Carmine Caruso’s Musical Calisthenics for Brass

Carmine Caruso - Musical Calisthenics for Brass [Paperback]

Because it’s mostly true, it has often been said that when it comes to playing a brass instrument, there’s no substitute for a good one-on-one teacher. But it’s also true that people have been playing brass instruments for hundreds of years, and that, consequently, some great teachers have been able to collect their best insights and teaching methods into books. In a series of posts, I’m going to write about some books on brass playing I think are well worth your while. Is all the information you’ll find in these books perfectly consistent? Can you guess what the answer to that question is? I can say you’ll find common threads of wisdom throughout these books. First up, it’s Carmine Caruso’s Musical Calisthenics for Brass..

When I was in high school, I studied with a teacher who was studying with Carmine Caruso at the time [Warning: clicking on the previous link will cause you to return to the golden glory days of the World Wide Web, back when it was full of stars]. In turn, my teacher taught me many of Caruso’s brass calisthenics. To over-simplify somewhat, Caruso’s teaching and exercises revolve around three things:

  1. The exposure of embouchure muscles to the actions they need to perform in order to play a brass instrument.
  2. The consistency of airflow, or “blow.”
  3. The timing of 1 and 2 (accomplished by tapping the foot during exercises).

In the book, Carmine says this about timing:

It takes over 200 muscles to play a note. It’s important to remember that before you play music you must train your muscles to work together. The key factor is timing: it will determine when the muscles start and stop a certain movement. The type of time is established by tapping the foot to a regular, recurring beat.

You expose the muscles to a physical activity by repetition and timing until the muscles synchronize into a conditioned reflex response …

Caruso’s method also specifies a single setting of the embouchure on the mouthpiece for the duration of each exercise. During rests, the player breathes through the nose in order not to disturb the embouchure setting. The aim is to minimize the unnecessary movement of the muscles so that they can learn what to do. Caruso stresses that these are, after all, calisthenics, and not musical exercises.

What Carmine doesn’t discuss is how to create a embouchure specifically. Here, an embouchure that works — at least to a degree — is a given. This does not preclude the idea that, for a given brass player, a certain embouchure formation may be most efficient and simply “work better.” In my own experience, once I identified embouchure formation that worked well for me, Caruso’s exercises became that much more valuable.

How do you form an embouchure for playing a brass instrument? We’ll undoubtedly come across ideas about that as we proceed through the books I’ll be discussing in the next installment.

Jazz Insights Redux

Jack Teagarden

UPDATE: 1/24/16: The podcast I mention below is no longer hosted by AM 1690, but you’ll find Mr. Vernick’s Jazz Insights at iTunes U.

A while back, I had a little write-up about Gordon Vernick and his Jazz Insights radio show that’s also a podcast. Jazz and trombone aficionados should know that in August, Vernick authored episodes featuring five jazz trombone players of the 20s, including Kid Ory, Miff Mole, Jimmy Harrison, Charlie Green and Jack Teagarden. Another good reason to check the show out.

It’s October, and presumably time to start raking leaves. Despite the date on the calendar, though, it’s still getting up to 80º degrees up here in Minnesota! Whoo-hoo!

Dan Wynn: Art of the Cover

Last time, I wrote about the varying quality of digital transfers at the iTunes music store, specifically on some Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson recordings. The odd situation I mentioned was that newer cover art sometimes accompanies some digital transfers of the albums — even from a scratchy LP as the source ― while the original cover art sometimes accompanies separate digital transfers, which — possibly ― come from the original master tapes.

But wait — there are more geeky details: below is the original LP cover art for J Is For Jazz. Look familiar? The striking photo sets J.J. against a black background, head-on down the length of his trombone slide, just like the art for Kai Winding’s The Trombone Sound (See the last post, which appeared far too long ago).

J is For Jazz cover Art

What you can’t see on the iTunes cover art is the photo credit that exits on the LP versions. Not surprisingly, both of these album cover photos are by the same photographer, Dan Wynn, who died in 1995. Although he had training in art, Wynn began developing technical skills in photography while serving in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. Out of the Army in 1947, he began focussing his photographic eye on fashion while working for Seventeen Magazine. In his subsequent career, he ended up photographing nearly everything — cars and scooters, food, models, movie stars, and, of course, musicians.

Exercises and Etudes for the Jazz Instrumentalist

Exercises and Etudes for the Jazz Instrumentalist

J.J. Johnson’s Exercises and Etudes for the Jazz Instrumentalist is probably not as celebrated an etude book as it should be. On the cover, the publisher Hal Leonard promotes it as “Easy to advanced,” and “Great for sight reading.” Certainly true, but J.J., after dedicating the book to Fred Beckett inside, makes this better explanation:

This method book is based primarily on my own personal experiences and career as a jazz trombonist, and therefore has very little to do with dogma or tenets…In my opinion, if jazz improvisation is the heart and soul of jazz music, then a clear and basic understanding of jazz syntax (or the language of jazz) is the necessary heart and soul of jazz improvisation. With this book I am committed to helping you get a basic and clear understanding of jazz syntax.

Naturally, it won’t be a surprise to see Johnson drawing on the blues as a musical form. He also sometimes uses the be-bopper’s idea of “contrafact,” or writing a new melody over an existing chord progression. You’ll have to guess — or hear — which tunes are used as underpinning, though. No chord progressions are given.

J.J. sneaks in good advice, too. Over one etude, a reminder:

“How do you feel? Don’t overdue it. When your body is trying to tell you something, LISTEN !!! AND OBEY !!!

To sum up quickly, this is a fun, worthwhile, and thoroughly modern take on the traditional etude book. It’s available for all instruments, and is highly recommended.

Three Great Blue Note CDs Featuring J.J. Johnson as Sideman

During his career as a jazz musician, the late J.J. Johnson recorded many times as a leader. His well known musical vision and skills as a writer and arranger — not to mention his virtuosic translation of modern jazz to the trombone — meant the leader role fit him well. That same reputation, too, meant he was in demand as a sideman. In these instances, J.J.’s playing always adds something special to the musical proceedings, and, while freed from the responsibilities of a leader, he might sound a little more relaxed than usual. Below are three Blue Note CDs you may not have heard yet: all feature J.J. as a sideman. Check them out. The titles and cover art will link to the music at Amazon.

Afro-Cuban

Kenny Dorham: Afro Cuban

Leader: Kenny Dorham, Recording date: March 28, 1955

  1. Afrodisia
  2. Basheer’s Dream
  3. Lotus Flower
  4. Minor’s Holiday
  • J.J. Johnson, trombone
  • Kenny Dorham, trumpet
  • Hank Mobley, tenor saxophone
  • Cecil Payne, bass sax
  • Horace Silver, piano
  • Oscar Pettiford, bass
  • Art Blakey, drums
  • Carlos Valdez, percussion

Volume 2

Sonny Rollins: Vol. 2

Leader: Sonny Rollins, Recording date: April 14, 1957

Page for this recording at Wikipedia

  1. Why Don’t I?
  2. Wail March
  3. You Stepped Out of a Dream
  4. Poor Butterfly
  5. Misterioso
  • J.J. Johnson, trombone
  • Sonny Rollins, Tenor saxophone
  • Horace Silver, piano
  • Paul Chambers, bass
  • Art Blakey, drums

Cape Verdean Blues

Horce Silver: Cape Verdean Blues

Leader: Horace Silver, Recording date: October 22, 1965

Page for this recording at Wikipedia

  1. Nutville
  2. Bonita
  3. Mo’ Joe
  • J.J. Johnson, trombone
  • Horace Silver, piano
  • Woody Shaw, trumpet
  • Joe Henderson, tenor saxophone
  • Bob Cranshaw, bass
  • Roger Humphries, drums