July 20, 2024

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Interview with Bob Arthurs: Music is a very powerful force. It can touch people very deeply: Video

Jazz interview with jazz trumpeter Bob Arthurs. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Bob Arthurs: – I grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, a small town on the east side of the Hudson River just north of NYC.  As a kid, when my parents took us to church parties or weddings or anniversaries, etc. there usually was a small dance band playing.  When I stopped running around with my cousins I’d sit in front of the band and concentrate on the trumpet player.  It was the instrument that attracted me more than the others.  The Hastings school system had a very good music department.  When I entered 4th grade I had the opportunity to start studying an instrument.  The lessons were free.  I picked the trumpet, even though the band director tried to get me to pick the French horn (I think he needed horn players more than another trumpet player).  Well, I’ve been studying the instrument ever since.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the trumpet? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the trumpet? 

BA: – I believe I answered the first part of this question above. My first teacher was Joe Shepley, who was just finishing his master’s degree at the time and who went on to become one of the busiest studio musicians in NYC.  Joe just passed away a couple of years ago at the age of 85, and we stayed in touch through all those years.  In high school I had a very good band director, Pete DeLuke, who had been on the road with one of the later Benny Goodman bands and was also a very active free-lancer around NYC.  He played all the reed instruments and brought jazz to our school by adding a jazz band to the music department.  I also formed a band with two of my class mates called the Variations.  So, in school I played in the concert band, the orchestra, the jazz band, sang in the chorus; outside of school I rehearsed and played some parties with the Variations.  There was music every day.  When I wasn’t in class, I lived in the band room.  My next major teacher was Mel Broiles, first trumpet in the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.  I studied with him after high school, while I was attending the Manhattan School of Music.  Even though by this time I had been studying and playing for about 10 years, I still couldn’t really play a good jazz solo.  It was hit and miss.  I did ok when I was playing with kids who also weren’t very good improvisors, but if I sat in with a real jazz player I was left behind and I knew it.  That’s what happened when I asked a classmate of mine at the Manhattan School, pianist Billy Lester, if he wanted to play a few tunes.  We did, and I became acutely aware that all my little Miles licks, cutesy effects, and posing withered away when playing with someone who really knew what they were doing.  Billy suggested that I give his teacher, the pianist Sal Mosca, a call.  Sal taught jazz on all instruments and voice.  I procrastinated for a few months and then picked up the phone.  I studied regularly and played with Sal for almost 20 years.  He was a master.  (Sal Mosca is pretty much ignored by the jazz establishment, but he has an extensive discography that can be accessed through salmosca.com).

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound? 

BA: – Pretty much from the beginning people told me I had a nice sound.  It was the musicianship that needed the most work.  I did listen to all the great trumpet players and tried to imitate them at different times, and from time to time I hear them coming out of my horn.

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

BA: – Sal Mosca was a stickler.  You had to know all your scales, triads, four-part chords, and the melodies of standard songs all played with a metronome and memorized.  We also did rhythm and poly-rhythm clapping exercises with the metronome, as well as improvised rhythmic studies on standard tunes.  Except for the clapping exercises, all of this was done on my instrument and with my voice.  He was thorough.  I still work on these things.  He also had me sing along with Lester Young, Charlie Parker and other great jazz soloists.  I and his other students did this at half speed first and then at normal speed.  He didn’t want us to write the solo out until we could scat sing it as close to the original as possible.  He didn’t want to just hear you sing the notes; he wanted the feeling the notes were played with.  Sometimes it took a long time, but he wouldn’t let you budge until, in his judgement, you got it.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? 

BA: – After I learned all the basic chords on my horn, up to 13th chords, I now spend very little time working on harmonic patterns as such.  I work on chords and harmonies of tunes that I like to improvise on.  I’ve found that to just run chord patterns that are not connected to melodies that I’m fond of is kind of a dry and cold endeavor.

Image result for Bob Arthurs & Steve Lamattina - Jazz It Up! Ukrainian Songs for Three Dads

JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2018: <Bob Arthurs & Steve Lamattina – Jazz It Up! Ukrainian Songs for Three Dads>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

BA: – Well, it’s always a great pleasure to play with guitarist Steve LaMattina.  This is our third album together.  He’s a great player, a great accompanist, and he swings.  He’s also a very nice person.  The producer of the CD, Irena Portenko, is a classical pianist.  She heard the other albums that Steve and I had done and got the idea of doing another using Ukrainian melodies.  She is Ukrainian and wanted to dedicate the album to her father, her uncle, and her husband.  This Ukrainian music was completely foreign to both Steve and me, so it was a challenge. It gave us great pleasure that the CD was well received by people who were familiar with these Ukrainian songs.  Since we have several live performances of this music coming up, I find myself doing more work on the tunes we picked.  The album was put together somewhat quickly, and now I’m going back and trying to get deeper into the songs and the harmonies so that I’ll feel more comfortable when we perform them before a live audience.

JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?

BA: – Aside from Jazz for Molly and Jazz It Up you mean?!!  (Just kidding.)  I honestly don’t know.  I’m still listening to Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, and Warne Marsh.  I do love Camilla Cabella’s Havana though.  It makes me feel like dancing!

JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

BA: – I think the following people (there are others of course) represent musicians who achieved that balance to a very high degree: Louis Armstrong.  Charlie Christian.  Billie Holiday.  Lester Young.  Nat King Cole.  Charlie Parker.  Frank Sinatra.  All amazingly skilled musicians who, in their prime, never let technique get in the way of feeling and telling a story.  Billie Holiday’s technique was so invisible, people accused her of not having any!

JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

BA: – I have many. I think the one your readers might enjoy is when I was playing a trio gig in a big hotel in Stamford, Connecticut back in the 1980s.  I happened to be playing a trumpet whose bell was turned up like Dizzy’s. I was playing a solo with my eyes closed.  The pianist, Billy Lester, called up to me and said, “Bob, turn around.”  I did, and there was Dizzy Gillespie standing behind me!  He had just come back to the hotel after a gig he had in Stamford.  He jokingly accused me of stealing his trumpet design.  We were an excellent trio, so I was a little disappointed he didn’t comment on our music.

Another is: I was hanging out in a bar in Dobbs Ferry, NY with Stan Getz and some mutual friends.  We were smoking some Cuban cigars that he had brought back from somewhere, and we started talking about Lester Young and how we both loved the “Lady Be Good” solo.  I asked him if he wanted to hear me sing it.  He said OK.  I sang the entire two choruses for him standing at the bar.

JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating through the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?

BA: – I’m sorry, I have never figured out the music business.  I’ve made my living by playing and teaching music, but how to succeed in the music “business” is still a mystery to me.  Some players are just lucky.  Others are relentless in their pursuit of success.  What I learned from Sal Mosca was that if you can’t succeed on your own terms, it’s not worth it.

JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday? 

BA: – You don’t think jazz is a business?!  Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans (all excellent musicians) and even Wynton Marsalis are famous because they made/make a lot of money for a lot of people.  In a capitalist society, artists who succeed in making a lot of money for a lot of people are called geniuses.  Van Gogh was considered a dud in his life time.  Today he is a genius!

JBN.S: – Which collaborations have been the most important experiences for you?

BA: – Pianist Billy Lester.  Pianist and teacher Sal Mosca.  The Tristan Quartet: bassist Joe Solomon; pianist Jon Easton; tenor player Dave Frank; and of course, guitarist Steve LaMattina.

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

BA: – Yes, that is a problem.  But how do we get young people interested in classical composers when the music is two hundred or more years old?  There are people, young and old, who are drawn to great music.  Unfortunately, corporate radio and TV makes the music harder to find, but youtube seems to be picking up the slack.  If the current tunes were more melodically and harmonically interesting, we’d be improvising on them.

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life? 

BA: – Music is a very powerful force.  It can touch people very deeply.  I believe we all have our own individual “spirit.”  I guess one should endeavor to be true to it.

JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?

BA: – I’m basically an optimistic person and believe anything is possible.  I worry about the political direction our country and some other countries seem to be headed in.

JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

BA: – That people should dance to jazz, not just listen to it with their eyes closed.

JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?

BA: – After performing at the Music In The Alps Festival last August in Bad Gastein, Austria, I’ve been invited back to form and coordinate a jazz program for the festival.  If musicians and music students are interested in more information, they can visit www.musicinthealps.com  People are welcome as participants, and as listeners.  Bad Gastein is a great place to vacation.  I’m also hoping to release a new CD with the Tristan Quartet in 2018: Tristan Plays Tristano.

JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music? 

BA: – Well, we just recorded a jazz album of Ukrainian folk melodies.  I think almost any type of music can be played with a jazz feeling.  It’s reported that Louis Armstrong once said when he was asked if he liked folk music: “All music is folk music.  I never heard a horse sing a song.”

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

BA: – Bach. Beethoven. Bird. Billie. Copeland. Lennie Tristano.  Myself. Miles. Chet Baker. Tristan Quartet. Opera. And I go on youtube often to check out people, mostly trumpet players and vocalists, whose music I’m unfamiliar with.

JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?

BA: – My instrument?  Schilke B5 trumpet with a Bach 3C mouthpiece.  A 4 valve Getzen Eterna flugelhorn with a Bach 5C mouthpiece.

JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

BA: – I think to stroll down 52st in NYC in the 1940s and to walk into an un-airconditioned basement club to hear Charlie Parker live would be an overwhelming experience.

JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself …

BA: – When and how did your love of jazz begin, and how did you get into this idea of interviewing musicians?

JBN.S: – Thanks very much for answers. I interested in jazz since 2003. I am journalist and Jazz critic and this is part of journalism and, I think, interesting.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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