Is it possible that recording technology is the reason for the drastic change of style in the early 20th century?
Herbert L. Clarke Recordings
As part of their lessons, I give all of our regular students (regular students are those who have made a weekly commitment to lessons) a weekly listening assignment. One of the CDs I often assign is a collection of recordings made by Herbert L. Clarke. It says in the liner notes that these recordings were made on drums, not on disks. So this is technology that predates the phonograph.
What I find most remarkable about Herbert L. Clarke’s recordings is his almost over-exaggerated flair. By today’s standards, he was overdoing it. Too much vibrato. Too many drastic changes in the tempi and dynamics. The recordings seem to be what we call today, “old fashioned.”
Old Movies and Granny Singing at Church
The Clarke recording reminds me of church when I was young. Do you remember the days when churches didn’t have rock concert sized PA systems? In those days, you could actually hear yourself sing along with all the other people in church. You could hear the old grannies singing at the top of their lungs with an almost fake operatic vibrato. It used to drive me nuts. (Ha! I never like vibrato much as a kid.)
Pearl and I recently watched the old movie titled “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and there it was again, that wide, almost operatic vibrato. As we watched the movie, I was thinking again about how much the styles have changed and that’s when it hit me. Back when I was a student of Sam Trimble at UTEP, he used to call that old style “schmaltz.” If I was working on a cornet piece he would tell me to “add some schmaltz to the music.”
Where’s the Schmaltz?
Today, we don’t hear any of the schmaltzy playing anymore. I believe that maybe the reason the styles changed is because of the PA systems and recording technologies. I remember as a child feeling some musicians more than I could hear them. From the best to the worst of them, you could feel their musical presence in a very physical sense. The problem is that the schmaltz is not very well communicated electronically. When you record someone who plays very schmaltzy, 80% of what that musician is communicating never makes it to the other side of the mic.
We have become a remote population. Nothing we do is physically present anymore. When we go to church, we watch our preachers and pastors on the big screen instead of watching them with our own naked eyes. We hear their voices through a PA system, and when that PA system fails, we don’t hear anything they say.
Beautiful Sound vs. Powerful Presence
As a result, everything in the music world has become primarily about sound. Recording technology has been around for so long now, that most living musicians don’t even know how to be present the way musicians used to be before electronics changed everything.
I get the impression that most trumpet players hear music as a recorded medium, not a live performance medium. So when they practice, what they strive for is the perfect “recorded sound.” In fact, this is SO VERY TRUE that even symphonic players consider recording equipment an absolute necessity for the success of their practice.
I am not saying one way is good and another way is bad. I am only trying to make connections here. I am trying to understand why everything changed, and this is the best explanation I’ve found so far. Schmaltz cannot be recorded because it is not only a sound phenomenon. There is a very physical element to schmaltz that cannot be communicated via electronics. So it is no longer used.
As I was getting my day started this morning, I remembered something Tim Hagans told us in his clinic/master class at HSPVA years ago. He was talking about his first CD project for Blue Note when he said:
The music industry is big business…
…but jazz trumpet, that’s little business.
That’s a little something to chew on for the rest of the day.
What do you think Tim Hagans meant when he said that?
I have mentioned a few times on this blog that I’ve been commissioned to write music for a new band called Jazz Forever. It was the writing work for that band which I was referring to when I said, several months ago, that I was going to have to cut way back on my blogging time. I was hired to write a considerable number of songs for the band to perform and record.
Note: Just to demonstrate how much I have cut back on my blogging, it’s worth mentioning that the performance was almost three weeks ago. I am only now able to spend the time wrapping up this post.
Well, good news! We had our first performance with this new band on Sunday afternoon (1/27) with great success. The music I wrote was executed almost perfectly by the musicians while the audience and dancers seemed to enjoy it quite well.
A Personal Milestone
This is a personal milestone for me. That may seem odd at first because I’ve been writing arrangements for bands since I was in high school. When people ask, I tell them that I’ve written over 300 original compositions, which is a lot, but I’ve written so many arrangements that I couldn’t possibly count them all. So then, how is this a personal milestone?
Well, this is a personal milestone for me because it represents the culmination of all my writing skills. I knew there would be little or no rehearsal time. I needed to write the music in a way that would minimize mistakes, using conventions I have acquired over the past thirty years through trial and error.
I’m not taking anything away from the wonderful performance of the musicians themselves. They did a terrific job. But I know from experience that it doesn’t matter how good the musicians are if the music is written in a way that makes everything difficult for them. It is possible for an inexperienced (or inconsiderate) writer to “trip” even the best musicians in the world.
So I was very pleased when each one of the tunes I wrote for the premier performance of Jazz Forever came off without any major problems. And yes, I do consider that a milestone in my career. This performance was proof that my writing style works the way I always thought it would.
Photo by Jeff Grass at
The Music of Ben Pokluda
Jazz Forever is a project spearheaded by Mr. Ben Pokluda. It is his desire to assemble a band of musicians that can perform the early jazz that he enjoys, then turn on a dime and play music appropriate for ballroom dancing.
When Mr. Pokluda’s website goes live, I will be sure to post a link to it so that you can read his story there. I have heard him share his adventure a few times and it is heart warming and uplifting.
About the Writing
Most of the writing I’ve been doing so far has been transcriptions of early jazz recordings. The writing has been challenging and rewarding both. I have plans for a separate blog post that explains the challenges in detail, but for now, I just wanted to say that those challenges have been greatly welcomed. I have grown so much as a musician over the past nine months and it’s all because of the work I’ve been doing on these charts.
Most of what I have left to write are more of the ballroom pieces. What I’ve been enjoying most in doing the writing for this project is the memories of my father who used to listen to most of these tunes. I have a vivid memory of a time when my father drove me from one end of the state of Pennsylvania to the other. Much of the music I am writing for this band was on the radio that night as we drove along 322. Those a precious memories I have of my father.
The band goes into the recording studio this week where we will be working on a CD project. I will let everyone know when the CDs are available. This is an exciting time for me and I look forward to working more with Mr. Pokluda and the wonderful band he has put together.
Here are the members of the band from the launch performance:
Eddie Lewis – TrumpetGeorge Chase – Trumpet
Ed Lowe – Trombone
Doug Wright – Alto and Clarinet
Martin Langford – Tenor and Clarinet
Gary Zugar – Bari and Clarinet
Mike Owen – Guitar and Banjo
Gilbert Sideño – Piano
Thomas Helton – Bass and Tuba
Bobby Adams – Drums
Do not confuse nonsense with deeper thought. It is difficult to discern the two before you explore the depths yourself, because both appear on the surface to display certain disconnects. We expect one plus one to equal two. When someone presents to us something that breaks from our expectations, it is not a safe to assume that the nature of that disconnect is a form of deeper thought.
My idea of what deep thought really is may be a bit different from other people’s. I readily acknowledge this right now, before I write anymore on this topic. It seems to me that most other people I know see “deep thought” as being emotional, not practical or rational. They associate “deep thoughts” with more strongly “felt” emotions. Not me.
To me, “deeper thoughts” are thoughts that explore the depths of each subject in levels. Deeper thoughts explore deeper levels of cause and effect, deeper levels of historic significance, deeper levels of implication, etc. Deeper thoughts are like playing chess with life.
An example of a deeper thought I try to expose my students to is the idea of deferred gratification. A LOT of what I assign as a teacher is dreadfully boring. If the students cannot think deeper thoughts than just “I’m bored, I don’t like this, I want to play music that’s fun”, then they will never experience the greater levels of joy that come with practicing the things I assign to them. That is a wonderful example of second level deep thinking. Shallow thinking says “I’m bored, I won’t do this.” Going one level deeper says “I may not enjoy doing this now, but I know I will enjoy the results of my effort in the future.”
To me, the more levels you explore in your mind in that way, the deeper your thoughts really are. This is in stark contrast to the more popular ideal of what deep thinking is. To me, what is labeled most often as being “deep” in the music community is actually EXTREMELY shallow. I believe that thinking only on an emotional plane is as shallow as you can get. Thoughts that are MORE emotional are not deeper. Instead, such thoughts dig their heels into that first level, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge anything meaningful beyond just the emotional plane.
Why We Confuse the Two
A lot of what is lauded as “deep thought” in the modern music world is nothing more than disconnected gibberish. It’s as if the composers/musicians have thought to themselves:
“deeper music sounds unusual and sometimes even out right weird [or offensive], thus, if I compose/perform music that is unusual and/or weird, then my music must also be just as deep.”
This is flawed reasoning and no amounts of emotional expression invested into the music will ever cause it to become more “deep” than just first level, emotional thought.
Music of greater depth is indeed often strange sounding because we often miss the connections at first. Shallow thinkers will have great difficulty recognizing the difference. It takes a deep thinker to recognize deep thoughts. To those who think only on the shallow, emotional plane, they respond to things which are mostly peripheral to the music itself. They respond to the facial contortions and body language more than they do the music. The musician who writhes in agony during a performance of strange collections of sounds is, in their mind, obviously a very deep thinking individual.
How are they to know the difference between that bit of weirdness and the weird disconnect they experience in a performance of true depth? How could they possibly recognize true musical depth if they have never explored those depths themselves?
Outside of Music
The same is true, of course, outside of music. Deep thinking is not emotional. It is a matter of exploring things in a way that leads to a greater understanding of possibilities. This is true in politics, science, history, relationships, anything you can think about can be done so this way.
Darryl Bayer is a trumpet and keyboard player from Boston Massachusetts. He is one of the few trumpet players I’ve ever met who is a true, natural born entertainer. When you see Darryl perform and see how easy it is for him to connect to the audience, it’s no wonder that he has become one of the more popular trumpet players in the Houston area.
My understanding is that Darryl has been performing since he was a high school student. He performed as a soloist with symphony orchestras and at some point along the way also worked as a keyboard player in a rock band. He has that certain flare that us brass musicians have come to expect from Boston trumpet players.
Darryl Moved to Houston not long before I did. He moved here after a short stint in California but has been living and working as a musician here in the greater Houston area for about twenty-five years.
My First Gig Champion
Darryl Bayer gave me my first gigs when I got here to Houston and I have been working with him ever since. He became my champion months before I ever even met him. One of my best friends from UTEP, Chris Parks, was Darryl’s roommate when they were both students at the University of Houston. When Chris told Darryl about me, Darryl had already expressed a genuine interest in working with me. It wasn’t but a few days after I got here when Darryl popped into Mr. Austin’s office and introduced himself to me. Within weeks I did my first gig with him.
When I listen to recordings of my playing from those years (late 1980’s), it makes me appreciate Darryl all the more. I was not a very good player. I am almost ashamed to admit that I was so bad that I didn’t even know how bad I was. I’m not saying that I thought I was hot stuff. Not at all. But I didn’t realize how bad I really was. I know I had skills (and that was my saving grace), but I sounded really bad.
But that’s how Darryl is. He is sort of the Art Blakey of trumpet players here in Houston. He likes to take the up and coming players under his wing and nurture them the way he did with Chris and I. That’s something I really admire and respect him for, not just because he helped me get established but also because he continues to help younger players get their careers started.
About six years later, Darryl invited me to be the second trumpet player in his quintet. I did some of the renaissance festival gigs, various recitals and lots of church gigs. This eventually lead to us recording a CD of mostly original music titled Sounds of the South. Some of those compositions were by Thomas Hulten and some of them were mine. The Texas Brass has performed more of my compositions than probably any other brass ensemble in the world and it is always a wonderful honor.
As a composer, the most difficult part of writing music is getting your music performed. I have been extremely blessed in that regard and Darryl has always been a big part of that. Once again I find myself using the word “champion.” Darryl has always been a champion of my compositions and my books.
About 90% of all the classical work I’ve done in Houston has been with Darryl.
The following is a video of the Texas Brass at one of our school concerts.
Music Business Sounding Board
This Life Builders series is about acknowledging the people who have contributed to my success in life. One of the ways that Darryl has contributed to my success in the music business is by providing opportunities to discuss the business with someone who was already successful himself. I have learned a lot from Darryl over the years, not only directly but also indirectly by having an opportunity to share my ideas with him.
A lot of people don’t think music and business go together. They believe that tending to the business side of our art will take all the joy out of it, but I disagree. The way you make it “all about money” is to take the money out of the picture. I feel the same way about business in music as I do technique. I have often said that the surest way to make technique an issue in your playing is to not have any! When you have limited technique, THAT’S what people hear in your playing. Well, it’s the same way with the business. When you take care of the business ahead of time, then the music can be just that….all about the music. But when you fail to take care of the business, then you FORCE it to be all about the money.
That’s why learning about the business side of our art is so important. There are very few people in my life who have had the desire to sit and talk with me about that side of the music world. So I appreciate Darryl so much for being there for me that way.
Even though I don’t work with Darryl nearly as much as I have in the past, he continues to show his support for my writing and for my books. The Texas Brass continues to play my compositions and arrangements and Darryl continues to be an outspoken advocate of the Daily Routines book.
This means a lot to me. I once read a business book that said, “You can’t move forward without your back end.” What it means is that you shouldn’t turn your back on the people who already appreciate what you do. The people who like what you do are your home base. Without them, you are no one, your product is nothing and you are going nowhere.
So yeah, it’s important to me that Darryl and others like him have been consistently supportive of my work. Without this “back end” support, I would have nothing to stand on. I can trace all of my current success as a arranger/composer back to that support. Remaining true to the purpose of these Life Builders posts, I must admit that it would be an act of pride to never express my gratitude for all that Darryl has done for me in that respect. (That’s what the Life Builders series is all about. Pride is when we fail to acknowledge the people who have contributed to our success in our lives. This series is my way of doing that.)
That said, I should also mention that Darryl is on our approved teachers list. Darryl has been using my Daily Routines book since it first came out and knows it as well as anyone. So for those students in Houston who don’t live close enough to take lessons with me, but want to learn some of the aspects of my method, we strongly recommend that you sign up with Darryl for lessons. Darryl is on the north side of Houston while I live on the south side. Please feel free to send me a message if you are interested in getting his contact information.
As always, with these Life Builders posts, I couldn’t possibly list all of the different ways that Darryl has contributed to my success in my life and career. I would like to close with this… Darryl is a relatively young Christian. He has been an inspiration to me to see how “on fire” he is about our precious savior, Jesus Christ. It would be wrong for me to not mention this because it is such a big part of who he is today.
Darryl is a good man. He is on the right track, doing a lot of good for a lot of people. He is one of my friends on Facebook and it warms my heart to see that he has been gigging and teaching so much. That said, I strongly encourage everyone who reads this to buy a copy of his recent CD release titled Soaking Reign. There are no words to describe his music on the new recording. It cannot be boxed into a single genre or style.
Thank you Darryl for all you’ve done for me. I know I don’t often express my gratitude, but I do appreciate all you’ve done. God bless you my friend.
Here’s another new piece that we just added to our inventory:
This arrangement of Standing on the Promises is one of my more successful adaptations from the traditional hymn style to my personal salsa influenced style. You can purchase the sheet music for this arrangement at www.tigermusicstore.com.