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Take Five With Thomas Heflin

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Thomas Heflin: Website bio:

Jazz trumpeter Thomas Heflin is the newest rising star in the jazz world. In 2005, he made waves on the international jazz scene when he placed second in the Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition in Seattle, WA. One of the most esteemed jazz trumpet competitions in the world, the event was judged by jazz trumpet greats Ingrid Jensen, Terell Stafford and Scott Wendholt.

One reviewer from the International Trumpet Guild described his playing there as "a very fluid approach generating lines in a seamless highly polished manner that is really a joy to experience. As a former member of the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra, Heflin has recorded with the likes of Stefon Harris, Donald Brown, Gregory Tardy and John Clayton, as well as toured Europe playing festivals such as the Montreux Jazz Festival, the Ezcaray Jazz Festival, and Jazz at Vienne. Outside of the KJO, Heflin has performed in a professional capacity with the likes of James Williams, Vincent Herring, Donald Brown, James Spaulding and Lou Rawls.

Heflin moved to Austin in the fall of 2006 to teach at the University of Texas where he is pursuing his doctorate in music.

Instrument(s): Trumpet.

Teachers and/or influences? Main Influences: Woody Shaw, Nicholas Payton, Freddie Hubbard, Clifford Brown, Louis Armstrong, Fats Navarro.

Trumpet Teachers: Cathy Leach, Dave Rogers, Dennis Dotson Composition/Arranging Teachers: Rich DeRosa, John Mills.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I guess it would be when I played in the Carmine Caruso Competition. When I entered the competition, I had been working in the television industry for three years and my chops weren't in very good shape, but I entered anyway and tied for second place. It was kind of a turning point for me because it put me back into a musical environment and helped me to realize that I belonged in music. I ended up hanging out with the judges after the competition (Scott Wendholt, Terell Stafford and Ingrid Jensen) and they were really encouraging and inspiring. That was when I made the conscious decision to pursue music full time.

Your sound and approach to music: My style is a mix of both modern and traditional elements. I think it's important to know the history of the music and to incorporate it into your playing because it gives you more depth as a musician. At the same time, it's important to forge your own path. As a jazz musician, I really want to try and come up with something that's my own. I'm constantly searching for something I can incorporate into my playing that will make me sound more unique. The ultimate goal is, of course, is for listeners to be able to tell it's me after playing only a couple of notes.

Your teaching approach: Teaching jazz is difficult for a total beginner because it's such a long process. Beginners need to understand that it takes time. By this, I mean years. Some people think they can lock themselves in a room for a month and learn to play jazz. But, it doesn't work that way. The human mind takes time to process all the information you need to learn to improvise. You'll find you get better in small increments. Learning jazz is no different than learning a language. In fact, jazz literally is a language. So think about how long it takes to master a language, that is, to speak it fluently. Instead of getting obsessed about the goal, learn to enjoy the process.

Your dream band: I don't have a dream band, but I'd love to get a road gig with a jazz legend like Horace Silver, McCoy Tyner or Roy Haynes.

Anecdote from the road: When I was younger, I was in a band that was opening for Bela Fleck and the Flecktones in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Before the gig, we were supposed to do a live performance on a local television show at 6:00 AM. Inevitably, we ended up staying up the entire night before and came into the studio slaphappy and jacked up on coffee. So, when it was time to perform, the anchorman suddenly decided to interview one of the horn players. As he's answering questions, another one of the horn players looks over at the monitor and realizes that if he steps a couple of feet back, he'll be out of frame. So he steps just out of the camera's view and begins to make some pretty foul gestures at the horn player being interviewed in an attempt to throw him off. Of course, we all had a hell of a time trying to keep our composure while this was going on.

Favorite venue: One of my favorite clubs in the South, where I've been living for the past four years, is Churchill Grounds in Atlanta. It's run by a real jazz fan who makes an effort to bring in big jazz names. I was fortunate enough to one weekend with a group featuring Donald Brown, and another with a group featuring Vincent Herring. The bands there play in a space called the "Whisper Room, which has a no talking rule like the clubs in New York. The audience is really responsive and attentive. It's a great place to play jazz.


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