Fat lead trumpet sound...section sound

Discussion in 'Jazz / Commercial' started by wbamb83392, Feb 1, 2004.

  1. wbamb83392

    wbamb83392 New Friend

    Jan 24, 2004
    How much of the old fashioned fat lead trumpet sound is due to the writing style and section players? Ive noticed that beginning in the 70's the trumpet section below the lead has become less and less audible. Now the lead player seems to be at least 3 times as loud as the rest of the section whereas around 1960 the lead was just as loud and brilliant yet just a little bit louder than the section. The sound from the section covered up the lower end of the lead trumpet sound, the missing part that makes for the thin lead trumpet sound.

    I've never played trumpet in a big band, only bass trombone, so I dont know exactly what the writing conventions are, but has the writing for the section changed over the years so that the lead trumpet is more exposed? Normally I write parts in close harmony for the trumpet section, with the each part just a 2nd or 3rd apart in a rather old fashioned style. Thats the only way to keep the trumpets above the lead trombone, and the harmony sounds good in the trumpet range that way. When I listen to big bands I cant even hear the trumpet section, just the lead, so how are parts being written now? Is the difference in writing or in playing?

    -Eric Bamberg
  2. kdawg

    kdawg New Friend

    Nov 19, 2003
    that brings up another question i have regarding to this, it seems to fit on the same subject. What if the lower part players are just as strong as the lead? are they expected to hold back? (i personally hope not, the only thing worse than not playing high, is not playing loud - following the dynamics of course)
  3. trptbenge

    trptbenge Pianissimo User

    Jan 15, 2004
    In any trumpet section it is the lower part responsibility to not only play their parts but to follow the lead trumpets style. It is the lead trumpet that sets the tone.

  4. mark935

    mark935 Pianissimo User

    Jan 31, 2004
    Second can sometimes play almost as loud as the lead or 1st music but the third and forth are felt more than heard.

    I play so softly on the forth part; I barely hear myself.

    This doesn't apply to tutti sections but still, nobody plays over the first part.

    And you're right, it ain't all that much fun at times.

    All you do is wait for a solo and hope that it, the solo, makes the hours of playing harmonic intervals all worthwhile.

    That's my take.
  5. wbamb83392

    wbamb83392 New Friend

    Jan 24, 2004

    That's what I was afraid of, its not the writing, its the style. Listening to older big bands I notice that each section is much more balanced than in modern bands. I guess people who don't write music dont realize that those inner parts are actually very important and need to be heard. The way it is now, each trumpet plays one dynamic level below the lead, so if the lead is ff, the 2nd is f, the 3rd is mf, and the 4th is mp. Then below that the first trombone is f, 2nd trombone mf, 3rd mp, and bass trombone fff (haha). In reality, the lead trumpet should be ff and the entire rest of the brass section should be f.

    I just experimented with dynamics using midi to play back a big band chart of mine. Normally I set all the instruments to the same volume except for lead trumpet one dynamic higher (instruments are samples I recorded myself). So this time I set each instrument in a section one dynamic softer than the one before it with the lead trumpet one dynamic above the lead trombone. Sure enough, I got the thin, modern big band tone. The lead trumpet really stuck out and sounded metallic whereas it sounded big and fat (as midi trumpet gets) with the section set louder.

    So how did this start? Was it the superposition of a loud california lead trumpet on top of a softer NY style section ala Faddis in the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis band? Was it an influence of the blaring lead trumpet and inaudible section in the Boss Brass? Was it the preponderance of high school bands where the first player was always better and louder than the bottom chairs?

    I think anyone who has heard the Bach Sterling Demo with Davis, Hall, Hey, and Grant has heard what a big band trumpet section should sound like. The opening of Pat Williams' album "Sinatraland" has a similar awesome demonstration of trumpet section sound.

    -Eric Bamberg
  6. bugler16

    bugler16 Pianissimo User

    Dec 14, 2003
    I don not play the 3rd and 4th parts like this that is insane. Take any player in the ensemble and let them sit out front and listen to the difference. If anything the 3rd and 4th parts should be played a little stronger to promote great balance and blend. The lead is in such a tessitura that it will float right out over top of the rest of the band. Play like you normally do for the person in front, and then play with the lead player not under him and the person out front will hear a wall of sound with a singing 1st part as opposed to a thin lead trumpet with a bass line. It is about the section, the band, and the sound not the lead player. When I play lead I try to sit on top of the section and float not stick out. The trumpets are in the back and with a strong section sound everyone else in the band will easily be able to follow the style permitting the trumpet section follows the lead players interp.
  7. mark935

    mark935 Pianissimo User

    Jan 31, 2004
    I don't know much about writing and arranging. I've just played a ton of big band charts. All parts - from lead on "Runaway Hormones" to 4th part on Gordon Goodwin's "Take the A train." (In concert this Fri.)

    I'll share what I experience in a section. And then you guys can put it all together and make an intelligent decision. And I'm not totally insane.

    We're listening to the lead and the main thing is to Blend. If I play even slightly louder than 1st, I'll get called on it. And in some cases not asked back.

    Another reason is dB's-- if the lead cranks it up then we have to play louder and then the bass etc. So part of this is to maintain a lower volume in the practice room. And it makes sense too because you get on stage and mikes are everywhere. We're paying $850 for a sound man and making a DAT recording for example.

    As far as the writing goes-- I can't even pass judgement because I think the Arrangers/writers have always been excellent to genius.

    Gordon Goodwin's charts are just like the old ones played by the "Bach" guys you mentioned. It gets taken care of by the mixer, And it could just be the particular song and whether you're listening to it live or recorded. A good arrangement will have a nice fat sound somewhere in the song.

    Like I said, I play so softly and in the lower register that I can barely hear the note "poot" out of the bell. (like an old Mazda RX-7. Everytime you shift into 2nd-- Poot.) Low G's in some music. And then beautiful lines on songs like "Invitation" arranged by Frank Mantooth.

    If you talk to people in the audience, they always prefer less volume and well balanced. And then sometimes the trumpet section nails them to the back of their seats, regardless.

    I like what you guys have to say.
    That's my take.
  8. mfhorn63

    mfhorn63 New Friend

    Apr 27, 2008
    Colorado Springs
    This is an old post- I hope someone is still watching it!

    I am a college jazz instructor and have played lead trumpet for 30+ years. The answer to this question is a little complicated- it depends on a number of factors.

    First, style: The "old-school" four-way close writing of the swing-era bands and others like Sammy, Billy May, and Harry Connick, to name a few, demands tremendous sensitivity from the lead player. The guide for trumpet section dynamics is the 3rd part. The lead is the stylistic guide, and the 3rd is the balance guide. If a line is written f for example, the 3rd sets the f, with the 4th slightly louder, the second slightly softer, and the lead maybe at mf. This requires tremendous control and endurance from the lead, as he is almost perpetually playing a a full dynamic level lower than written. The "fat" sound you talk about is probably the result of octave writing, like you find in newer charts;
    Second, personnel: no matter what, you will find yourself occasionally limited by those around you, especially in the educational setting. The strongest players play lead, the weakest play the lower section parts. It's just a fact of life. Would that we could play in a section with 4 players all capable of double-G plus, like in a pro band. Stan Kenton's scream specialist played 3rd part (Maynard), so did Maynard's(Lynn Nicholson). In the typical student band, the lower parts will frequently be overwhelmed. If they aren't, that's a good band!!
    Third, writing: As I said before, contemporary writing is different from "dance book" writing. Today's charts feature 3-part writing in many sections, to spell the lead, whose parts have become more range-demanding. In the 70s, a double-G gave you virtually every note you needed for lead. With today's composers, like Gordon Goodwin, you need a reliable A. In "hot" sections of a chart, as well as end notes, you often find octaves, with the lead and sometimes 2nd on an E to G, with the others down 8va. Check out your recordings, you'll probably hear the lower octave. This writing tends to bmake the upper range sound really fat!!

    These are also good notes for arrangers to take into account. Anyway, hope this helps!
    B15M likes this.
  9. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    I think there is a problem with generalities. Every single band is different. As a rule the studio productions are much different than what you get on stage.

    As far as education goes, I think it is important to work with the section, achieving a balance and then telling the players what happened after they get there. Intellectualizing it before has never been a successful recipe for me. Get the students LISTENING first. get them used to hearing proper intonation and balance - give them theory later. Balance is not just achieved with absolute volume. If you have a classically trained 3rd trumpet, their sound may be too "thick" and not balance regardless of volume.

    I was not aware that there was a lead requirement for double G (G above double C - octaves ALWAYS start with C) in the 70s. Considering the amount of monster players out there today, I think a double C is pretty common and would provide for a margin of security if you need high Gs all night!

    A note to educators: if you have a real scream trumpet player fine, we do get posts here about over-ambitious directors basically requiring players to "force" their upper range. This really benefits no one. A jazz program should be based on form and groove, not testosterone!
  10. Brekelefuw

    Brekelefuw Fortissimo User

    Mar 21, 2006
    The trumpet section in a big band is shaped like a pyramid with the 4th player on the bottom and the lead player on the top at the point. If the support isn't there for the lead, then he will have a much more difficult time playing and sounding good.
    Big band music isn't about the lead player. It is about everyone. Each with their own specific job that gets the whole song across to the audience.

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