Interviews and Master Classes
Boptism Music Publishing
In this compilation of thirty-eight articles previously published in Windplayer, Jazz Player and other sources, thirty of brass's top practitioners are profiled, interviewed or provide "Master Classes". Bernotas' subjects are fascinating people with a lot to say about the musical life and their instruments' places within that. A trombonist himself, Bernotas clearly loves his subject and has a good rapport with the players (example: J.J. Johnson, playfully, to Bernotas: "Don't mince words, Bob").
Top Brass is about much more than technical issues. It's full of history, including the experiences of many Basie, Ellington and Lionel Hampton alumni. Neither Bernotas nor the brass players shy away from controversial issues, including the second class status of trombone, "ghost bands", racial discrimination, jazz education, business aspects of music, and of course, Wynton. The critical importance of mentors, with many positive examples, is a thread running through the entire book.
Is Top Brass just for brass players? Absolutely not. As a saxophonist who doesn't know a lot about brass, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Even a couple of the fifteen Master Class entries are useful to arrangers or players of other instruments. While Top Brass could be a valuable resource for players of any level of experience, it may be particularly important to emerging players.
Just a couple of quibbles about Top Brass. A few of the subjects - Wallace Roney, Grover Mitchell, Claudio Roditi - are both profiled and interviewed. Duplication was minimal, but a bit more editing would have helped. While all the photos are excellent, some of the digital ones did not translate into sharp prints.
In addition to all the other positive features of Top Brass mentioned above, Bernotas' profiles and interviews of Al Grey, J.J. Johnson, Art Farmer and Lester Bowie are now fitting tributes to these recently-departed greats.