Claude Gordon 1977 conference lecture
Introduction by Dr. Charles Colin
I’d very much like to preface this the credits of Claude Gordon by making mention that the last year at the New York Press Conference for Scholarships we were honored to have had Claude Gordon who gave a most remarkable lecture and it was so effective that William Vaciano asked personally if Claude wouldn’t come back the following day and do it again and extend his lecture and that I think that is kind of a badge sort of approval.
Claude Gordon has a whole list of credits here that are quite unusual. He’s an author, a composter, teacher performer and a consultant with the Benge Instrument Company. He studied with Herbert L. Clark in his youth for ten long years. I think that is absolutely remarkable for any man to have this kind of a very close association with Herbert L. Clark. I know of nobody else in the industry who has ever had this privilege. For 35 years he was a first call studio trumpet player in Hollywood California and was on the CBS staff in Hollywood for 12 years. He has recorded for all the major recording companies and during his tenure as a lead trumpet player and soloist he played with all the major name bands in the 1940s. Some of his many skills as a conducting some of the top T.V. shows, stage shows, movies. Another one of his skills he’s an airplane pilot who owns his own airplane. So when he has to travel from place to place he uses his airplane. In 1959 he had his own band on the road. He fronted his own band and it won the best new band in America award. He’s author of many books that are used throughout the world in Russia especially, Australia, France, and Italy. One of the books is called the Claude Gordon Systematic Approach to Daily Practice. It’s published in both in base clef and treble clef the publisher is Carl Fisher. It’s an excellent, excellent book as a publisher myself I highly recommend it. As a follow up to his book there is The Physical Approach to Elementary Brass Playing another winner. And of course you know the Clark’s Technical studies number two. Claude has an edition of the bass clef on that one which is also a very valuable tool. He is one of the busiest trumpet teachers out on the coast. And students from all over the world come and study from him. They check into a hotel or motel and stay for considerable lengths of time for his expertise as a teacher and a trainer. His students hold positions in some of the major orchestras throughout the county. In about a week or so from or so from now June the 24th he will have his own brass camp which has been going on for quite a few years in Santa Cruz up in the mountains area, south of San Francisco. A very unique place I think it is one of those YMCA camps where all the students get together and they have a rap session like 24 hours a day. They eat sleep and drink trumpet with their teacher which is a wonderful way of getting zeroed in to right habits. He’s developed the Claude Gordon model Benge trumpet and the mouth piece. I think that our recording engineer is going to play one of Claude Gordon’s recording’s before I bring him on. Would you please put that recording on [5:05 begin music]. This is called “The Brass Man’s Holiday”.
[ 7:14 music ends] Wonderful that is something else. [applause] Last but not least Dr. Harold Himes has loaned to us one of his students to assist him in his program and this young chap is Rick Valenezuala. He’s a 15-year-old boy from the Mountain View High School from Mesa and I now take the pleasure and privilege of brining on Claude Gordon. Mr. Gordon please.
[8:10 Claude Gordon] Thank you very much! Certainly a pleasure to be here in fact I want to say there are so many great names here today that I couldn’t begin to repeat them. I was just talking to Frank Kaderabek out in back and many of the professors. I’m not going to try and repeat everyone because then if I leave someone off I’ll feel terrible about it. But it’s a marvelous experience for me to stand here in front of so many great artists that we have. It’s really a pleasure and also to mix with so many of the people who have the exhibits upstairs and it just goes to show you the attitudes of the people what a great business that we are really in.
So great! Now there is one gentleman though that I am going to mention and he was a great inspiration to me over years and still is. I think one of the greatest examples of business trumpet that probably has ever been around. Still a great player a marvelous guy. Manny are you here? Manny Kline? Okay now I want to tell you a story about Mannie because I can’t go on without telling it. What a wonderful people trumpet players are. We are really in a unique group of people. When I first went to Los Angeles I was oh, 19 years old. When I went into Columbia I was about 25 and I was early at Columbia and my wife got very sick. It was the birth of our 2nd boy and the doctor called me that morning and he said, “I don’t want you to get upset he said but we’ve got real problems and she may not make it.” and he said, “In a case like this we very seldom save both of them. He says we might be able to save one of them.” And as a youngster that was a very traumatic experience and I had to go do some shows that day. It was too late to get substitutes so I talk to the doctor and he said, “Look the best thing in the world that you could do is go play your shows.” He says, “You’re not going to do a thing and we are going to do the best that we can.” So I went and played the shows. When I got done I rushed home to see if there were any phone calls or anything. Just as I got in the door the telephone rang. And the voice said, “Claude?”, and I said yes? And he said, “This is Mannie, Mannie Klein”. And I was very thrilled because Manny had been an idol of mine for many years. He said, “Listen, I just heard about your problem with your wife.” and he says, “You get down to that hospital where you belong.” and he says, “I’m going to cover every show for ya and it is not gonna cost you a dime either.” And that’s just the kinda people that you have when there’s great trumpet players around. So I’d like have, I think we should all show our respect to Mannie of all people.
And now to get on with what we are going to talk about. I’m not here to play for you. And I’m not going to play for you today because we have so many fine artists anyway that you don’t need that, but we are going to talk trumpet and I do think we do need that because trumpet players are some of the most victimized people that exist. Now not because anyone wants to make them victims but because of themselves. In their constant looking for something that is going to play that piece of pipe for them. That big secret that might crop up some day and they get high notes with it. Always constantly looking for that. It’s like the truth of the matter is that trumpet playing is not that hard if a person wants to work that hard and develop. Herbert Clark made the statement years ago, “Trumpet playing is no harder than deep breathing.” Yet, someone took issue to that remark fairly recently and in an article he said, of course he quoted him and then he said, “of course this is a great exaggeration.” It is not an exaggeration, “Trumpet playing is no harder than deep breathing.” But these kind of remarks and many that go along with that kind of thing can confuse the young trumpet player to such an extent that it may hurt his entire future. Here’s an article that I’d like to mention. It was in a magazine, a national magazine. I won’t mention the author because you all know him anyway, a very respected player. It’s a marvelous article. The title of the article was “New Techniques for the Trumpet” and it reads as follows, “When I listen to the famous trumpet players of the early 20th century, I begin to wonder if my title should end with a question mark. In terms of range George Swift seemed able to play up to double high “c” at will. When Krill plays a variation of the Carnival of Venice with the melody in the pedal register I listen in disbelief. I need not discuss these great virtuosos’ flexibility or technique in both of these areas most of today’s players struggle to equal their accomplishments. Even though three quarters of a century has elapsed.”
Well doesn’t it seem so strange that these old timers played so marvelous? And yet three quarters of a century later we are struggling to equal those accomplishments? It shows that there is something wrong somewhere. And then a marvelous article bringing out some the marvelous characteristics of Bernie Glow, in New York came out in the New Yorker, and in there it stated, “That the trumpet seems to be an instrument designed for shear torture.” And I’m certain we can all relate to that especially after years, you notice some of the young players, year after year after year with no seeming improvement. They get a high “C” and their eyeballs are out to here. They turn red and purple, that is torture! And yet they keep at it at it. Something about the trumpet player he won’t give up and he keeps on and on.
Some of them end up in the psychiatrist office and of course the psychiatrist can’t help him he’s not a trumpet player. But they go. I know several that were under psychiatric care because of their frustration over making that piece of pipe work. Then there is the youngster that comes up to you, he says to you, “I’ll do anything, I’ll do anything to be a great player.” Well what he means, anything unless he has to do a little extra work. Maybe if he has to go hungry or if he didn’t have a place to sleep at night. Like one teacher had a student he called right at the time of the lesson and said, “I can’t make my lesson” the teacher said, “Why?” he said, “Well my mom’s not here and she has the car. So I can’t make it”. “You only live five blocks down the street. But he didn’t want to play enough to make that lesson if he had to walk 5 blocks.
The parents are a big problem. If anyone needed to be taught about music and musicians it’s the parents. You know the attitude, put that little toy away now and go do something constructive. You’ve played long enough today. I had one student’s mother tell me, “You mean to tell me you are going to drive all the way across Los Angeles and pay $40 for a lesson? There’s a teacher right down the corner for $3 and that’s just what he got a $3 teacher and they wonder why does he struggle. Why can’t he play that little thing?
I have a student right here in Phoenix. He hasn’t missed a lesson in five years. He drives all the way to Los Angeles every two weeks. He’s doing very well. That’s the kind of fellas that make trumpet players. The parent’s attitude about instruments, I had a student and he needed a trumpet very badly. I found him a beautiful old French Besson. It just happened to be a great instrument. I could have gotten it for him for $250. It didn’t look very good it needed lacquer. There was some solder in place. But it was an excellent instrument. His dad said, “$250 for that?” He says, “There is one right here in the music store window for $60.” And that’s what he got. Those stories go on and on and on.
Did you know that the greatest examples of what happens in all musicians of the great artists? For example, the finest cellist I ever saw business cello was the principle cellist of Columbia Fritz Metz. Maybe some of the old timers remember. He learned to play cello back in Berlin. Now this was before World War II. Berlin was a big city and this fellow was a little shaver. They’d get up long before daylight strap a cello on his back and he’d walk the entire width of Berlin. Very poor family. He’d have his cello lesson and when he’d finish he’d strap the cello back on his back and he’d walk all the way back home. Getting there long after dark. The story of all the great artist run about like that. Herbert Clark, what a wonderful man he was. His dad didn’t want him to play trumpet. His dad was the church organist in the church. He said, “You’re not going to play trumpet because if you do you will get into bad company.” [Laugh] But Herbert was going to play. So he went up in a little town Massachusetts. He got himself a room up above a corner grocery store. Just a little town grocery store. In order to pay for that room, they let him sweep out the store, at night after every one was gone. He’d sweep out the store, clean it up. The room was a bare room it had a bed and a wash stand. That was it. And that’s where he lived and practiced and went hungry, got sick and lived and practiced. That’s how much he wanted to be a great player.
Myself I’m going to have to tell you a little about that. As I came to Los Angles I was a scared little kid that came from a little town up in Montana. Los Angeles was awful big. I had five dollars in my pocket and my new wife with me. That’s it. I checked into a hotel because if you had bags they’d let you in. They didn’t have credit cards in those days. Then if you didn’t pay your bill they’d keep your bags. I’m not gonna tell you how I checked out because that wouldn’t be a good example to follow and I don’t think you’d get away with it anyway. But, my wife and I slept in the car night after night. To eat one time, we had a quarter we had 25 cents. We went down to a place called the Three Point Buffett. Meals were advertised for 25 cents. It was our last 25 cents. It was the last good meal we had in a while. We got the one meal and split it between us. And from then on we lived on oatmeal. You know you get oatmeal in the little Quaker Oats they still have it, the same thing. We had oatmeal three times a day with water. Now that’s how much I wanted to be a player. Fortunately, my wife was a marvelous person and she never complained. That’s is important if you’re going to get married young because if you don’t you might not end up a player. Too many times now people will tell you don’t be a musician, it’s a bad business, it’s dangerous. Like one time I was doing a clinic I guess there must have been 4-5 hundred in the audience and one of the professors got up and said can I ask a question and I said certainly. He said how many trumpet players in Los Angeles? I haven’t the slightest idea I never counted them. And he said how many would you say and I said I dunno. Well maybe a thousand? I said okay maybe. He said how many of the thousand make a living playing their horn? I said I don’t know that either. But I’ll guarantee you one thing everyone that plays his horn works if he wants to. I don’t know one fine player that was out of work. Not one. Everybody that plays his horn works. In fact, if you play it well enough they will come after you.
I started playing professionally when I was eight years old. They used to stand me on a chair like this, play solos you know had a lot of fun. Never worried. It was just great. Since then I’ve been playing professionally for 54 years. Outside of the time when I went to Los Angeles and struggled to learn I have yet to be out of work. I don’t think that’s a bad business. And it just makes me boil when someone says “don’t be a musician your taking a chance. If you want to be a musician be a musician. It’s a great business. In that time, I found out that everyone that stays with it who will overcome the obstacles, not give in until he gets out of that average class and gets to the top and when he does will find out there is plenty of room at the top. There is plenty of room at the bottom too. It’s in the middle where it’s crowded. That great expanse of mediocrity but if you want to work at it anyone can be a great player if he wants to work as hard as the one that is the great player did. There is no mystery to playing trumpet.
When I was a youngster I had that desire. Boy that’s all I thought about one driving desire to be a great player. It dominated my whole life and I practiced all the time. In fact, I over did it! I over practiced. Someone said how much did you practice? About 25 hours a day. I never stopped. I’ll never forget, I never thought of getting another job just in case I didn’t make it. You hear that a lot nowadays. You haven’t got time to get to the top in two professions. And the minute you say you’re going to get something else for security you’ve already made up your mind you are not gonna make it. There is no room for negative-ness in this business. Stay away from negative people all they do is bring you down to their own negative. I can’t wait to get up in the morning these things are just marvelous. There is so much to do I wish I could turn back the clock and start all over. I’d do it better this time. There is no reason to be negative. Be happy and you’re never going to climb up twice. So enjoy it the first time. You’ll never do it again.
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