What first drew you to the trumpet and when did you realize that trumpet playing was what you wanted to do professionally?
I started playing with my father’s Eb flugelhorn when I was 7 or 8 years old, and then later switched to the trumpet at the age of 10. For some reason, the dream of playing the trumpet as a profession has always been in my head, ever since I was a child. The final decision came later in life, when I started my studies at the conservatory. I remember that, at the age of 14, I had already played ‘lead trumpet’ in some professional big bands and dance orchestras in the Versilia area of Tuscany.
Where have you studied and who were your teachers?
I started studying music more seriously with a fantastic professional musician from my area who was a multi-instrumentalist, Marino Peruzzi. Then, I studied at the Istituto Musicale Luigi Boccherini in Lucca, Tuscany. My teacher at the conservatory was Mauro Malatesta, a trombonist, and a very good teacher. Unfortunately, although I had good endurance, sound and high range at that time, I felt that my embouchure was not adequate for studying classical music, so I tried to change it. It’s obvious that he did this with the intention of becoming a better musician, not with any evil intent. He believed he was doing the right thing with me. But for me, it was hell, and it took three years before I could play again. I lost everything, and my teacher didn’t know what to do. After those three years, we decided to go back to my old embouchure, but I couldn’t find it anymore. I found a mouthpiece which I, more or less, felt comfortable with and allowed me to play again. But the result was not the best. Then, three months before my final exam at the conservatory, I met the great Armando Ghitalla (of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), who gave me the solution to my problems. He came to Italy in 1987 and gave a 10-day masterclass. He literally made me a new trumpeter; he returned all of my qualities from when I was younger and I even gained even more power, sound and register. I can’t ever thank him enough. My way of teaching is very much inspired by his own.
There is an interesting story that links up with my first trumpet teacher in my town band, when I was around 10 years old. His name was Icilio Giannerini, an amateur trumpeter and jazz musician, and he was a close friend of Dean Benedetti, the famous person who appears in any official biography of Charlie Parker. It turns out that Benedetti’s family also came from Torre del Lago Puccini, like me, and at the beginning of the 20th century, they moved to the United States, where Dean was born. He met Charlie Parker in New York, and struck up a friendship, and he recorded Charlie’s performances in jazz clubs around New York city (the result of those recordings was a wonderful collection launched by Mosaic Records). But Dean had a terrible illness — myasthenia gravis — and his family decided to return to Italy so he could die in their homeland. For that reason, Dean Benedetti was in Torre del Lago Puccini after having lived the birth of bebop in New York with Charlie Parker. It was here that he met a handful of amateur jazzmen who took care of him, and he taught them to play this new style of jazz that emerged in the Big Apple. One of these amateur musicians was Icilio Giannerini, the person who taught me to play the trumpet and the first foundations of jazz in my town band. A beautiful story… and totally true.
What was your first full time professional job as a trumpet player and how did you get it?
Well, I said that since I was 14 I have been playing with professional big bands and dance orchestras in my region. These gigs were the first time I was ever paid. How did I get them? Well, my first music teacher, Marino Peruzzi, used to give my name out to professional musicians, and told them that I could play with them, even though I was young. And they started calling me. The first ‘great’ gig I played, was with the famous maestro Luciano Maraviglia, director and arranger of national fame, and a friend of Duke Ellington. He was in my area, listened to me play with the town band, and took me in to play with his orchestra when I was 14 years old.
Which musicians, teachers, conductors or trumpet players have influenced and taught you the most?
Anyone. All the trumpeters or professors I’ve met in my life have taught me something important about playing and making music. Until today, my main inspirations on the trumpet have been Maynard Ferguson, Arturo Sandoval, Louis Armstrong, Cat Anderson and Maurice André. But the list of trumpeters that I like and that I usually hear is very long, especially the current ones. Some are incredible, such as Rex Richardson, Bobby Shew, Wayne Bergeron, Malcolm McNab, José Cháfer, Sergei Nakariakov, Francesco Tamiati, Omar Tomasoni and many, many others. There would not be enough space to name them all… As for teaching, Armando Ghitalla is my greatest inspiration, in addition to the concepts of James Stamp and the school of Stevens-Costello. However, I have never found a real benefit to the American Chicago school of the midwest, or the concepts that come from tubists in regards to breathing. This is just my personal experience.
What is your daily practice routine?
For years, I have had a daily practice routine that included mouthpiece buzzing, pedal notes, technical and speed exercises, flexibility and tonguing. One hour in total, with everything included. After that, anything could work, from classical music to jazz. Even today, I usually study a lot throughout the day, although my personal routine has varied significantly. I listen to my body and do what it asks for. I always warm-up with the mouthpiece and long, soft notes, and then I decide what basic things I need to exercise. Sometimes, I only practice with the mouthpiece for hours and hours. I love the feeling of having a focused sound that it gives me. However, of course, I teach my students to do a complete warm-up and routine, as I did for so many years.
You spend a lot of time on the road performing and teaching. What do you do to stay in shape?
By practicing at anytime, anywhere: hotels, airports, etc. Any place is good to study with my Yamaha ‘Silent Brass’ mute. Practice, practice and practice again…
How important do you consider a rest or break when you are practicing?
I don’t worry much about that. When I have warmed-up well, and I set up “the machinery,” I don’t like having to stop and start over. But, I recommend that my students play and rest with the same proportions, that is, for example, 30 minutes of trumpet and 30 minutes of rest. However, that doesn’t work for me; I prefer to play more and rest less — smaller breaks suit me better.
How do you approach a new piece?
I practice it very slowly, learning it little by little. It is important to locate difficult passages and work them out properly, from the beginning. I know many professional musicians who cannot play certain pieces in concert because they studied them poorly when they were younger (their initial approach was wrong). So be careful and practice slowly.
What is your approach to teaching your students?
I encourage my students as much as possible, but sometimes it also depends on their personality. The psychological side of teaching is equally interesting and important. Some students need to be encouraged because they are shy or insecure. Others have to be “tamed” because they think they are better than they really are. This is what we call ‘education’ and it’s what it means to be a teacher or educator. It’s not just about the technical aspect of the instrument, or about teaching music. An educator must give more than that. An educator must offer something positive through music and the instrument, something that can be useful for the entire life of the student, that allows him/her to grow in a balanced way and is recorded in their memories as something to consider. From there, in regards to teaching to play the trumpet, the philosophy is simple and always the same: practice, practice, practice….
Do you consider it important to combine more than one genre in your studies such as jazz and natural trumpet?
Absolutely. All music we play makes us better, even if it’s a different and opposite genre. Playing jazz allows us to play classical music better, and vice versa. In music, everything is connected. Keep your heart and mind open and let the trumpet sound…
What criteria do you follow when you are choosing a mouthpiece and trumpet?
In my opinion, in terms of mouthpieces, the main criteria should be comfort on the chops, taking into account the rim and diameter. If you feel that your lips are just as comfortable as on a sofa, then that mouthpiece is perfect for you. From there, you have two possibilities:
- Gather several mouthpieces with the same rim and diameter but different cups and backbores, so that you can use one or the other depending on the genre you are playing at that time, without a comfort difference (your lips will always identify it as ‘your mouthpiece’ because they will feel it ‘as the same’).
- Find a single mouthpiece with a comfortable rim and diameter, as I said above, that is good for everything.
I use the Yamaha GP series for jazz and commercial music, the Yamaha TR-7A4 for classical, and the Yamaha FH-7F4 for flugel.
As for trumpets, for me, there is only one option: Yamaha. From the moment I played these instruments, my life as a professional changed. I can find the right sound for every type of music, from jazz to pop or classical. For me, they are the most balanced in sound, quality, response and tuning that I’ve tried during my entire career; something logical, since Yamaha has an impressive team of professionals (something that only this brand can offer). It’s easy to make music like that. I have the YTR-8340EM trumpet, the YFH-6310Z flugel and the YTR-9830 piccolo.
What advice do you have for young students and for teachers?
To a young student? Always the same: practice, practice, practice. There are no shortcuts to reach a goal. The Internet is full of methods, mouthpieces, trumpets, accessories, etc., that promise you results without any effort and practice. But with the trumpet, it doesn’t work that way. So be humble, but also be confident that you can do your best and improve more and more by practicing hard every day. You know what you can do, so always do your best.
To a teacher? Keep an open mind and respect your colleagues. You always have something to learn from other teachers and musicians. You should always do your best at work, and also be respectful to your students, because they allow you to work. If there aren’t any students, there aren’t any teachers. Remember that. And don’t forget that you are an educator, and that every day of your life you educate young men and women. You are important to them, don’t forget it.
Have you ever had a bad experience on stage?
Until today, none too loud or bad. Continuously fighting against the instrument, there will always be good days and bad days (and “in the end, the trumpet always wins”… remember Dizzy’s words), so you are always 100% exposed when you are not on your best performance. I only hope I have already passed that “bad experience on stage”!
How should one take criticism?
It depends. I am my harshest critic. I am never happy with how I play. So, I accept criticism when I understand that it is useful and can help me improve. But when that criticism comes from people or colleagues who are simply jealous or envious, I don’t consider it. I don’t have time for stupid things.
They say that everybody has a little bit of performance anxiety and the important thing is controlling it. What do you do to control it?
Since I started playing, I have never had serious problems with stage fright, so I feel fortunate in that regard. The stage has always been attractive and never fearsome for me. The control — although I don’t think we can pretend to control it 100% — comes spontaneously over the years, with the fact that we are continuously playing in front of the public. It is natural. I attended an Alexander Technique seminar a long time ago, but the truth is, I have never put it into practice. Anyways, when I was young, I said to myself: “You want to be a trumpet player, your job will be to play in front of people throughout your life. So stop getting nervous. It is not useful, and it hurts you. Leave your nerves and it will be better for you.” And this is the same thing I say to my students.
Any advice on preparing for auditions?
Be natural. Each audition is a competition, and it is interesting, above all, to evaluate yourself to see how you are doing, and thus check what you are doing well and what you are doing wrong, in order to work on it for the next audition. Concentration is the most important. You must be sure that you have done everything necessary to prepare yourself at your best level. Maintain a humble, but firm attitude. You can do it. Make sure you have prepared the repertoire according to the needs of the orchestra. Preparing the repertoire for an audition with the Chicago Symphony is different from preparing the same repertoire for the New York Philharmonic or Berlin.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I like to listen to any genre, although jazz is my favorite. When I’m in my car, I also put on the radio (although I often don’t like what I hear!).
With what musician or style of music do you identify with the most?
Obviously, the legendary Maynard Ferguson. If I could go back to the past, I would like to have lived in the United States during the era of swing and the 50s.
Who is your favorite trumpet player?
Maynard Ferguson is my main inspiration. But also Arturo Sandoval and Louis Armstrong.
What is your favorite piece for trumpet?
I don’t have a favorite.