Maestro Orestes Machado is a Cuban trumpeter, living in Spain. Its a true pleasure that he has give me permission to interview him about his interesting new book, Brasstactic, and post it here for all of you. I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Where are you from, how did you come to live in Spain and why did you decide to write this book?
Where did I come from? (laughs). I am glad to say I was born in a small village called Santa Damiana, in San Juan y Martínez, Pinar del Rio, Cuba. So I guess that I'm a real farmer my friend.
I started my professional career when I was 20, in 1997, as a trumpet teacher at the National Art School (ENA) in Havana, Cuba. Two years later, after a short time at the University of North Texas (another long history) I returned to Havana to keep teaching and playing with several of the most important bands in Havana at that time. Bands such as Carlos Manuel y su Clan, Paulo FG y su Elite, Isaac Delgado, Augusto Enriquez y su Mambo Band, among others.
The reason why I decided to live in Spain was because I just wanted a better life, and that includes the food. Have you tried the Spanish food James? (laughs)
The decision to write the book was taken after completing my research work Thesis at the Conservatory of Music of the Canary Islands. Tutored by Sebastian "Chano" Gil. While writing the conclusions, I realized I had some answers for at least two common situations I have seen after years of experience: the difficulty for many Classic trumpet students to enter the popular music market after completing studies, and that there are musicians in the context of popular music which underestimate or neglect certain aspects of the classical trumpet training. So, was written trying to build bridges between both perspectives, using the analysis of a particular style of interpretation.
A number of specific guidelines are extracted from this style, suggesting to the classic student how he/she could prepare and practice playing in a horn section and, on the other hand, suggesting to the professional player to practice these guidelines (if needed), essentially reprising technical aspects from the Classical school.
I have the impression that the book tries to unify concepts of interpretation in popular music, regardless of style. What's the purpose?
Indeed, since the late nineteenth century, with some exceptions, the basis on which the brass section performance is based comes within the context of popular music in the Americas, and has been virtually the same. This base mainly comes from the USA.
The conclusion is reached, after listening carefully and analyzing different styles in different historical moments, decanting and specifying which are the most frequent technical and interpretive aspects. analyzes a brass section in one of these styles (Cuban timba), but it may serve as a guide for analyzing any other, since there is no presumption of stylistic superiority in the book.
I suggest that you to look for the book's findings . You will see there how I describe the style of a single brass section, but if you change some small details, you may describe the style of more of the 90% of the horn sections of popular music, and not just in Latin America.
In my opinion, the most important thing is that after understanding and implementing the book's concepts, the musician can grow professionally, being capable of playing various styles as a part of a section.
By maintaining constant musical and technical development, knowing and assuming the role assigned inside the section, and listening to others with humility and a sense of cooperation.
These are the steps to follow after the study and practice of .
How does Brasstactic help the trumpeter?
First: self - knowledge. Rest assured that the book, rather than a method, is a mirror. And to get a true picture of your self, whoever reads it, all he/she has to do is take notes.
Yes James, I repeat it again and again throughout the book. You should take notes on any personal analysis made during the reading process.
Notes on audial analysis.
Notes on the successes and failures to play the described style.
Notes on the technical requirements for playing the style.
Notes on the personal needs to play in section (1st, 2nd trumpet, etc).
Notes on the work of the entire section.
Hey, if after all of this you are not able to recognize yourself... look for a psychologist (laughs).
Second: the advices and tips coming from good trumpeters. It is always useful to know the perspective of someone who went through a hard situation and managed to overcome it.
Third: the exercises I have written.
Fourth: the system of stylistic and personal analysis.
Whomever purchases the book will have acquired a guide, a sort of template, that helps analyze different styles and determines what we must work to play them properly.
The system of analysis posed by is simple and very useful. Do not look over it lightly, only touching the exercises and without purpose.
There are many references to Juan Manuel Ceruto in the book. Who is Juan Ceruto and why is he such an important person in Brasstactic? Why do you think he's not as well known here in the US?
Juan Manuel Ceruto is a flutist, saxophonist and Cuban producer. Together with Joaquin Betancourt Jackman, Juan Formell, Germán Velazco, Adalberto Alvarez, Jose Luis Cortes, Chucho Valdes, among others, is considered one of the most prolific producers of popular dance music during the last 35 years in Cuba.
His sound conception of an orchestra, as well as the tools or concepts used by him to achieve this sound, are the axis on which turns .
In addition, several musicians who have worked with him have appreciated his influence and have always stated that his direction methods were difficult. Unfortunately, he is not a person who likes to show himself in the media, so his presence on social networks and other digital formats is minimal.
(Photo: Machado, left; Cerudo, right)
In my opinion, his worth lays not so much in his public notoriety (something really subjective), but in his ability to achieve the best results of the musicians working under his baton. He is a true leader.
If you follow the professional career of the musicians who played in the orchestra that I analyzed to write the book, you will see that almost 100% of them are successful in different contexts, for example:
Alexander Abreu Manresa (trumpet): He is not only one of the most prolific studio musicians of the last 20 years in Cuba, but also has his own orchestra, , a very popular band, with a unique sonority and several albums released to date. Well, much of the conceptual basis on which this orchestra was formed comes from previous work with Ceruto.
Yoel Paez (Drums and percussion): Yoel currently teaches at Berklee Valencia, he is also a Yamaha artist, and has edited a DVD entitled . His Workshops are a success wherever they occur. He is a tremendous instrumentalist, no doubt about it. During a private conversation with me, Yoel ensured me that he owes much to Ceruto, especially what he learned from the discipline demanded from the musicians in the band.
I can mention more names, but it would be endless, if you do a Google search will find them without any doubt. Luis Eric Gonzalez, Igort Rivas, Julio Montalvo, Carmelo André, Carlos Perez, Tomas Cruz, Rolando Luna, etc. The list goes on outside the context of the orchestra investigated. It greatly increases within the recording studio.
Brasstactic was built around a methodological pattern created by Ceruto and his work with the brass section. A pattern that was devised by him, almost in a fortuitous way since his days as a musician in a band called Opus 13, his goal was to sound like Jerry Hey, Gary Grant and other great horn sections, and to mix that sound with many other aspects of Cuban music.
Nobody taught him how it was done. He was able to devise different concepts of interpretation, starting with the warm-up, some section exercises and the rehearsal itself. He eventually did it and the musicians have taken these concepts to other bands in different places around the world.
Therefore, yes, Ceruto is a dear person to those who have worked with him. I dare to say that if he ever has the opportunity to work as a professor at a place like Berklee or North Texas, then he would be extremely well known in the USA.
The book talks a lot about playing in a section. In this aspect, what are your best recommendations in the book?
Without a doubt, the best recommendations are those related to the role of a musician within the section. For example, I quote Bobby Shew on his conception of the role of a lead trumpeter. I relied on one of his articles (written in 1976) published on his website. I quote the Puerto Rican trumpeter, Luis Aquino, about the role of a second trumpet. Luis was very kind and helpful.
I also assume all the advice related to Chamber Music - after all, playing in section is largely a chamber music experience. I may forget some of the better known recommendations, especially those coming from other musicians during their interview/s, but what I do know is that the exercises are mostly new, except for long tones, which is my version of an exercise attributed to Luis Alemany (a long time the lead trumpet at Tropicana cabaret in Havana).
I take this opportunity to ask you if you know about any other book that shows you how to analyze yourself, as an individual, in order to be prepared to perform in a horn section. And if you know of one, does it offers any exercises written for this format? I can be wrong, but I think I have the scoop. (laughs).
Most interesting to me was the difference of styles in Latin music. For many that may not know, is there a big difference between Latin styles?
Indeed, there are stylistic differences in Latin music. There are a tremendous variety of rhythms, different instrumental formats and orchestral treatments throughout each region. It is interesting that this issue called your attention. But, I am sorry to ruin your expectations, because despite the various stylistic differences in the regions, these hardly affect us as trumpeters in a section. Soloists, however, are different thing altogether.
If we look carefully, there are a number of similarities that unite us with the USA, in a sort of parallel development of the instrument in popular music. For much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the New Orleans and Havana harbors were the most important in the area. And you know, with trade and the movement of people, comes the music. That fact, coupled with other historical factors, made it possible that both Jazz (during its pioneer age) and Cuban music shared common elements. The most obvious of these elements is rhythm. If you try, you will see that you can use the rhythmic cell of the or to play or . It is a fact even in the early beginnings of Blues. Try to play W.C. Handy's St. Louis Blues as a piece, and it will fit with little to no difficulty.
That mutual development included the trumpet. Manuel Perez was a Cuban trumpeter contemporary with Buddy Bolden and considered one of the pioneers of early Jazz. American historians insist that Perez was born there, but without wishing to be controversial, there is evidence of his birth in Cuba in 1863.
Over time the influence was greater from the American side. The sonority, articulations and solo language coming from the USA, indeed up influencing the Cubans’ way of playing. This situation remained until the appeared in the 30's, where the development of Cuban improvisational style was complete. However, many of the elements that make up the section sound (except for the tempo treatment and other details) remained basically as Americans used to do it.
A little bit later, after the worldwide commercial success of Cuban music in the 40s and 50s, and the break with the outside world after Fidel Castro's arrival to power, the instrumental format of would become an instrumental template (with some modifications) of what would later be called - where many trumpet players from across the continent have left their mark after these years without hardly changing the historical essence of the music, which is based on a constant multicultural fusion.
These facts, together with other specific elements from my research, enhance my perception that there are hardly any differences between horn sections within Latin music, with the exception of those concerning very specific styles of soloists and/or elements/resources to find a unique or different section sonority.
What are some of the most important exercises in the book?
From my perspective, all the exercises are important, because they may respond to different needs:
The Brasstactic Long Tones have been used for many years by very good trumpeters in Cuba. In this case, I mixed them with some elements of Carmine Caruso and the use of a complete yoga breath.
The Brasstactic Four Models. This exercise comes from Jazz. Its inclusion in the book was originally intended to improve the performance of the second trumpet. But it turns out that because the exercise combines scales in various modes and intervals, its also a useful tool, it is like a Swiss Army knife - stacatto, legatto, intervals, fingering, articulations, and if you find another use for it let me know. In addition, these exercises can be played by a four trumpet section, and you can even find a play along on youtube [see below].
The section warm-up exercises - scales, chords, Clarke's variations, II-V-I progressions and vibrato exercises. All of these were written as section warm-up exercises, with the intention that the musicians can listen to each other and adjust accordingly. Go try them; the section balance and overall sound will improve.
I noticed that you have attended the ITG Conference this past May. For someone coming from outside the US, how was the experience?
Tremendous, I think this is something that trumpeters should experience at least once in their lives. Thank God I was able to hear and speak with many of the trumpet players I have admired since I was a kid. It’s not every day you get the chance to sit for half an hour with David Hickman, and, after a few words, is asking you about your book! Or having a great time with Frank Gabriel Campos, who was also interested in Brasstactic, or speaking with Bobby Shew, who has recommended the book to several of his students.
I was able to speak with great players like Arturo Sandoval, Wayne Bergeron, Pierre Dudot, Jens Lindemann, Till Bronner, Dan Fornero, Jose Sibaja, and many other great people who spent some time with me, listening to me speak about the book. To all of them, thank you!! After ITG, is now being distributed by Warburton. They are a great team and I am very grateful.
Thanks to ITG, the book “walks” through many places as diverse as Alaska, Hawaii, Australia and Japan, where it has a chance to be distributed as well.
Would you want to add anything to our conversation that you want the readers to know?
Yes, I do. I would like to clarify that is going to make you think - because it is intended to be a mirror of sorts. This is NOT a book that imposes criteria; this is NOT "do this" material. If you need to make important decisions from a technical point of view in order to cover stylistic needs within the context of a brass section, then this IS your book. If you have students interested in the crossover world, then is a great tool as complementary material. You can also practice the exercises in class with other students, or guide them to be better horn section musicians, no matter the context.
Finally, I would like to add that the system I describe in the book is universal (although on the cover it says Cuba). Its protagonists are mostly Cubans and even the author is Cuban, but music is music and its universal. If you organize yourself and practice as I describe in you can play a lot of styles as a section musician. So go and get your copy now! (laughs).
Thank you very much for the interview James. It has been a pleasure!
This ends our interview with Orestes Machado. Orestes, muchas gracias por su tiempo y lo lamento mucho la tardanza de la entrevista en Inglés! Hasta pronto.
Where to find Brasstactic in English:
(Photo: Orestes Machado, in a materclass)