Rich Willey Interview
Rich Willey Interview - December/2001
Rich Willey has the physically demanding
job of filling the 2nd trumpet spot on Maynard's current lineup of Big
Bop Nouveau. He took the time to answer the standard Maynard Ferguson
Tribute Page questions and to shed some light on what a 2nd trumpet does.
1) What makes up
your musical background?
I started playing trumpet in 6th grade. When I was in 10th grade (1970),
our band director took us to hear the Count Basie band, and that changed
my life. Within a few years I knew that I wanted to play jazz. In 1978
I went to North Texas State University and studied with Rich Matteson,
Jack Peterson and Dan Haerle. In 1981 I moved to Philadelphia to study
with Dr. Donald S. Reinhardt because I was having embouchure/injury difficulties;
in the fall of that year I began playing valve trombone and bass trumpet.
I spent some years in Philadelphia, then in New York City as a freelance
valve trombonist, and managed to do a record with Mel Tormé (the
Great American Songbook on TelArc). I went back to Florida in 1994
and got an associates degree at St. Petersburg Jr. College. It was at
this point that I gradually came back to the trumpet. I earned a bachelors
in music education at the University of South Florida in 1999. I auditioned
for the Manhattan School of Music in February of 1999, and got a 90% scholarship
to study jazz performance/trumpet. I got my masters degree there in May
2001, and began trying to make a living as a freelancer in New York City.
2) Who are your
The Beatles, Frank Zappa, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinski, Gershwin, Hindemith,
Bach, Holst, Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley,
Woody Shaw, Freddie Hubbard, Hubert Laws, Milt Jackson, Cedar Walton,
Fats Navarro, Booker Little, George Coleman, John Coltrane, Miles Davis
. . . want me to continue?
3) What are some of your favorite jazz albums or artists?
I love Charlie Parkers April In Paris (with strings), The
Grand Wazoo (Frank Zappa), Clifford Brown/Max Roach, A Study In
Brown, Clifford Brown Jazz Immortal, Cedar Walton Eastern
Rebellion, Frank Sinatra Come Swing With Me and Songs For
Swinging Lovers, Grant Green Idle Moments, Bill Evans We
Will Meet Again, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers At The Jazz
Corner of the World (with Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley) . . . and on
4) Before joining
the band, were you a fan of Maynard's music?
I didnt hear of Maynard Ferguson until 1973. A friend played the
MF Horn album for me, and I was dumbfounded. However, at this time, I
thought Freddie Hubbard was IT! So, even though Maynard had the most awesome
chops I had ever heard, he still wasnt doing the kind of
stuff I wanted to hear, so I didnt buy any of his albums. Going
through the Navy School of Music (Army element) in 74 and during
my Army years I heard lots of Maynard and Chase, and felt the same: they
were amazing, but not my cup of tea as far as the way I wanted to play.
At North Texas I heard lots more Maynard and appreciated him more, now
that I was hearing his earlier stuff (with Kenton, etc.), but by this
time I was a confirmed Charlie Parker/Clifford Brown/Hank Mobley/Kenny
Dorham (etc.) fanatic.
5) How long have
you been with Maynard and his band?
I joined shortly after the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center.
It seems that the guy who originally had the chair I played was from Germany,
and his passport office was in the WTC . . . I was a last-minute replacement.
I dont know about a year from now or two years from now, but for
right now, it looks like that will be my only tour.
6) How did you get on the band?
Well, the extended story is that I practiced and paid dues for 32 years
or so. But the short version is that I was recommended.
7) How is playing
on Maynard's band different from other gigs?
Maynards band is a showcase for Maynards chops and for his
style, even though the whole band is featured. But a chart wont
make it into the book without that elusive Maynard ingredient
(like the 11 secret herbs and spices). The sidemans role is to provide
the level of energy and excitement necessary to push Maynard onward and
upward. If the band isnt happening, then its gonna be really
tough for Maynard to be able to put the pedal to the metal and burn.
8) What is
expected from the second trumpet chair in Maynard's band?
2nd trumpeter (I was warned in advance) is quite possibly the hardest
working member of the band. I played 2nd parts, naturally, but I
was often covering lead parts so the lead could rest before a big
high note, and then Id go out front and blow solos, usually
twice per show. I think there was only one gig that I wasnt
ready to die at the end of it, it was so demanding!
9) What song do
you most enjoy playing on the road?
Believe it or not,
Mizra Denukha was quite often so powerful that I was moved practically
to tears at the end of it. Its so funny, because I heard the band
do that in 98 (I think) and for the first five minutes I thought
to myself, What is this crap? But the next thing I knew I
was on the edge of my seat! I saw that happen night after night, and once
when the entire audience rose to their feet at its conclusion, I actually
did shed a few tears, but I dont think anybody noticed.
10) Do you have
a favorite story from playing with the band yet?
Yes! And its a testament to Maynards professionalism, too.
One night at Blues Alley, we were playing the MF Hit Medley
and there was a crossed signal before we went into Gospel John.
Well, part of the band was playing the next tune, while another part was
on Gospel John, and without missing a beat, Boss went up to the
microphone and tapped it and said Testing, one, two with a
quizzical, whimsical look on his face, and then started conducting a 4/4
pattern starting on beat 3 or something, and the audience was just laughing
out of control, as if that were a standard routine we did every night.
Ill never forget how impressed I was with Maynards skillful
handling of an otherwise embarrassing moment.
11) How would you
describe Maynard's bandleading style?
Maynards sense of humor is much like mine (or vice versa, if you
prefer) and hes always clowning around, but hes dead serious
about striving for musical excellence. Maynard delegates the authority
to a musical director, and then theres an understanding that either
Boss, or maybe the musical director, or maybe even the drummer will count
off a tune. Its not a dictatorship, and Id say thats
the key to his success. Fun is allowed, even encouraged, but not when
it interferes with musical excellence.
12) Do you have
any tips for our trumpet playing readers?
Decide what you want to do as soon as possible and then go for it. In
my case, I have split my loyalties between being a jazz player and a lead
player and that has cost me some progress in each area. When I only work
on my jazz improvisation, my lead chops usually suffer, and when I only
work on my lead chops, my jazz improvisation will tend to suffer. Most
players have a knack for doing something (i.e., playing high notes is
not difficult for some players), so I think if you can figure out what
you have a knack for doing, you can build around that rather than at the
opposite end of the spectrum. Something else I like to mention in clinics
is the fact that the vast majority of work for a freelance trumpeter stays
between low C and high C (two leger lines above the staff).
If you dont have a super range, and if you dont have virtuostic
technique, there is still plenty of work that you can handle. In my opinion,
the key to success in music comes down to two words: Dont
13) What equipment
do you use?
I use a Bach Stradivarius, large bore with a 25 bell. Stock instrument,
nothing fancy. Im playing a Bob Reeves 43C3 because a good friend
recommended it for me. I made the mistake of trying to switch mouthpieces
a week before I left for the MF tour. Worse yet, a week into the tour
I tried to switch yet again! (Hey, I never claimed to be a genius!) To
me, it aint about equipment; however, switching equipment is risky
business, especially in the heat of battle. My theory is that
my sound is dictated by my concept, period. When I change equipment, my
body tries to compensate to get my sound, and that can wreak
havoc with my musculature. After two years of playing one set of equipment,
no matter what it is, I fully believe that Im still going to sound
the way my concept wants me to sound. (So, Im back on my Reeves
14) Tell me about
Boptism Music Publishing. I understand that you have duet books as well
Yes, I have a series of bop duets available through www.boptism.com
as well as the two CDs Ive made. Id Rather Be Boppin
24 Bop Duets by Rich Willey, Vols. I & II were originally available
through Charles Colin, but Ive taken steps to secure ownership of
them, and am very happy about the formation of Boptism Music Publishing.
One of the CDs, The Rich Willey Quintet/Gone With The Piggies
is also available through the CAP website, www.jazzbeat.com.
Both CDs have me playing trumpet and bass trumpet. Additionally, the Rich
Willey & Boptism CD features trumpeters Claudio Roditi and John Swana,
and saxophonist Chris Potter.
Rich also had these
Thanks, Matt, for
allowing me the privilege of this interview. I would like to take this
opportunity to share possibly the most important lesson I learned during
my recent tour with Maynard Fergusons Big Bop Nouveau, if you have
the space for it.
After the 1st rehearsal
I had a splitting headache, maybe from nerves/stress, maybe from playing
way harder than I was used to . . . it doesnt matter anymore. But
I started taking a couple Advil before playing MF shows to prevent
headaches, and that was a mistake. What I didnt know at the
time was that Advil (ibuprofen) is an anti-inflammatory, and was actually
shrinking my face, lip and muscle tissue. I was going crazy trying to
practice more, practice less, warm up more, warm up less, practice after
the gig, not practice at all . . . nothing was working, and it turned
out that I was sabotaging myself with Advil! When I overheard somebody
talking about ibuprofen as an anti-inflammatory, etc., I realized Thats
it! and stopped using the stuff before playing, and sure enough,
my chops immediately started to return to their normal state of . . .
shall we say, semi-dependability (it IS a trumpet, after all).
I would like to
thank Rich for taking the time to answer these questions. Anyone who has
any further questions or comments for Rich Willy can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.