Monk's Trumpets

Matt Lavelle By

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Next up we reach trumpet player Ray Copeland (1926-1984), recording with Monk for the Prestige label in a quintet in 1954 while working at a day job in a paper company. Highlights include Copeland handling a relatively brisk version of Monk's "Hackensack" and some choice blues phrasing on "Locomotive." Copeland studied classical trumpet and was eventually able to work in music full time by 1955. He had a fat, bright, and pungent tone and had by 1954 created a style that worked for him combining bop with some swing and blues elements. The only stylistic influences I can detect are Charlie Shavers and Clifford Brown, but Copeland's tone is less distinctive. He had a personal inner tempo and superimposed his playing on top of Monk rather than more personal interaction. In 1957 Copeland played on a famous Monk album titled "Monk's Music" with none other than Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane on tenors. He solos directly after Coltrane on "Well You Needn't" and "Epistrophy." On both solos, Monk strolls leaving Copeland in a trio format where Art Blakey generates an enormous feeling of swing. In Robin Kelley's book on Monk, we learn that Monk warned Copeland that elaborate runs in the upper register were impractical because it left him no time to breathe. Monk would later say that extreme range playing took away Dizzy's tone. Copeland also worked with Monk outside the studio on live dates. In 1957 he recorded a record with Phil Woods, where he continues to reach into the upper register where he escapes all of his influences. On "Green Pines," he uses a Harmon mute but plays as if he is playing an open horn, dodging the penchant of players for playing a Miles type number. In the process, he sounds more like Lee Morgan who played with a Harmon mute loud and directly into the microphone, whereas Miles played softly. In 1964, Copeland recorded with pianist Randy Weston where he sounds like Jon Faddis when Faddis doesn't play like Dizzy Gillespie, though Faddis didn't start recording until 1969! On flugelhorn, Copeland dodges his influences. Playing flugelhorn is choosing to embrace sound over range, except in the case of Red Rodney who was able to do both.

In 1967 Monk insisted to George Wein that Copeland join a European tour as part of a larger ensemble over Clark Terry. Both Copeland and Terry ended up with Monk in a nonet performance captured on November 3rd of that year in Paris with interesting results. Throughout the concert there is creative tension between Monk and Copeland. On "We See," Copeland starts his solo without Monk behind him and uses the melody but on the bridge resorts to total and aggressive chord change outlining. He then enters a type of abyss where he vacillates between fast playing and upper register explorations that don't sound connected to the melody or Monk himself. On "Epistrophy," Copeland switches to flugel. On his solo, Monk tries to connect with him but it sounds like they each can't hear or aren't listening to each other, much like a musical disagreement. Copeland ends up going his own way, but has a hard time owning the situation like Johnny Griffin. On "Oska-T," Copeland and Monk can't connect and the modal environment seems to feel uncomfortable for Copeland, whose playing style is based on more distinct chordal movement. Jimmy Cleveland gives us a rare chance to hear a trombone solo with Monk. He starts off very relaxed, almost too much, then switches to high range and fast technical playing, almost in retaliation against himself, or perhaps he just changed his mind or suddenly felt a different gear. Clark Terry later solos on "Evidence," mostly in a trio format in one of the most adventurous solos of his career. Clark uses his technique, sound and style aggressively challenging his own boundaries, validating Charles Mingus' claim that with Clark he could make the quintessential avant-garde album. Clark returns to solo on "Blue Monk" using his plunger where he and Monk connect effectively while both being true to themselves. The blues of course become the common ground that seems to unite all jazz musicians. Throughout this concert there seems to be a creative tension between Monk and all the horn players. As the horns are placed or pushed outside their comfort zones, they respond with technical assaults, trying to overcome the tension with virtuosity.

Getting back to Copeland, he was also a teacher and composer, premiering his "Classical Jazz suite in six movements" at Lincoln Center in 1970. In 1974 he published a book called the Ray Copeland Approach to the Creative Art of Jazz Improvisation. Copeland was also the musical director of the great album by Archie Shepp titled Attica Blues. Mr. Shepp told me that he had enormous respect for Copeland and at one point they both had to overcome physical diversity that challenged their embouchures. A last shocking fact is that while appearing on 101 recordings, Copeland never recorded as a leader. His son was the late drummer Keith Copeland.
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