Do pro guys have to be "lead" players?

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by eisprl, Jul 28, 2006.

  1. wiseone2

    wiseone2 Artitst in Residence Staff Member

    Nov 19, 2003
    Check the list on the Portland Symphony page, there is a lot of third trumpet material required.
    It is a rare job that does not ask for a bit of high trumpet on the audition.
    They're even asking for rotary horns to be played.
    We all practice the big solos and neglect the lower parts, there are some seriously difficult 2nd and 3rd trumpet parts out there.
    Check out the 5th trumpet part in the Mahler Sixth Symphony, it is a very exposed and solo part.
  2. talcito

    talcito Piano User

    Feb 18, 2004
    I have played professionally in the New York dance, latin scene for the last 25 years. During this time the economic situations in the clubs has changed drastically and large bands are now a rarity. Back in the early 80's most bands carried three trumpet players.......a good lead player, a good soloist and some guy with alot of good jokes.

    Nowadays I am usually the only player on the job(trust me , I miss the guy with all the jokes). For many years I hid behind the lead player and promoted myself as the soloist. As the calls started coming in for just one player on the job, I had to adjust my playing to be able to play the lead book. You could be the greatest soloist, but if you miss 50% of the upper range notes, you will never be called back. Many lead players have consequently dissapeared as well because they did not want to improvise.

    One of my best friends was on hundreds of recordings in the 80's. He recorded on everything and toured the world as a second trumpet player. He never played lead and he never improvised. He was just a solid second trumpet player. Last year he played only 4 gigs......all local gigs....nothing important.

    So nowadays, if you want to be in NYC playing latin dance you have to be solid on both sides. This doesn't mean you have to be a screamer....but you should have a solid E or F over high C at your fingertips all night.
  3. PH

    PH Mezzo Piano User

    Dec 2, 2003
    Bloomington, Indiana
    Last edited: May 22, 2007
  4. NickD

    NickD Forte User


    First, there's a lot more to being a good lead player than just the ability to hit high notes. On Charle Barnett's band, at one point, they had Doc and Maynard, but JOHNNY HOWELL played lead! He had the SOUND as well as the range, even though MF could top him.

    Now to the thread. Being a lead player only really has meaning in the context of a trumpet section. How many big bands are working that much these days (for real money - not bar bread)? Around Chicago there are lots of big bands, but on any given gig in a club you're really lucky to make much more than $30! While there may be some artistic rewards for doing these gigs, they don't really fit the work scene in the strictest sense.

    On most of the gigs I play where I get real bread (anywhere from $250 to $500 per gig lasting between 3 and 4 hours), I am the only trumpet. The ability to hit some high notes, while nice, is a distant second to the required ability to know lots of tunes and blow some jazz and read lead sheets and charts.

    Now the original query was about big band sections specifically. In most of the big bands I play in there are two guys with high chops (lead players) and two guys who can blow changes. The changes palyers I know work a lot, at least as much as the lead players. In fact, MORE. I know not a few dedicated lead players, guys who specialize in being the latter day Gozzo's who are struggling for survival playing $50 gigs where the changes guys are playing jobbing bands for the same time slots for five and six times the bread.

    I hate to say it, but, IMHO the origianl query would have been more relevant if one could make a LIVING playing big bands exclusively. Heck, I'vebeen watching the Burn's series again for the umpteenth time, and I'm not sure the SIDEMEN could really do that much better financially back in the big band era than they can now. It was the LEADERS who made the bread.

    I am a lead player, or quickly becoming a reformed lead player (heh). Sure I still work on my chops. OK, I'm obsessed with that, but in the last ten years it has become far more important to me, personally, to learn how to play changes - spontaneous composition. I have found this has opened far more doors for me than the high chops.

    These are just my OPINIONS. I certrainly would never try to pass them off as facts or even factoids. These are my ideas based on my personal experience. I'm sure many of the other experienced players here may have some differences of opinon! That's cool! This thread needs that to truly address the original query.

    OK, gotta split!


  5. Fudleysmith

    Fudleysmith Pianissimo User

    Jan 5, 2006
    Niantic, CT

    Thanks for your post. I feel as though I have a much better understanding of the situation based on your observations and experiences.

    When you:
    what steps did you take to adjust?

    Were they mostly physical changes (setup/technique) or conceptual changes?

    Thanks again,

  6. talcito

    talcito Piano User

    Feb 18, 2004
    Hey Greg:

    By making adjustments I did the following:

    First, I went out and found a couple of the best lead trumpet players in NYC and took a couple of lessons to address the issues lead players deal with.
    Having a much greater interest in improvisation I had to realize that I would now have to practise something that really did not interest me much....but had to be done. I would practise alot of the material these guys gave me, before I practised my improv, so I could not have an excuse to get out of it at the end of a practise session.

    Secondly, you need to find a comfortable way to articulate in the upper register. I found the use of simple etude books(like some of the Sigmund Herring(sp?) books and another book called "little studies"(I could get the author for you later) very helpfull. These books are musical and in the middle register of the horn. By playing these etudes up an octave you will have to deal with the most efficient articulation for yourself while playing musically in the upper register. Once you get these intervals in your head and your tongue you will be much more relaxed on the gig. When you are relaxed.....thats when you start getting some great projection.....notice when guys freak out playing lead....the first thing they do is tighten up and there goes the sound.

    Being able to play lead and actually lead is a mental adjsutment as well. Tito Puente often said his favorite lead player was Jimmy Frisaura(sp?). He did not play the highest notes or the strongest but his phrasing was special. When I play the lead I now realize that it is my responsibilty to phrase in such a way that the band will swing.......its not just about hitting the high notes on the page.

    Finally, I have been working to play on efficient equipment. When you play the lead , people only know who you when you miss sometimes. Instead of searching for a horn with the beautifull sound, sometimes we have to compensate(adjust) by using equipment thats easier to play so that you can be more accurate and last the whole gig.

    Hope some of these ideas help.
  7. Fudleysmith

    Fudleysmith Pianissimo User

    Jan 5, 2006
    Niantic, CT
    Wow talcito,

    Sounds like solid, useable advice.

    Where can we hear you play? Connecticut is pretty close to NYC!


    P.S. You should post more often. You tell what you did, not what somebody should do.
  8. talcito

    talcito Piano User

    Feb 18, 2004
    Hey Greg:

    Glad that you found the post helpfull. Yea man, I love to study the horn. As for doing what works for you, Dr. Donald Byrd used to say "When you practise its important to create exercises for yourself not just re-create old exercises".

    If you would like to come down to any gigs I have that would be cool. Here are a couple of things that are happening this weeK:

    Tonight(Monday) Central Park Summer Stage....700PM ...This gig features a big band with 4 trumpets(no saxes, trombones or any other unnecessary instruments). Great band leader.....Always tells his trumpet section--"Keep the mutes in the case, I like things louder and higher". :dontknow:

    This Wedsnday....Plan B 339-10thstreet. NYC 10PM-1))AM
    This gig wll be happening for the next 5-6 weeks(weds). It is played in the spirit of the old 1950's Cuban jam sessions. It features one trumpet, one trombone and rythm section and a whole bunch of people dancing and having a great time. :grouphug:

    This Friday....Binghamton Ferry Boat Edgewater, NJ (201 941 2300)10PM-1AM
    This gig is similar to the Weds, gig but only one trumpet. :cool:

    For those of you interested I will have the new model NYTC , the California Light , with me. You are more than welcome to try it.....just bring your own mouthpiece. :D
  9. wilcox96

    wilcox96 Mezzo Piano User

    Oct 31, 2005
    charlotte nc
    Tossing in a couple of pennies...more regurgitation of the eloquence preceding me...but...

    I might offer that a section made up of "lead" players might not be a very good one. Many have alluded to the "mindset" of being a lead player. Having that many with that specific mindset can be hazardous! ha. Blending, following, proficiency in "other" registers...ha. Not to mention egos. wow.

    Seriously, smart-consciencious-good musicians can and do transcend these stereotypes. The key point is, there's more to playing on "any" chair than just the notes themselves.

    Here's another scenario for you.. Let's say you want to do some Broadway shows around your area.'d like to get to play on the ones that tour the country. Many of them, these days, carry their own lead player...even on the ones that don't have "any" really high stuff. They still need 2nd &/or 3rd players ... GOOD ones too... to cover those parts.

    The great players that have posted here make some good that with dwindling opportunites (where larger groups are necessary), you will most likely need well rounded abilities to work. You never know what you may need to be able to do.. or be asked to do...or gravitate to. Be ready and have some fun. The **"CASH"** register rules!
  10. bandman

    bandman Forte User

    Oct 16, 2004
    Lafayette, LA, USA
    I’m going to go back to the original question.

    As a player in jazz bands I never wanted to be the lead guy, nor did I ever want to be the guy on the 2nd (ride) book. I always enjoyed playing in sections where the players were as good or better than I am.

    However… When you play in a band you better be ready to jump books at a moments notice. I played in a band with a great friend who also had a heart condition. There where many nights when I was asked to play the lead part on a few charts while he chilled out. I’ll take a ride solo when asked, but I recognize the fact that others in the bands I play with do it better than I do.

    So who am I? I’m a guy who can play any part when asked to play it. I don’t have an ego that gets hurt when I play the 3rd or 4th book. I’m the first one who steps forward when the lead guy, or ride man needs a break, and I appreciate every gig I have ever played (even the tough ones).

    A professional is a guy who gets paid to do what he is told to do – no matter what part that may include. You do it as proficiently as possible. You don’t draw rehearsal time away from the group for yourself. You sight-read your tail off in rehearsals and on gigs, and you realize that the gig NEVER goes like you thought it would, so you are easy to work with when changes need to be made during a job. You don’t question things, you just do as the front man tells you to do!

    One more note…There are a lot of guys on this forum who can play me into the floor. I would be honored to play 2nd, 3rd or 4th behind them. I think that the personal trait of recognizing the talents of others is important to a guy who wants to play on the pro level. When someone plays well, tell them they play well, and let them know you enjoyed playing with them. Let them know you are not a threat to them. Often that will help you get future calls.

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