by Kyle Schmeer
Herb, where did you grow up and how did you first get involved in music?
Cincinnati, Ohio. My very first memory of music is from church. My Dad was the choir director. Then, in 4th grade we got the chance to pick an instrument. When I heard the band director play a trumpet I said, “I want to play that.” I’m not sure I even knew the name of the thing, but I knew wanted that sound!
Were you in your Dad’s choir?
I had no choice! In 6th grade I had to make a choice between going to the regional academic school or the school of the arts. The academic school didn’t have a very good music program. It wasn’t a dilemma. I wanted to go with the music.
Was your family supportive?
They were very supportive. I stayed at that school from 6th grade through 12th. I was in the Cincinnati Youth Symphony Orchestra and studied some with Marie Speziale who, at the time, was 2nd trumpet with the Cincinnati Symphony.
Sounds like you had a strong high school program.
Very good. My band director was a trumpet player and he always had my back. Most importantly, he started to get me some gigs. So even in high school I was playing until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning.
Big band – Eddie Love and the Love Machine! During my senior year I was encouraged to audition for the Eastman School of Music. I was accepted and actually, I was the 1st recipient of a scholarship from the Wynton Marsalis fund.
Did you meet Wynton through that?
Actually, when I was in high school Wynton came to town. I knew the promoter of the concert so after the concert I was able to go back stage. Wynton told me to go home, get my horn, and come back. When I returned we played a LOT. Last year, during Jazz Fest, Wynton played at the Radisson Hotel and beckoned me to sit in. Even if he tore me up, I knew I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. I figured that getting torn up was worst that could happen to me, and even then I’d have a great story to tell.
That must be the video that has gotten so much good airplay on YouTube.
Exactly. It was a great night. Herb and Wynton on YouTube
Before selecting Eastman, where else did you consider?
I applied at Cincinnati Conservatory, Oberlin, Miami of Ohio, and Eastman and was lucky enough to get scholarships to all of them. My dad wanted me to go to Cincinnati so I’d be near home, but I thought Eastman would be the best experience for me. It took some work, but I talked him into it.
Tell us about your experience at Eastman.
It was great. I had a wonderful time. So many great musicians. One of the best things about going to a school like that is all the people you meet. Playing with so many musicians of such a high level really brings your playing up. When all the other sections sound great your section better sound great too!
What ensembles did you play in?
All of them. Though a lot of students did jazz or classical I did both. I was in jazz ensemble which was a big band. And, I rotated between Philharmonia and wind ensemble. Jazz has always been a big part of my life. I knew I couldn’t turn my back on it.
Where did you get your background in jazz?
That was in high school. I was in jazz band all the way through. My band directors were trumpet players and they always gave me lessons in jazz and improvising too. It’s not like I was in a jazz household. My parents were more into R&B and Motown, that style.
So you had some improve chops before you got to Eastman?
Yes, I was working on that all through high school. With Eddie Love I was allowed to play some lead and do some solos too.
Tell us about your instructors at Eastman.
I studied primarily with Barbara Butler. Some people studied with both Butler and Charles Geyer. For some reason, I never did. I just stayed with Barbara and she was great. She knows the repertoire and really helped me get that classical sound in my ear – how it’s supposed to sound.
How were your chops at this stage?
My chops were good. I played a 7C mouthpiece from 4th grade until I got to Eastman. When I got there it was, “Okay, here’s your 2C.” And my chops just went whoops. My range really went down. From that moment on I was completely flailing on mouthpieces – 2C, 1.5C, 1C, 3C, 5C. This is interesting, especially in hindsight. There was this 2C mouthpiece, it was just terrible. Barbara said, “It’s a 2C, learn to play it.” I just hated it.
Tell us about your further development as well as your introduction to Jerome Callet.
First time I met Jerry was at a festival in Connecticut, about 15 years after I’d finished Eastman. I heard him spit buzz into his hand and I said, “Wow”. I’m a very open person so I listened to what he was saying and went away with his book, “Trumpet Secrets”. I started working with the book and began calling Jerry; that was it. What he was teaching made such good sense.
What were you doing during the interim 15 years.
On graduating from Eastman I won an audition for 2nd trumpet with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Originally, it was a 1 year contract, but it got stretched to 2. At the end of the 2nd year the 1st trumpet was moved down to second and an audition was held for 1st. I finished the audition as the runner-up. So, I went from 2nd trumpet to nothing! I did get some work as 4th trumpet. That was a permanent position but as so few pieces had 4th trumpet parts it really turned out to be a part time position. So, I gigged around town and did a lot of clinics in the area schools. Eventually the 3rd trumpet position in the RPO became available and I was allowed to do an internal audition. During the audition I played a number of duets with the 1st trumpet and it went very well. I won the job and that’s the position I still hold.
Please tell us about your explorations of trumpet makes and models.
I started out on Bach mouthpieces and hated them, but I loved Bach trumpets. I tried mouthpieces from Giarinelli, Blackhill, Monette, Tottle, Stork, D’Orio, etc, but I was still searching. Then, I became a Besson artist and switched to their trumpets. I used a Dennis Najoom leadpipe and found it a nice step-up from my Bachs. When Besson folded I switched to Conn and was given Vintage 1 horns from them. But after I started studying with Jerry Callet I switched to a vintage Conn 22B. And then, wow, my ears really opened up. I experimented with the various Conn vintage horns then switched to a vintage F. A. Reynolds Cleveland. And now, of course, I play the SIMA.
Tell us about your introduction to the SIMA.
I was actually playing a vintage Reynolds when I heard that Jerry had come out with a new trumpet. I never had the opportunity to play his previous horns, the Jazz, etc. I was really excited to try the SIMA, but because I was now used to small bore horns I was worried the medium bore SIMA would actually be too big. I was playing a show, “Legally Blond”, with the double A’s that Dave Trigg had written in. And I was playing well. Jerry sent up a SIMA for me to try. We played 2 shows on Saturday and the new horn arrived after the 1st show. I tried the SIMA during the break and knew right away how amazing it was. There was no question I was going to play the horn for the 2nd show. No one believed I was going to jump on the horn that quickly. But by the end of the show the band said, “Herb, you have to buy that trumpet, you sound amazing!” The horn was perfect. The next week I used the SIMA in the RPO. The 1st trumpet said, “It sounds great in the section, awesome low notes. But, can you play lead on it?” I just laughed. I’ve been playing it ever since. I knew that was the end of my switching. I had the perfect horn for every type of music – orchestra, big band, lead, section, jazz, studio, shows, anything!
You are now a 1 mouthpiece player too, aren’t you?
I was a one mouthpiece guy as soon as I tried the Callet Superchops 2. But the Superchops 3, that was a trip. I was very skeptical about the 29 throat. As 3rd trumpet in the symphony, I need big, fat low notes. I told Jerry I would try the SC3, but I was definitely going to hold onto my SC2 - just in case. We were playing Mahler 6th that week. For the dress rehearsal, I played nothing but the SC3. But I didn’t tell anyone. The sound was bigger and better than ever. Now, I use the SC3 for everything, symphony to lead. It’s incredible.
Tell us about your new album.
It’s called “The Trumpet Shall Sound”. I have really eclectic tastes in music so I wanted the CD to reflect that. I’m really pleased because it showcases both me and Jerry Callet’s method. I made it before the SIMA so it’s recorded with 3 different trumpets: 2 different Conn 22Bs and a Conn 2B. I use a Superchops 1 mouthpiece throughout. There’s some Duke Ellington, Stella By Starlight, and originals. The first tune, “Trumpet.org” is 4 trumpets with me on all the parts. Before studying with Jerry I could never have played those attacks. I'm very proud of them.
The bell tones on trumpet.org are so crisp and ring so true it sounds like they might be processed.
No, it's all natural, just as I played it. But, thank you for the compliment.
How can we purchase your CD?
What are you doing now?
In addition to my regular position as 3rd trumpet with the Rochester Phil, I sub a lot with the Buffalo Philharmonic. Plus, I play with my jazz quartet or quintet. We just did an Artie Shaw show in which I played all the jazz trumpet stuff. That was very cool. Also, I teach both high school students and adults at the Eastman Community School. And, I teach a class at Eastman on how to give presentations during live performances in order to get the audience engaged. I did a lot of work with the Aesthetic Education Institute in Rochester. The parent institute is in Lincoln Center. I teach people what to listen for while attending a concert. Also, I do a little blues thing with kids. I play guitar very badly, but I can play blues in 2 or 3 keys. I have the kids write little blues songs that I play and sing with them. I believe it’s very important to build musical interest while the kids are young – the younger the better.
In your teaching of high school students, are there any particular problems you run into in regard to students heading to college music programs?
Yes, it’s this whole idea that bigger is better in trumpet mouthpieces. It’s quite a phenomenon. I’m not saying there aren’t players that can play a 1C and make it work. But, I even wonder about those guys. What would they be doing on a 7C or a 10 ½ E? There is this pernicious idea that students, as they mature, need to move to ever bigger mouthpieces. I have students doing great on smaller mouthpieces. They audition on these mouthpieces and win scholarships based on how well they sound. Then, on arrival at college, the teacher wants them to immediately change to a bigger mouthpiece. I remember what this did to me. It’s tough because I want my kids to be the best they can be. Yet, I wouldn’t want a student to come to me while holding onto what his previous teacher told him. My students have gone into college programs and beat out the students that have been in the program for 3 or 4 years. That should count for something. It’s a delicate situation. It’s tough for me because I know I’m not their last teacher. In the future, I’d like to be in a situation where I am their last teacher. In the meantime, I might have to make a “stealth” mouthpiece. Maybe we can make a Superchops 3 and print 1 1/2C on the outside! :>)
What are your future ambitions?
I am not actively seeking out anything new. I definitely want to put out more CDs. And sometime in the future, I would like to be a principal. The 1st in the RPO is a wonderful player and similar in age to me. So, that’s not an option for the foreseeable future. At some point, I really would like to be in a situation where I am my students’ last teacher. Whatever I do, there has to be variety. I could never see myself as just a classical or just a jazz guy. I love it all.
Herb, Thank you so much for your time and wonderful insights.