Jazz Professional               



Lead Player

LEAD PLAYER. by William Whitworth.
Published in the December 10th 1969 issue of the New Yorker. 

This article is reproduced here in response to many requests from Jazz Professional readers. It is one of very few published tributes to this outstanding trumpet player. Alas, no photos are available at this time.

. . . he travels through the New York studios
every day, leaving behind him a trail of
perfectly played first trumpet parts

At a dance several years ago in the Midwest, Stan Kenton gave his band the downbeat for a final chord of a tune, then turned to smile at  the audience, with both his arms dramatically outstretched. He held  the smile and the chord a little longer than usual---for maybe eight  or ten seconds. Just as he turned toward the band and brought his  right arm down to signal the cutoff, The first-trumpet player at the  time, a gifted musician named Al Porcino, passed out, slumped in his  chair, and fell over backward.

Another Kenton trumpet player, Buddy Childers had a similar experience one night in a small New Jersey town.  "It was at the beginning of the job, during the band's theme,'Artistry in Rhythm,'" Childers recalled recently. " I was playing a high D, which isn't that high, as trumpet parts go, but I had to hold it for four incredibly slow bars, and the next thing I knew I was on the floor on my back, with my horn still at my mouth, and Stan was leaning over the sax section, peering at me."   

Blacking out is hazardous enough, but something worse happened to  Porcino during another performance with the Kenton band, at the  Paramount Theater in New York. As Porcino huffed his way through a  loud, demanding passage, he suffered an abdominal rupture, or  hernia--the sort of injury men sometimes get from lifting something  heavy.

At an outdoor concert near Reno a couple of summers ago, a trumpet player named John Glenn Little felt a terrible pain in his neck and back while he was playing a loud solo passage. After the concert, it was discovered that he had slipped two discs in his neck; he was in the hospital for a week, and was warned not to play the trumpet for a year. Many professional trumpet players in New York complain of leg aches after an especially rough day in the recording studios, and some of them have suffered for months at a time with   strained lower back muscles. Clyde Reasinger, a trumpet player in Los Angeles, is so wary of the horn that he stays in constant training for his daily bouts with it--he neither drinks nor smokes, and he devotes an hour a day to yoga and isometric exercises.

Ten years ago, after conducting a series of tests with the instrument, an English physician and an American trumpet player suggested in the BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL, only half facetiously, that it might be a good idea to equip trumpet players with pressurized pilot suits. As all of this may indicate, the trumpet is hard work. It is generally agreed, in fact, that the trumpet is more taxing physically--especially when played in the upper register and at great volume--than any other commonly used instrument.

Trumpet players amaze themselves. Playing the instrument really well requires such an unlikely combination of manual dexterity, musicality and  physical strength that once a man learns to do it, he just can't get over it. Trumpet players often feel themselves to be men apart, like members of a secret society. While a saxophone player's best friend might be a piano player or a drummer, a trumpet player's best friend is likely to be another trumpet player. To a saxophone player, a trumpet player is merely a musician, but to another trumpet player, he's something wonderful, a trumpet player.  Hearing a saxophone player or a pianist play a difficult passage may give a trumpet player intellectual or emotional pleasure, but when he hears a trumpet player play a difficult passage, his aesthetic pleasure is accompanied by the sort of delicious physical thrill that a football fan gets from seeing a big guard crash through the blockers and tackle the quarterback.

"He's a real brute," a trumpet player will sometimes say approvingly of another trumpet player. It is not so much the soloists who are admired this way, as it is the "lead" trumpet players--the men who play the first-trumpet parts in the four- and five-man trumpet sections that are employed in the recording studios of New York and Hollywood, in the network-television staff orchestras, in the Las Vegas casino orchestras, and in the few remaining big jazz and dance bands.

The lead players are regarded as an elite, because of the difficulty of the job they must perform. To oversimplify it, some trumpet players play with taste but not enough strength, and others have the strength but lack the taste. The lead player must have both. He must be able to play constantly in the upper register--the most treacherous and tiring range of the horn--while providing an interpretation of the arrangement that will be definitive for the rest of  the brass section and sometimes for the whole orchestra.

Though there are hundreds of professional trumpet players in the country and dozens of talented trumpet soloists, there are only a handful of real lead players. Among the names frequently included in this category by arrangers and conductors are Al Porcino, Buddy Childers, John Audino, Ray Triscari, Ernie Royal, Snooky Young, John Frosk, Al DeRisi, Ray Crisara, Mel Davis and Bernie Glow.

None of these men is more highly regarded as an all-around lead player by the lead players themselves than Glow, a bald, bearded, exceptionally cheerful man of forty-three, who traveled with the Artie Shaw and Woody Herman bands during the the nineteen-forties and has worked in the New York recording studios since the early fifties.

Other trumpet players speak of Glow with admiration and  sometimes with awe. "Bernie is the Big Daddy of us all," Frosk , who plays lead trumpet with the N.B.C. "Tonight Show" band , said recently when Glow's name came up in conversation."He has endurance, taste, accuracy, an incomparable sound--everything."  

Trumpet players tend to defer to Glow in quiet flattering ways. If five first-rate trumpet players, including Glow, have been hired for a recording session, Glow normally finds when he arrives at the studio that the other players, without any instruction from the arranger, have sat down behind Parts 2 through 5, leaving the first part for him. "When you see Bernie coming, you move over," one of the trumpet players explained at a recording session several months ago.

This deference has not made Glow arrogant. He is bowled over by how well so many of his colleagues play. Mention one of them to him and he will invariably say something like, "Oh, what a fantastic player he is", or "now, he's something really special".  Outside the music business, almost no one has ever heard of Glow, but nearly everyone has heard him play, without knowing it. He has recorded more than any dozen recording stars put together.

The only way an American can be sure of getting through the day without being exposed to Glow's playing is avoid movies, television shows, television commercials, radio commercials, phonographs, jukeboxes, discotheques, and radio disc-jockey shows of all types, ...jazz, pop,mood-music, Latin, rock, and rhythm-and-blues. At a conservative estimate, Glow has recorded a thousand tunes every year for the past sixteen years.

He has worked with Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Moby Grape, Peter Nero, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, B.B. King, Wilson Pickett,  Ella Fitzgerald,  Dizzy Gillespie, Teresa Brewer, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, the Rascals, Patti Page,  the McGuire Sisters, the Four Seasons, Billy Eckstine, Kay Starr, Tito Puente, Mel Torme, Buddy Greco, Perry Como, Al Hibbler, Wes Montgomery, Miles Davis, the Lovin' Spoonful, Dionne Warwick and just about everyone else who has recorded extensively in New York.

Glow has recorded  hundreds of radio and television commercials--or jingles, as the sound tracks for commercials are called in the business--for most of the soft-drink, cigarette, airline, and   automobile companies. If Glow had done nothing but jingles, that would be enough to keep the sound of his trumpet constantly in the air.

Most people haven't heard Woody Herman's "Lemon Drop", but has anyone escaped "Pepsi Beats the Others Cold"? Recording sound tracks for movies and television shows has occupied a relatively small part of Glow's time over the years, because most of the movie work is in California, and because working on television shows is not as lucrative for musicians as jingle dates are.

Glow is a free-lance performer. Unlike the gracious free-lance literary life, which consists, to a great degree, in sitting in bars and restaurants and talking about what one isn't writing, the free-lance music life is grueling. Most weekdays, Glow arises at 7 a.m.--an hour at which it is unnatural for musicians to be conscious. This is so he will be able to drive in to Manhattan from his home, in Great Neck, where he lives with his wife, Gail, and three teen-age daughters, in time for his first recording date of the morning, normally around nine or ten o'clock. He is likely to have a session from 9 a.m. to noon, another from 2 p.m. to 5, and another from 7 p.m. to 10.

On a fairly relaxed day recently, he recorded a single with a pop group called Jay and the Americans from noon to three, at the O-D-O studios, on West Fifty-fourth Street; and recorded part of a jazz album with the arranger and orchestra leader Gary McFarland from eight to eleven at the A & R Recording  studios on West Forty-eighth Street.

Counting the time he logs on the expressways, he often puts in a thirteen- or fourteen-hour day. This is almost as rough  a schedule as he kept during his road days, though the circuit he travels now is much smaller than the Herman band's was. Glow seldom has to stray below Thirtieth Street or above Fifty-seventh now since most of the recording studios are in midtown Manhattan. He is active enough to keep an agent or a booker busy in his behalf, but things aren't done that way in the studio business.

Anyone who wants to hire him for a record date just calls Glow' answering service in the city a week or so in advance and leaves a message. (New York musicians who don't have steady jobs and can't break into the studio fields may have to go out and look for their work. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon, they gather by the thousands in the Roseland Ballroom, on West Fifty-second Street, where the leaders of pickup bands hire them for dance jobs.)

One of  the impressive things about Glow, or any other top studio musician, as he moves from record date to record date every day, is the seeming casualness with which he handles his varied assignments. Glow makes his rounds as matter-of-factly as a telephone repairman or a plumber, leaving behind him a trail of perfectly played trumpet parts. 

There is never a chance for rehearsal, except for a few run-throughs at the record session itself. The musicians are expected to walk into the studio cold, sight-read the music, and make the record, with a minimum of fuss. An entire album is usually recorded in three three-hour sessions  Almost half of Glow's working time these days is taken up by jingle dates, and the percentage is about the same for the other leading studio players in New York. It is one of the curiosities of the present-day music business that men like Glow, who have spent their lives mastering their instruments, find themselves progressing from Woody Herman and Tony Bennett to Chevrolet and Pepsi-Cola. This may be less a case of the musicians' debasing their art than of the advertising agencies' upgrading their commercials.

The musicians take the jingle work because it pays well, of course, but they don't feel that they are slumming: jingle scores are often as demanding as any they encounter elsewhere. As the name implies, a jingle was once almost an after-thought in a commercial - a musical accompaniment that tinkled along unobtrusively behind the visual and spoken message.

Today, when the United States seems literally crazed with music, advertising agencies want more originality in their jingles, and it is only a small exaggeration to say that in search of it they are looting all of American music, from jazz through electronic to hard rock. This is a development of the past five or six years. Jingles are now played by the best musicians, sung by the big pop vocalists and groups, such as Petula Clark, and the Fifth Dimension, and written by name composers--men with established reputations in other fields, such as Chico Hamilton, the jazz drummer and composer Sid Ramin, who arranged the music for the stage and movie production of "West Side Story": and Nelson Riddle, who has arranged and conducted numerous Sinatra albums and is one of the leading conductors on the West Coast.

Many men of this caliber work part time or even full time for what are known as jingle houses--the production companies that oversee the writing, arranging, and recording of jingles. The president of one of the biggest jingle houses--MBA Music, Inc. in New York--is J. J. Johnson, who is an arranger and composer and is one of the great trombone soloists in the history of jazz. This is almost, but not quite, the equivalent of J. Walter Thompson's having say, Norman Mailer as copy chief.

Naturally, with such classy talent producing the jingles, they are recorded with some care. It isn't unusual for a jingle producer to keep ten or fifteen musicians in a studio for three hours in order to get a perfect recording of a single thirty-second sound track. When Glow gets bored during such a repetitious session, he can console himself with the thought of his paycheck.

The pay scale for jingle is forty dollars an hour, plus $13.33 for every  twenty minutes after the first hour. If the player has to double on the date--that is, play another instrument in addition to his regular one--the scale is fifty-two dollars an hour, plus $17.33 for every twenty minutes beyond one hour. Glow, like most other trumpet players in town, doubles on flugelhorn and piccolo trumpet (a small-bore horn that produces a brighter sound in the high register), and some of the reed players double on four or five instruments.

In addition to this basic scale, there are payments for various reuses of the jingle recording--with, for instance, a new vocal track or a new film. The pay scale for work on network television shows is $13.42 an hour, and the pay scale for ordinary recording is eighty-five dollars for the minimum call of three hours, plus royalties. At these rates, a busy trumpet player in New York can make more than fifty thousand dollars a year.  If it seems strange, in this age of guitars, that there is a big demand for trumpet players like Glow, there is a simple explanation: The so-called big band, a form of musical ensemble that was invented in the nineteen-twenties is not dead. The big band is supposed to have died in the late nineteen-forties, and its funeral has been widely publicized.

What actually died then was the era of the traveling big band (though some of the best of the traveling bands of that time have survived to the present, and though some enormously successful traveling bands were born after the era had supposedly ended). As an ensemble form, the big band, or some variant of it, not only is alive but is pervasive in American music. The big-band sound--basically a brass ensemble playing in a jazz-oriented manner-- is heard on almost every television show, in hundreds of commercials, in all big night clubs of the Copa or Las Vegas variety, behind all pop singers, and, increasingly, on rock and blues records.

This is for at least two practical reasons. First, the sound of the big-band ensemble is showy.  If Johnny Carson or Jackie Gleason came onstage backed by a quartet, the effect would be hollow and dowdy: instantly the atmosphere would be that of a budget-minded afternoon show for housewives. Second, the big band does great things for the staple of the entertainment business. Vocalists, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, and Peggy Lee would sound good in any setting, but with emphatic, percussive big bands behind them they sound wonderful.  All this means steady work for Glow, because, in general, the most important men in the big-band ensemble are the drummer and the lead trumpet player. The loss of a soloist or a good section player will damage the  ensemble, but the loss of a drummer or a  lead-trumpet player will destroy it. During a break in a jingle session recently at the Fine studios, in the Great Northern Hotel, on West Fifty-seventh Street, Glow, prompted by a friend, talked about the requirements of his profession.  "First of all, the lead player has got to be able to play the instrument with a good, big sound," Glow said. "He's got to have a good high register. He's got to have endurance. Above all, I think, he's got to understand what a melody line means when he plays it--whether it's supposed to mean some-thing syrupy and Guy Lombardo-ish or supposed to be something gentle or  something swinging.

A first-trumpet player's job is to look at a piece of paper and make it sound like music. It's a piece of paper with black dots on it, and of itself it's not music, and if it's played by the wrong people it'll never be music. It's a matter of interpretation. There are dozens of trumpet players in New York who can play as high as I can, or higher, or who can play as as I can--though, in all frankness, there are very few guys in town who can play as as I can or as long as I can. I never reach a point where my lip is so tired that I just can't play anymore.

But what you have to do is play music. Some people play the trumpet instead of playing music. There are players who are technically marvelous but get so wrapped up in playing technically marvelously that they ignore the fact that the only purpose in playing that well is to play music. The playing of the instrument is not the end. To me, that's the basic difference between a great musician and a good one. There are musicians in New York who do pretty well because they never hit clams-- you can't put anything in front of them they can't play. They have all the qualifications, but they just don't have any musical sense. They never sound as if they understand what they're playing. They play it perfectly, but somehow it just doesn't add up. All those perfect notes don't add up to a song.

"Beyond this, there's a certain attitude that's necessary for the lead player--toward the men he's working with and toward the leader. A man can't be a good lead player if the fellows he's working with don't respect him. If they don't respect him, they're not going to cooperate, and you can't browbeat people into playing music. Music is not that sort of animal. You shouldn't, ordinarily, have to say a word to the other guys if the music is fairly well written. They should listen to you and play with you. Your interpretation is definitive.

Of course, sometimes the music is not plain enough. Or sometimes arrangers will mark phrasing on the music that turns out to be the opposite of what is required to make it fit with the rhythm section. When this happens, the lead player will ignore the markings, and nine times out of ten the arranger will look up and say, "Gee, thanks, Beautiful. It's just what I had in mind."  Worrying about such niceties as making one's perfect notes add up to a song is a luxury of a few. Most people who try to play the trumpet find that their problems with it are as much  physical as musical, the instrument evidently having been designed for maximum discomfort, annoyance, and a pain to the player. With a sensible instrument such as a clarinet or a saxophone, the sound is produced in part by the vibration of a reed. But in the case of the trumpet, the player must vibrate his lips, which are tightly pursed and and then buzzed against a metal mouth-piece.

During long performances, the muscles of the lips and face tire, and the lips may eventually give out and refuse to buzz. Playing in the high register of many instruments is largely a mechanical matter--pressing a different key or combination of keys, for instance. To play in the trumpet's high register, the player must press his lips tighter and tighter as he ascends, and provide more and more air pressure, supported by his diaphragm and by muscles in his back and elsewhere. This pressure further tires the mouth, and can also bring on leg and back aches. If the pressure is incorrectly applied, from the abdomen instead of the diaphragm, it can apparently cause a hernia.

Normally, though it will produce nothing  worse than dizziness and blackouts--the phenomenon discussed in the March 14, 1959 issue of the British Medical Journal, in the article by the late Dr. E. P. Sharpey-Schafer, who was professor of medicine at St. Thomas' Hospital, in London, and Maurice E. Faulkner, a professor of music at the University of California in Santa Barbara.

"The effects [of playing the trumpet] on the circulation," they wrote, "are those of a formidable Valsalva maneuver [a hard nose-blow with the nostrils and mouth blocked]: peripheral venus valves shut and blood accumulates distal to them. The effective cardiac-filling pressure, stroke output, and mean arterial pressure fall off rapidly. After about 7 seconds, the slight rise of arterial pressure indicates an onset of reflex constriction, which persists, after cessation of blowing, during the overshoot. Since the brain is not protected by venous valves the supply pressure across it falls, so that the cerebral blood flow may become inadequate during the period of blowing. More usually dizziness or blackout is maximal immediately on release of intrathoracic pressure...."  Dr. Sharpey-Schafer, who made the observations while Faulkner played the horn, reported that Faulkner reached a mouth pressure of a hundred and sixty millimeters of mercury (about three pounds per square inch) while playing a high D. It would have been interesting if he had made similar measurements during a performance by a "commercial"--that is, a jazz or dance-band player, such as  Glow, to compare with those of a "legitimate," or symphonic, player, such as Professor Faulkner.

In the past twenty or thirty years, the commercial players have extended the range of the trumpet far beyond it's textbook limits: today they play in a register that the legitimate player would never attempt, and with a brute force that the legitimate player would never employ.

The range of the standard B-flat trumpet was once considered to be roughly from the F sharp below the staff to the high C above the staff. Commercial players are now expected to be able to play F's and G's above the high C all day, and some of them occasionally will play as high as the double C (an octave above high C), and even beyond.

Trumpet playing has taken on a more athletic quality than ever, with each generation of players pushing the limits upward, like runners or pole-vaulters shooting for new records. Glow's preparation for this strenuous profession was literally perfect. He began his study of the trumpet, at the age of nine, with Max Schlossberg, who was then the foremost trumpet teacher in this country and perhaps the world. His second teacher, after Schlossberg's death, was Harry Glantz, one of the great orchestral trumpet players, who played under Toscanini in the New York Philharmonic and N.B.C. Symphony, and his third teacher was Nat Prager, another great orchestral player.

Glow's career was planned in some detail by his maternal grandfather, Sam Finkel, who had been a musician in Europe and then in the Yiddish theater in New York. Without consulting either the boy or his parents, Mr. Finkel announced one day that Bernie would be a musician--specifically, a first-trumpet player in a symphony orchestra. Glow's father, who was in the millinery business, was not musical, but he didn't object, and neither did Glow himself. "In my family, I was not asked, I was told", Glow says.

Luckily for him, his grandfather had known Schlossberg in Europe, and was able to persuade the great man, who had settled in New York around the turn of the century, to take Glow on as a pupil Schlossberg, ill and only a few months away from death, had not been accepting beginners: his students were advanced players, many of them members of major orchestras.

"It was funny," Glow said recently, " I was a nine-year-old kid, and I'd come out of my lesson and there would be one of the guys from the Boston Symphony waiting his turn." For the first two weeks of his studies, Glow was not allowed to touch the trumpet. Scholssberg would let him do nothing but learn to set his lips correctly and make a sound with the mouthpiece. This was to insure that his embouchure, or position and use of the lips, would be perfectly formed: it was, and to this day Glow is grateful for this careful beginning, which he regards as the foundation of his present strength as a player.

Glow was as bored by practicing as the next young musician, but his grandfather saw to it that he put in an hour a day on the horn. To impress upon the boy the desirability of playing things correctly, Mr. Finkel would call attention to any mistakes that Glow repeated by whacking him on the shoulder with a blackboard pointer.  The Bronx, where Glow grew up, and Brooklyn, where he often played as a high school musician, seem to have been rich in musical talent during the thirties and forties. Glow played in teenage bands then with a number of boys who were to become famous jazz musicians, including Stan Getz, the tenor saxophonist, Tiny Kahn, the drummer, Shorty Rogers, the trumpet player and arranger and George Wallington, the  pianist.

In this fast company, Glow took his turn at improvising jazz solos--without much success, he now thinks, but he already knew that his real interest was playing lead in a section. He had made that decision during long afternoons at the Fiesta Danceteria, at Forty-second and Broadway, where he heard Snooky Young play lead trumpet with the Jimmie Lunceford band, and at the Paramount Theater, where he heard Billy Butterfield with the Benny Goodman band.

The soloists in these bands impressed Glow, but the sound of the lead-trumpet players, soaring above the brass section, gave him the chills. Glow was precocious. At the age of sixteen, immediately after his graduation from high school, he became the lead-trumpet player with the Richard Himber Orchestra, and spent his first year on the road. At eighteen, he was with Xavier Cugat, and then with Raymond Scott, playing a daily show on C.B.S. radio. At nineteen, he was playing lead with Artie Shaw, and at twenty with Boyd Raeburn. At twenty-three--an age at which some musicians have barely begun to travel--he retired from the road. This was in 1949,after more than a year with one of the best large groups in history, the Woody Herman band that was known as the Second Herd.

For the next four years, Glow worked around New York in Latin bands, on radio shows, in theaters, in night clubs and on weekend dance jobs Though he didn't think of it as such, this was the last phase of his education for the studio musician. By the time Glow was twenty seven, he not only was technically accomplished but was also schooled in a greater variety of musical styles than many trumpet players encounter in their whole career.

From 1953 on, as his reputation grew in New York, he began to be called frequently for record dates and for television jobs as "The Milton Berle Show", "The Perry Como  Show" and the "Tonight Show." He and Doc Severinsen, the virtuoso trumpet player who now leads the "Tonight Show" band, quickly came to be regarded as the successors to the top men in the previous generation of studio players.  Despite his success, Glow has let his grandfather down, in a way, since Mr. Finkel's dream was that Glow would grow up to be a symphonic player. Glow is unrepentant for having strayed into jazz and studio work. "It's really been fun," he says, "I'm a guy who's making a good living doing something he'd rather be doing than anything else in the world." He still remembers the sting of the blackboard point, though, and he rarely misses a note.
William Whitworth 1969

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