Top 50 JAzz Blog

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Successful "Wrong" Trumpet Embouchures

Jon Faddis

My wife calls my trumpet my mistress. Don't think so. It's way too high maintenance.

The fact is, for many of us, the struggle to find the right embouchure can seem sisyphean. There is so much bad information-especially for young players (see my post on mouthpieces); so much cant, rhetoric and conflicting theories. Right now, I have put myself in the hands of John Lynch. Previously, I have been indentured to Pivot-Master Donald Reinhardt, Mr. Superchops Jerome Callet, the carefree John Coffey and, finally, my first teacher, who told me not to tell my mother he told me, but that I had to bear down like I was taking a poop.

The fact is, there is no single right way to do it and for those of us who have chased this unholy grail through the years, it can be a comfort and an inspiration to see people do it the wrong way and yet become masters. In that spirit, here are a few examples of how right wrong can be:

Here is the great bop player Bill Hardman. Note how far off to the left side he plays:

Here's cornettist Ruby Braff who, if anything, plays even more off to the left than Hardman:

High note king Maynard Ferguson plays way over the the right of his chops.

Don't want to shortchange the swing players. Here's Ziggy Elman, playing off to the left.

Jon Faddis plays off to the left and also uses very exaggerated head movements to change register. Jon-don't ya know you're not supposed to move your head?

I always love an excuse to post this video. Here are two of the greatest-Diz and Pops. Pops played off to the right and Dizzy is the most famous "wrong-way to-play" genius in jazz history.

Trumpet players are an admixture of masochist and dreamer, as those who live with us know. In exchange for the head, neck and backaches and cyclical depression, we thirst for the daily chance to live several lifetimes in one practice session. To us, beyond every crumbling G there lurks a golden double G, crystalline, centered and in tune, or a perfect negotiation of Rhythm Changes.

Sex may be a rival to this experience; but little else.


Brew said...

Hi there, Steve --

First of all:

Have a Mightily Swingin', Happy 'n' Healthy New Year 2012!

Your article on all those different embouchures has inspired me to post some pictures with obviously mostly wrong, but nevertheless successful embouchures.

Alas, not in the case of poor Buck Clayton (look at this wrecked lip!):


(You may also click on my name for getting to it. -- But please don't press too hard!)

Hope you'll enjoy!

Swingingly yours truly,


Steve Provizer said...

Hey Brew-Happy and Swinging New Year to you too-Loved the pictures-thanks! Steve

Ian Carey said...

I was pretty successful with a "wrong" embrouchure through high school, then got too clever in college and "fixed" it, which led to 10+ yrs of wandering in the chops wilderness. A few years ago I decided to try switching back to the wrong way, and chops have been good ever since. I think the main factor missed by just looking at chops from the outside is where a player's teeth are--in my case, my front teeth are off-center, so it makes sense for the mouthpiece to sit off-center too.

Steve Provizer said...

Ian-Glad you found your way home...

I didn't get into the aesthetic/ego aspect of embouchure. There's a classic "look" for a trumpet player and most of us don't want to look too weird as we play.

I notice that well-known people who play off to one side or the other keep their horns pointed pretty much straight ahead. I wonder how that's possible. One's mouth naturally curves back, following the line of the teeth. This would mean the horn should logically be pointed off to one side or another. Such-to the aesthetic detriment of my audience-is the case with me.

Trumpetatstic said...

Actually that's Ziggy Elman *not* playing the solo. From what I understand, Ziggy's chops had caved in by the time that movie was filmed. He could no longer play the solo he had made famous. That's Manny Klein you're hearing.

Maynard played on a thinner, straight part of his upper lip.

Steve Provizer said...

Trumpetastic-Thanks for the info. Ziggy and Manny are kinda like Al Cohn and Zoot Sims...

Mark B. said...

Ancient post, but I just happened to find it today. Louis Armstrong had a bad embouchure, and it cost him over the years. He had constant bleeding problems, and once had surgery to try to deal with the resulting sore. But because he refused to take time out of his career to learn proper technique he suffered for years.

Something I learned years ago - you ask the question 'is he able to do it BECAUSE of 'x,' or IN SPITE OF 'x.'

Steve Provizer said...

MArk B. Good comment. Thanks.

RANDHAWA said...


VIVAK said...


Mike Sailors said...

You've got it all wrong.

These are correct embouchures. All the "normal" ones are the wrong ones, obviously.