Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Little Refreshment For The Soul - When Harry Met Buddy

Harry James was the best jazz and big band trumpet player in my lifetime. Interestingly, quite a few of the great singers and musicians of the era - Frank Sinatra, Doris Day and Buddy Rich to name a few - where graduates of his big band.

 One of my all-time favorite songs was one Harry James played with the premier drummer of the era - Buddy Rich. It is called James Session. The first two minutes are the entire band. The last three are Harry and Buddy. Enjoy.

Later in his career, when I was about 14 and had the opportunity to sit and speak with Mr. James during a break in one of his concerts, I asked if he would do James Session. He told me that he and Buddy Rich put that number together and he would never even attempt it with any other drummer. I also asked him about the greatest musical influences on his style. He told me he learned jazz by emulating Louis Armstrong and he learned a sweet, schmaltzy tone with a lot of vibrato from his mother, an opera singer.

And as a bonus, here is Harry's theme song, Ciribiribin. It contains that unique mix of schmaltz and technical mastery that made James the best of trumpeter of my lifetime.

For Trumpeters Only

If you are wondering what Harry played, his mouthpiece was unique. He played a Parduba Double Cup. He was playing in Benny Goodman's band in 1938 in a concert hall across from the Parduba store. He happened to walk in and try out their unique mouthpice, which actually has a second cup inside. It makes it surprisingly easy to go into the upper register and it gives out a really nice tone. When I spoke with him in early 70's at the concert I mentioned above, I asked him what mouthpiece he would recommend because mine ended up cutting up the inside of my lip after a 3 hour session. He asked what I played. When I told him a Bach, he said one word "Nazi," (apparently he had some residual angst left over from WWII) then reached over to his case and gave me his spare mouthpiece. It's the only thing I've played on since.

His trumpet was a custom made King "Golden Flair" dual bore trumpet. That's another one I got through Mr. James. I don't know if King even produces them anymore. You can get a tone out of that horn so full and sweet it will bring tears to your eyes. It is the perfect trumpet for mid-range jazz. It is not the horn if you want to be playing in the high note range above double F - maybe a double G if you're willing to risk a hernia and some burst veins in your eyes. But for everything else, it can't be beat.


K T Cat said...

Pure awesomeness. I'm buying this now. Thanks so much for sharing this with the rest of us!

GW said...

It took me about a month to get used to the double cup and really get the feel for how to play it. I would imagine that will be the case for most trumpeters who have been raised on traditional mouthpieces. At any rate, stick with it, its worth it.