Life Builders: Sam Trimble

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Sam Trimble – Trumpet Mentor

I want to spread these Life Builders around between three or four different categories. The first category is family, which I started with when I wrote the installment about my wonderful wife, Pearl. This second installment belongs to the category of teachers and/or mentors, people who spoke wisdom into my life when I needed it most. I am beginning with Sam Trimble simply because no one else has affected my trumpet career and therefor my life to the degree he has.

I have written many times about Sam Trimble‘s influence in my life. It is a common topic I share with my students. Unlike any other teacher I ever studied with, Mr. Trimble and I worked gigs together for several years. I didn’t only learn from him in the lessons I took with him, but I also got to see him in action in an environment which encouraged me to try to follow his lead. This mentoring environment was so life changing and career shaping that there is very little I do in my professional life today that wasn’t shaped in my mind during that time.

First Recording Sessions

On my first recording sessions I was hired as a second chair to Mr. Trimble. If I’m not mistaken, our very first recording session together was a Budweiser commercial. Jose Jose was the singer and we recorded in mariachi style. There were several other professional sessions that followed over a three or four year period and I can trace all of my professionalism today back to those original sessions with Mr. Trimble.

El Paso Symphony Orchestra

I also played two seasons in the El Paso Symphony Orchestra, often playing assistant principal to Mr. Trimble (who I believe is still the principal trumpet of that orchestra). I think this is where I learned the most from him about professionalism and business ethics.

You know, I think learning this stuff is very different when you don’t have a mentor speaking into your life. Because Mr. Trimble was my teacher, he had no qualms about telling me what I was doing wrong and I value that. I valued it then and value it even more now that I see how different things could have been. What I see in the music industry today is nothing more than a bunch of back stabbing. Instead of telling someone to their face that they are screwing up, they talk about it behind their backs. I’m so socially inept that I don’t think I could have figured it all out on my own without Trimble helping me out when I was doing wrong.

Learning to Use a Datebook

We often spoke of professional things in our lessons. If we had gigs together during the week prior to the lesson, we talked about what happened at the gig. We discussed what could have been better and how to do things differently next time. This is when I learned how to keep a datebook. That seems like a trivial thing to write about, but I see so many kids today who don’t have a clue how to use a datebook (much like me when I was their age). More importantly, my music career would not have been what it was if I hadn’t learned how to use the datebook when I did.

I still have all of my datebooks going back to 1983. It’s interesting to go back and look at what I was doing almost thirty years ago on any given day.

Other Gigs

Besides the orchestra work and the recording sessions, there were plenty of other performance opportunities while I was at UTEP. We played brass quintet gigs together and some chamber orchestra stuff that I remember for sure. A lot of the rest of it is a bit of a blur now (thirty years later), but I remember that we did a great variety of gigs together.

Musical Phrasing and Sight Reading

One of the most important aspects of trumpet playing that I learned from Mr. Trimble is the art of phrasing. Everything I’ve written up to this point has been about the professional side of the horn, but what I learned in the actual lessons was also valuable. The one thing I prize above everything else was what he taught me about phrasing. I specifically remember working on a 12 tone etude and Mr. Trimble told me to make the notes sound like music because it won’t sound that way automatically. We spent so much lesson time working on phrasing that by the time I left El Paso I couldn’t possibly play a piece of music without phrasing. By then it was already a part of who I was as a player.

Mr. Trimble taught me what I consider to be correct, poetic phrasing, not the “follow the shape of the line” stuff that I’ve seen other teachers teach. Poetic musical phrasing doesn’t conform to the “shape of the line“. Our sense of phrasing has to do with having an understanding of poetic phrasing and how the phrases work together. The reason I learned this so well with Trimble was because I got to experience his own application of that phrasing on the gigs we did together. Those performances were life changing and career shaping. I know I said that already, but it’s worth saying again.

Mr. Trimble also did a lot to help me with my sight reading. It’s obvious to most people that a professional player needs to be a great sight reader. If it weren’t for my reading skills when I got to Houston, I may not have been able to cut some of the gigs I played in the beginning of my trumpet career.

Jazz Lab Band

It’s also important to mention here that Mr. Trimble was the director of the jazz ensembles at UTEP. Not only did we make three recordings while I was there, but we also performed in the Montreaux Jazz Festival. I know that I have stressed the fact that we played lots of gigs together and that I learned so much from him that way. However, I also learned a great deal from Mr. Trimble about directing and composing for the large jazz ensemble. Once again, there is so much good in my career today that I can trace back to what I learned in that ensemble.


This article is from my life builders series where I acknowledge the fact that my life is not my own and that it took the contributions of many other people to get me where I am today. And where I am today is partially that I have a reputation of being a player who is versatile, professional and reliable. All three of those aspects of my reputation began under the mentoring of Sam Trimble. I owe him a heap of gratitude for putting me on the right track when he did.

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