Get some tea or coffee and sit down. We need to have a conversation. I study music. I listen endlessly to the greats such as Chip Crotts, Matt Leder, and Melvin Jones. I have harbored lofty assumptions about the demeanor and life style of these talented, successful, and seemingly “rich and famous” trumpeters. Enter stage left, Trumpet Festival of the Southeast. I would not have missed this for the world as all of the aforementioned trumpet masterminds were there.
Just after the adequate performance of the principal trumpeter of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra I looked up to survey the area and determine where to discover the amazing experience I expected to have at this event and my eyes rested on a towering dark figure sporting a snappy burnt umber tweed jacket and complementary scarlet scarf and I realize meeting this guy, the one and only Melvin Jones, is what God himself sent me here to do! This was a once in a lifetime shot, so I took it! When I finaly had my turn to speak to him, I inquired about private lessons and that ignited a conversation about my current roster of teachers. So there I am, chatting it up with Melvin Jones and Chip Crotts overhears me say my teacher Hunter Moss’ name so he casually saunters up and chimes in disclosing his affection for my line up of A-list educators. As he introduces himself, assuming I have no clue who he is, I am working rather hard to keep my feet on the ground and my jaw closed. I play it cool and casual on the outside, but on the inside I am completely freaking out. I am standing around having a friendly, nonchalant chit-chat with men I consider to be legends. The men I idolize and think are above us all.
As trumpeter shop-talk always does, the conversation turns to equipment, and Mr. Jones invites me to accompany him to the display and demo hall. My time is valuable, so I had to consider my options carefully, after much deliberation, totaling one billionth of a second I accept and Melvin, Chip and I (yes, I just said Melvin, Chip and I depart indicating “we” as a social collective, did something (together). Are you pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down folks!? Just hanging with the boys! Ok, ok, ok… back to the story: so we stroll over to the Dacarbo (one of Mr. Jones’ many sponsors) table in the hall, and the mouthpieces come out. “We” (yep, just a group of trumpeters hanging out) begin trying the equipment. And then it happens: Mr. Jones comments on my control over the instrument. As he is complimenting me I am trying not to explode with happiness and start babbling like a star-struck fan and ask him to autograph my horn or my forehead…with a tattoo gun. Anyway, I casually ask him for advice on how to improve my finger depression technique (without my voice squeaking like a 12 year old girl…Nic for the win) and he coaches me into a superior arm position and invites me to play another line. While silently vowing to never again wash the arm he touched, I discover that he has magical superpowers and his suggestion catapults me onto a stage in a filled auditorium with bright lights shining into my face as the spotlight settles on me and the crowd falls silent to hear me play. Okay that didn’t happen, but it the improvement in my playing felt just as satisfying. Next, I inquire about how to improve my soloing and he say the coolest thing ever….”You can get away with anything as long as you have good sound and tight rhythm”. I now have wisdom to live by. I play a few head charts and solos free of any backing and he pipes up and comments that when I’m noodling around like that my sound, feel, and lines are of good quality.
Astonishingly, the mythical creature Matt Leder appears and strikes up a conversation with Mr. Jones who, do you have your seatbelt on…are you ready for this, starts bragging on me to Mr. Leder saying ”this kid has good sound and good lines” and Mr. Leder raises an eyebrow and takes an interest in me. As we are getting acquainted, I divulge that I have only been playing for two and half years which takes my new found friends (okay that’s a stretch) by surprise. Thankfully, the conversation transitions away from me (before I’m sweating so profusely people try to rush me to a hospital) and back to the equipment before us. Mr. leder busts out his MF Prana STC Monette (cha-ching, cha-chinng). Once I re-discovered the art of breathing, I had the pleasure of listening to Mr. Leder discuss how he acquired the horn and confirm its total awesomeness. During this part of our chat, I am completely silent, mostly because I am focused on trying not to faint. Eventually, I find my voice realizing I cannot let this be my “big one that got away” story in life, and ask if I can play the horn. Drum roll please……he gestures to me to pick up the gold plated masterpiece from its blue velvet utopia (ok it was just a high quality horn case). Shockingly, I did not drop it. I took an entire minute of working the valves and taking in the craftsmanship before I mustered up the courage to stick my Monette mouthpiece into the horn. Being a Maynard Furgeson horn, I played the obligatory Maynard lines, the crowd was delighted and laughed a bit; my inner entertainer was coming alive! This was the first time in my life I felt entirely at one with a horn. It was responsive and incredibly easy to control! That is not to say it wasn’t challenging to play, I had to be incredibly precise and intentional given the heightened responsiveness. The feedback I received was all positive and I didn’t want to ruin the magical moment I created so I (carefully) handed him the horn and continued our conversation. Then I found myself in a practice room with Mr. Leder (this really happened, I am not daydreaming here) and we explored how the horn worked for him which completely sealed the deal…someday I would own and play a Monette. He offered me up his cell number and I assured him I would be in touch to study with him. Fast forward to the end of the day, both Mr. Crotts and Mr. Jones followed suit. All three legends articulated their acceptance of me into their fold as a student.
On a serious note, I am feeling really fortunate that these gentleman took me seriously as an aspiring trumpet player and deeply appreciate that Berry College sent me there. My dramatized account of my reaction to meeting these legends is not too far off from the truth, never in my wildest dreams did I think at sixteen years old, less than three years into my studies a fourth world-class player would take interest in advancing my career. I left the Trumpet Festival of the Southeast with the respect of three of my idols, legends in their own right, with a doorway to the sacred ground of the Atlanta Trumpet Scene and the horizon littered with opportunity to advance my skills. And this outcome is the result of Mr. Jones' kindness and willingness to talk to a young, aspiring, and unaccomplished hopeful!