Big brass to the front! When it comes to brass, nothing is bigger than the tuba, and none are bigger than this collection of interviews from 2014. From the top LA studio musicians Jim Self and John van Houten, to-the-up-and-coming Kanstul artist Beth Mitchell, from tubists who seem to have mastered just about every idiom like Marty Ericson and Don Harry, to broadway star and composer John Stevens, from orchestral ace Aaron McCalla to one of the premiere brass quintet players of our time Deanna Swoboda. (Deanna actually missed the 2014 cut off by one day, but since she launched “The Fourth Valve” tm, we thought, “what’s one day”?)
The list can’t be topped, so grab a bag of popcorn as “The Fourth Valve” tm takes the tuba to the movies and beyond. Enjoy!
“A gig is a gig” — you always have to play well but a studio session requires more perfection because a microphone is right over the bell and every error is noticeable. One bad performance can mean the end to working for that composer or contractor–or even the end of your studio career. Studio work often require solo or brass overdubs–where you have to be perfect. Extra “takes” cost money and too many will cost you a career. These things are true in all recording jobs: movie, TV, records, jingles. Movies are the best paying gigs and often have the best musicians, so there is a pressure for perfection knowing that billions will hear your music–forever!
8. What do you think the high points have been for the tuba in jazz? What direction would you like to see?
The tuba in jazz is still relatively new. Red Callender, Howard Johnson, and many dixieland players have been the pioneers. I hope I have added to the idiom with my concerts and recordings as have Marty Erickson, Janos Mazura and several younger players. The GREAT star jazz tuba player on the level of Art Farmer, Stan Getz, JJ Johnson, Bill Evans (and on and on), is still in the future–maybe a teenager is out there now. The euphonium, of course, reached it with Rich Matteson-but even Rich struggled to get the recognition that the great artists on other instruments received.
Enjoy the full interview interview here: Jim Self 2014
In a tuba quartet you need to know when to play out and when to get out of the way. As a dark conical ensemble, it is difficult for the average ear to pick out and distinguish the important parts, so it is the quartet’s responsibility to make that very obvious. Extremes in dynamics and articulations can be helpful so your ensemble doesn’t all mush together.
1st tuba/3rd chair is often a soloist, or on countermelody with Euph. It is a chair with many hats- you must blend harmonies and get used to not playing the root, but playing in tune within a chord.
I call the 2nd tuba/4th chair the power chair. In this seat you are the tonal foundation and the rhythm section. Whether or not your group stays together tonally and rhythmically many times is up to you. Your pitch must be perfect at all times.
The amount of literature written for tuba/euphonium quartet is staggering considering how long this ensemble has been around. I attribute the enthusiasm for this particular ensemble to the amiable personalities usually found among tuba and euphonium players, their love for community, and beer.
Enjoy the full article here: Beth Mitchell 2014
John van Houten
3. Name two types of inspirations:
If have to say Tommy Johnson. He played the Tuba like a Cellist. And what an incredible sound. It was amazing how he always keep sounding better.
Have to say the World Champion KickBoxers I’ve had the pleasure to work with. Benny “The Jet” Urquediz and Erik Paulson. It’s an art form, but for those moments of sheer violence. Hard to explain. Like a Mahler Symphony.
As a Undergrad I would always start with Long Tones, Bach Cello Suites 1 and 2, Flexibility, Scales, Bordogni/Rochut and Étude books.
Now I start with the Jimmy Stamp Mouthpiece Routine (usually in my Car along with a CD) Lone Tones, Bach Prelude No. 3, (from the 6 Suites for Solo Cello) , Hip-Bones 20 Minute Warmup or Arnold Jacobs Studies. Rouchut, down an octave and down two octaves. And then what kind of music I know that is coming up.
Enjoy the full interview here: John van Houtem 2014
There is no one tuba sound except in the practice zone; the literature determines the color. Sometimes, and primarily, we are a 5th horn in the big German pieces. Sometimes, we are like a bass trombone in certain pieces of Stravinsky, Bernstein or Shostakovich. At other times, we arte a euphonium surrogate (Berlioz), or a woodwind voice (Mendelssohn and other Ophicleide parts). Primarily, we are a Lyric Baritone ‘wannabe’ or a Bass voice. My personal concept is a very intense core in the mid-harmonics surrounded by a corona of sound. Depending on the volume, the two things can vary; the core can become over powering, or the corona can be required to be the thing that fills certain colors at the bottom of ensemble (and the choir), involved.
Does your cultural heritage inform your approach to tone or interpretation?
There is a small connection to sounds I have heard and made in relation to my Delaware, Caddo and Kiowa relatives-great power and focus with a very intense projection.
2. The brass quintet is almost ideally suited to Conservatory and University Settings, one seat for each studio-plus another trumpet. How do you view the history and development of the faculty brass quintet, and which are some of your favorites?
Certainly one of the most critical outlets we have. There were many influences for me: The New York Philharmonic Brass Quintet (with the old players), The Boston Brass Quartet (with Robert King on euphonium and Herb Ludwig on trumpet), the Chicago Symphony Brass Quintet with Arnold Jacobs on tuba and, in the modern era, the NY Brass Quintet with Harvey Phillips on tuba, and the Empire Brass in its first incarnation
Enjoy the full interview here: Don Harry 2014
3. Why is the Eb tuba often overlooked?
What does it do better than other tubas? Naturally, I am a bit prejudiced in this category, since I have championed the Eb tuba for many years and love my (shameless plug) Willson 3400 Eb tuba. The primary reasons I have found that this works for me the following:
–Versatile solo instrument
–My favorite brass quintet instrument because of the way it blends with the trumpets, horn
and trombone and the Eb enjoys a robust low range that many smaller F tubas can find
challenging below the staff
–It IS one the brass band chair instruments of course
–Liked using it to double the BBb or even the CC tubas in the concert band as it tends to
fill out the middle range in much the same way it is used in the brass band
–Surprise! It was an awesome Opera tuba. When I performed several jobs with the Baltimore
Opera Orchestra (sadly now defunct), there were many comments from the conductors
and the string players about how they appreciated the full sound without feeling “over-
powered AND; string bassists and cellists cited it was easier to tune passages.
Play with everyone! Experience everything! Regularly go out of your comfort zone to play with as many different ensembles and people as possible! Take improvisation classes (not only jazz but free improvisation) and sit in with funk brass bands, combos, other brass groups, a gypsy band—-do it all! Learn about what it takes for the euphonium/tuba to make its voice so valuable and interesting that it cannot be ignored.
Enjoy the full interview here: Marty Ericsson 2014
Aaron McCalla with Brass Miami
1. Breathing is key to wind instruments, none more so than the tuba. Can you discuss your journey of awakening with regards to breathing. What did your teachers emphasize, and what have you discovered on your own?
Breathing is absolutely key. I have to be honest though, I have never thought too much about it outside of making sure that I am being efficient. My first teacher in college, Matt Good, was probably my biggest influence. Until I met him, I didn’t know that there are many different types of breaths you have to master. Every breath is different but has to be as efficient as any other. I have always loved sports and running. I feel like the breathing required for sprinting or swimming is not exactly like that required for tuba playing, but it helps tuba in every way in that it requires you to be able to pull in maximum volume of air. When swimming laps, I am not analyzing my breathing, I am only thinking, “I need a breath!” So, when it comes to tuba I just try to take as much in as I would in sports but in a relaxed and musically appropriate way. In the end, I try to not paralyze myself with over analysis of something I have been doing since birth.
Enjoy the full interview here: Aaron McCalla
5. When did you really begin to devote yourself to composition, and how has it informed your tuba playing?
I never really studied composition. I studied jazz arranging with Rayburn Wright at Eastman, but when I got to Yale I didn’t really have an outlet for that and decided to begin composing for my own instrument. This was largely because I felt we had a great need for new repertoire for the tuba. I wanted to compose music that performers would find meaningful to play and audiences would find meaningful to hear – and that is still my overriding goal with each work I compose. During graduate school I composed SUITE NO. 1 for unaccompanied tuba, and POWER, MUSIC 4 TUBAS and DANCES for ensemble. I didn’t really realize at the time that, along with my tuba colleagues at Yale, I was kind of on the cutting edge of creating chamber music for tubas. By the way, I premiered DANCES on my Masters recital and it was the solo public performance on the F tuba of my entire career.
I always say that as a composer I think like a performer, and as a performer I think like a composer. It has always been very important to me to be as complete a musician as possible, and composing has been a huge part of that process. When composing a piece of music, I am thinking about every aspect of the work – from the big picture to the smallest details. That approach certainly translates to how I think as a perfumer.
Without question, RHYTHM!!!! I feel strongly that rhythm, and what we jazz musicians would call “time” is very underemphasized in the teaching of young students. I always say that the right note in the wrong place is a wrong note. Counting, subdividing, pulsing (the heartbeat of the music) and grooving are all so important… By grooving, I mean that it is not enough to just play “correct” rhythms in steady tempos. Players should strive to be “in the pocket”, with rhythms being correct and steady but also having the right feel (or groove), which changes a bit depending on the style of the music. This is an especially important issue for tubists because we so often play a rhythmic role.
The other big one for me is the need to emphasize music first, then playing. Focus on the product and the technique will evolve to create the music in a successful way. Focusing on the technique will not necessarily result in good music making. I always tell my students that if someone sees them after a performance and says “That was really great playing.”, that’s certainly fine. But if they say “That was really great music.”… then you’ve done something…
Enjoy the rest of the interview here: John Stevens 2014
6. How do you view the role of the tuba in a brass quintet? What are the challenges? The delights?
The role of the tuba in a brass quintet is to provide the foundation of time, rhythm, tuning, articulation, and tone. Everyone in the quintet, being aware or not, depends on the tuba for strong fundamental playing, something they can sit on and build upon. For me, the challenges have included being able to play as delicate and soft as the trumpets. In addition, the brass quintet repertoire is some of the most challenging repertoire I have ever played and it has pushed me to reach new musical heights. My favorite part of quintet it melting the sounds together, “flying in formation”, sounding like one person playing 5 instruments! Oh so fun!!
7. How do you imagine the tuba in the future, any new roles or types of music?
Our instruments will continually improve, with better response, better valve mechanisms, more ergonomic. I don’t like to think less about the evolution of the tuba, and more about where we, as musicians, can take our musicianship with a tuba in our hands. Our goal should be to improve overall musicianship, so that people forget it’s a tuba we’re playing – to equal that of an electric guitar, or a solo violin.
Enjoy the entire interview here: Deanna Swoboda 12-31-2013
4. How do you remember Harvey Phillips?
Every one has a hero(es) when they are young. When I was an university
student in Tokyo, I was very impressed by the tuba solo playing on
the records played by Mr.Harvey Phillips. He played: “The Elephant &
the Fly” by H. Kling, “Carioca” by V. Youmans, “Serenade No.12” by V. Persichetti, “Sonata No.1″ by A.Wilder etc.on CC-tuba. There were no Japanese who could play the solo tuba pieces like him. As we know, Mr.Phillips was
the first tuba player who showed us that tuba was also a
solo instrument. His playing technique was tremendous, and I still find myself surprised when I listen to recordings from 1960 to 1970.
Although I joined with the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra in 1969, I
wanted to study with Mr. Phillips. I was very fortunate to be able to study with him for 9 months at Indiana University in 1973 and 1974; I was
selected and sent to the USA to study the tuba by the Japanese
Since I the day that I met him in September of 1973,I maintained close communications with him until he passed away in 2010. Although nine months at Indiana University was not long period, but I had many opportunities to see him work. Mr. Phillips was kind enough to bring me with him to regional Conferences, the Midwest clinic,etc.. I learned a great deal from both him and his wonderful family.
One time, Mr.Phillips told me, Chitate,”throw a stone in the middle
of the pond and see how the waves will expand in all directions”.
This idea was dreamed upon and later became the Hokkaido Euphonium
Tuba Association,founded in Sapporo in 1981 – and this camp has been
successful ever since.
Tribute to Harvey Phillips at the 40th International Tuba and Euphonium Conference held at The Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University.
Mr. Phillips introduced me to great tuba and euphonium players who were first
class musicians internationally. This allowed me to invite many tuba/
euphonium players for the annual Hokkaido Euphonium Tuba
Association’s camp. When Mr. Phillips presented a tuba recital in 1979 at
Sapporo, this was the first full tuba recital held by foreign tuba
player in Japan. Since 1984, there has been an unique competition for
the tuba at our camp named The Harvey G.Phillips Tuba Solo
Competition. It is a great honor for young students to receive
Harvey G.Phillips Tuba Solo Competition award.
There were a lot of difficulties to hosting the ITEC Sapporo, 1990, but
this Conference was very successful. Most impoortantly, an entire generation of young Japanese low brass players became familiar with the highest international standards for our instrument. Without
having the strong support of Mr.Phillips in particular, this Conference
could not have been realized. This was the first T.U.B.A.Conference to be held
outside of the United States. It was a very successful Conference
and it became a milestone for Japanese tuba & euphonium players in
our progress on the tuba and euphonium.
I was very honor to receive the Life Time Achievement Award of ITEA
in 2010 at ITEC in Arizona. For this ceremony, Mr.Phillips
commissioned a ceremonial fanfare for 2 euphoniums & 2 tubas named
“Fanfare Kagawa”, written by John Stevens. Later, I received a
photo of Mr.Phillips and Dan Perantoni who were checking up on the rehearsal of
this fanfare from a room of the hospital. This was really special, as
Mr.Phillips was at hospital, and his condition was bad at time
already. I couldn’t find another word to thank him except,Thank you
We enjoyed the great Conference held at Indiana University in 2014.I
believe, Mr.Phillips was also enjoyed this Conference from the grave.
I sincerely appreciate for the many years of kindness he extended to me and my
Enjoy the full interview here: Chitate Kagawa 2014
c. 2013-2016 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. www.davidbrubeck.com