This past summer I spent a week at Montalvo Arts Center to finish recording a set of solo trumpet compositions I wrote during my first residency in 2012. I love this place, and it was wonderful to be back. During my stay I did a video interview with photographer Tina Case about the solo project, some general feelings about the residency program, and a bit about my background in music. You’ll see a shot of my daughters’ artwork covering the walls of the studio as well…
for emptiness is a video collaboration with Parisian sculptor/media artist Stéphane Thidet, completed during our residency at Montalvo Arts Center and filmed at Castle Rock State Park outside Saratoga, California. The context, setting, and production were created and conceptualized by Stéphane, the music is my own solo trumpet improvisation.
There are a great many people who only know Charles Brady as the cornetist on the legendary 1961 recording of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat Suite with the composer conducting. Indeed, that recording alone was enough to secure his place among the pantheon of great trumpeters. Just 22 years old, what he accomplished was almost superhuman – blazing through those tricky Stravinskian rhythms while projecting such a clear, consistent, colorful, focused sound that has been the envy of every serious trumpet player who’s ever heard it.
There is a great story about this session at Thomas Stevens’ website (Stevens and Brady were college roommates):
“In an effort to clarify the cornet notation for what was intended at the time to be the definitive L’Histoire recording conducted by the composer, Stravinsky worked with Brady for over an hour in an one-on-one session during which time the maestro specified the articulations for the complete cornet part. Consequently, it would be fair to assert the recording, which was subsequently released in the CD format, does indeed represent the definitive performance of the cornet part…”
Charles went on to study with William Vacchiano at Juilliard (other Vacchiano students include Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis, Charles Schlueter, and Gerard Schwarz), worked with the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Pops with Arthur Fiedler, performed with conductors Bruno Walter and Aaron Copland, and served a six-year stint as principal trumpet of the National Symphony in Washington D.C. And then he moved his family back to Bakersfield, just a short distance from his birthplace in Delano, California. He spent thirty years performing with the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra, teaching middle school band during the day and giving private trumpet lessons every evening in his living room. That’s how I met him.
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It was a total honor and a joy to study with this man for nearly five years as an undergraduate trumpet major at CSU Bakersfield. Every week I’d show up at his door and he would greet me the same way: “Hey, trumpet player!” — with all the enthusiasm of a baseball coach welcoming his cleanup hitter back to the dugout. I’m sure I wasn’t the only student he met this way, but it was a hell of a welcome regardless. We worked through all of the routine methods: Schlossberg, Charlier, Arban, Brandt, transposition etudes, Bach violin sonatas; as well as the standard trumpet literature: Haydn, Hummel, Arutunian, Halsey Stevens, Vivaldi, Hindemith. Occasionally Charles would contract me to perform a 4th or 5th trumpet part with the Bakersfield Symphony, and so we’d work on Verdi’s Requiem or Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. The performance of the latter was, by the way, a life-changing experience for me; I was so awestruck being in the center of that glorious music that I could hardly play a note of it. The next week when I tried to explain to Charles what had happened, he just smiled and nodded. At some point it occurred to (stupid) me that Charles was just about the same age when he first performed with Stravinsky himself…
But some of our best lessons were the ones when I hardly played a note. Often we would just sit and talk there in his living room; I’d listen to stories about his performances with Stravinsky or his tours performing Quiet City with Aaron Copland. He told a hilarious story about a moment when Copland solicited his opinion of the solo trumpet part – he actually teased the composer that the opening sixteenth notes sounded to him like a “little stuttering Jewish boy!” Only Charles could pull off a gag like that without fear of offending. Ever the devout Christian, he always wore a cross around his neck, except when he would replace it with a Star of David, which he’d show proudly as he pronounced himself a “Friend of Israel!”
And he was indeed. One quarter my assignment was to compose a piece for solo trumpet with the title “The Seventh Trumpet.” Along with these instructions came a stack of photocopied religious tracts, esoteric numerology charts, and Biblical references. Another time he spent an hour lecturing me about the primacy of Hebraic religion in the music of Schoenberg (12-tone music as an allegory for the equivalence of the twelve tribes of Israel) and Stravinsky (from pagan rites to Noah’s flood). The message he was trying to get across to me was to know where you come from, in order to know the mark you will make. I was in the middle of a typical twenty-something existential-artistic crisis, and these words hit me like a ton of bricks. It was some of the most solid advice anyone ever gave me.
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Charles passed away last Tuesday. As I’ve been talking with people who knew him, studied with him, or performed with him, the one thing that’s coming through most clearly is that this is a person who really lived those words: know where you come from. My brother-in-law James Sproul, who also studied trumpet with Charles, wrote on his blog:
“He was one of the most settled people I knew about who he was and why he was here.”
Along the same lines, local musician and educator Susan Scaffidi wrote a wonderful article for the Bakersfield Californian with the title “Trumpeter was a great musician, an even better man.” It’s true. If you knew Charles, you know that his greatness as a musician wasn’t the most impressive thing about him. There were many dimensions to who Charles Brady was, and yet he was one of the most consistent, self-aware, confident, and humble people I have ever encountered. To be such an accomplished artist, and yet to leave behind a legacy that is overwhelmingly rooted in one’s greatness as a human being… I can’t think of a better example of a life well-lived.
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The last time I played with Charles was a few years ago. We were, oddly enough, backing Pat Boone in the pit orchestra at a pro-Israel rally. I had no idea what the gig was until I showed up; Charles was tickled by the whole thing, and kept us all in stitches for the duration of the show.
I had just finished my MFA, and I gave Charles copies of a couple of CDs I had recently finished. He was, as always, abundantly curious and enthusiastic about the projects I was working on, and he promised to listen to them promptly. I’m certain that he did. It’s been a while, but I’m sure the last thing he said to me was “See you around, trumpet player!”
Charles has left behind hundreds, probably thousands of students and colleagues whose lives were touched so deeply by his influence. He will certainly be missed.
On February 18-19 I teamed up with two tremendously creative West Coast trumpeters (Dan Clucas and Jeff Kaiser) to welcome the great East Coast cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum to town for, believe it or not, his Los Angeles debut. Our first meeting was for a set on Hans Fjellestad‘s ResBox series at the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood, and the following day we were invited to CalArts to do a performance and discussion for Wadada Leo Smith‘s graduate program in African-American Improvisational Music. This was the program I graduated from back in 2003, and so it was a great honor to be invited back.
Both performances were overwhelmingly positive experiences and everyone is talking about putting this together again at some point. Thanks to Jeff Kaiser, Keith McMullen, and Louis Lopez for the photos above; unfortunately there was no audio or video documentation, but you can imagine what kind of sounds were swirling…