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Meet Marvin Stamm

By Published: March 25, 2005
Role of lead trumpet in big bands

To me, the bassist is the heart and soul of any band, the time keeper. His sound and pitch have a lot to do with how a group sounds. With all his drums and cymbals, a fine drummer is like a painter. His job is the coloration, adding to and augmenting the sound of the various horn sections. Of course, the drummer also has a great deal to do with the intensity of the group.

The lead trumpet player is the interpreter of the music. While the lead trombone player and lead alto player lead their sections, the tradition has been that they take their cues in interpretation and articulation from the lead trumpet player. That's the traditional approach to the music and the role of the lead trumpet. This was beautifully exemplified by the great lead trumpet players with whom I worked in NYC—Bernie Glow and Ernie Royal, who did all the Miles Davis—Gil Evans recordings among others—and Snooky Young with the Basie band who also became part of the New York studio scene for years before moving to California. Of course, their mentors were from the earlier bands, those of Jimmy Lunceford, Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and others.

For me, the happiest moments playing in the studios were when we were recording a lot of Jazz records, and the trumpet section was Bernie Glow, Ernie Royal, Snooky Young, and me. What a lesson it was to learn from three of the greatest musicians whoever picked up a trumpet! To them, the lead trumpet player was like the concert master or the concert mistress of a symphony orchestra. They led the orchestra, but not through sheer force. Their natural musicality, their sound, and rhythmic feeling made the rest of the orchestra naturally focus upon them and follow their lead. But as they led the orchestra, they also blended into it. As Snooky expressed it, "It should sound like an organ from top to bottom. When you hear the recordings he made with the Basie Band of the late '50s and early '60s, you can hear exactly what he was talking about. The same can be heard on all the recordings on which Bernie and Ernie play. It is not about playing the highest, loudest notes. It has much more to do with sound, feel, interpretation, and natural musicality.

Regarding how a band sounds the secret comes down to one word: listen. If everybody in the band is listening to everything that's going on and knows where they fit in, musically that band is going to sound very good. The problem with a lot of players is they're too busy focusing on themselves; they're not listening to anyone else. When they are not playing, they are many times talking to the guys next to them or fooling around. They aren't listening to whatever else may be going on around them in the music. I see this even in small groups. Guys go up to the microphone and play their solo, and they play well. The next guy comes up to play, and the person who just finished playing walks over to the side and starts talking to somebody. If you don't respect the people you're on the bandstand with enough to want to hear what they play and to learn from them, why bother playing with them at all! When I'm on the bandstand, I give everyone my rapt attention. Otherwise, I don't want to be there.

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Inspirational musicians

All along the way I've had people who have been inspirational and of tremendous help to me: my junior high school band director in Memphis, Jack Foster; my high school band director, A. E. McLain, one of the great high school band directors in the country; my trumpet teacher in Memphis, Perry Wilson; my four years at North Texas, studying with John Haynie and working with lab band directors Gene Hall and Leon Breeden. My six plus years studying with Carmine Caruso were so very special also.

There were players in Memphis and in the Dallas and Ft. Worth areas that were very good to this young kid they perceived had talent. They gave freely of their advice and let me sit next to them and play with them, which is where I learned many great lessons. This has continued through my life in the professional world: certainly Stan Kenton and Woody Herman, and all the players in those bands. Of course, players such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Clifford Brown influenced my trumpet playing.

Playing in the Thad Jones—Mel Lewis Orchestra. Thad Jones stands up to anyone who has ever picked up a musical instrument. He was a creative genius. To be in that band at that time, filled with people like Snooky Young, Jimmy Nottingham, Richard Williams, Bob Brookmeyer, Garnett Brown, Richard Davis, Mel Lewis, that wonderful saxophone section of Jerome Richardson, Jerry Dodgion, Eddie Daniels, Pepper Adams and Joe Farrell—it was an amazing experience, and I learned so much from everyone. But when Thad picked up that horn, everyone listened to him with complete attention and in rapt admiration. He blew all of us away—every time!

There have been so many other people over my lifetime and in my career: Duke Pearson and all the guys in that band; Charlie Mariano and the times we spent teaching together and playing in the summers. Bill Mays and Rufus Reid continue to be great teachers to me. Ed Soph's drumming is so different, so unique. Then again—there are many people of whom you and others might never have heard of that have made just as big a difference in my musical life and personal development as these more well-known people I have mentioned.

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