As most of you are aware I’m a huge Tom Harrell fan.  (Need proof, check out my shop.)  I’ve had the opportunity to see him perform live about a dozen times and last night at the Jazz Estate in Milwaukee, I got to see him again in a quartet setting.  The quartet didn’t have the opportunity to rehearse so the rep for the set I saw was standards.  I have to say this was some amazing trumpet playing.  Tom is arguably one of the greatest living improvisors so saying the music that was made was amazing is rather obvious and expected.  Remember, you are reading a trumpet-nerd blog and what I am saying is the trumpet playing last night was amazing.  (along with the overall music making)  Perhaps Tom plays in a more introspective, inspired manner when playing original compositions which is always hauntingly deep and utterly emotional playing.  But there have been times that I have seen when his “technical” trumpet playing sometimes got in his way.  He is 71 now (I think) and I was expecting to hear a soulful, experienced soul tell us wonderful heartfelt stories from his horn the way only a person of his stature in the world of jazz can do.  He did all that, but he also blew me away from a trumpet-nerd, technical standpoint as well.  The pic in this post is literally my vantage point from the gig.  This was the closest I’ve ever been to him in performance so being able to really see everything he was doing may be playing an influence in my being so flabbergasted by last night.  I was mesmerized watching Tom’s breathing, setup and his fingerings.  His hands had a bit of a tremble at times but the execution was totally efficient.  He was using so many alternate fingerings and slurred passages, with leaps and moving from extreme registers – …  I’ve transcribed a bunch of Tom Harrell solos and have always said he’s the most UN-idiomatic trumpet player I’ve ever studied but last night…  For me to try to play (execute) a transcription of some of the solos he played last night would take months of serious woodshedding.  I’m just talking executing the same notes in the same tempo –  not saying anything about coming close to his musicianship.  I don’t mean for this to sound as egotistical as it’s coming out.  Those of us reading this post have undoubtedly all played jazz trumpet transcriptions.  I bet most of you reading this have played Tom Harrell transcriptions.  You know what I’m talking about – they are hard, but from a technical standpoint; range, endurance, intervals, pacing, etc, they are eventually playable.  Once you play through a solo a few times it begins to lie in such a way as to feel comfortable or natural.  It was after all created by a fellow trumpet player so the phrasing, register shifts and dexterity are things we can eventually get control of.  (Think of comparing a trumpet transcription with something written by a pianist or non-trumpet player.  It just lies differently.)  The stuff Tom was playing last night would be so demanding to read or try to recreate!  I’m having a hard time trying to express my awe and admiration.  I think there is a whole new world out there to explore in utilizing alternate fingerings in the upper register to facilitate super-fast intricate passages.

Tom Harrell’s music has always been inspiring to me – probably more so than any other single musician classical or jazz.  Last night just took my already obsessive admiration to a whole new level.

Please check out some of my other posts about Tom.

Tom Harrell – Interview #1

Harrell – Interview #2