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THE TRUMPET, MY VALENTINE



A dark, smoky bar. Whisky glasses, dim lights. Somebody slowly lights up a cigarette. A tall, tantalising woman with a tight black dress, blinding blond hair and very sad eyes walks slowly towards the bar. The jazz band on the stage starts playing My Funny Valentine. The woman turns and looks at the stage. Chet Baker with his tender voice has captured her attention. He lifts up his trumpet and covers the room with velvet and nostalgia. The lady smiles. With her heart. He has captured her soul too.


There are few instruments in the music family which are more seductive, sad, captivating and romantic than the trumpet. Generations of people have learned musical poetry, romance and freedom from the heralds of the State of Trumpet. Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Winston Marsalis have become symbols of America and its musical freedom. Quincy Jones flew Sinatra to the moon and made Michael Jackson rock with you, thrill you and look at the man in the mirror. And these are just a few of the many players who glorified and enjoyed that amazing instrument.


The trumpet started its life thousands of years ago in Egypt. Initially just a basic horn, it was used as a communicator between the people and God. The early trumpets were sacred and could only be played by men. Or so they say. Surely Cleopatra was secretly blowing her own trumpet to attract attention.


The popularity of the trumpet grew and it spread all around Europe. It was loud! It was a Leader. It could communicate information, it could scare enemies and it could wake the tired, drunken soldiers and lead them into victorious battles. Even the elephants were influenced by it and adopted its technique. There is a great similarity in the way elephants lift up their trunks when they trumpet and the way trumpet players do the same before they hit that high B flat.




The trumpet was a very respected instrument and only the rich aristocrats could afford them. Henry VII and Henry VIII had eight royal trumpeters who would play at the most important ceremonies. Tournaments, weddings (all the many of them) and coronations would not be complete without the triumphant sound of the trumpets. Amongst the eight court trumpet players was the only identifiable black person of Tudor England, John Blanke.


Nobody knows how he came to England, however the records of his Royal pay checks and the gifts that Henry VIII sent Blanke for his wedding, show that the trumpeter was a well respected part of the royal orchestra.

That is bitterly ironic considering the fact that there are very, very few black players in symphony orchestras around the world nowadays.

Henry's cosmopolitan spirit did not have a long lasting legacy and his successors made it impossible for black people to have any access to music for a long time. The American War of Independence would eventually put an end to that grim period and would set the new tune.


The melting pot of New Orleans and the spirited times after the Civil War brought together the newly liberated slaves and the newly underprivileged Creoles. The music which blossomed from the mixing of African, European, Classical and Church music started to have its own identity. It was the new music from the New World. The new free men AND WOMEN were writing the new constitution of music and its foundations were freedom and pleasure. They called it JAZZ. Where did that name come from? It allegedly came from the JASMINE perfume preferred by the New Orleans prostitutes or from “jezebel” - a slang word for prostitute or sex. Those musicians sure had a sense of humour! To play jazz was fun, it was sexy, it was liberating, it was a statement of identity and it allowed a great level of virtuosity and self expression.



From that amazing hub of new music came Louis Armstrong. Born in great poverty, he was helped by a Jewish family who bought him his first trumpet and encouraged him to play. Armstrong became the symbol of musical triumph. His huge commercial success and popularity inspired a whole generation of black people to play music. It also put the trumpet in the spotlight as a leading instrument. The trumpet became the key to success. It would give a poor kid the chance to end up hanging out with princesses. It would give the chance to have your voice heard. Yet again, as in its ancient role, the trumpet became the messenger of good news.


Louis Armstrong and Grace Kelly


The rapidly growing cinema industry quickly recognised the incredible expressive power of the trumpet and the leading composers started scoring pieces in which the trumpet played the main theme and set up the general mood. Who has not sensed the great tragedy lying in wait for the Corleone family with just the initial ominous notes of the trumpet? Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton...Ennio Morricone doomed them all from the first note!



A whole generation of young people was hugely influenced by the narrative sound coming from the screen.

Phil Cobb (Principal, BBC Symphony orchestra)


“I started playing the trumpet in our little band at the Salvation Army. My dad and my brother played too, and so did my grandfather who bought me my first instrument. It was an old, bashed cornet, but I was delighted. My trumpet hero was Tim Morisson. He was the Principal of the Boston Pops and John Williams wrote the amazing solos for the scores of ”Born in the 4th of July”, “JFK”, ”Saving Private Ryan”,”Amistad”... specially for him. I had a double CD at home and was listening to it all the time. His beautiful, vibrant sound inspired me a great deal. A few years ago he contacted me after hearing me play on a film score. I was like a kid when I got the message. That was beyond my wildest dreams.”


Miro Petkov (Principal, Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam)

“When I was a child I used to watch a lot of Cartoon Channel. “Tom and Jerry” had these amazing orchestral scores which were completely mesmerizing. It is fair to say I became a musician because of ”Tom and Jerry”. When I was seven my mum took me to the music school where I got my first trumpet. Although I was a bit disappointed with its look, I still embraced it. I have had many musical inspirations and interests: from folk music to songs by Schubert, however Miles Davis keeps opening new musical dimensions and fresh lessons. At the moment I am yet again captivated by his sound and his ideas about music and life in general.”


There is a strange devotion by all trumpet players to their instrument. There is also a great sense of brotherhood in the trumpet section and the men do carry the sexy badge with great pride.


However, some of the most prominent trumpet players these days are women. Alison Balsom, Tine Thing Helseth, Ingrid Jensen ... have been enjoying the trumpet just as much as the men. They have brought the girls to the party and made it sparkle even more. Girls who want to have fun, but have worked their socks off for it!



In my research for this article I was completely immersed in the world of the trumpet. I don’t think I have ever been that engaged with any other instrument. The Trumpet took me on a great journey: spiritual, heroic, cultural, liberating, tender, epic... It reminded me of my childhood, of my dreams, of my loves.

Ladies and Gentlemen, join me in this journey and allow yourselves the pleasure! What could be better for Valentine’s Day than a bit of TRUMPET?








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