Today I want to spend a little time talking about Buddy Siscoe, another trumpet player here in the Houston area. Buddy is widely known as one of the best trumpet players in town. While he works primarily as a lead player, he also knows a lot of tunes and has some experience playing classical music as well.
For those who are new to my blog, this Life Builders series is where I write about those people who have contributed to my success in life. It is an ongoing effort, rooted in what I learned during an intense Bible study on the subject of pride. Being proud is when you fail to acknowledge God or the people who contributed to your success in life. So in my effort to be less proud, I am regularly acknowledging people like Buddy Siscoe who have played an important role in my life and career.
This is not something I limit to just writing about in blog posts. Acknowledging the people in my life is something I strive to do every day, in every walk of my life. It’s not good enough to only write about it. I know I have to live it as well.
Buddy Siscoe – Lead Trumpet Player
When I first started working with the big bands in Houston, back in the early to mid 90’s, Buddy Siscoe was the lead player on all the same bands I was working with. I don’t think this was a coincidence. There were a handful of working big band musicians in town who were acting as my sponsors with the leaders. Buddy was one of those, along with Bob Morgan and Dennis Dotson. So the way it worked out, just about every big band gig I played, for about fifteen years, had Buddy on the lead chair.
For that reason, my concept of lead trumpet playing for the dance band stuff comes straight from Buddy. Today, when I play lead on a dance band gig, I hear Buddy’s style in my head. I hear his phrasing, his note shapes, note lengths and his vibrato. I may never be as good as him, but it is his sound I hear in my head and strive for when I’m sitting in his chair.
The Value of Work Tunes
Something that I grew to understand from Buddy was the importance of learning what I call “work tunes.” It was early in my time here in Houston when I learned that society gigs are not jazz gigs. Yes, someone who has the skills to play in a jazz big band also has the bare minimum skills it takes to do a society gig, but the two are not synonymous. One of the biggest differences between them is the repertoire.
Just to show you how different the tune lists are between these two idioms, I have collect a variety of different teachers’ and performers’ lists of the “top 100 jazz tunes to learn.” These lists often include the most popular jazz tunes and yes, if you want to be a bona fide jazz player, you better learn as many of those tunes as you can. But chances are that you will never play most of those tunes on a society gig. There are a few crossover tunes, like Take the A Train and Satin Doll. But the majority of the most popular, most important jazz tunes are inappropriate for society gigs.
Buddy is one of those guys who knows a whole lot of gig tunes. That’s why there are New York bands that still call him. He knows the tunes that they play and the younger generations of players tend to not know those tunes. He gets to travel the world because his knowledge of those tunes has become such a rarity.
So yes, Buddy is one of those players who helped me learn that it isn’t good enough to just learn jazz tunes. If you want to work in the commercial scene, where the money gigs are, then you need to learn the repertoire of that scene.
And I’ve just been talking about society gigs here, because that’s what Buddy is so good at. But the same is true for other commercial work.
The Importance of Two Beat Music
Another very important thing Buddy taught me was about the difference between two beat music and the more jazzy “walking bass” tunes. Buddy used to lean over and say in my ear, “look, they’re not going to dance to this one.” He would say this when it was a 4/4 tune. Then when the leader pulls a two-beat tune, he would lean over and say, “everyone is going to dance to this one.”
He was almost always right.
Many times over, Buddy told me that the most popular tunes are the two beat tunes. He pointed out that it’s not only true for big band music. It’s true for all types of music. The most popular tunes are the two beat ones.
Now that I know this, I use that knowledge when I need it. Not everything I do, in the context of my own music, is meant to be popular. If I’m playing a gig with my band at a jazz venue, or a jazz event, then I may not make all of my tunes two beat. Yes, some of them will be, thanks to Buddy. But the emphasis is more on being expressive.
But when I do a wedding reception or something more service oriented, you can count on me playing almost all two beat tunes. And just as Buddy said to me, leaning over and saying in my ear, it doesn’t matter what style it is. If I have a brass quintet gig, I’m still thinking about that. Playing a Bach contrapunctus at a wedding reception is not going to grab the audience the way Sleepers Awake does. Each type of music has its appropriate application, and thanks to Buddy, I understand that now.
Another Solfegio Master
Buddy Siscoe is also the third person for me to write about in these Life Builders posts who is a master of solfegio. The other two were Curt Warren and Ceasar Morales. These are the three people in my life who can solfegio anything they can play. It is very impressive to hear.
Like Ceasar, Buddy uses fixed do solfegio, which I’ve never been able to do. I originally learned movable do and now I’m stuck with that.
It’s because of Buddy, Ceasar and Curt that I typically make my beginning students learn at least a little bit of solfegio before they do anything trumpet related. And I do not think it’s a coincidence that those students always tend to progress faster and easier than the students who started with someone else before they came to me.
Buddy is also one of those who taught me what it means to behave like a pro. Before I came to Houston, most of the work I had done was either in school bands or with bands made up mostly of other students that I was going to school with (the exception being my two seasons with the El Paso Symphony). And even though I got a very good taste of professionalism from the EPSO, I think things are very different when your livelihood depends on it.
And since Buddy is originally from Boston, a full fledged New Englander, he is not the type to keep his opinions to himself. And me being a bit of a Yankee myself (my parents are from Pennsylvania and my early childhood was spent at different army bases up in that area), I never take offense when Buddy shares his opinions with me. In fact, I always look forward to my gigs with him because I like to be around and learn from him in that way.
Thank You, Buddy
I know that Buddy doesn’t do much internet stuff, so I will be printing this and sending it to him. When I look back at what I’ve written so far, I feel like it’s not enough. How can you take 25 years of gigging together and put that into a few words that mean anything? It’s a terrible understatement to say that Buddy has had an impact on my life, but to try to put that into words, it feels shallow.
The truth is that I don’t have the right words to say. What can I say more than “thank you?” Buddy is a Christan man who cares about people. I feel it is important for me to now take the time to tell him that I appreciate him and that he means something to me.
So yes, THANK YOU Buddy. Not only have I enjoyed working with you, I have learned from you and you have helped to make me a better player and a better person.