Top 50 JAzz Blog

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Life, Death, Resurrection and the Cornet-by Steve Provizer

During a recent Nat Adderly listening session, I thought “Why play this style on cornet and not trumpet?” I was thinking of the cliched perception of the cornet, as personified by cornet greats Oliver, Bix, Bobby Hackett, Jimmy McPartland et al. The cornet sound is theoretically mellower and rounder than a trumpet’s. The horns have the same length of tubing, but the cornet is squashed together a little more and most important, has more conical tubing than a trumpet, which has a cylindrical bore until it flares approaching the bell. The cornet mouthpiece emphasizes this difference. No scientist I, but I assume the acoustic difference may be that the wave form is less sawtooth and more sine. But think Adderly, Ruby Braff, Thad Jones and Warren Vache. Think Olu Dara and Graham Haynes if you want. To some degree, these guys have all broken the bounds. When they play long tones, you hear the difference in the horns (especially with Vache's vibrato), but essentially, these guys play the cornet like it was a trumpet, with brilliance, fire and a lot of upper register. Adderly emphasizes the blues and funk, Ruby the swing, Thad newer harmony, Daru and Graham the sonics and Vache facility all over the horn.

Herb
The evolution of a horn is an interesting thing. The cornet was the locus of technical innovation through the 19th c. while the trumpet was still thought of as it was in the Baroque period: a long tube with holes and little else. In 19th c. concert bands-feeder for brass-centric jazz-the cornets played the melody (The star was Herbert Clarke, whose technique books trumpet players still use) and the trumpets essentially played fanfare parts. Trumpet manufacturers began to catch on and applied cornet innovations around the turn of the century, but Jazz was an ensemble music and cornet worked better. Louis and Bix both played the cornet, but eventually, Armstrong stretched the limits of the cornet to the breaking point and switched to trumpet in 1927 for the Hot Seven recordings. The cornet lost ground and never caught up, except for "Dixieland" or "trad" players. For brass doublers, the pendulum swung hard to the hyper-mellow fluegelhorn. Me, I would rather hear a cornet. So, in a bizarre way, Nat, Ruby, Thad and company brought the cornet-trumpet cycle all the way back around. Where once Armstrong broke through the limits of the cornet to get to the trumpet, they did the reverse.

11 comments:

Bruno Leicht said...

Thanks for this splendid article on the neglected brass instrument which nevertheless was ruling jazz for more than two decades.

The cornet allows you to do some things easier than on a trumpet.

Pedal tones, or glissandi for example, greatly executed by the one cornet artist you haven't mentioned in your article, Steve: Rex Stewart.

How Rex growled, the way he "sang" on the cornet almost folk-like melodies, is one of the marvels in improvised music.

"Trumpets In Spades", Boy Meets Horn, or Subtle Slough (Just Squeeze Me) -- Masterpieces of a fearless improvisor.

One tune is especially recommended: "Menelik The Lion Of Judah" -- Rex *is* this lion there.

When we're talking about cornet players: Rex Stewart is my man.

A clinging P.S. with "The King Of Cornet" -- Boy Meets Horn at Carnegie Hall, 1943 & Shady Side Of The Street

Steve Provizer said...

Rex-of course! And, he was one of the few spanning that era who always stuck to cornet. Thanks for the tunes...

rob chalfen said...

Bix said the trumpet had "a pee-wee tone" (what PW Russell thought of this is unknown). Louis played it because Oliver played it, until he needed the more piercing trumpet to cut through the sections in
Carroll Dickerson's theatre orch. The difference as far as I know is that the conical bore structure produces a different emphasis in the overtone array; I doubt that the basic wave nature is much different, and I don't know as the trumpet produces much 'sawtooth' anyway, that's more a string thing.

Other paragons: Wild Bill Davidson, Muggsy Spanier, Freddie Keppard.

Steve Provizer said...

Well, the wave and the overtone structure are inextricably bound. Yes, the trumpet is saw-toothy. Strange but true: If you take out the attack, it's actually hard to distinguish a trumpet from a violin.

rob chalfen said...

I'll see you in the lab, dad...

Steve Provizer said...

...lasers at 10 paces...

Chris Albertson said...

Having read a lengthy, Professor Corey-like analysis in which a critic explained why Louis switched to the trumpet (it had a lot to do with his keen auditory perception), I asked Louis himself. His answer was far less complicated: Erskine Tate felt that having one short horn in the trumpet section might be an esthetic eyesore.

BTW, I knew got to know the Adderley brothers rather well during my Riverside days. They were both inordinately fond of that second "e". :)

Steve Provizer said...

eee. My bad....Interesting.

Chris Rich said...

Mr. Albertson! How the hell have you been? I hope the summer finds you well and your homeland relatives aren't too pummeled by ash cloud problems and depredations of British banks.

Good to know we are still coming up with an engaging read for you now and then.

rob chalfen said...

I like that Joe Oliver played a Herbert Clark model cornet

mrchristiern said...

Thank you, Mr. Rich. My homeland (well, one of them) has brought new meaning to the old phrase, "getting you ashes hauled," and we may see smoked fish sales go up, but all we really want is to have that Columbus myth shattered.

Your shout-out to Canada is the kind of thing that makes Brilliant Corners a regular hang for me.