Talkin’ trumpeters with Wynton Marsalis, part II
In our first installment of “Talkin’ Trumpeters With Wynton Marsalis” (May ’98), we gave the trumpeter an opportunity to accentuate the positive aspects of his fellow hornblowers. His initial list covered Jon Faddis, Terence Blanchard, Wallace Roney, Nicholas Payton, Marcus Printup, Roy Hargrove and Russell Gunn. We ended with a brief mention of Ryan Kisor, a section man in several big bands and repertory orchestras, including Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.
The following comments pick up where we left off, with Marsalis discussing Kisor and his other favorites, including several trumpeters based outside the United States.
“The first time I heard about RYAN KISOR was from dark Terry. He said, ‘ Man, this guy, he’s unbelievable.’ Ryan was still in high school in Iowa. I said, ‘Iowa? Aw, man.’ Clark said, ‘You gotta hear this kid play. You won’t believe it.’ The second time I heard from him was from Nicholas Payton after the 1990 Thelonious Monk Trumpet Competition, in which Ryan took first place. Nicholas said, ‘Man, this boy can play!’
“Then I heard him: He can really play the trumpet. For some time, ineptitude has been confused with soulfulness, so I’m always happy to hear someone who has respect for playing the horn—it really sets the record straight about that misconception. Ryan can play lead, and he has a beautiful sound in the lower registers. Sometimes, Printup and I look over there because we think a trombone is playing. He has his own way of approaching the harmony, that way he plays with little skips and stuff in it.
“Really, the best thing about Ryan Kisor is that he has great time. It’s something we all laugh about in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. You can’t believe he’s actually’playing in time, because where he’s tapping his foot has nothing to do with where he’s playing. He doesn’t rush, he doesn’t drag, he just gets right in the center of the time.
“He’s very thorough in his approach to playing. Any type of harmonic progression, he can play on. He’ll sit down and really check the chord changes out, and he’ll come back and address the harmony. He doesn’t skate over anything. Ryan, he’s very diligent, and he works on his parts until he gets them perfect. And he doesn’t have to work long because he has a lot of ability.
“Speaking of the future of the trumpet, there’s a great high school trumpeter in St. Louis who is related to Clark Terry in some way. His name is KEYON HARROLD. He has 16 or 17 kids in his family, so you know he’s going to come out here hungry. He has a very personal sound with a lot of warmth and feeling, but the thing I really like about him is that he’s extremely intelligent. And he’s able to solve problems by himself. He takes in information carefully and makes his own decisions. That’s why at a young age he already has his own identity on his instrument. Plus, when you talk to him, he immediately takes you down home.
“There are trumpet players around the world playing some great jazz and elevating our instrument. There’s TOMONAO HARA in Tokyo. He’s very soulful: That’s the first thing about him, as a person and as a trumpet player. He has a lot of students and he teaches them how to play. He puts them on a vibe. His ideas are loaded with information.
“He knows how to make a trumpet crackle. That’s an ability Roy Hargrove has, too, to play that kind of crackling trumpet. Roy Eldridge would be the father of that style. Roy Eldridge had that kind of cracklin’ style, make you wanna shout! That’s church trumpet Tomonao Hara’s like that. He’s one of the best musicians in Japan. He’s a young guy, 29 or 30. Everybody loves him.
“There’s another one: FLAVIO BOLTRO from Italy. He plays interesting intervallic relationships. He reminded me of Art Farmer. Not in style, but in substance. Immediately on hearing him, you wouldn’t think, That sounds like Art Farmer. But Art Farmer knows how to pull that sixth out or the ninth or the flat nine. Art knows how to go to certain notes. It makes you want to cry when he hits them. Or smile, Flavio Boltro is like that. He gets to certain notes in the harmony and it makes you say, ‘Ooh…whoa!’ His playing is very mature. He likes to swing. His whole family likes to swing. And he’s also very unpredictable.
“I try to take advantage of hearing these cats when I go to festivals. When I can hear them play live, I go hear them. Even in New York, I try to go out and hear cats play.
“Another thing that’s really interesting about the international players is how much of the feeling of jazz they have in their sound. They’re not trying to play just runs and lines.
They’re trying to play blues and get to the feeling and substance in the music. That’s what they’re attracted to about jazz.
“TOM HARRELL, that’s another cat. His compositions are interesting. They always have some type of point to them, or logic that he’s working on in his composition. As a musician, he’s introspective. Not in style, because his style can be flamboyant; he plays out, you know? It’s not like he plays soft; he plays with fire.
“A lot of thought goes into what he plays. He addresses the harmony well. He’s not trying to figure out how to not play the harmony; he’s trying to construct lines that are poetic that will also make the harmony glow. There are different ways to approach the harmony. Coltrane was always trying to find that one line or thread that would run through the harmony. Another way is to play melodies on top of the harmony, like Lester Young. Tom Harrell’s playing demonstrates both of these approaches.”
“There are guys in New Orleans, my homeboys. First, you’d have WENDELL BRUNIOUS. He has a good attack. All the trumpet players from New Orleans have that same kind of singing way of playing, soulful.
“LEROY JONES. His nickname was ‘Jazz’ when we were growing up. He’s another one who came out of Danny Barker’s band, the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band. He plays with a great attack, another one who’s real articulate on the horn. He plays with a lot of soul and feeling. He can play the hell out of a mute, too. With a derby or a Harmon mute, man, he can make a trumpet sound like it’s talking!
“When I was in elementary school, all the trumpet players looked up to Leroy. It’s a trip how you never grow out of that feeling. And he could make you laugh; he has a great sense of humor.
“KERMIT RUFFINS, he plays with a lot of New Orleans feeling and flavor. And he makes some good barbecue; red beans, too. He likes to wear those Crescent City hats. There’s a certain skill to wearing a hat: It’s just like playing with a hat mute. Some people’s heads just don’t look right with a hat on top of it. JAMES ANDREWS is good, too. We call him Lil’ 12. He knows all the tunes, and he gets some real good vocal sounds out of his horn. And they’ve got some younger cats like IRVIN MAYFIELD, a real good trumpet player who’s about 20 years old, very inventive and imaginative. Irvin has a good chess game, and he always does the unexpected; you never know what he’s going to do, with his playing or when he’s talking. You should never ask him to co-sign a story, because if you ask him, ‘Ain’t that right, Irvin?’ he’ll say, ‘ Hell, no. Stop bullshitting these poor people.’
“We’ve got a little genius in New Orleans now: Lil’ 12’s little brother, TROMBONE SHORTY. Sherry plays all the instruments: trumpet, trombone, tuba. He plays all the rhythm instruments, too. And one of these days he’s going to figure out he’s a trumpet player.
Shorty grew up in the Treme so he is the New Orleans culture. He plays those little licks that you’ve been hearing for years, the ones you equate with being corny or trivial—but when he plays them, they take on their original meaning.
“I know WARREN VACHE is playing great now. Lord, have mercy! I played with him before on gigs and tours. He’s one of the great underrated trumpet players. Warren has a lot of style, just from the way he dresses and the way he carries himself. He’s another one with great creative ideas. And he knows how to connect his ideas. He knows how to make his ideas resonate in the form. He has real good ears and good time. And his playing is very mature. It’s not something that’s on its way to being something; it’s what it is. And he knows a million tunes.
“RILEY MULLINS is good with what we call the ‘stink’ trumpet. He comes up with a lot of stink and fire. He’s from Chicago. His playing is mercurial—another one with quick reflexes.
“There are a whole lot of good jazz trumpeters all around the world. A lot of musicians are struggling for work right now, but they want to play, so it’s just a matter of time : When you want to play, people will hear you. Many times, because it’s so hard to make a living in jazz, we question the validity of playing. Everybody questions jazz and whether the public likes jazz. The public wants to hear jazz. The question is, can we play it good enough for them to like it when they hear it?
“Everybody wants to see Michael Jordan play basketball. But if it was me and you out there, we’d have to pay people to see it. Then our egos might say, ‘ Well, nobody likes basketball.’ But we really know it’s not basketball, it’s what we’re doing. So we shouldn’t say, ‘ Nobody wants to hear New Orleans jazz.’ They want to hear it. But most of the time when people hear it, it sounds so sad that the musicians who are playing it don’t even want to hear it.
“And if you have any doubt, think about what happens when you go to see a master like Sonny Rollins and they start playing their horn and reveal that thing that’s in them that’s not in other people. The audience always goes crazy. Always. They want to hear something great, and they know when they’re hearing it. That’s the thing about the international musicians: They go for the feeling of jazz. They want to play.
“Then you have the musicians like CHILO MORAN in Mexico. They’re older guys, but they’ve been holding the fort down playing jazz. And FATS FERNANDEZ in Argentina, in Buenos Aires. He’s a legend all around. Big fat sound, soulful.
“Trumpet players always have that matador type of thing, a certain strain that runs through us. We need that to survive out here, but sometimes it keeps us from really hearing each other.”
By Ed Enright