INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS OTT
WWBW: How did you get started in music?
CHRIS: I began playing trombone in sixth grade and I really enjoyed it. I felt early on I really wanted to do it. I didn’t know if it was going to turn into a career per se, but I knew it was going to be a part of my life for the long run. Even in high school, I envisioned the ideal career as being a professional trombone player, traveling and playing music.
WWBW: Were you from a small town?
CHRIS: I'm from Kettering, OH, a suburb of Dayton.
WWBW: They must have had a pretty heavy high school music program.
CHRIS: We had a massive band program at Kettering Fairmont High School, big marching band scene and jazz band. I would go to the Miami Valley Jazz Camp every summer. There were all kinds of guest artists I got to work with in high school that really pushed me forward in wanting to make it into a career. I always assumed I would go down the teaching route. At Ohio State I got a jazz performance degree and a music education degree. Not necessarily as a backup, but I was still figuring out how things were going to go and what exactly I wanted to do and what my path was going to be.
But when I met the other guys in Huntertones and we started playing together, it turned into a thing that grew more than maybe we even expected. We came to the realization, we can do this. This band has a lot of potential and we think we can take this to the next level. So the way things unfolded steered me to choose that as my direction. We still do quite a bit of teaching and we do a lot of clinics and workshops. I really enjoy doing that. I’m sure teaching will always be part of what I do.
WWBW: Almost all the super pro musicians I interview keep teaching as component of their whole picture. There’s a classical trumpet player Joe Burgstaller. Do you know his work?
CHRIS: I’m not sure.
WWBW: Look him up. He’s just astonishing. But every place he goes he makes sure that there’s some kind of a teaching component to it. I think you’ll find that to be the way.
You said something that just intrigued me: next level. There’s a bunch of next levels. What’s your next level? Bands that are maybe in your bag that have a little more visibility and more unit sales and higher ticket prices. How do you get name recognition and get to the next level?
CHRIS: We’ve been working on that kind of stuff, trying to push ourselves further and further. I mean we’ve been in New York for five years now and I feel like we’ve come a really long way since moving here. When we started here, it was like starting over because we had a thing going in Columbus. We were playing all the time. We could get a couple hundred people out to a show, but New York it’s like, all right, back to Ground Zero.
WWBW: Was that a little dispiriting at first?
CHRIS: It was really challenging, but everybody says your first year or two in New York might be a little rough, but you know, you just keep at it. New York has opened a lot of doors on the touring side. But I would say in our current status getting to the next level, we’re trying to get this album, Passport, to as many ears as possible. We’ve reached more people on Spotify than any other project we’ve done before, which is cool.
WWBW: I think the high concept on the record is fantastic. What with communications technologies seeming to reinvent themselves every year there’s a global connectedness that simply didn’t exist when I was coming up in the’80s. Describe what the world tour did for you as a musician and as a man.
CHRIS: The world tour was a big turning point for us. We auditioned for the American Music Abroad program; they pick about ten bands of all different American genres to go on month-long tours to countries where people are probably not getting exposed to American music very often. They pick a jazz group usually and then there’s folk music. There’s hip-hop. There’s anything American based.
But for us as a band it was the first time we really felt like we were making a significant impact with our music in reaching new people. The musicians we got to collaborate with in South America and Africa, it was truly life changing.
Especially in Togo. We got to work with the same group of musicians at this French institute. We were welcomed into their world and became part of their family over the course of the week. They taught us their music and we taught them our music. They were super interested in learning to play jazz standards. For them in Togo there aren’t that many opportunities to play, but they had such a passion for it and really wanted to learn from us as much as they could and we wanted to learn from them as much as we could. Just seeing that kind of passion and joy for music was the most impactful thing to us.
As soon as that first trip was over, it lit a fire in us that, okay, we need to share this experience with everyone we’re going to come in contact with. And once we got a taste of international travel, we couldn’t wait to do it again and write more music and be inspired by these different situations.
I never envisioned that we would be going to Africa and playing our original music. It was really amazing to feel like we were really getting our stuff out there and that we’re an important voice that other people recognized. The American Music Abroad program picked us and that felt really special, that we were creating something they valued and thought was valuable enough to share with other countries and represent the United States as cultural ambassadors.
It was a pretty cool feeling to do that and we’re trying to continue with that program and tour on our own. We’ve done long tours in Europe the last two summers. We’re continuously expanding our global reach and selling our music to people in other countries. We sell the arrangements also to other musicians. We’ve had a lot more feedback from people that we’ve played for in Italy and Spain and France and Norway.
WWBW: You mentioned writing more music. Is there a standard compositional process that occurs or does Dan come in with this ridiculous lick and say, hey, I know we can do something with this? Start from grooves? Are they collectively composed or does it vary?
CHRIS: The compositions are usually for the most part individually composed. Sometimes we’ll pick an arrangement. We did this video of the song, George Benson’s “Give Me the Night.” That one we collaborated on, said okay, let’s all take a swing at this arrangement and we’ll pick and choose the best section from each person.
So we’ve done that occasionally, but usually with the original tunes, Dan, Jon and I will bring in a chart and maybe it’s a rough draft. Maybe it’s half done. Then everyone in the band will contribute their input. So it’s very rare that somebody brings something in for the first time and that’s the final.
WWBW: Right. Who’s going to tell a killer guitar player what the guitar part is?
CHRIS: Exactly. Then also when we do the beat box trio sousaphone-sax-beatbox thing, that one we usually, Dan, Jon and I just sit down in a room together and it’s a slower process but those ones we usually don’t write down. We just, okay, we want to do a mashup of Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder or whatever.
WWBW: What makes a good mashup? Do you usually have a good sense of which ones are going to work or are you ever disappointed? How does that go?
CHRIS: For me I feel like I want to hit on the major recognizable tunes, but you also don’t want to stay on one thing for too long. There’s a balance of okay, how creative do we want to get with this? It can’t get too obscure, but you still want to be—you don’t want to just straight up just be a cover band. So there’s a fine balance of honoring the original song, but still putting your own unique spin on it. I feel like the first mashup we did it was a little too on the obscure side at times.
WWBW: What was that?
CHRIS: The Stevie Wonder mashup we did. I think just a few of the songs that we picked that are some of our favorite Stevie Wonder songs you’d have to be a real Stevie Wonder head to totally appreciate that.
And we’ve had some opportunities where we did a clinic at the Stax Academy. That’s a music charter school in Memphis. We played the Stevie Wonder mashup for those kids and they all knew the Stevie Wonder songbook, like deep into the catalog. They just totally went nuts. They were singing along to every single song. We’d never had a reaction to that mashup before to that—it was like really crazy.
That’s not always the case because if you’re not in front of a Stevie Wonder connoisseur group…
WWBW: I have professional comedian friends and one of them described to me a thing he calls MAP: material, audience, performer. He says all three have to be in synch and it changes every night.
WWBW: How about we do a quick rundown on your gear?
CHRIS: All right.
WWBW: What do you play for an instrument?
CHRIS: My trombone is a King 2B. It’s the Jiggs Whigham model so it’s got a lightweight slide. I’ve been playing it since college, so close to ten years I think I’ve been playing the same instrument. The mouthpiece I use is from a company called Warburton.
WWBW: I know Terry. They make great stuff.
CHRIS: It’s a two-piece setup, back bore and cup. I found the combination that works well with my horn and I’ve just been playing the same one for a long time.
WWBW: How long did that take? Did you try a dozen and one of them just came out of the mist? Has it changed over the years?
CHRIS: I did grad school at Cincinnati after Ohio State. I went through a phase where I was trying to experiment with mouthpieces because I was playing lead trombone in the big band, which you need a little bit more of a lasery, cutting sound. So I had one mouthpiece I would use for the lead ‘bone big band shows and then I didn’t go through a ton of equipment, but I have maybe three or four Warburton combinations I could mess with. I just found the one that allowed me to have a nice sound but still have the power in the upper register and free-blowing high notes.
Really, it depends on the horn, too. I have another practice horn that I just leave in my little office room that’s a big trigger horn. I use a different mouthpiece on that and it’s the mouthpiece that suits the instrument.
WWBW: Do you know the cup number, size, depth on the Warburton that you primarily use?
CHRIS: The Warburton I have is a V shaped 13M cup with a T4 backbore.
WWBW: So I think you’ve given me everything I need. Is there anything you want to make sure our readers hear?
CHRIS: I think we pretty much covered it. I mean we’re definitely excited to have some press through you guys. I went to the Woodwind/Brasswind store in South Bend.
WWBW: Back in the day.
CHRIS: When I was in high school and I was getting really serious about jazz and I was like, oh, this will be so sweet. I can go to the store and try a bunch of different horns. I spent my whole day there. So I definitely have experienced the Woodwind/Brasswind world.
WWBW: Thanks a million and we’ll be in touch. I’ll give you a ring if there’s some big hole in the interview that I missed. Apart from that, best of luck to you guys. I think you have a beautiful spirit and a great sound.
CHRIS: Thank you very much. We really hope to just get our music out to as many people as possible. We’re super proud of everything we’ve done so far. The record, I think definitely our best product we’ve put out. We have it on vinyl, too, now, which is exciting. So yes, we hope to just keep playing music and finding people that enjoy it.
INTERVIEW WITH DAN WHITE
WWBW: How did you come to the saxophone? Was it like, they handed it to you in third grade and you said, “Hallelujah” and game over, or did you come to it through a process?
DAN WHITE: I started on piano in third grade, so about 8-9 years old, and where I grew up just outside of Buffalo, NY, we started the instrumental band in public schools in fourth grade. The two hot instruments were trumpet and saxophone and there was no real doubt in my mind that I wanted to play saxophone. So luckily I made it through that first round of…I’m not really sure how they chose who played. I think it was probably who could get a sound with as short a lesson as possible with their embouchure.
WWBW: Doesn’t it seem, isn’t there a certain almost a fatalism involved?
DW: I taught band for one year and I feel like the two things that you can always rely on are if a kid can’t make a sound on a brass instrument, a lot of times they are subjected to the back line of the band to the percussion section. Or if they’re tall, they go to trombone.
DW: Because if a kid’s short, they can’t even reach the end of the slide. But fortunately, I made it through that first round and because of the piano training, I excelled early on. The books and stuff that we were working out of, Accent on Achievement or whatever. I was kind of blazing through that, so my teacher started giving me extra assignments and she basically started getting me to play by ear like early on at nine years old, which is kind of an unusual thing.
WWBW: Was she a jazz musician?
DW: She was not, but her husband was, and he was the director of the high school I went to. He had a doctorate in Composition from Eastman. He really pushed me and they were two very hip teachers. I’m very indebted to them.
WWBW: You know, I have never heard of that, to where an elementary director has such a literally intimate hand-off to the secondary education.
DW: Yes. I owe a lot to that. I’m a jazz musician. I improvise. That’s everything, you know, your ears. I’m listening to music and learning it by ear sometimes more than I’m reading it off the page now as a professional musician. So after that first year, I think I had done somewhere around 50 ear tunes that she taught me. “Play the National Anthem. Good. Now start it in this key.” And it was just like a puzzle to me and so it was awesome. That led to some private lessons with a jazz teacher and starting to learn…I remember doing “Sir Duke” having to learn new fingerings on alto saxophone. Playing that one, which is like that’s in a pretty hard key for alto saxophone.
WWBW: That soli section is a bear. Stevie writes most everything in E flat, right?
DW: Yes. I think it’s like a G sharp on alto. So I was learning fingering, but it was so clear what the goal was here. I can sing it, but I can’t play it. So figure it out.
WWBW: You know, it’s funny you mention that because I’m in a group that covers “Sir Duke” right now and I’ve covered it a dozen times before. I was still clamming all over that soli when we got back on it.
DW: Man, it’s like such a wide range, too. It’s well over an octave and it’s pretty serious. I say I learned it. I mean it took me probably six months just to get through it, but I just remember when we got to the verse parts just playing along with Stevie where it was easier. I love that.
DW: It was like all right, I’m free.
WWBW: Tremendous sense of relief when you get to those last two notes in the soli [da-dat]. Then you’re done. It’s like, okay [dat dat]. Now you’re off the hook. So how about your university studies?
DW: I went to Ohio State University in Columbus and that’s where everybody in the band met and so I was studying music education and jazz performance and basically taking lessons on secondary instruments. Clarinet and flute and stuff and continuing with composition and studying, playing in the Big Band, playing in the Concert Bands, but also doing…we did a small group, you know kind of combo class doing the music of Art Blakey and that was pretty much the exact same instrumentation as our band. We were focusing on the Curtis Fuller/Freddie Hubbard/Wayne Shorter years, when that music was just so intense and awesome. There is so much energy and vibrance from the whole band. Everybody had so much tension with the way they played and it was hard. Really hard music. We met each other playing in that ensemble and started playing at coffee shops and stuff around. Experimenting with new music, writing new music. I know me and Jon Hubbell, the drummer, we did a lot of that and then we kind of started recording some stuff so we could get some gigs outside of school, and there weren’t many venues right near campus. So we started having house parties cause there’s like 60,000 students on campus.
WWBW: I’m sure the drinking age was 21 where you were.
DW: Yes, that’s correct.
WWBW: So you’ve got 60,000 kids starved for music and they can’t go to a club. That’s kind of a perfect recipe for a house party.
DW: Somewhat of a powder keg. Exactly. It’s very much been a DIY from the beginning kind of operation and we kind of put some egg cartons on the ceiling so that it didn’t sound like a basement, but a lot of times, we played down in the basement and the apartment was on Hunter Avenue and so that’s where the sound and the name came from.
WWBW: There you have it.
DW: And by the time we were graduating, the parties became these legendary…the whole house was just filled with people and like Chris couldn’t move. He couldn’t play half the notes because there were just people in the way. Jon had to sit down to play the sousaphone because the ceiling was low in the basement. But it was awesome to just…you know, we were playing music for people.
WWBW: Here’s a slightly weird question. I hope you don’t take it wrong. There are such heavy college programs around. I’m from the town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire which is an hour north of Boston, which has Berklee School of Music and then there’s University of North Texas. Did the Ohio program cats you were playing with kind of go like, “All right, we don’t have this blue-ribbon marquee thing, but let’s show them.” I mean, there’s always been some degree of competition component. Especially with horn players. Did you have that on you at all? Like, let’s get Ohio State on the first page of the book here.
DW: I think what we had…there was not as much as competitiveness that you would have at a school like North Texas. But I’m not going to compare Ohio State to that or Berklee. I think those schools…there are pluses and minuses to programs like that; but what Ohio State did allow was much more time with the professors. It allowed us to do independent studies and all these things that maybe in some of the more conservatory schools like North Texas or Berklee, you had a much deeper bench in front of you that you had to climb in order to reach that point. I know that certain conservatories don’t even let you play jazz for the first couple years. It’s like you have to study classical saxophone and that’s it for the first two years in undergraduate study and I knew for sure that I didn’t want to do that. Another factor was that I really wasn’t quite ready to move to New York City right off the bat. So I think the environment at the school allowed us to get a lot of resources that maybe we wouldn’t have gotten. And then the next thing that we really pursued was grants. We got recording grants from the College of Arts & Sciences at Ohio State.
WWBW: That’s new to my ear. Nobody I’ve talked to has ever described that level of, let’s say cleverness. Who did the grant writing?
DW: I did.
WWBW: All right! You have a minor in English?
DW: No. I tried…my words fail me quite often in recording. I love being a musician. I think there was a need and there was not a studio on campus at that point. So it was a very important part to our development as composers and as musicians. We basically followed the logic of okay, I would like to book a gig somewhere. If I’m not 21, I can only walk into a bar for about five minutes to talk to the booking guy and then I need to leave, and if I don’t have a recording to give them of an example of our work, then I’m basically sitting in this weird musical purgatory where I can only play inside of the School of Music, which is not what we’re trying to do. And so, we made it was clear that this was a necessary component to our growth and man, we learned a ton at these recording sessions. When a lot of money is on the line, there’s a lot of expensive equipment in the room, the notes you’re playing on that solo or how you prepared and how you organized everything for the band, it’s like that stuff becomes very clear how it all compounds together to produce a successful or not so successful album.
WWBW: Did you ever have a bad session that really turned your head around? The guys gather afterwards and say you know, this is a new environment for us, but man, we dogged it a little bit.
DW: Oh yeah. Yeah, many. But, you know, we learned from it and fortunately, that wasn’t like us spending our rent money after we moved to New York City and us making those mistakes. We basically all came together and tried to adapt from it.
WWBW: Did you all have the same graduating year?
DW: We’re spread across a few years. I think it’s about 2010 through 2013.
WWBW: So did some of you move to New York first?
DW: The drummer, Jon Hubbell, moved and got a masters at Purchase before some of us moved there and then the three horns, Jon, Chris and I moved in March of 2014 and then Adam, the bassist, moved about a year later. So that’s kind of how…our guitarist, Josh, he’s still in Columbus, Ohio, and joins us for tours and stuff like that. So that’s kind of the makeup of how we transferred. I think after doing those recordings and getting that face time with the professors and stuff…the other thing that was important to our development as a band was the Columbus community and the musicians outside of just the Ohio State faculty and staff. Organizations and clubs and amazingly inspiring people that were playing great music that we gravitated towards and learned from and tried of to just kind of soak that in and be playing music from funk and pop to jazz to all of that and trying not to just be a purist in what we were taking in and learn from.
WWBW: So you have a big gig tomorrow, right?
DW: Yes, that’s our first one of the year.
WWBW: What’s that club like? Have you played there before?
DW: Yes. Mercury Lodge. I think this is our third time playing there. It’s nice. It’s a standing room style club, so, it’s basically a rock club and for us, since moving to New York, that’s been part of the trajectory of the kinds of places we’re playing; the kind of room where people are packed in and standing in front of the stage.
WWBW: That’s a good time.
DW: Rather than the sort of seats…
WWBW: Seats bolted to the floor all pointing in the same direction.
WWBW: How about we do a quick gear run-through? Do you have any endorsements from manufacturers?
DW: Yes. I have a couple. I do D’Addario reeds. I play on Hemke 4 tenor reeds.
WWBW: What characterizes a Hemke relative to other things in the D’Addario line?
DW: It’s more of a classical reed, but with my horn and my setup, I get this buzz where it’s slotting on the core of the sound.
WWBW: Man, you do have a sound. I’m sorry. I interrupted you.
DW: No, it’s all right and I mean, that’s basically what I’m going for. It’s got this buzz that I don’t really have to work too hard for and it’s got the edge that I’m looking for and the other thing is the combo with the mouthpiece. I’m also endorsed by Jody Jazz, Hard Rubber 8, that I play on tenor.
WWBW: We have a great relationship with Jody.
DW: Yeah, yeah, and same here. I’ve been on that mouthpiece for quite some time now. I’m surrounded by brass and a drum set, so, my efficiency in acoustic settings and amplified settings, the set-up is really important because I need to be able to keep up with them and be heard during a solo and so, I can play a ballad at pianissimo but I can also really crank it and it cuts, and I like that.
WWBW: How about the horn?
DW: It’s a Mark VI made in 1954.
DW: First month of production.
WWBW: Sounds like a sweetie.
DW: Really early model. I’ve had this since for about five years now.
WWBW: I played with a fellow who had matching 1959 alto and tenor Mark VI.
WWBW: They were mint. Pride and joy.
DW: It’s amazing. It’s got such focus and edge and balance to it. To everything than I can even imagine.
WWBW: So do you keep that beauty in one of the modern rugged cases or how does it travel?
DW: I’m rocking with the Walt Johnson carbon fiber case and I’ve been with that for over ten years. I kind of modified it by adding…I drilled through to add a protect backpack strap.
DW: I kind of modified some of the attachments around the ring by adding bolts to the middle of them, but I mean the thing is…it’s a tank and I take it on board pretty much every flight.
DW: I think it’s flown under a plane maybe three times in its entire life.
WWBW: Well, that’s pretty much everything I have to cover.
DW: Okay. Thanks for your time and the article. I look forward to it.
INTERVIEW WITH JON LAMPLEY
WWBW: So Jon, somebody who can get around that well on a tuba and a trumpet, that’s a real headscratcher for me.
JON: I appreciate it, man. I started playing both when I was real young so I kind of worked it out before I was thinking about it. I started playing piano at church when I was four and then picked up the trumpet when I was about ten. Then by the time I was twelve I was playing tuba in my school band.
So that’s how I started to figure out how to play both simultaneously. Again, because I was so young I wasn’t really thinking about the technique and how it doesn’t really make sense to be able to play both of those mouthpieces effectively. I was just like well, you know, I want to play trumpet at church, but I want to play tuba in school. So I kind of figured that out and then I ended up going to Ohio State. I studied jazz trumpet, but I played sousaphone in the marching band there and that improved my ability to play both.
Then once Huntertones became what it was, it became a perfect outlet for me to play both in a band, which has been awesome.
WWBW: When you’re a kid, you don’t know anything about “can’t-do-that,” so you just go on ahead and do it.
WWBW: I’ve been trying to turn the heat up on my own playing and been watching some James Morrison videos.
JON: Oh, man, Morrison!
WWBW: He’s just a lovely, funny guy. But one thing he said about warm-up, he said something like, “I know some great, great players who do a 45-minute warm-up. But maybe it’s just because somewhere along the line they told themselves they had to do this long, drawn-out warm-up.” I recently shortened mine. I don’t have chops to blow all day so I kind of shortened my warm-up from 15 minutes to five and it gives me ten more minutes to work on things.
JON: That’s funny because I hadn’t heard that from him before, but I resonate with that a lot. A lot of times now it’s straight from the plane to the dressing room or it’s almost more situational where there’s not a lot of time to warm up. So if you just get in that mindset of like, all right, all I need is, like you said, that five minutes to get myself set and then ready, set, go.
I think a lot of—especially, you being a trumpet player you understand it’s a very physical instrument, but a lot of it is mental. Because so many people have different viewpoints on how the instrument should be played. Obviously, technique is super important in whatever way people decide to pursue it, but it’s important to get your own approach to the instrument and stick with that and not psych yourself out because of what this person does or that person does.
When I was at college, a guy named Kenyatta Beasley was my instructor for a year and he was from New Orleans. He was one of the first people to say, “If you can play trumpet and tuba, figure that out, nobody else is doing that, so go for it.” That was really inspiring to hear at that point in my development.
WWBW: Did you get any formalized brass instruction in high school?
JON: I did not, man. The first time I took a real proper brass lesson was in college. I had like the fifth grade “we’re going to teach you how to play trumpet.” That was kind of my basic introduction to the instrument, but between that and college I really kind of just, you know, figured out how to get the sound with help from the early band instructor, but then just practicing on my own.
I’ll never forget in middle school when I started playing tuba, the teacher literally just put me in the back of the band with a fingering chart and was like, you got this. You can figure it out. So I taught myself how to get a sound on that instrument.
Then when I got to college, specifically with trumpet, there were some things I had to re-learn so I could play more efficiently. But I think it was an advantage to come into both instruments from my own approach. And while there’s a part of me that’s like, well, if I would have had more formal training at a younger age maybe I would have figured some stuff out earlier or would be further along, but I feel like the reason I sound the way that I do or think the way that I think about the instrument, both instruments, is because of the way that I came to approach playing and I’m kind of grateful for that. I think it makes me a unique player.
Then more specifically, it fits into the mold of what we do as Huntertones really, really well, obviously having both instruments, but also just kind of being able to provide soulful, high-energy playing fits really well for the style of music we do. It’s anywhere between rock and hip-hop, jazz, soul. It’s good to be able to kind of get the sound I get for this band.
WWBW: You did make a mention that you made some adjustments when you encountered a more serious approach to playing. Could you articulate what those were? Was it a pressure thing?
JON: For me as a trumpet player the biggest one, I think was I was one of those kids that played to the side of his face.
WWBW: Me, too. My bottom row of teeth has one real stinker in it. Kind of sticks out and I pulled it off to the left a bit. I think it messes me up. So you moved it to the middle?
JON: I moved it to the middle in college. That was one of the first things, like I said the instructor that I had, his name was Kenyatta Beasley who was an incredible trumpet player, composer, arranger, producer. We’re good friends now to this day, but that was one of the things from early, like as soon as we started taking lessons he’s like, look, we’re going to fix this right off the bat and it was something I didn’t realize beforehand, but it’s all about efficiency of air. I think that’s the biggest overall thing that changed when I started studying in college was going from just trying to get the notes out with my face to getting the notes out and the sound with air.
Then it was like trying to get that aggressive sound I was able to get by learning the instrument pretty rawly, but just getting that sound in a more efficient way, more from the diaphragm and more from the air than just like trying to push with the face. If I hadn’t figured that out in college, I would not be able to play the way I play for longer amounts of time. With Huntertones, our average show is anywhere between 60 and 90 minutes. I also do some touring with this band O.A.R., which is a rock band. We’re doing two-hour sets, so it’s crucial to be able to figure out how to play efficiently, but also powerfully. I think getting the mouthpiece in the center so I could have a more balance embouchure helped, but also just using less of my face and more of my air. That’s something you hear high school band directors tell their students early, early on, but for me I really think I began to get it in college. It also increased my range. Like I wasn’t able to really play above trumpet high C or D until I got to college.
WWBW: Did you develop a pressure problem also? Were you yanking the horn into your face a little hard or did you have that down a little more naturally?
JON: I think I did it to an extent, but it wasn’t as bad as some other people I know. I think a big part of that could have been because of the way that you play tuba or sousaphone.
WWBW: Oh, sure.
JON: It’s such a different type of air. It’s a lot of air, but the way that you’re playing that instrument and the way you’re pushing that instrument through that horn is so different. So when I was playing trumpet I was never jamming into my face like a lot of players do. I also never played lead stuff until I got to college, which was a blessing because I wasn’t trying to play all these crazy high notes without really understanding how to do that. So for me the focus was learning how to get a good sound on the instrument. That was less about pressure and more just about air flow. Obviously growing up in the church I was emulating a lot of not just other trumpet players, but I was emulating, you know…
JON: Singers or organ. So figuring out how to get the trumpet to sound like that and then I feel like later on I realized that it was like, okay, I don’t have a bad problem with jamming it against my face as I am trying to play higher. That was the first instinct, but to have somebody to say like no, use your air. Get your partials together. Use your throat to help you swab those notes was something that’s been mentally helpful, I think, later on.
Huntertones do a lot of clinics and you see a lot of 13-, 14-, 15-year-old trumpet players going for the high stuff and they’re just totally shoving the mouthpiece. Or they’re asking what kind of mouthpiece are you playing on? And I want to tell them, yo, your goal should be able to play that high G on a Bach 3C mouthpiece. You know? Because so many guys get so concerned with the equipment. I don’t even think about that. I’m like, look, you’re making the sound, not the instrument. Obviously, there are certain things, like the type of metal your horn is or the size or your mouthpiece, but I think a lot of it, if you focus on yourself being the instrument first, you’re going to be able to get the sound you want regardless of the type of instrument.
WWBW: You hand Christian Scott a Yamaha student trumpet with a 7C, he’s going to sound like Christian Scott.
JON: That’s the whole thing. That student mentality is like, oh, yeah, if I just get this type of horn and this kind of mouthpiece I’ll get that sound. Or like I’ve had a lot of people, a lot of kids ask me about sound Roy Hargrove’s sound or Christian Scott’s sound or somebody like Nicholas Payton and it’s like, man, those guys’ sound comes from who they are and it’s not just about gear; they’ve focused on how they push the air through the instrument and how they’re able to have a concept of sound in your head to reach for.
Not just approaching it from a technique aspect, but having a goal of the sound you want that's so clear, you realize when you're not hitting it, and then you realize when you are hitting it. If you apply that mentality in your practice, not only are you practicing basic technique, you're figuring out how to get that sound to be an automatic part of who you are as a trumpet player.
WWBW: This makes a good segue into what your gear is. What do you play for a trumpet?
JON: Right now, there's an amazing tech, I call him "The Brass Guy" in New York. His name is Josh Landreth. He built me a custom raw brass trumpet that essentially--for a while I was playing on a Benge, like an old, really light Benge that was just like, you could blow right through it. And that was most of college. Then when the lead guy graduated my senior year of school they were like, “Hey, Jon. We want you to blow but you're also going to have to play some lead.” I was playing on a Yamaha trumpet for a few years and it was a great horn, but I guess for me it was a little bright for what I wanted. It made it a little easier to play on top of a big band, to play within a big band.
But I moved to New York and met Josh. Initially he was just the guy I would bring the tuba or the trumpet to for repairs, but he builds horns as well. I was like, hey man, I love what you do. I'm looking for something a little darker and something that would be a little more long-term. Like I just kind of want a horn that is mine and this will be it.
I gave him some specs and he ended up building a trumpet that is kind of light and again, like I said, I'm not a gear guy so I kind of just described to him, yo, I'm looking for something that is a darker sound, something that's not too heavy, but not light. I want to feel some resistance. The horn he came up with was great. I really enjoy it.
Mouthpiece-wise, for the longest time I was just playing a Bach 3C and then I played on the Monette V6 which is their equivalent of a 3C. It was cool but eventually I felt like it was a little too dark. I checked out Marcinkiewicz for a while. Right now I'm playing on, there's a guy out of France. His name is Dimitri Donat. He has a line of mouthpieces. I'm playing on one of his now that is again like the equivalent--basically anything I ask for I'm just like give me the equivalent of a 3C. What I like about this one is size-wise it feels like that 3C but it's a little thicker and that, compared to the horn with a stock mouthpiece, gives me a really dark sound. I'm actually still kind of navigating, you know, I'm still getting used to that mouthpiece with the horn and figuring it out. But I do really like the sound and the feel it's producing right now.
WWBW: So about the band. How do the compositions go? Do you write from bass line? Do you write from horn line?
JON: That’s what’s cool about it. Dan, Chris and I do the majority of the writing for the band and we all have different processes, but a lot of my stuff will start with bass lines. I’m like, usually the melody is not for me. Sometimes I’ll have ideas here and there that I’ll sing into my phone, but I find a lot of times I’m trying to build grooves or something that feels good.
WWBW: I was about to use the G word.
JON: Exactly. I’ll try to build a groove via bass line or some sort of chord progression and then I end up kind of like feeling a melody around that. A lot of the way we write has been influenced by the traveling and experiencing other cultures we’ve been doing over the past few years.
WWBW: That was going to be my next question. This has got to be a big year for you because you’ve got this really fantastic, high concept album, just as the entire world is getting more connected, as people’s curiosity about other cultures and how other cultures express their artistic visions are commingling; you’ve been out there doing the research for the last couple of years and you’ve got a finished product that reflects that research. I just see you guys being really smart about it, maybe by accident. But you’re equipped, both experientially and with product to have a great year. I wish you the best. Do you plan to tour this year?
JON: We are in the works of planning our touring schedule for the next six to ten months. We have some stuff lined up. Not everything’s announced, but we’ve got a couple. Our first show of the year is in New York tomorrow, actually. Then we have a couple of East Coast dates in the Spring that are going to lead into a bigger, a longer Midwest tour. We try to get to the Midwest relatively often because it’s where we started.
We want to tour extensively in The States again. We’re working on trying to get back out to the West Coast in the Spring. There are some performing arts center things that are coming together still. We don’t have a definitely tour schedule yet, but we know we’re going to be on the road quite a bit this year, definitely through the Midwest, definitely trying to hit the West Coast.
WWBW: You don’t have anything solid for Los Angeles, do you?
JON: Not yet, but there’s a period we’re looking at the Pacific Northwest in April, and we’re aiming to kind of throw some California dates in there as well. But whether it be in the Spring or the Fall, we’re definitely making it a goal to get back to L.A. this year. We’ve done the Blue Whale a couple of times. Both times it’s been cool. We’re looking at definitely trying to build our presence in California. So if that happens we’ll definitely—are you based out of there?
JON: Okay. We’ll definitely find a way to get back in touch and let you know.
WWBW: I’ll keep track of you. If you come here I’ll know it. You need a bigger room than the Blue Whale.
JON: That’s what we’re kind of trying to build. We’re trying to get out of the world of jazz clubs and more towards like Mercury Lounge, is a perfect example. Kind of like a standing room type venue. For the type of show we do that’s the ideal. Standing room or even like theaters where people can get up and dance.
WWBW: I know exactly the kind of place you’re talking about. Like four-foot stage, open floor, bar maybe 80 feet back and some tables on the side. There’s a place in Boston called Harper’s Ferry, back when I was in my rock and roll bands in the ‘80s we used to play that fits that description exactly. Is there anything you want to make sure that our readers hear out of you or out of the band?
JON: I just thank you guys for doing the feature. Our whole M.O. since the beginning has just been to think outside of the box. Like you were saying, we’ve been lucky to have all these experiences of traveling and growing as human beings and musicians by discovering other cultures and trying to incorporate that into our music. But it’s tough to be a band right now.
WWBW: The economics of touring are ridiculous.
JON: Still, to the horn players out there or to the people who maybe read the magazine, always be willing to think outside the box. Because for the longest time we were so worried about what do we tell people what kind of band we are? Are we jazz? Are we funk? It’s kind of all over the place. But then we realized that’s okay, we’re going to have to develop our own style. We’re going to reach for something that’s totally different and then define that, not worry about trying to put a word on it.
What we’re seeing is that people are responding. People are digging it. So if there’s anything we can portray to young artists who are instrumentalists, it’s do your homework. Check out the history. Learn the tradition, but then don’t be afraid to think outside the box because we’re in an age where you can do that and you can create and people are willing to listen to it.
WWBW: When you stay in the box it gets awful dark in there.
JON: Hundred percent. That is a hundred percent true.
WWBW: Just these cardboard walls. All right. You guys are the greatest. I wish you the best and I’ll see you when you get to SoCal.
JON: Sounds good, man. Thank you so much.