Kris Becker

I just got an email from a pianist who I recorded with about a year ago named, Kris Becker. The email announces his new website and I wanted to share that with our readers.

Kris is a young, up-and-coming musician with an ear for beauty and the daring to cross genre’s and still call the music his own. I first met him at the recording session for his project but then later played a wedding with him at Houston’s Second Baptist Church. A classy player and thoughtful musician.

Join his mailing list, buy his CDs and keep an eye on his career because I do believe he’s going places.

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Student CD Project

This is just a quick note to let everyone know that the student CD project is ready for the final stages.

If you haven’t finished recording yet, don’t worry, this project inspired a fresh idea about using recordings in the lessons. We will be recording most of your major work from now on and you may include any of your future recordings on upcoming student CDs.

The next steps in the process of finishing the CD include:

  1. Mixing (making sure the balance is correct between instruments)
  2. Adding Reverb (which makes the recording sound live)
  3. Mastering (making all the tracks have similar volume levels and things like that)
  4. Cover design
  5. Printing

There’s a little more to it than just that, but this gives you an idea of what work needs to be done.

We hope to have the entire project completed by the end of the month (August) and to send an order for CDs in early September.

We need to hear from each of you to see how many CDs you want to purchase. We will discuss this more in your lessons, but for now, please be thinking about that.

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Andress’ 50th

I am a graduate of Andress High School in North East El Paso. 2011 is Andress’ fiftieth anniversary and I was one of a few musicians invited to perform with a jazz ensemble during the cocktail hour of the event.

This ensemble was comprised mostly of other graduates from Andress HS from different graduating classes. This first picture shows me performing with Ricky Malichi on drums, Jawn Glass on Fluglehorn and Todd Baldwin on trombone. Jawn and I graduated from Andress the same year and  Todd graduated a year before us.

Ricky Malichi was the leader of the Malichi 5, back in the 1980’s. His gigs at Señor Blues were the first jazz jam sessions I ever attended, beginning a long tradition in my life of sitting in with similar bands across the country. In that respect, I owe Ricky so much for giving me the opportunity to grow in public before I even left El Paso.

A lot of people dismiss the importance of sitting in a jam sessions as part of their development as jazz players. That’s not a good thing. Jazz is not a solo sport. I don’t think you can even call it jazz if your concept is one of just playing by yourself over a live Aebersold track. Ricky and his band gave me an opportunity to take what I was learning at home, apply it, and test it with a real living band and a listening audience.

Jawn Glass was a huge influence in my early development. We became friends soon after we met and stuck together throughout most of high school and some of our college days. It was Jawn who first taught me the very same things I teach my students today: “how to practice.” Jawn helped me with the All-State music our Sophomore year and it was because of those thing he showed me that I was able to make it. After that, there was a friendly rivalry between us throughout our school years. This, too, is a big reason why I have been so successful in my career. There is nothing better to motivate a person to succeed than having a friend at your side lifting you up when you slip and fall. I can only hope I did as much for him as he did for me.

The next picture to the right shows Marco Valdez on drums. Marco was a year or two ahead of Jawn and I. What I remember most about Marco was that he played great marimba. If I’m not mistaken, he played with a marimba band that was very popular in El Paso in the 80’s.

As I said earlier, Todd was a year behind Jawn and I. I always looked up to Todd as a player, even after we graduated from high school. Todd was our top bone player and did a wonderful job on the classical and the jazz stuff. I remember a clinician who was working with the band when Todd was playing a euphonium solo. The clinician made a comment about how most euphonium players were either bad trumpet players or bad trombone players who got reassigned to the euphonium. This was his way of distinguishing Todd from the others and to compliment him…..even though he was really a trombone player after all.

I also remember that Todd was featured on a tune in the jazz band called Portrait of a Lady, a wonderful ballad if I remember right, composed originally for horn? Not sure if my memory is getting foggy but that’s how I remember it.

Today, Todd is a member of the Army band called “Pershing’s Own”. You can read more about him at his profile page for American University HERE.

There were two players in the band who were not from Andress, both of them named Curt. Curt warren, our guitar player, was the teacher for a jazz improv class I took at UTEP and an all-around mentor on things like playing changes and learning how to study a player’s style. Many years after I left El Paso, Curt gave me a copy of his CD and I transcribed his solo over Wave. I’ll try to post that here some day.

It was a great honor to play with Curt again after all these years. I tell people that the most you will ever learn from someone is when you play a gig with them. Curt Warren was on the only steady jazz gig I ever had in El Paso. Being on the gig with him like that, after having learned from him in a classroom environment, made a great impact on my playing.

The one person I didn’t get a picture of was Alan Chavez. Alan was not only an Andress graduate but also played in the UTEP jazz band while we were there. It was Alan who contacted me to perform with this group and it was a pleasure to see him and have a chance to hear him play again.

The one person who was not able to attend that we all missed was our band director, Al Mendez. Al had family business out of town and couldn’t make it.

I am not the type of person who goes to reunions. I was a nobody at school and there’s really no point in attending any of those things. But given the opportunity to play music with some old friends, I just couldn’t pass it up! The room was noisy and I think the music would have sounded better if we weren’t competing against people chatting, but it was still a precious moment.

And last but not least, I should also thank my wife, Pearl, for taking the photos from the event. She’s wonderful that way!

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What Defines Us?

It is a common saying among trumpet players that it is our sound that defines us. Although I do consider sound to be a very high priority, I disagree with the saying. Sound does not define us nearly as much as the literature we know.

I came to this revelation after decades of believing the traditional saying. It is from my experiences as a professional player that have given me this rather contrary idea that it is our repertoire that defines us and not our sounds. I remember when I first came to Houston and an older, more established player criticized me saying, “Players like Eddie Lewis sound fine, but they don’t know any tunes.” He was wrong. I knew plenty of tunes. I just didn’t know the same tunes as he did. But his comment is what stimulated my thoughts in that direction.

Think about it….

If a trumpet player has a beautiful orchestral sound but only literature he knows is dixieland music, is he an orchestral player or a dixieland player?

If a player has a rich Harry James sound but only knows brass quintet literature, is he a dance band player or a brass quintet player?

In my line of work, I don’t have the luxury of making those decisions myself. The people who hire me are the ones who decide what kind of player I am, and I can tell you with 100% certainty that they hire me more because of my repertoire than they do because of my sound.

The same thing is just as true for brass quintet gigs as it is for jazz stuff. Most of the brass ensemble gigs I play are sight reading gigs. The fact that I know those charts and know the style they are written in makes me an asset to the ensemble. I could sound one way or another, it wouldn’t matter. What matters most is that I can do the gig without messing up, and I couldn’t possibly do that if I didn’t know the lit.

I don’t teach serious orchestral students. There are a lot of wonderful teachers in the area who teach that style of music and have many years of experience at it. But I spent ten years of my life training to be an orchestral player. And yes, a lot of effort goes into producing a good sound. I agree. But that is a given for the orchestras today. If you don’t have a great sound, you won’t get in, PERIOD! From what I’ve heard from my teachers and from the people who I know who are in that line of work today is that it is your familiarity with the literature that makes the biggest difference.

In that sense, this is not an original idea of mine. People in the orchestral world have been teaching the lit this way for years. I am just pointing out that, when it comes to defining who we are, it is the literature that makes the greatest impact.

As a teacher, I take that part of my role in the students’ developments very seriously. Yes we work on mechanics. Yes we work on sound. Yes we work on general musical concepts. But the most important thing we do in the lessons is to work on literature.

A large part of my teaching method focuses on using practice techniques to learn and perfect literature. In the lessons I stress the importance of beginning a constantly growing repertoire. The more rep the student has, the more valuable he or she becomes.

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Book Review: Trumpet Collection

Trumpet Collection by Bernard FitzgeraldTrumpet Collection

Bernard Fitzgerald

When I referred this collection of solos to a student, I did so mainly because of the price. Most of these solos are considered standard pieces from the beginner and intermediate trumpeter’s repertoire and to get them all for under $25 is a great deal. But when the student ordered the collection and brought it to his lessons, I was surprised to find that it comes with a CD of all the piano parts. What was originally a great deal on solo music had then become a wonderful deal on a play-along package!

I believe that literature should constitute at least fifty percent of our practice time and that the highest form of literature for the classical trumpeter is solos like the ones in this package. Trumpet students should be working on solo literature from the time they are beginners. There is such a wealth of material available to us and it’s a shame that not enough people take advantage of it.

(Please see my post about what defines us as trumpet players.)

This Trumpet Collection by Bernard Fitzgerald includes the following trumpet solos:

  1. Adagio and Allegro Marziale by George Frideric Handel
  2. Allegro Gia mi sembra from the opera Lotario by George Frideric Handel
  3. Aria and Allegro by A. F. Tenaglia, J. P. Krieger
  4. Aria and Bourree from the Passion Oratorio and Solo Sonata in G  by George Frideric Handel
  5. Italian Suite by A. Scarlatti, A. Caldara, S. De Luca, F. Durante
  6. Allegro by Jos. Fiocco
  7. Sonata VII by Arcangelo Corelli
  8. English Suite by R. Bernard Fitzgerald
  9. Purcell Suite by Henry Purcell
  10. Adagio and Allegro from Sonata in E by George Frideric Handel
  11. Largo and Allegro from 6th Flute Sonata by George Frideric Handel
  12. “Let the Bright Seraphim” from the oratorio Samson by George Frideric Handel
  13. “Sound an Alarm” from the oratorio Judas Maccabaeus by George Frideric Handel

You can purchase it HERE.

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Recapturing Old Content

One of the things I’ll be doing on this site is bringing back some of the content I had originally removed from I started today by adding one of the old book reviews from my original site.

I have a lot of old content tucked away on my hard drive. Some of it will need some touching up. Others are ready now to be posted. I won’t be posted ALL of the old stuff. There were legitimate reasons why I took most of it down. But there is a lot of it that is more appropriate for blogging.

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Book Review: The Secret of Technique Preservation

The Secret of Technique Preservation – Ernest S. Williams

Publisher: Charles Colin
Copyright: 1980
No. Pages: 16

Two pages of text and fourteen pages of exercises which include:

  • Exercises for Limbering Lips and Fingers
  • Major Scales
  • Trills
  • Minor Scales
  • Chromatics
  • Exercises for Lip-Flexibility
  • Studies in Attack
    • Single-Tongue Staccato
    • Double-Tongue Staccato
    • Triple-Tongue Staccato
  • Intervals
  • Chords
  • Diminshed-seventh Chords
  • Whole-Tone Scales
  • Augmented Chords

The text on the second page describes the “Daily Routine” concept with its application to trumpet playing, and quotes Paganini with, “Every day I have to find my technique anew.”

My Comments:

This book was one of the very first books I used in college with Sam Trimble. Although I haven’t used any of it’s exercises in over a decade, the concept I have of what a daily routine is and how it works comes directly from my work in this book.

I continue to practice a daily routine which includes a warm-up but focuses more on development and maintenance than it does on the physical process of warming up. In that way, my daily regime is strongly influenced by “The Secret of Technique-Preservation”.

I would also like to point out that much of John J. Haynie’s published material is the same, in content, as this book is, but organized according to keys as opposed to being organized according to similar exercises.

Available at Dillards Music

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