My dad had a great habit of stopping at Carl Fischer music in Chicago on the way home from work and picking up sheet music for me to practice, and when he brought home The Genius Of Benny Golson I had no idea how it would change my life. It was arranged for piano by Benny, and parts of it were just within my ability. It was my first exposure to jazz piano voicings, his beautifully logical approach to harmony, and of course melodies like Killer Joe, Stablemates, Blues March, and I Remember Clifford. I played through this book endlessly, and when I started my first band in NYC in 2005 his From Dream To Dream was one of the first songs I arranged. Here's what Benny wrote in the preface of the book:
"I have employed some of the identical voicings that I use in my arrangements
for big bands and small combos. Occassionally these voicings are slightly
unconventional but that's what jazz is all about, playing and writing what
you feel from the heart"- Benny Golson
Around that time Dr. Philip Jameson introduced me to Andre Lafosse's School of Sight Reading and Style. He stressed the ability to sightread not just difficult music, but to read sloppy manuscript as well. This five book series is written by hand, changes clef within a measure, includes a wide variety of meters, double-sharps, and other visual oddities. It is still a great challenge and keeps my eyes sharp. I think the ability to sightread confidently is the single most important freelancing skill I developed and this book helped tremendously. The skills carry over to reading music that you have rehearsed, and help with the ultimate musical skill: the ability to focus and remain focused.
What makes you reach for your favorite etude book?
Each etude book on my shelf offers a skill like lyricism, articulation, range, clefs, jazz harmony, or insights into a composer. When I am preparing for a concert I reach for a book that polishes the skills I need for that music, and when I am warming up I reach for a warm up routine that I know gives me a workout covering all the basics. There are so many great warmup routines out there, and I'd love to continue my discussion of them soon in another post.
The second most influential book I’ve come across is a collection of trumpet routines, excerpts and solos that I found (I kid you not) in the trash at Indiana University in the summer of 1996. My basic musical tenants at this point in my life were “music first, technique second” and a steady diet of Emory Remington. I’d never seen the Stamp exercises, an Arbans book, or the collection of Russian trumpet etudes in the back.
Practicing the Mahler 5 trumpet solo helped shape my articulation and broaden my understanding of how instruments relate in an orchestra. But mostly this book helped me branch off into the mindset of other instrumentalists who have to overcome the challenges that are difficult on their specific instruments. Ed Kleinhammer introduced me to the Bach Cello suites with a wonderful story of Arnold Jacobs performing the Sarabande from Cello Suite No. 5 in D min as an encore after a recital. I can't imagine how great that must have sounded, and according to Kleinhammer, his performance brought down the house.
Often there is a right book for the right time, the right tool for the right problem. My playing hopefully continues to evolve, and without new stimulation I think it would become stagnant, but I still reach for the same etude books year after year.