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Genius Guide to Jazz

Bix, Bubber, and the Giant Lollipop of the Apocalypse

By Published: August 29, 2004
Beginning his career in the forties, basically inventing "cool" jazz in the fifties, and being a force in jazz through the sixties, Miles Davis reinvented himself yet again through the seventies. Combining the electric instrumentation of rock with the free-form improvisation of jazz, after a failed attempt to combine the heartfelt simplicity of country music with the rousing marches of John Phillip Sousa, the new form was named Fusion (and its Confirmation name is Mary Catherine). Thus, Davis made possible the very narrow career path of rock trumpet player.

One of my favorite players from the seventies is one that is sure to draw some controversy. Chuck Mangione would probably be considered by most to be among the Kenny G's of the past, a technically adept player whose light, uncomplicated style is probably considered a homogenized derivative of jazz. But it was Mangione's Children of Sanchez that was responsible for my high school jazz ensemble (with me on bass trombone) winning a silver medal at a band festival in Toronto in 1985, in return for which I made a promise to Mangione that if I were ever to have my own column on an influential jazz website I would give him a paragraph in an article on jazz trumpet players. Technically, though, Mangione is not really a trumpet player.

His instrument of choice is the flugelhorn, a relative of the trumpet and very much like it in every respect except that it is covered with a layer of light, flaky pastry. No, wait. I'm thinking of the strudelhorn.

Moving into the eighties, we are once again confronted with the specter of Wynton Marsalis, whose roundheaded shadow casts across the last two decades of jazz like a giant lollipop of the apocalypse ( I have absolutely no idea what in the hell I meant by that). A Julliard-trained classical musician with an enviable jazz pedigree (his father, Ellis, was a well-known jazz pianist and educator who also produced musicians Branford and Delfayo. And I've got to say, the Pontiac Delfayo was one of the coolest cars of the eighties), Marsalis almost single-handedly revived the jazz trumpet to popular sensibilities.

Then, of course, there are the nineties. A century since Buddy Bolden blew bold on Bourbon Street, begetting such bigwigs as Bubber and Bix Beiderbecke, who built bastions of brilliance befitting the barons who braved the brickbats of banal bourgeois to bring forth a brighter brand of be-bop and beyond. But the bright benchmarks born by these Brobdingnagian bosses behoove a better bandwagon than the bilious blather of some bumptious bastard who barely bothered to break open a book for the benefit of the brigade of burgeoning blowers now bursting boundaries.

And if you figured out that I really haven't done enough research to comment on trumpet players of the last ten years or so, and attempted to hide that fact with a bit of ham-fisted alliteration, then you win this month's AAJ Genius Challenge. Simply mail your computer to AAJ for verification of your winning entry, and we'll send you a cashier's check for $4. All entries become property of AAJ. PA and VA residents need not send entire computer, just the monitor. Especially if it's one of those really nice flat screen deals.

So here we are, a more-or-less authoritative history of the trumpet and its relationship to jazz. If, after this Guide, you feel I may have omitted some of your favorite players like Arturo Sandoval and Maynard Ferguson, I welcome you to keep it to yourself. No one likes a complainer.

Next month, I'll be exploring the history of the saxophone and the players forever associated with the instrument. From Traumbaur to Young to Coltrane (that legendary sax-wielding double-play combination for the Phillies back in the 40's) to some of the great iconoclastic avant-garde players like Ornette Coleman and Pharaoh Sanders. And to prove that my jazz knowledge isn't just rooted in the past, I'll be discussing modern players like Joshua Redman and that other guy who isn't Joshua Redman.

Till then, exit to your right and enjoy the rest of AAJ.

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