Picking up the trumpet after not playing for 20 years has its challenges. But it also has its benefits. I have relatively little time or inclination to woodshed, no pretensions about technical brilliance, and no desire to play in a way that is not relaxing and enjoyable for me or for my (hypothetical) audience. My target sound is somewhere between Chet Baker and Don Cherry.

Instead of my old gig setup of a bright free-blowing trumpet, and a big mellow Flugelhorn, I started over, with a late 1950’s Martin Imperial (serial #201xxx). There are many discussions on Trumpet Herald and other communities about the mystery of the Martin Committee, and how various Imperials compare to this. Readers can sort this out for themselves. All I can say is that this horn gives me the vintage breathy, mellow, smokey, quiet tone that matches what I hear in my favorite older recordings, and in my head, without the quirks that make the Committee different from a standard trumpet, and difficult to play. The horn has a lot of resistance, and naturally wants to be played quietly (I no longer feel like I’m imposing on my family or neighbors if I want to practice or play). If I try to blow through that resistance, as if I were playing my brighter Yamaha (ytr-739t), it won’t let me, and/or the tone suffers. Rather than “blowing through,” I have had to adjust my approach to making the horn vibrate with my breath, if that makes sense.* The effect of employing this resistance for a breathy vibration, is a satisfying ASMR-type feeling. I’m not sure if this trumpet is technically a “step bore” horn, but my experience of the Imperial matches the descriptions I have read of playing one.

The mouthpiece I now use is a Giardinelli two-piece (screw-rim) 6B, which I believe is modeled after a Bach 6B. It has a deeper cup than my old 5C, with a width that is familiar and comfortable. The backbore is somewhat narrow, and perhaps adds to the resistance I feel when I play through the horn. I first used a Giardinelli 2 piece with my Flugelhorn. Their 5f provided a nice balance of rich full tone and ease of playing. The 6B has those similar characteristics, and feels comfortable and familiar to me.

As for a practice routine, I have really enjoyed watching Ingrid Jensen’s videos of her warmup and practice. She uses a Raga drone box from India. I use a 6 minute “Cello Drone” that is available in all keys on Spotify and Youtube. Following Jensen’s advice, this helps me focus on breath and intonation, in a way that is very meditative. It’s like a metronome for tone and pitch. Beyond that, I’m just learning to play songs by ear. Lots of melodies.

Also, feeling gratitude to three great trumpet teachers I had the privilege of working with many years ago, and whose influence stays with me: Mario Guarneri, Dave Len Scott, and John Worley

Here’s a video Scott compiled of interviews with players (including Guarneri and Worley) about technique/embochure.

*Mario Guarneri in the video linked above describes the continuity of breath in support of tone not in terms of a large volume of air, but rather as something similar to the bow of a violin, which must keep moving in order to vibrate the strings of the instrument.