Thomas Stevens

James Stamp, Jean-Pierre Mathez and Editions Bim

  • For Trumpeters Only

Quotable“I am absolutely amazed at what Jean-Pierre has done for me!”-James Stamp (1983) in a toast to Jean-Pierre Mathez, who was not in attendance, at a dinner with Irving Bush and this writer.

Quotable: “And Jean-Pierre Mathez made you a star!” Irving quipped in response to Stamp’s toast, paraphrasing (in a kind of sprechstimme) a musicians’ insider joke from the big band era (“Benny Goodman made me a star”), which was always sung over the second phrase of “I Can’t Get Started,” a popular song written by Vernon Duke and the first-ever best selling record made by a trumpeter, Bunny Berigan, who also did the vocal, in 1937 (Irving's longtime friend, trumpeter/vocalist Jack Sheldon, included the Benny Goodman line verbatim in his band's recording of the same song made over half a century later)

James Stamp, Jean-Pierre Mathez, and Editions Bim

My first experience with James Stamp was during the 1959-60 school year while working as his second trumpet player in some Los Angeles “metropolitan” (aka “community”) symphony orchestras. He had retired from the Minneapolis Symphony (today’s Minnesota Orchestra) a little more than a decade earlier and was doing free-lance performance work and maintaining a private teaching studio in the southern California area.

As a transportation-challenged USC student, I would make the short trip to Mr. Stamp’s residence, which was near the intersection of Western and Melrose in the southwest Hollywood area, and then travel to and from the gigs with him in his large GM car-if memory serves, it was a Buick-with which he navigated the L.A. Freeway system as if he were participating in a NASCAR racetrack event (in later life he bought a Volvo and drove like all other Volvo drivers). As a consequence, I became acquainted with Stamp the man and Stamp the professional trumpet player before my studies with Stamp the trumpet teacher, which was the same sequence of events Irving had experienced a few years earlier. This provided us with a uniquely comprehensive view of James Stamp’s work because we were able to observe how he applied his teaching principles to his own playing, something most Stamp students never witnessed.

By 1972, I had been in the music business long enough to have the requisite professional contacts to help Jimmy find a publisher for his teaching materials. During the late 1960s, we had a few discussions regarding such a possibility, and while initially opposed to the idea-insisting that he taught students and not a method-he eventually relented and agreed to let me give it a try, with the admonition that he would only agree to publish those things he used with all of his students, to wit: the basic warm-ups and related materials.

My efforts at that time were a dismal failure, with four out of the five publishers contacted summarily dismissing the idea of a Stamp book after very brief presentations and even shorter follow-up discussions. There was a slight glimmer of hope with the fifth publisher, one of whose top functionaries had studied with Jimmy while attending college in Minneapolis. Regrettably, following some serious in-company deliberations, his organization also decided not to publish Stamp, citing the same general reasons as the others: Stamp was a ‘local,” or “provincial,” teacher who was largely unknown outside of the southern California area, and he was also too old, the latter being significant in the company’s view, because there would not be enough time, as expressed in years, to do the necessary marketing and promotional work (personal appearances on the “clinic circuit,” interviews with educational and trade publications, etc.), to recoup its financial investment in such a project.

That would have been the end of the story had not my friend, Jean-Pierre Mathez, then publisher of Brass Bulletin, inquired about Stamp on one fateful day in 1975. The short version of what followed is that the two gentlemen were put in direct contact with one another, and this led to the Bim “special summer courses” featuring James Stamp, which were held in Switzerland during the late ‘70s-early ‘80s.

By all accounts, the first summer’s Stamp classes got off to a slow start due to a confluence of circumstances, chief among them being that Jimmy was unaccustomed to working in the master class format or with individuals in publicly-oriented classroom settings. He also spoke American, rather than global English, used many idioms, and as a rule was generally very economical in his use of spoken language when teaching, preferring to let the music and the exercises speak for themselves. These issues, unfortunately, made things unnecessarily difficult for those for whom English was a second or third language as well as for any (real-time) translators in attendance, a situation further exacerbated by the fact his teaching methods were unique and slightly unorthodox, especially when compared to the then prevailing traditional European pedagogical practices. Nevertheless, the first year’s experiment showed great promise, and the following summer Mathez expanded the faculty to include Pierre Thibaud and this writer. By that time, Stamp had become more comfortable with the seminar/master class format, and the “special course” was an enormously successful event, with some of Europe’s finest young players (and a few of their teachers), many of whom are either currently well-known or otherwise engaged at the top levels of the music profession, in attendance (no specific names are mentioned here to avoid the inadvertent omission of any of them).

Jean-Pierre’s decision to publish the Stamp book was a direct consequence of the successful classes in Moudon; however, the actual creation of the book presented even further challenges, all of which with their genesis in the basic underlying principle of Stamp’s methodology: He taught individual students-period! Moreover, although an early decision was made to publish only those ostensibly generic Stamp warm-ups and exercises he used with all of his students, Stamp cognoscenti would attest to the fact the old man could be very spontaneous (to put it mildly) in altering even those drills to address the technical needs of individuals. Those types of considerations not withstanding, however, from the very outset Jimmy understood and endorsed the editorial need to standardize as much of his material as possible, because the reality was the book was going to be published in multiple languages and studied by brass players, worldwide, many who would never have the experience of studying directly with him. Consequently, it became obvious that the preferred editorial solutions should be musical ones because music notation is a common international language in and of itself, and its proper use* in such a context would preclude the need for numerous pages of written explanations (and translations). Indeed, Jimmy eschewed long-winded verbal or lengthy written explanations regarding his work, and the book represents a quintessential example of that philosophy. Finally, by adhering to the prescribed strictures of the publishing process and limiting the editorial content to standardized versions of the basic concepts and exercises, Jean-Pierre Mathez produced a definitive Stamp book, one in which literally every entry was personally conceived, written, and approved by James Stamp.

Editions Bim followed the release of the publication with a carefully orchestrated marketing strategy that took into account James Stamp’s advanced age and limited availability for public appearances. This included well-placed articles and interviews in publications such as Mathez’ own Brass Bulletin and others, the continuation of the “special courses” in Switzerland, which were moved to the larger town of Bulle, and a few well-placed personal appearances for Mr. Stamp, including a major presentation in Japan during the early 1980s.

Today, Editions Bim is a thriving international publisher. At the time of the Stamp publication, however, the company was in a nascent state with very few publications in its catalog. Jean-Pierre Mathez, nevertheless, willingly accepted the challenge and committed the resources of his fledgling young company to the presentation of James Stamp and his teaching concepts to the brass world at a time when no other publishers would do so, and in so doing, succeeded in making James Stamp a household name in the international trumpet community.

Today, it would seem as if there is no end to the amount of Stamp “stuff” floating out there in the trumpet world; however, those of us who witnessed and/or participated in the growth of the Stamp phenomenon after Bim had entered the picture during the late 1970s would undoubtedly agree that most of it would probably not have happened were it not for the creative vision and tireless efforts of Jean-Pierre Mathez and Editions Bim.

Monsieur Mathez may not be Benny Goodman, but Irv Bush was correct: He certainly did make James Stamp a star!

* ic dictation as he sang or played them for me during the book’s preparation.