Jazz interview with jazz trumpeter Steve Waterman. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Steve Waterman: – I grew up in a small village called Hordle near Lymington in Hampshire. I started to play the violin at the age of 8. The school I was attending on the south coast of England only offered music study on either the violin or recorder. I have no idea why I picked the violin, maybe because it was bigger than the recorder, but I came home from school one day with a violin and started to get lessons.
I always used to listen with my father to his record collection which was music from the 1940’s big bands particularly Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey.
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?
SW: – Through listening to my Dad’s record collection, I fell in love with the sound of the trumpet and particularly with trumpet players such as Harry James, Ziggy Elman, Ray Anthony and Bobby Hackett. I pleaded with my parents to let me play the trumpet. When I was 10 my pet guinea pig “Oink” died. I was so upset that my parents went and bought me my first trumpet and tutor book. I am pretty sure that Oink’s death was not due to my violin playing. Because of playing the violin I could read music and I spent the first few months trying to teach myself. Eventually the school I was at brought in a trumpet teacher and I was able to get formal lessons.
My tutor books had none of the music in them that I was listening to from my Dad’s record collection, so I started playing along to the records and tried to learn the music that way. Without realizing it, I had stumbled on to one of the best ways to learn to play jazz.
My teachers have been mainly classical, but my intention was always to play jazz and commercial music. Malcolm Wheale from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and later Norman Burgess from the BBC Symphony Orchestra both helped give me solid formal grounding in trumpet playing. While I was living near Lymington I had some lessons with Eddie Blundell who was the solo cornet player in the Lymington Town band of which I was a member. He helped me with the more commercial side of playing and helped in extending my range a bit.
While I was studying at Trinity College of Music Bobby Lamb was directing the big band and helped me with improvising and composition. He very much instilled in me the importance of rhythm and time. He also said on my very last day of college that now is when the real learning starts. He was so right as I learnt so much and continue to learn from all the amazing players I perform with.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
SW: – My sound has developed by listening to great jazz and classical players. I think the players that have influenced my sound the most are Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Kenny Wheeler, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Marsalis and Maurice André although I am sure that my early influences of Harry James, and Ziggy Elman played a big part in developing my sound also. When I studied at Trinity College of Music with my wonderful teacher Norman Burgess from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, he helped develop my production and getting a centred sound by using long tone exercises from the Arban method. This was a great influence in developing my sound and because of this I think there is quite a classical influence on it alongside the various jazz influences.
I think it is important to have an idea of the sound you want in your head. This is only achieved by listening to lots of great players. If you have the sound in your head, you will naturally find a way to achieve it. This was certainly the way my sound developed.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
SW: – Over the years I have developed a practice routine that I do daily to try to maintain a consistent standard. This consists of routines that help with breath control, flexibility, production, sound, range and finger dexterity. Many of the exercises I have taken from well-known tutor books and adapted to help with my improvisation style. On days that I have more time to practice I will also work on learning new tunes and chord sequences as well as transcription.
I have several rhythmic exercises I have mainly taken from drum tutor books which I apply to chord progressions in a way that helps develop them into my improvisation.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?
SW: – I enjoy playing over many different harmonic sequences from the standard repertoire to more contemporary sequences and at times free improvisation. I have for a long time been interested in the relationship of melody to harmony and how the use of tension and resolution gives momentum to a melody. This is something I try to get in both my composing and improvising.
I am very aware of the dissonance I use in my playing and will often use it as a way of developing a solo to help give it structure. My use of it also depends very much on the musical context and the musicians I am performing with.
JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
SW: – On the day of a performance I try to listen to little or no music as I do not want the music I listen to influence how I perform. This especially means avoiding influences that I don’t want to colour my performance. There are of course things that I listen to that I wish to develop into my performance, but I try to let these develop naturally over a period.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
SW: – I find it very important to gain a balance between intellect and soul and it has been something that I have been constantly been aware of with my study of jazz improvisation and composing. I find the intellectual side of music fascinating and important in trying to move things forward but sometimes it can be difficult to listen to and can be completely over the heads of an audience if it is not combined with a soulful performance.
Some of the musicians I am drawn to are the ones that I feel have a balance between intellect and soul, particularly Miles Davis, Kenny Wheeler and Keith Jarrett. These are musicians I listen to a lot and enjoy what they do on a musical level but also on an intellectual level where it doesn’t seem to get in the way of the music they are making but enhances it. I hope by listening to these players gradually something of that will rub off in my own performing.
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
SW: – I think it is very important to give the audience what they want, and I spend a lot of time thinking about the repertoire that would suit an audience. In the past I have often made the mistake of putting together a program of completely original music that is new to the audience and often found that it has not gone down well. From experience I have found that by playing music that the audience is familiar with I am able to put in the occasional original composition and get better feedback than do I from an entire program of originals. The program I plan often changes during the performance depending on the audience response. If I feel that an original composition goes down well with the audience I may program in more originals. If it doesn’t go down well I will stick with music that is more familiar to the audience. Approaching performances in this way I find I can get a balance of what the audience would like to listen to and what I and the other musicians would like to play.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
SW: – A few years ago, I had a cycling accident and broke by collar bone which left me unable to lift my right arm which made playing the valves of the trumpet impossible for a few weeks. Just before it was completely healed I had to do a short tour. I found that if I kept my arm in a sling and only took it out when I played the trumpet I could just about get through the gigs, but it did mean I couldn’t lift the trumpet up so had to play with the bell pointing to the floor. After one gig, just as I was putting my sling on again, someone from the audience came up to me and said that he could tell that I wasn’t classically trained due to the way that I held the trumpet. I said that I was in fact classically trained and I thought that the sling I was wearing might have been a clue to why I was playing in such a manner.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
SW: – I think that education is very important in getting young people interested in jazz. The more importance that is put on the education of music the more younger people will become interested in music in general and hopefully jazz. The whole tradition of jazz is very important, and education can help with making people aware of this. Through the teaching I do I find a great many young people who like playing the standard jazz tunes even though they are more than half a century old and often this interest has been sparked off by something of today’s music that has an element of jazz in it. Through my teaching I get a tremendous kick when I play a young student a recording of Clifford Brown who they are hearing for the first time and I watch their jaw drop to the floor. Often this is all it takes to get them hooked.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
SW: – I certainly find that music is the most important part of how I express myself both in performance and composition which I find equally important. Alongside family and friends, music gives my life meaning. I could not imagine a life without it so would certainly agree with John Coltrane that music is my spirit.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
SW: – I think trying to put more importance on the education of music and the arts in general. In the last few years it seems to have been made less and less important, which I feel is sad, especially when there is evidence that learning music helps the learning of other subjects.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
SW: – In my teaching I encourage students to learn by transcribing by ear solos that they particularly like. Because of this I get to listen in detail to classic solos as the student will perform the solo alongside the recording in the lesson. Many times, a student will bring in the solo of a performer I may not of have heard before, so I often get introduced to players that are new to me. One such player is Ibrahim Maalouf who I am very much enjoying listening to now.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
SW: – I am a big fan of science fiction and particularly movies and books that involve time travel. I have recently been reading a series of books by Shawn Inmon where various characters travel back in time to become their younger selves but still with the knowledge they have built up over their lives intact. With those books being very fresh in my mind I would find it fascinating to travel back to my earlier self but with the knowledge I have accumulated, particularly with what I have learnt about playing the trumpet and jazz. I am sure it would help with many frustrating times in my life, but I suppose it may well cause other frustrations.
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself.
SW: – A question I would ask myself is, what are your plans for the future as this is a question I am constantly thinking about in determining what I would like to do next.
Alongside continuing to practice and try to get better, I have several bands and projects that I run, so am constantly developing performances and new material for these. I am also thinking about new ideas for projects and recordings and I have several ideas that I would like to develop. I have just finished writing a trumpet concerto with the first performance planned for early February with the Surrey Mozart Players and I also have a brass band version that I am discussing performances with for the next year. I also plan to adapt this for wind band.
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers.
JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
SW: – I feel that there is always something to learn which is exciting but also at times a bit frustrating. It is very much the more you know the more that there is to know. But because of that I feel just as excited about music now as I did when I first started playing and am still looking forward to where the musical journey might take me. I find that teaching helps with this as it is wonderful to see the passion of young musicians.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan