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The Trumpet

John Wallace and Alexander McGrattan

338 pp.

Yale University Press, Hardback, £30.00

ISBN 978-0-300-11230-6

The Trumpet

Should you detect a slight Scottish flavour in The Trumpet, doubtless this is because both of the authors live north of the border. Alexander McGrattan is principal trumpet player at Scottish Ballet, and John Wallace is principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow, and a virtuoso trumpet player.

The book's cover carries a photograph of a reproduction of a serpentine-shaped trumpet from Nuremberg, the original dated 1585, above a picture of Louis Armstrong performing on stage during the 1960s. These pictures symbolise the breadth of the book's coverage. However, despite having Pops on the cover, be warned that fewer than twenty pages are devoted to jazz, providing only one of the book's twelve chapters. As one might expect, that chapter mentions Rafael Mendez, Harry James, Chet Baker, Mannie Klein, Al Hirt, Miles Davis and Maynard Ferguson, but inevitably in such a congested jazz overview there are omissions. Mention of Miles Davis's introduction of the flugelhorn is to be commended, but the complete absence of Clifford Brown from the trumpet discussion is unfortunate. The paragraph on female players includes consideration of Valaida Snow, the intriguing Carole Dawn Reinhart, and Ingrid Jensen, but busy New York freelance Laurie Frink goes unmentioned, despite her having toured Britain in the past.

Notwithstanding the generous provision of music examples, which come into the contemporary era with an excerpt from Tim Souster's The Transistor Radio of St Narcissus, no jazz transcriptions are included. The Trumpet is a comprehensive book, expertly written, but intended for a general trumpet readership rather than for jazz aficionados. Copious illustrations support the text, including line drawings, reproductions of paintings from the medieval to the contemporary, and many photographs. A particularly witty photograph is Norman Parkinson's 1953 portrait of George Eskdale of the LSO, on page 238.

An interesting insight into the contemporary pursuit of technical perfection arises in the account of Maurice André's playing:
"Herbert von Karajan was one of the first conductors to use close editing to chase the elusive goal of 'perfection' in his recorded interpretations through choosing the best takes…André's recording of Hummel's concerto…became a best seller. The less positive part of André's legacy was [that] he attained the status of a cult figure. It became difficult to give trumpet players first prize in international competitions because they fell short of André and the ideal of 'perfection' as registered on his many long playing records."

Incredibly, after André there was a forty-year gap before a first prize was again awarded to a trumpeter at the ARD Wettbewerb in Munich. An unintentional but telling argument against music competitions!

John Robert Brown

First published in Jazz Journal, 2012. Used by kind permission. Reproduction forbidden.
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