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Interviews

Steven Bernstein: Proud Member of the Pre-Computer Absorption Generation

By Published: November 20, 2006
AAJ: And that sort of thing goes on forever.

SB: Hopefully. As long as you keep your eyes and your options open.

AAJ: So you're a trumpeter. But you're also a slide trumpeter. I did a random web search, just using the phrase "slide trumpet, and got an interesting hit. Here's what it said: "The slide trumpet is now rarely played with any serious intent. The only player of note that I know of is in a band called Sex Mob.

SB: Well, that's almost right. There's a guy in France, an Italian called Luca Bonvini. And he really plays the slide trumpet seriously. He was a trombone player and he basically stopped playing trombone; he only plays the slide trumpet. But he plays the opposite style that I do—he plays it very cleanly. I met him for the first time on a tour recently. He's a modern classical musician, that kind of modern classical that borders on improv, and he had this theory. There's a cello and a violin, right, and they're basically the same instrument—they have the same mechanics. But a violin's smaller, and violin players can play faster and more precisely than cello players. So his thinking was, "I play the trombone, but if I switch to slide trumpet, it's going to be the same concept: everything's going to be closer together, and I can actually be more precise.

So he plays very precisely. He made a record that he put out himself. And then there's Axel Dorner, who's a German, but I think he uses slide trumpet mainly for sounds. He plays it fairly regularly. And now it's beginning to crop up; there are some people in their twenties who are playing it. There's this guy named Brian Carpenter, who's from Boston. So people are beginning to play it, because of Sex Mob, basically—young people who came up hearing Sex Mob and said, "I'm going to get a slide trumpet. Even some professional trumpet players who are a little younger than me have recently bought slide trumpets and started to mess around. But yes—there is no recorded history to the horn, basically.

Steven BernsteinAAJ: So how did you end up picking it up?

SB: I got one in 1977. At that time, there were these horns that were very cheap that were made; they were kind of sitting around the music stores. They were like little novelty instruments, but they played okay. They didn't have a huge sound, they were kind of small—they weren't made of great metal or with great care. They were made to just sell to trumpeters, and you could get them at music stores very cheaply. So I saw one on a wall and it was like 25 dollars. Actually, Peter Apfelbaum and I were together and we both bought one in the summer of '77. Just 25 bucks, man! And I had it, and I'd keep it around—I'd always keep it around the house, even when I moved to New York from California. I could play a few things on it naturally; there were a few natural things I could play on it. And when I started Spanish Fly, I used to play it on a few songs. And I noticed that whenever I played it, there would be a big response. Obviously, it generated something with people. And I always give the credit to [trumpeter] Dave Douglas, man, because I was doing a gig in Austria, and Dave came up to the band. I don't know if you know Dave, if you've ever talked to him.

AAJ: I have talked to him.

SB: One of the smartest people I've ever met.

AAJ: Yes, he's obnoxious that way. He's so smart you'll feel dumb listening to him.

SB: Yeah [laughing], he can't help it. That's who he is. And he says to me, "Why don't you practice it? Practice it like a trumpet. And I said, "Yeah, you're right. So I just started practicing it, and I put together Sex Mob. The original idea behind Sex Mob was, what would happen if I had a band where I only had a slide trumpet? What could the slide trumpet do? And that's how it all started.

AAJ: Anything coming up for you we haven't mentioned?

SB: No, because whatever the next stuff is that's going to come up is kind of unknown at this point. I'd like to make a Spanish Fly record, because we started playing together again a year ago—we hadn't played for six years. We've got a new set of music we've put together. So I'd like to do that. And I have ideas for another project that I'm not ready to talk about yet, because it's not fully formed in my head. It's something I've been thinking about for a long time—another totally different thing. Something I haven't done yet. I don't really want to talk about it because I'm not quite sure what it is yet. I can see the outline of it in my head. But it has to do with some of my old New York friends from the eighties when I was part of this original punk-funk scene. That stuff was never really recorded, and I'd like to revisit some of that. Not revisit—but there's stuff echoing from that era that I'd like to re-explore.

Oh, and keep your eye out for Ropeadope's The Harlem Experiment. I did some really cool arrangements. Don Byron, me, and Carlos Alomar was the guitarist. He played all the guitar parts, and he's incredible.


Selected Discography

Baby Loves Jazz, Go Baby Go! (Verve Records, 2006)
Paul Shapiro, It's In the Twilight (Tzadik, 2006)
Steven Bernstein's Millenial Territory Orchestra, MTO Volume 1 (Sunnyside, 2006)
Sex Mob, Sexotica (Thirsty Ear, 2006)
Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Verve, 2006)
Paul Shapiro, It's In the Twilight (Tzadik, 2006)
Mario Pavone, Deez to Blues (Playscape, 2006)
Steven Bernstein, Diaspora Hollywood (Tzadik, 2004)
Bill Frisell, Unspeakable (Nonesuch, 2004)
Medeski Martin & Wood, End of theWorld Party (Just in Case) (Blue Note, 2004)
Mario Pavone, Orange (Playscape, 2003)
Sex Mob, Dime Grind Palace (Ropeadope/Atlantic, 2003)
Paul Shapiro, Midnight Minyan (Tzadik, 2003)
Max Nagl, Big Four (Hat Hut, 2002)
Marc Ribot, Soundtracks II (Tzadik, 2003)
Lou Reed, The Raven (Sire/Reprise, 2003)
Steven Bernstein, Diaspora Blues (Tzadik, 2002)
Mario Pavone, Mythos (Playscape, 2002)
Oren Bloedow and Jennifer Charles, La Mar Enfortuna (Tzadik, 2001)
Sex Mob, Sex Mob Does Bond (Ropeadope/Atlantic, 2001)
Karen Mantler, Karen Mantler's Pet Project (Universal, 2000)
Lou Reed, Ecstasy (Reprise, 2000)
Sex Mob, Solid Sender (Knitting Factory, 1999)
Kamikaze Ground Crew, Covers (Koch Jazz, 1999)
Steven Bernstein, Diaspora Soul (Tzadik, 1999)
Phillip Johnston, Music For Films (Tzadik, 1998)
Sex Mob, Den of Iniquity (Columbia/Knitting Factory, 1998)
Lounge Lizards, Queen of All Ears (Strange & Beautiful Music, 1998)
Spanish Fly, Fly By Night (Accurate, 1997) John Lurie, Excess Baggage: Original Score (Prophecy Entertainment, 1997)
Dreamtime, Dreamtime (Fibre Records, 1994)
Spanish Fly, Rags to Britches (Knitting Factory, 1993)
Medeski Martin & Wood, It's a Jungle in Here (Gramavision, 1993)

Photo Credits
Black and White Photos: Ziga Koritnik
Color Photos: Tony Rodgers



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