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Trent Austin: Pulling an Ace from the Musical Deck

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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New England-based trumpeter, Trent Austin is indeed a Renaissance Man—multi-genre performer, business owner, trumpet/brass equipment designer, clinician and teacher. He's also one of the most beloved and respected—by the greatest of players and up-and-coming players—in each of those activities. I caught up with Austin as he plans to head out on tour in October with the brilliant clarinetist, Ken Peplowski and the Capitol Jazz Orchestra.

All About Jazz: On behalf of All About Jazz, thanks for taking time to speak with me.

Trent Austin: Thanks so much, Nick and thanks to All About Jazz for inviting me! It's a great honor and extremely humbling.

AAJ: I read that in October you are going to do a two-week tour with woodwind artist Ken Peplowski and the Capitol Jazz Orchestra.

TA: Yes, I am. While my Austin Custom Brass shop takes most of my time these days, I am very excited to be going back on the road, albeit far too briefly!

AAJ: Please tell us about the tour.

TA: It's going to be an absolute blast! The tour is a celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the legendary Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall 1938 Concert. We are performing the exact concert selections from that historic concert. Each player has their distinctive "artist role" to play during this concert. Ken Peplowski, of course, is Benny Goodman and leading the band. I get to have one of my favorite roles ever, as I get to musically portray the great Harry James. It will be a special treat for me to play in the style of James, but also add some of my own playing style to the concert. We will be doing a quick tour that will hit selected East Coast venues. It's a good old-fashioned big band bus tour which will log plenty of miles. The complete schedule is listed on our website.

AAJ: How did you land this prestigious gig?

TA: It was really a case of being in the right place at the right time. One of the regular band members couldn't commit to the tour, so their agent called me. I usually get calls these days and people say: "I know you won't be able to perform this tour because you're too busy but..." I always tell folks to call anytime, as I could be more open than they think!

AAJ: What's it like performing with Ken Peplowski?

TA: I'm very excited to go on the road with this band and perform with someone as incredibly talented as Ken. He's an absolute world-class musician. And, even more special is the fact that he's a fine leader and wonderful person. When you are on a tour like this you spend 16-plus hours with the guys in the outfit. Of course, the music is incredibly important, but something that often gets lost is the hang. This band is full of great talent such as fellow trumpeter and Buddy Rich alum, Andy Gravish. More importantly, great people and players!

AAJ: Are there plans for future work with Peplowski?

TA: I sure hope so! I can only assume that this tour will open up new avenues and venues for us to share such wonderful music with audiences. I'm extremely excited for such a wonderful opportunity, as it's been far too long since I've done some touring.

AAJ: I know you are one of the most multi-dimensional, talented and respected players around. I've seen Doc Severinsen drop everything and head over to sound you on horns, mouthpieces and what-not. How are you able to fit in your performing and recording activities with your shop, your teaching, European business relationships, family and everything else?

TA: Thanks for the kind words. It is a lot of work and huge time commitment, but I love it. Within the past few years, I've had to give up playing a lot of different styles—orchestral and modern classical solo works—due to the fact there just isn't enough time in a day. It is quite challenging to do it all. When I officially launched my shop in 2010, I had to basically clear my performance schedule. I was working 16-20 hour days and there were moments where I questioned myself if this was going to be the best idea. Three years later, I'm finally getting back into performing again more frequently. I am, however, being very selective with my performance commitments. I also have to be very diligent in terms of my practice routine. I do get to live in a dream world where I can play a lot at my day job. Designing instruments and mouthpieces often requires extensive play-testing for proper analysis. That is a very good thing as it forces me to stay "on the horn" even at my busiest of times. Yes, it might mean waking up at 5:30 AM to get on the horn, but, as my good pal and great player, Thomas Gansch says: "Sleep when you're dead!"

AAJ: Let's backtrack a bit, if you don't mind. Most trumpeters know you for your Austin Custom Brass business and teaching, but, you also have a long and prestigious performance and recording resume.

TA: I have been lucky to have been able to work with so many great performers like Clark Terry, Joe Williams, Tony Bennett and Natalie Cole in the past. I was also out on the road with the Artie Shaw Orchestra for eleven years. It's an honor to have shared the stage with so many musical heroes of mine.

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