Over a long and illustrious career, trumpeter Marvin Stamm has played with many jazz icons including Stan Kenton and Frank Sinatra. He spoke to Laura Thorne about those greats, about his big break, the nightmare of flying these days, the importance of practice, and his upcoming 606 Club performance with The Forgotten Fairground.
LondonJazz News: Big bands – you played in some legendary bands like the Kenton, Goodman and Herman bands and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band in its heyday. Was the Kenton band the first big break and how did that happen?
Marvin Stamm: Yes, it was my first big break. Stan heard me play at the 1960 Notre Dame Jazz Festival with the North Texas band and again when the North Texas band, serving as his band, was in residence at his Summer Jazz Clinics the following summer. So Stan heard me play every night of that week, and, afterwards, offered me the jazz chair with his band. However, I had one year left in school, and Stan agreed I should finish my education, but said I would hear from him after graduating. Actually, I heard from him three months later, asking if I could get a three-week leave of absence to cover for Sam Noto, who was leaving for a steady job in New York. The leave was granted, and I finished out that tour. At the end of the tour, Stan said he was going to hire someone temporarily to fill the jazz chair until I could join him. I met the band the day after finishing school and stayed with Stan for almost two years, recording five albums with the band.
LJN: Is there a band or a period that in retrospect (and to misquote Buddy Rich) seems like the best band you ever played in?
MS: No, there isn’t. I played with some very significant bands over my career beyond the four mentioned above. Among them were the Duke Pearson Big Band, the American Jazz Orchestra, the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band, and the Bob Mintzer Band. Each band had its own character and personality and had marvellous players who, along with the arrangers, gave those organisations their character. To try to pick “the best band” is like asking who do I think is the best jazz musician I have ever played with. They were all great in their own way and all contributed a great deal to my career.
LJN: How did you come to work with Sinatra, and what aspects of him as man and musician stay in the mind?
MS: After coming back from a short retirement in 1973, Sinatra started touring with a full orchestra, performing his classics as well as new material. To save expenses, he, with occasional exceptions, used an orchestra from New York for all concerts east of the Mississippi River and another from Los Angeles for everything west of the Mississippi. I was one of the four trumpets in the New York section.
In 1974, I went to Japan and Australia with him, but with a small group comprised of his conductor, his rhythm section, Bud Shank on lead alto, Billie Byers on lead trombone, and myself on lead trumpet. My time working with him spanned 1973 and a good part of 1974.
Sinatra was a consummate musician and had great ears. He was a very honest performer and what happened onstage was never taken for granted. Like most musicians, he wanted every gig to be one of musical mastery – both from himself and his musicians.
As for knowing Sinatra the man, he, like most stars, had his personal friends, and then had his musicians, who, in truth, were his employees. I don’t mean to say he didn’t respect or care for how we were treated because he definitely did care for the well-being of the players. But there was no personal relationship. I was never asked to share a meal or hang out with him, nor did I hear of other players like myself doing this. But, with rare exception, as with Pearl Bailey who loved to hang with the musicians, this was my experience with most every star I performed or recorded with. And to be honest, I never really wanted to hang out with them. Beyond the music, we had little in common. Certainly our lives and the circles in which we traveled were very different.
LJN: You are recording currently with Bill Mays, Matt Wilson, Martin Wind, John Hart – and some of these are close collaborators who go back a long way, right?
MS: Yes – Bill more so than Matt and Martin, because Bill and I have worked together since the early ‘90s, in duo, in my quartet, and with the Inventions Trio, our trio with cellist Alisa Horn. I have worked with Matt and Martin a number of times, usually with Bill and pianist/singer Dena DeRose, and every occasion was a joy.
LJN: And what material will be on the album?
MS: Bill is recording pieces he has composed, but not yet recorded. I am playing on three of these pieces. Kalavrita is a samba written about eight years ago when we were teaching and playing in Greece. Birthday Blues celebrates a milestone in the life of Bill’s wife Judy. And the third is a beautiful waltz, Play Song, depicting children at play. The album will include seven or eight other pieces in which I am not involved.
LJN: Who else do you consider as like brothers from your long career?
MS: Today, this would certainly include composers/pianists Bill Mays and Mike Holober, bassist Rufus Reid, drummers Ed Soph and Dennis Mackrel, arranger Jack Cortner, and my dear friend, pianist, and teacher extraordinaire Bob “Doc” Morgan. And my friend and colleague of many years, Randy Brecker.
But I have been privileged to have a long and marvelous career, guided by many mentors and colleagues who contributed so much to my “living the dream”. Many were older by ten or 15 years and, sadly, are no longer with us. These friends and colleagues befriended me and gave so much to my life, musically and personally. To give tribute to only a few seems almost ungrateful. But I was very close with Bernie Glow, Ernie Royal, Mel Lewis, Snooky Young, George Gruntz, Manny Klein, and Carmine Caruso to name a few.
But even this doesn’t begin to tell the story of my journey. No one “makes it” by himself. Certainly not me! At every step, there was someone – a teacher or friend – who took an interest in me and provided guidance and mentoring – and yes, sometimes discipline – to help me along the way. There were so many, and unfortunately, too many to list here.
LJN: Some trumpeters have had to stop – is there a trick you have to keeping going , to maintaining a great sound on the trumpet as the years progress?
MS: No, there’s no trick to my keeping going. I have always been a practiser, and I do a lot of daily fundamental practice to maintain my embouchure. This has enabled me to keep a balance in the physicality of my playing. I believe most brass players experience difficulties at various times in their careers; I certainly have. But consistent practice and a common sense approach have done me well. As time goes on, I seem to gain more insight into playing, at least as it applies to me. So for me, no tricks; just old -fashioned practice.
LJN: And do you still enjoy the traveling away from home?
MS: When I travel, I always enjoy when I get where I am going. But the traveling itself these days is a nightmare, and most people, especially my musical colleagues, seem to feel the same. Much is due to the circumstances created by acts of terrorism and such, putting everyone a bit on edge having to arrive hours early for one’s flight and then going through long security lines while many times experiencing long delays and sometimes cancellations as well. This is typical these days.
But what really makes traveling a nightmare is the way the airlines treat their customers. There is no respect for the consumer, all of whom are treated only as dollar signs. One has to pay for early seat choice, and the seats are tiny and more or less expensive depending on where one sits. All airline food is atrocious, and service these days is pretty much “slam, bam, thank you, ma’am”! The airlines can’t help the security issues, but they could certainly give their customers value for the money they spend. Their mission statements should read: “Everything for shareholders and upper management, nothing for the customer”. They should be ashamed.
LJN: And where is home these days?
MS: For the last 41 years, I have lived in North Salem, NY, about 50 miles directly north of New York City. It’s quite lovely, and in a word, rural.
LJN: You will be performing at the 606 Club in Chelsea on 25 July with The Forgotten Fairground, a ten-piece ensemble from the UK (and will be recording with them for their second album). How did you come into contact with them, and what led you to get involved with the group and their music? They must be quite special to have gotten your attention!
MS: My long-time friend, Andy Bush, who produced both the Forgotten Fairground’s debut album and short film, introduced me to composer and trumpeter Matt Gough when Matt was at music conservatory. Matt, who leads The Forgotten Fairground is an extremely creative artist, and although I had no part in the ensemble’s original album, I was certainly supportive of their efforts because of the great music and high quality of the performances and production. I assume my involvement in the new project, The Man With The Umbrella, emanated from conversations between Andy and Matt as to what and how they wanted to follow up The Forgotten Fairground. They could tell you more.
This group IS quite special and the instrumentation intriguing. Matt and Andy presented me with a concept and the three of us maintained contact throughout the process of Matt’s composing the suite. I was honoured to be asked to be a part of this new endeavour, acting as the voice of a main character in this musical suite. It is unusual and quite challenging. Andy and Matt are playing alongside me on this new album, with Andy again producing. So, with all this, I’m sure you can understand my interest in the music as well as being able to work with my friends Andy Bush and Matt Gough and the entire cast of The Forgotten Fairground.
Laura Thorne is marketing manager of the 606 Club.
The Forgotten Fairground with special guest Marvin Stamm will be at the 606 Club on Thursday 25 July.