Trumpet Bushido


[WARNING: Some of this post gets extremely technical and is primarily written for trumpet players. This is the obligatory musical equipment post.]

The word ‘bushido’, the way of the warrior, thus requires some explanation. Bushi was the original term for the upper-class warrior. The Chinese ideogram used for this word has two component parts whose joint meaning has been variously interpreted. In any case, it seems to be a designation, in the Chinese cultural mode, of an upper class that ruled by knowledge (learning) and military leadership. Both qualities were considered essential to the “superior man” in China as well as Japan. Bushi made its first appearance in Japan in the Shoku Nihongi (completed 797) in the following passage: “Again, the August Personage [emperor] said, ‘Literary men and warriors are they whom the nation values.’” The term bushido as a formalized definition of the proper modes of warrior character and behavior – sometimes defined as “loyalty, self-control, and equanimity” – came into use in the late sixteenth century just before the beginning of the Tokugawa peace era.

The term samurai – which later, and in our time, became the name almost exclusively used for man-at-arms – was first employed in the tenth century and designated the lower-class professional soldier employed by the government, but not the higher-level mounted warriors described in the Heike Monogatari. Gradually, over the centuries, however, as the social and political climate and the nature of the armed forces changed, the word samurai almost totally displaced bushi. By the Tokugawa era (1600-1867) – that of the uncontested rule of the shogun (supreme military commander) and his warrior cohorts and allies – “samurai” included every man allowed to publicly wear two swords, with the possible exception of those super-samurai, the daimyo. – Zen & The Way of the Sword, Winston L. King, p.125

The three primary weapons of the Samurai are the sword, the bow, and the musket. They serve as tools of destruction and as symbols of a specific lifestyle and ethos. I rely on my equipment, just as the Samurai warrior relied on his weapons, when I engage in musical combat.

Bach Bb Trumpet Stradivarious Model 37, Medium Large bore, silver plated, no. 211368 (ca. 1981)

This instrument was/is my first real trumpet; not including my actual first horn, a Conn student cornet. It came into my possession when I was still an elementary school student. I will never forget opening the case and seeing the most beautiful object in the world, a brand new, silver-plated Bach trumpet. The silver plating was so pure and bright, it reflected light like a mirror. Over the years, the horn has gone through countless modifications and alterations. In college, when tweaking your gear was truly in vogue, I replaced the original leadpipe with a Blackburn 20 leadpipe (1991). Later, I stripped the plating down to the raw brass and replaced the Bach S braces (between the bell and the leadpipe) with Conn straight braces, allowing greater ring in the bell because of an increased distance to the first brace post. Among many other modifications, I also built, with the help of Andrew Naumann, a unique curved tuning slide specifically for this horn.

Today I use this instrument in such ensembles as electric bands, big bands, rock bands, Latin groups, and some free improvisation settings. It’s my bar horn, my “fankenhorn”, best suited for unknown battle situations (literally, i.e. drunks fighting). After almost 30 years of authentic battle damage, it remains a truly great sounding instrument. I would compare it, in application, to the bow of the samurai. I often wield this horn in sections with other warriors, to hail a volley of arrows upon the enemy.

A second requisite of the early samurai was that he be an archer of at least some skill. In those days of the cavalry’s dashing headlong toward enemy forces with the hoped-for impact of a battering ram, the warrior preceded his physical arrival at the enemy’s front-lines by a shower of arrows, released as his self-guiding horse galloped forward. The purpose of this, of course, was to breach the enemy lines so that the attackers could then gallop on through and wreak havoc on the disorganized enemy. Thus the mounted warrior carried a limited supply of arrows in a covered quiver slung over his back, from which they could be pulled one at a time as he rode. Shooting from horseback was, of course, no easy feat, especially when at full gallop, and required special training:

Three-target shooting (yabusame) involved launching the horse at full gallop in a proper direction, while releasing arrows directed at three targets, each constructed of a three-inch square of cardboard set on a pole along the horse’s path. Bamboo-hat target shooting (kasagake) was performed within the confines of a course known as the arrow way (yado), properly fenced and with a shelf at its end from which the bamboo hats were hung. The rider was required to launch his steed at full gallop and begin to hit those hats, first from a distance (tokasagake) and then at close range (kokasake). – Ibid., p. 63

Blackburn Bb Trumpet, Large bore, Ambronze Bell 213120S, 20 leadpipe, 60-10R tuning slide, standard braces, brass finish, serial no. 253 (1993)

I remember receiving Cliff’s shop horn in the mail. Along with the valve section, there were a few different leadpipes, a couple of bells, and a couple of different shaped tuning slides. Upstairs in a practice room at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (my undergraduate alma mater), I varied the components until I found the right combination for my tastes. I walked down a floor to the studio of Dennis Schneider, who was a Yamaha player (at the time). When Denny played the horn, he switched out the 20 leadpipe for the 19 leadpipe, and then immediately called Cliff wanting to purchase THAT horn! Cliff said that it wasn’t for sale, and he’d make one just like it for him; but he eventually gave in and Denny bought the shop horn. A few months later, I had my Blackburn as well. It had a raw brass finish for the first year, and then for its birthday, I sent it back to be gold plated (1994).

This horn was my main instrument all the way through graduate studies and well into the early stages of my professional career. It can play anything. Now I use it for classical music and some occasional studio work that demands a traditional, characteristic trumpet sound. To my ear, the caramel sound of this trumpet is an aural representation of the elegant curved sword of the samurai. I honed my trumpet bushido for 16 years on this instrument.

In such an environment, good swordsmen were always needed; and since good swordsmen can be produced only by good training, swordsmanship instructors were in great demand by all hands – clan leaders, daimyo, shogun, and even the emperor’s court at times. Young warriors-to-be began to familiarize themselves with swords from an early age; At five years of age, they began wearing wooden swords; a little later, junior-size steel blades; and finally, full size swords in their early teens. By his middle to late teens, the young samurai was considered ready for combat. And between battles, any warrior worth his rice continually honed his warrior skills, particularly his swordsmanship, to a fine edge. In this situation, a kind of freewheeling competitive “system” grew up in which prospective employers vied for famous duels and battle-tested veterans to instruct their swordsmen, and ambitious swordsmen sought for positions as instructors. This loosely jointed apparatus gradually developed into the establishment of swordsmanship schools (ryu) throughout the country, each with its head instructor and its special method. Ibid., p. 95

Naumann Natural Trumpet, Heavyweight, Amado water key, additional modern leadpipe, additional Bb crook, silver plated, serial no. DBG-214 (1995)

Naumann Natural Trumpet, Standardweight Package (German), Custom Wrap (which includes tassles), Amado Water Key, Gold plated, serial no. DGB-511 (1999)

At the University of North Texas, I was fortunate to be involved in one of the first natural trumpet ensembles led by Dr. Leonard Candelaria (Dr. C). One of my fellow graduate students, Andrew Naumann, had started building these instruments out of his Denton apartment. Andy and I were both avid fishermen and I remember him raiding the bait shops for sinkers, in order to get the lead he needed to bend the crooks. Don’t worry, most of the soldering and metal work was actually done out on his balcony by the grill!

I have never liked the piccolo for performing baroque trumpet music; the sound just isn’t right. The natural trumpets, even if they are far more demanding to play, have the most pure and beautiful trumpet sound imaginable. If I was forced to only perform with one sound, it would be that of a rich, full natural trumpet tone. The horn requires exceptional skill and endurance, especially when considering the control needed to execute accurate upper register lip slurs throughout the duration of a concert. It represents the essence of trumpet playing; it is the trumpet player’s trumpet.  It is akin to the warrior shout of the samurai.

“One incidental dueling device, which was sometimes used, was the warrior shout as the attacker rushed forward to deliver his devastating stroke. Perhaps this was a throwback to the time of the charging horseman who loudly challenged his foes, partly out of sheer battle excitement, partly (he hoped) to strike terror into the opponent. In the classic dueling format, it was employed by the famous swordsman Miyamoto Musashi against his most famous antagonist, Ganryu (Sasaki Kojiro) at the moment of launching his fatal stroke – according to one account at least. No doubt it might be daunting, or at least distracting, when given full-throatedly at the climactic moment. In fact, it became a frequently used technique known as Kiai, practiced by some samurai along with swordsmanship. It was based on the concept of projecting one’s personal field of force against one’s antagonist in order to psychically disable him. It later became a fighting strategem in itself.” – Ibid., p. 65

Monette Bb Trumpet, Prana 1, Wide-radius, Gold plated, serial no. 2121 (2007)

I was in a unique situation of receiving an inheritance tagged specifically for purchase of a new musical instrument, so I traveled out to Portland for a shop visit. Dave makes some incredible horns and I wanted to play all of the different models. After deciding to focus on my jazz career, I was looking for a very specific sound in a new horn. I started with the extra lightweight lead instruments, gradually worked my way heavier, and ended with Ron Miles’ Samadhi that happened to be in the showroom that day. The P1 was a perfect balance of the newer lightweight models and his well-known heavy designs. It has the capability of blending with a saxophone unlike most other trumpets I’ve played, and the valves are like butter. I feel well armed for jazz combat.

Does this horn fill the role of the samurai’s musket? Is there some sort of magic or voodoo behind the metal? Will this new evolution of design affect the samurai as much as the musket could have? Will the samurai ban this new instrument only to be defeated by it in the future? Time will tell.

Mircea Eliade has noted in various of his writings that metallurgy in its several forms in many different prehistorical and tribal societies had a mythical aura that made the smith a potent and sometimes awesome figure. He was mythologically akin to both shaman and the alchemist, those inhibitors of two worlds (the ordinary and the supernatural, super-sensible one) who inspired men with both hope and fear. The alchemist dreamed of a process by which the substances of the earth, especially the base metals, could be brought to their maturity and perfection and transmuted into pure gold by the “chemistry” of both physical and magical means. The shaman in his trances traveled to the supernatural world of spirits, forces, and influences at great peril, and he then returned to give his messages of counsel, warning, and healing to ordinary men.

Smiths were men of fire, often associated with demonic forces, their craft revealed to them by supernatural powers; they were sometimes feared and hated, at other times honored and respected. Sometimes they formed craft brotherhoods to be entered only by invitation. Their occupation, like the shaman’s, was hazardous because it involved contacts with two levels of reality: the demonic “underworld” of metals and fire, and the ordinary world of their craft productions. Their relations with shamans in various cultures have varied, sometimes hostile, sometimes cooperative and friendly; Eliade notes their relationship thus:

“The “secrets of metallurgy” are reminiscent of the professional secrets transmitted among shamans by initiation; in both cases we have a magical technique that is esoteric. That is why the smith’s profession is usually hereditary, like the shaman’s. . . . Here it suffices. . . . to bring out the fact that metallurgical magic, by the “power over fire” that it involved, assimilated a number of shamanic exploits. In the mythology of smiths we find many themes and motifs borrowed from the mythologies of shamans and sorcerers in general.” – Ibid., p. 71

I have been, and continue to be, grateful to work with Cliff Blackburn and Tina Erickson; Andrew Naumann and his crew at Schilke; as well as David Monette and Dean Comely. My association and ongoing personal relationships with these trumpet smiths, are a continued source of enjoyment and a highlight of my career. These artists are our modern sword builders.

Although these trumpets are my primary weapons in battle, the professional trumpeter must employ other instruments on a semi-regular basis.

Some of these “unorthodox” techniques and their instruments were as follows: the iron-ribbed war fan, used by the bushi as well as others; the staff; the jitte, or side-pronged iron bar; the chain, sometimes by itself, sometimes on the back of a kind of sickle blade, used to neutralize the sword; two blocks of wood connected by a leather thong; a long-stemmed reinforced pipe, almost like a dull sword or bar of iron. – Ibid., p. 65

Couesnon Flugelhorn, 109 bell, (no apparent serial no.)

Yamaha A/Bb Piccolo Trumpet, Custom YTR9820, short bell, 3 valved, silver plated, serial no. 301018

Antoine Courtois Cornet, Arban Model, shepard’s crook bell, serial no. 72509

Switching back and forth between all of the above mention horns can be difficult; yet when one switches, seppuku is not demanded.  To perform on all of these instruments, specific, conscious adjustments are required since each has different peak efficiency points and resonant qualities. Only now, after spending years performing on each one of my Bb trumpets (exclusively, without change), may I move comfortably between the three. I would never attempt to wield them without keeping their individual peculiarities in mind. It is possible, once these variables have been internalized, to become immersed in a horn’s personality and ascend beyond the mechanics of the instrument into a Zen mindset, even while mastering multiple weapons.

The trumpet mouthpiece is a crucial element of each instrument, just as the handle and wrap are to the sword. I have never been one to switch mouthpieces frequently, preferring to solve challenges through practice; yet my choices have, and will continue, to slowly evolve.

Evolution of mouthpieces for the long sword:

Conn 7C (cornet, summer 1980)

Bach 7C (the switch to trumpet, 1981)

Bach 5B (1988)

Bach 3B (1995)

Bach 3B w/ drilled out throat (1996)

Monette B15M (STC1 weight, 1999)

Monette Prana B15M S3 (STC1 weight, 2006)

Monette Prana B15M S3 (P1 weight, 2007)

Evolution of lead mouthpieces for the short sword (the one used for seppuku!):

Shew 1.5 (high school, Bobby turned me on to it)

Schilke 6a4a (college marching band, I heard that Chase played this model)

Warburton 5SV cup w/ 7* back (undergraduate big band)

DiOrio 5E w/ GG back (graduate school and early professional work)

Monette L2 (first Monette lead piece)

Monette Prana B15L (switched at the same time as the new Prana B15M S3)

I have been playing the trumpet for 30 years. Every instrument I own, I treasure and maintain with love and respect. A sword will last for hundreds of years, as will a trumpet if they are both treated well and stored carefully. All of my instruments are practiced with reverence, in hopes that they will not fail me in battle, yet it is the warrior’s bujutsu that ultimately determines the outcome of the day.

Thus Takuan (1573-1645, a well-known Zen monk) taught that no swordsman should “locate” (consciously center) his mind – that is, attention-center – at any specific point in his own body, not even in the body-central belly (hara). Fop example, one man said to him: “I place my mind just below my navel and do not let it wander. Thus I am able to change according to the actions of my opponent.” But Takuan countered, “If you consider putting your mind below your navel and not letting it wander, your mind will be taken by the mind that thinks of this plan. You will have no ability to move ahead and will be exceptionally unfree.”

Where, then, shall he “put his mind,” the swordsman asked Takuan. He replied that if it is “put” anywhere at all in the body, then it becomes a prisoner of that part of the body. The proper method is not to put it anywhere, “and then it will go to all parts of your body, and extend throughout its entirety.” Then, and only then, will each body part perform its function properly – that is, naturally and instinctively. Therefore, Takuan counseled, “Because this is so, leave aside all thoughts and discriminations, throw the mind away from the entire body, do not stop it here and there, and when it does visit these various places, it will realize its function and act without error.”

As Takuan sees it, this is the swordsman’s Zen-inspired discipline. Zen, as a spiritual discipline of all life, is consistently opposed to rigidity, whether it manifests itself in sacrosanct doctrines, beliefs, rituals, or any tightly knit intellectual, attitudinal, institutional, or physical behavioral pattern. In any form, this is a non-Buddha-mind of spiritual fixity and death. And this applies across the board to all facets of living: fixity is death; fluidity is life. This is what Zen means by No-Mind, says Takuan:

“The No-Mind is the same as the Right-Mind. It neither congeals nor fixes itself in one place. . . . The No-Mind is placed nowhere. . . . When this No-Mind has been well developed, the mind does not stop with one thing nor does it lack any one thing. It is like water overflowing and exists within itself. [And most appropriately for the swordsman,] It appears appropriately when facing a time of need [i.e., when suddenly in combat].– Ibid., p. 168

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