Wednesday, February 07, 2007

a trumpeter/hero from my past

Sometime in fall of 1974 I was doing my second major stay in Japan at the Shingu dojo. Bob Frager had brought a group from UC Santa Cruz, and one of these was Mickey Seffinger. The three of us were having a discussion of some sort, and it turned out that the three of us had played trumpet in high school. And a name came up: Rafael Mendez.

Chances are, if you were an aspiring trumpeter of any kind at that time you came upon Mendez. It is said that he as a youth played the trumpet for Pancho Villa, and that he learned his breath control from an Indian fakhir. He had put out a series of albums. He also put out arrangements of very intricate and beautiful trumpet solos that were on these albums. And, of course, I tried again and again to play these like him. And, failed again and again.

Unlike a drum, piano, or even a woodwind piece that utilizes a reed, the sound you produce with a trumpet is almost totally self-produced Of course you need the horn. But from deep inside you you produce a vibrating column of air that then resonates with the embrouchure you form with your lips to produce the tone. This is very much like kokyu in aikido. The energy is connected to the breath, which cannot be too high or forced, and from a total body state, is directed out your hands. I had a good tone or sound. But for Mendez that was the beginning. Range is going high and low, and while I was okay, he could hit notes I couldn’t. The tongue is used to stop/start notes and he could fire out notes like an assault weapon can bullets. He had the quality of a flamenco guitarist. I absolutely could not keep up when he shifted into “warp “ speed. My favorite solo, and therefore also the source of my biggest frustration, was”La Virgen de la Macarena”. This is the song they play as the matador and his entourage enter the bull ring. Mendez turned what was probably a simple march into a bravura performance for trumpet only he could do. Some years later I saw Doc Severinson do the piece on a PBS special. While tone and range were comparable, he slurred the parts that Mendez tongued. For a brief moment I felt vindication.

Some years still after that I was living in the Santa Cruz mountains and was up late one night watching the Disney channel. They used to play Zorro every night at half past midnight. Anyway, they were showing a very old Goofy cartoon with the title “For Whom the Bull Tolls”. It was about bullfighting with Goofy as a very comical matador. In the background there was an electrifying trumpet solo. I waited for the credits at the end, and, indeed, it was acknowledged that the trumpet work was done by none other than Rafeal Mendez.

This latest video is a mix on some earlier ones. The music is none other than “La Virgen de la Macarena” played by guess who? I had thought about doing a free form staff piece to this, but I thought I might tear up my shoulders trying. I took a section out of my Metallica piece, and I think it works out quite well. After all these years I can begin to keep up with Mendez. I just had to shift arts to do it.


Post a Comment

<< Home