Thomas Stevens

My Schlossberg Seven-Update and Commentary

  • For Trumpeters Only

A follow-up on an earlier post....

Since posting the “My Schlossberg Seven” piece, several credible sources have volunteered some comments regarding a major issue in the Schlossberg legacy I had previously not fully appreciated, to wit: the cornet-trumpet equation. These individuals believe Schlossberg’s methodology represented something of an anomaly during his active teaching years because he treated the trumpet as a primary instrument at a time when the cornet was considered as being the basic instrument and the prevailing conventional instructional materials for trumpet players were either written for the cornet or were cornet-oriented (Arban, St. Jacome, Clarke, et al.) and simply played on the trumpet. It is an established fact the earliest American classical music “trumpeters” (Ernest Williams, Max Schlossberg, Georges Mager et al.) had been originally trained as cornetists and routinely used standard cornet materials in their teaching. More specifically, as regards Schlossberg, there is some (anecdotal) historical information that his trumpet sound and playing style was definitely that of a cornetist playing the trumpet*, and yet, in spite of this he obviously believed the venerated cornet training materials did not adequately address the evolving technical requirements for trumpeters, which probably led to the development of the exercises included in Schlossberg’s published Daily Drills and Technical Studies, materials that are commonly acknowledged as representing a somewhat incomplete presentation of his concepts and teaching.

Quotable: “Jazz is not a 'What,' it is a 'How."'-The Late Great Jazz Pianist, Bill Evans (numerous print sources for this-i.e. Gene Lees)

When Bill Evans posited that Jazz was a “How” rather than a “What,” he was referring to the fact that, in his view, playing Jazz was a musical process (improvisation, harmonic and melodic concepts, musical architecture, et al.) rather than a specific entity. Evans' quote seems particularly applicable to Schlossberg’s use of cornet materials because it would appear that it was not “what” materials he used but “how" he used them-the "process," if you will. Based on Vacchiano’s teaching, which presumably had been influenced by Schlossberg**, the “how” involved playing the cornet studies as bone-fide trumpeters. This could have included standard ensemble-oriented musical considerations such as accurate rhythmic note placement (for vertical alignments) or the execution of technical drills such as the famous one by Clarke ((do-re-mi-do-re-mi-fa-re-mi-fa-sol-mi-do-re-mi-do-re-mi-fa-re-ti-do-re-ti-do-mi-re-do-re-fa-mi-re-do, etc.) up to tempo, but with solid air (flow) support (à la Chicowiz), a well-centered sound, and fewer repetitions of each repeated line (the cornet tradition was to play as many repetitions as possible in one breath, and there was no premium placed on accurate vertical alignments-the latter of which Vacchiano referred to as "artificial technique").

Commentary: Many of the leading trumpet players of the generation that preceded mine insisted that Max Schlossberg was one of the founders, if not the founder, of the American school of trumpet playing. We will never know, for myriad historical reasons, the true nature and extent of his contributions to our craft, and this is not particularly important since trumpeters today have undoubtedly surpassed levels of virtuosity never dreamed of by Schlossberg and his contemporaries; however, judging from various accounts it would seem fair to state there are a few of his technical concepts that are not part of the modern day trumpet liturgy which could be of value even to the current generation of trumpeters. Furthermore, there is also a never-mentioned, yet curious sub-plot in play here, to wit: Why was Schlossberg’s work, with the exception of a few player/teachers in a couple of larger eastern cities, shunned*** by so many cornet/trumpet teachers during his active teaching years (decades) as well as the time period following his passing? I have always wondered WTF that was that all about.

* In 1961, while serving in the U.S.Army as a member of the USMA Band at West Point, I took a two-hour trumpet lesson on orchestra audition repertoire with Harry Glantz, the former principal trumpeter with the N.Y. Philharmonic and Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Glantz lived in a nearby town across the Hudson River, and some of my fellow bandsmen who studied with him recommended I do the same. The only memorable moment from that particular lesson was when Glantz expressed his dislike of my trumpet sound, which he thought was too round and cornet sounding, just like, and I quote here verbatim, “[Max} Schlossberg and [Nathan] Prager.” I have never forgotten that moment because, at least up until that time, I had always thought that Nat Prager, the longtime second trumpeter with the New York Philharmonic, had an ideal, well-balanced trumpet sound. During the lesson, Mr. Glantz gave me two Schlossberg tonguing drills to lighten my tonguing which he believed was too heavy. A few weeks later,I returned for a second lesson consisting only of Schlossberg tonguing drills.

** While having lunch with some of his former students in midtown Manhattan in 1981, William Vacchiano volunteered that, according to Schlossberg, playing too many Clarke [Arban] types of technical drills tended to make one’s lips soft and flabby, which was counter-productive relative to the need for greater physical endurance that was becoming an important consideration among professional trumpet players during Schlossberg’s time, when many aspects of today’s music world and the trumpeter’s role in it were in their earliest stages of development. (Examples of this would be dance bands, “pit” orchestras, radio bands and orchestras, et al., which were the precursors of the big bands and studio recording orchestras of today, except, as my colleague, Irving Bush, once quipped, “everything today is an octave higher!”)

concepts to be, and I quote here verbatim, “dangerous.”