought we’d give it up in a few months. Mr Crosdale used to regale my parents with stories of his professional trumpet playing days, so to an 8 or 9 year old, this was the greatest thing ever. By the age of 10, I had more or less made up my mind that I was going to be a professional musician, not really having any idea what that entailed or how hard it would be!
I’ll be forever grateful to Mr Crosdale because he was so curious and enthusiastic about music. When my brother and I started getting interested in jazz, he didn’t discourage it, he was very positive and excited by it even though he was a classical trumpet player. At the time, the 1980s jazz boom was underway. Wynton Marsalis’ fame was at its peak so he was on the TV all the time along with Courtney Pine, Tommy Smith and Andy Sheppard. Plus, they were showing old jazz 625s on the TV which we used to video tape and watch over and over. I remember going to see Dizzy Gillespie with the United Nations Orchestra (with Arturo Sandoval and Claudio Roditi) and our teacher Mr Crosdale was in attendance too. At our next lesson, he presented us with a programme signed by Dizzy, he’d gone backstage after the concert to meet the band and chat to Arturo about trumpet technique! He really was an inspirational teacher.
I had got into some bad habits, playing on the red of my lip, so I undertook an embouchure change. I had no idea what I was doing, I just changed position and told myself: “right that’s where I’m putting the mouthpiece from now on” and it kind of worked. Then we went to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music under Graham Collier (we were there 1994-98). Steve Waterman was my teacher along with Gerard Precenser (for my final year) who was very inspirational. I also had some lessons from vibraphonist Anthony Kerr who was very helpful when I was trying to get fast tempos together, and Martin Speake was great too. I played pretty convincing jazz when I arrived at college but I didn’t really know technically what I was doing (I was playing mainly by ear). Martin found me out on day one and proceeded to roast me. I was a little headstrong and stupid in those days and rebelled quite a bit, but the lessons stuck with me and much, much later I eventually caught on to what they were trying to tell me!
I should also mention Lew Soloff who I had the good fortune of working with in Pete Long’s Gillespiana. I had met him in New York a little while before this too. He was very encouraging, but told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to improve my technique, particularly my breathing. He turned me onto the Arnold Jacobs breathing exercises which I’ve been working on ever since, along with the Chicowicz long tones and flow studies (which Terrell Stafford turned me onto). I would say that these two things, more than anything else, have improved my trumpet technique immensely.
As for players that I admire, there are a lot! Main influences I would say are Kenny Dorham, Miles Davis, Art Farmer, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Blue Mitchell, Donald Byrd, Clifford Brown, Woody Shaw, Charlie Parker and Dizzy. I often feel torn between the Kenny Dorham/Miles Davis vulnerable introspection and the more gregarious extrovert Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. So, I guess I’m trying to balance the two things in some way. I also listen to more contemporary players like Joe Magnarelli, Ritchie Vitale, Wallace Roney, Scott Wendholt and pretty much anyone playing now. I try and keep up with all the contemporary players: Avishai Cohen, Ambrose Akinmusire, Michael Rodriguez and the rest of them. Plus, we have some very fine jazz trumpet players over here in the UK who are very inspiring, such as Percy Pursglove, Tom Walsh and Robbie Robson. I also like to listen to classical music too.”
What model trumpet do you play?
“I am playing a Schilke HC-1. For a long time, I played a Martin Committee from the 1940s, but I wore the thing out, put my hands through the brass and everything. Even after I had it reconditioned it just became unviable to play as my everyday horn. I got another Martin but the tuning wasn’t fantastic. Then I moved onto Olds Supers which I liked, incredible projection, but I never felt like I could hear myself very well – Probably because the horn was so good at projecting! I eventually bought a Schilke B1 after a lot of research. Basically, I like lightweight horns with step bore and a reverse leadpipe. I like to feel the horn vibrate in my hands as I’m playing it. The B1 is great, it has a wide variety of tonal expression, and out front it doesn’t sound bright at all. But from behind the horn it does sound a little bright. So, I’ve moved onto the HC-1 which, although it was designed for Wallace Roney, I feel it could have been designed personally for me! It is a fantastic amalgamation of the Martin Committee and the classic Schilke designs, two of my favourite horns. The sound is great, the tuning perfect and the resistance from low to upper register is amazingly consistent. For me personally and for what I’m trying to do, they are the best horns out there.”
“I play on a Monette B2S3 Prana Resonance Mouthpiece. I’ve experimented a lot – Used to play big mouthpieces, moved to shallow ones and gradually went bigger again. I think most jazz players want something that can give them a big, warm sound but also enables them to get into the upper register. So, everything is a little bit of a compromise between sound and range, deep and shallow. The Monette mouthpiece isn’t a compromise, great sound and the upper register is easier. If I try and play a conventional mouthpiece now, it just doesn’t work. And the sound is nowhere close to the Monettes (for me personally, not that other players can’t make conventional mouthpieces sound great, I mean Clifford Brown didn’t need it!). I feel that they also ‘correct’ your playing in some way. If I’m not using my air correctly or I have tension somewhere in my body then the mouthpiece just kind of shuts down, it doesn’t work. I don’t consider myself the greatest trumpet technician as it’s something I’ve always struggled with, so I need the daily reminder!”
What are the most important aspects of trumpet playing that young, aspiring musicians should focus on?
“I think an aspiring player should concentrate on sound. There is a lot to think about when learning any instrument, so I think that sound sometimes goes out of the window. Along with this goes correct breathing and listening a lot to the greats. A lot of younger players don’t know how to listen, and in a lot of ways it isn’t their fault. They have Spotify, YouTube and all of this music at their fingertips, so they end up listening to different stuff every day. There is a lot to be said for the old way of getting a bunch of CDs and listening to them repeatedly, internalising them and really learning every note on the record. Also, listening isn’t as social as it used to be when you would get together with friends and listen to music. Everybody listens on headphones on their phone or computer in isolation. Do yourself a favour and buy a decent stereo system! It will sound so much better and you will hear details in the music you won’t have heard before. Also, you’ll experience the joy of listening and sharing music with friends. I feel listening and internalising the sound of great players is hugely important, it will give you a strong concept of what you want to sound like. And if you don’t have that strongly in your mind, it will never come out of the bell of the instrument. Also go to gigs and hear people live! It’s the best lesson you will ever get. The amount of great, great trumpet players that I go to hear and see zero of my trumpet students there in the audience alarms me.
When I was a young player, I attended the Wavendon Jazz Summer Course. Steve Waterman was teaching there and he was invaluable because he showed me all of these transcriptions of people like Lee Morgan and Miles Davis he had done. Before that I was seriously groping in the dark, but I went home and started transcribing, and my jazz playing started rapidly improving. It kind of makes me chuckle now when I tell my students they have to transcribe and some of the reactions of horror that I get, because it is quite a daunting prospect at first. I remember transcribing from vinyl and cassettes because I didn’t have a CD player. If you wanted to slow it down you had to buy a special cassette player from the US that slowed the music to half speed but made it an octave lower in pitch. Now there are numerous computer apps that you can download in seconds for a few pounds that can slow the music down whilst keeping the pitch.
Teaching is really important to me. I think that we have a lot of amazing players here in the UK that aren’t really appreciated enough, and the standard is getting better and better year after year. I love being part of a team in the colleges that I teach at (Leeds College of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Birmingham Conservatoire, and the Royal Academy of Music). When you manage to get the student to play better during the lesson and you see them getting the idea, coupled with seeing their progress over time, it’s exciting and very rewarding to feel you’ve been a part of that process.”
What projects do you currently have in the pipeline?
“I have a band co-led with my brother Matt, featuring Dave O’Higgins on Saxophone, Rob Barron on piano and Dario de Leche playing the music of Cedar Walton. My brother and I had the honour of recording with Mr Walton in 2007 along with bass legend Peter Washington and my long standing musical partner Osian Roberts.
I recorded a CD last November with Alex Garnett on Alto Saxophone, New York bassist Mike Karn and Matt again on drums. We’re currently working to get that mixed, mastered and released with a view to touring late next year.
Also in the pipeline is another sextet album as a follow up to our two previous CDs, In the Empire State and When Night Falls. This band features Osian Roberts on Tenor, NYC musicians Frank Basile on Baritone, Mike Karn on bass and Jeb Patton on drums. I’m writing music for that when I can find the time!”
Details on projects, recordings and future gigs can be found at www.stevefishwickjazz.com