INTERVIEW: Gerard Presencer and A Modern Approach to Playing the Trumpet

Gerard Presencer in 2014. Picture courtesy of Danish Radio

Trumpeter GERARD PRESENCER has just launched a trumpet tutor book entitled "A Modern Approach to Playing the Trumpet" (Warwick Music).

Presencer now lives in Denmark where he works as trumpet soloist with the Danish Radio Big Band. He is Head of the Brass Department at the Jazz Institute, Berlin, and also hosts his own radio show on Danish Radio's P8 Jazz. (Full Biography)

Sebastian interviewed him about the new book:

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LondonJazz News: You've been teaching for quite a while now. When did you start ?

Gerard Presencer: I have been teaching jazz trumpet for just over 20 years. I started private teaching when I was asked at gigs by young trumpeters and that led to lots of teaching one-to-one trumpet students for many of the London colleges. I was very much a player at this point and had little theory or idea of what I was doing, but I trusted my instincts and had experience of performance. I had learnt a lot of solos by ear and played the Parker Omnibook for some years in my teens.

LJN: Where have you been teaching recently?

GP: These days I teach at the Jazz Institute in Berlin (I have been there for more than 15 years).

LJN: Who were the teachers who took you the furthest?

GP: My teachers were the same as I was in my early teaching career. Good, strong gigging players who could relate their experiences of how to do it. Paul Eshelby was my longest serving teacher(!) and he would take me to gigs and recording sessions at Maida Vale.This was invaluable.

I had problems in my early career with my technique as I wanted to be my heroes - but continually hurt myself trying to reach their heights.

LJN: What led you the idea of this book?

GP: Seeing young enthusiatic players around also beating up their lips, over the years led me to form the the idea of writing this book. It has been on my to-do list for at least 10 years, becoming something of a joke with my students,as it has taken longer to write than War and Peace, but the ideas have kept developing and needed updating, normally because my students see a way to make it more interesting or challenging.

LJN: The basic idea?/ the USP?

GP: It has been on my mind when travelling around teaching, watching auditions or final concert exams, that nobody playing jazz trumpet has a similar technical approach. This is good up to a point, but also it prevents many musicians making progress, if their notion of technical development can often be 'something boring that classical players do'. I have wanted to integrate jazz language and rhythmic approach into a technical method, so when we come to improvise, it has technical support. You just cannot be as creative without a supportive technique, and even great trumpeters cited as weaker technical players who were highly creative, were actually strong technically (Miles and Chet for example).

LJN: What can the student expect to find in the book?

GP: Exercises that contain rhythmic and harmonic language used in improvisation, as well as templates to develop one's own ideas.To help develop supportive physical technique and muscle memory for improvisation on trumpet.

LJN: Which topic did you tackle first?

GP: Air is all. The first through to the last exercise.Everything else (tongue, breath accents,fingers) is there to support the air.

LJN: Didn't Arban's Cornet Method nail all that in 1864?

GP: The classic methods of Arban, Clarke, Colin are politely developed (odd-metered or changed harmonically) bringing in articulation for jazz and breath accents to swing without tonguing too hard (this causes us pain!). Also I have written some Bebop heads as a culmination of the exercises.

LJN: What books did you yourself learn from?

GP: I grew up on all these books, but played them too fast with no thought (only partially benefiting!)....I was in a hurry to hit the Aebersolds!

LJN: Who is the book aimed at? /What level of student?

GP: I am not sure. Probably Grade 6 onwards, but maybe a bit higher. If you want to improvise, get it anyway, as some of the exercises are hard, but are all extensions of earlier easier ones, so as you develop, it should be a straightforward progression.

LJN: Surely some people are just better at it, or happen to have chosen their parents well?

GP: Anyone can improvise.It's not hard to improvise, as it is more generic than we let on! Of course when it gets interesting some people will shine more than others, but I am positive all musicians who want to improvise can learn how to very quickly (this is not an improv book though).

LJN: So how do you develop your own voice and story-telling capacity?

GP: To play trumpet we need control to be able to make creative choices and to take risks.I don't just play one type of improvised music and to do this I need a foundation to adapt in whatever area of music I am asked to improvise in.

LJN: Are there things to do with the book online?

GP: I am going to be putting You Tube demos of the exercises up to support the book, as it will clarify the written exercises. There will be increasing amounts of clips over the coming weeks, but for starters there are some quavers with the articulation system of the book over a medium standard (LINK HERE).

LINKS: A Modern Approach to Playing the Trumpet at Warwick Music

Review - Gerard Presencer and Mulgrew Miller at the 2012 Copenhagen Jazz Festival

CD Review - Meditations / The Nightingale and the Rose by Siobhan Lamb (feat. Gerard Presencer)

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