The trumpet enjoys a renaissance in jazz. The trumpeters vary the tone between feverish power and gentle poetry. This not only serves their personal expressivity.
There they are again everywhere: slender, conically built tubes, usually once entwined, shiny or dull, in copper, silver, brass, equipped with different sized bell funnels. They are nice to look at, the trumpets, nice to listen too. They have always been. But after years in which they often satisfied themselves with supporting roles – for example in the background of big bands – they are once again at the forefront of jazz.
A younger generation of trumpeters and trumpeters are in the limelight with new ideas. All of them are well educated, they know and appreciate the tradition of jazz and the rhythmic intensity of swing, but they are also familiar with classical repertoire and with different segments of pop and popular music. Across all musical aesthetic trenches, they work to keep jazz and trumpet alive. And build on the big story and the legendary stories.
Louder, higher, faster
To those of Buddy Bolden (1877-1931) for example: He is considered the first great trumpeter of jazz. Bolden is said to have played louder and higher, faster than the trumpeters of competing marching bands. If that’s true? Sound recordings do not exist. His legend makes at least some prerequisites for the success of the jazz trumpet clear.
Towards the end of the 19th century, New Orleans was full of bands, black and white, touring the streets with their music. The dissolution of many Army bands after the Civil War had made instruments affordable and available. By and large, all bands interpreted a similar repertoire of well-known melodies. These could also be played by musicians who had not received any formal training. For trumpeters or cornetists, who – like Bolden – emerged from the tutti of the brass band and with loudness or with artistic garlands captivated the interest of the listeners. The “wrong” sounds and playing techniques developed by autodidactically trained trumpeters enriched the sound palette of the instrument with spectacular sounds, screeching and greasy sounds.
It was the warmth of the trumpet tone that inspired a young man in Chicago for this glittering instrument almost a century after Buddy Bolden. In the record collection of his father, a jazz-obsessed Iraqi, Amir El Saffar had found old jazz records; He realized immediately that he wanted to be able to produce such an extraverted sound, such a powerful swing. Soon he also came across jazz history on Miles Davis, whose tone was gentler, dazzling in its consistency. With Amir El Saffar opening up the whole, wide field between Armstrong and his antipode Bix Beiderbecke, between the bubbly eloquence of a Dizzy Gillespie and the melancholy of a Chet Baker.
Later, El Saffar began to study the sounds of his father’s home, which eventually led to a desire to study traditional Arabic music. At the beginning of the millennium he went to Baghdad, lived with relatives and learned the maqams from a master musician, the traditional modes with their microtonal tonal scales and complex ornamentation techniques. Meanwhile, El Saffar has built a trumpet that allows him to incorporate the unfamiliar quarter-tone scales for the Western ear into the gamut of his playing without any loss of flexibility. This opens up new dimensions of harmonic friction for jazz.
The Cologne trumpeter Frederik Köster performs similar and yet very different in his most recent project, a collaboration between his quartet and the Philharmonic Orchestra Hagen. He, too, may wish for a kind of search for cultural roots. As a child of the Sauerland, a somewhat remote region of Westphalia, he indulges in the silky sound of the orchestra, which summons sounds from Smetana to Messiaen. But this texture confronts the trumpeter with his own gripping sound; and like in a puzzle game, he lets his radiant tone break through the cloud cover of the string sounds.
The French trumpeter Airelle Besson, on the other hand, has a mindfulness approach. In the interplay of her quartet, for example, she lets the timbres flow together with warm tone, like the streaks of pastel colors. In this way, it creates blurs that calmly increase the tension and add to a groove with great delicacy. So Besson’s natural environment is the chamber music jazz, at least formations with plenty of space for the spontaneous arrangement in which no clock is ticking. Only the elastic time of the game sets the pace.
Old clichés and new ideals
The classical ideal of pure, radiant sound explains much of the fascination that emanates from the trumpet, and at the same time it marks the barrier that makes it difficult to use the instrument in a mobile accompaniment function. For a long time, the lead trumpet has been the perfect musical metaphor for the bourgeois personality ideal of the autonomous, unchallenged individual. An ideal that the star soloists of early jazz also emulated.
Meanwhile, however, this cliché has long become obsolete by the addition of a newer expressivity and a new play of colors, which allow in advance different dampers. The new sound culture, which has brought Miles Davis to full bloom, makes the jazz trumpet now decidedly ambiguous, multi-faceted. The trumpeters of the present dominate both hot and cool, the radiance and the muted shimmer, the wasteful and the economic. And perhaps it is precisely in this tonal tension that lies a key to the trumpeters’ new power of persuasion. Perhaps it is the ambivalence between luminosity and gushing poetry that gives the instrument new relevance – after decades in which the singing and the scream of the saxophone on the one hand and the elegance of the piano, on the other hand, set a sometimes almost restorative tone in jazz.
The times of the trumpeters’ forerunners, the musical muscular play that can easily turn into an authoritarian vision, seem to be over with the younger style-forming trumpet protagonists in any case. The signs are set differently, musicians let their individuality flow into the interaction of the group. Together they are strong, in many ways. That many trumpeters have understood this is a good sign.