Jay Phelps - Trumpet

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“One of my lady friends sat on my horn the other day,” says Jay Phelps a tad suggestively. “She bent back the end of the lead pipe and the bracket between that and the bell sort of snapped. But when you’re caught up in the emotion of things, such small matters seem really unimportant. Since it’s been mended though, it seems to play so much better than before.”

Phelps started playing trumpet when he was 11, having entered an arts school in his home city of Vancouver a year before most of the kids of his age. “I remember having a great teacher and this also helped me get into the high school band a year before everyone else in my year – it was a great experience.”

Phelps had begun his musical journey on the piano. “I was about nine,” he says, “and got bored with it very quickly and soon quit. When I moved over to the trumpet, my mother took it more seriously for me, putting me into lessons straight away and not letting me play with my friends unless I practised first.

His first trumpet was a Kanstul. “It was a very basic horn and I’m always reminded of it by an incident that happened one really hot summer’s day when I was round at my father’s house practising. My trumpet was sounding really weird and I got really angry and hit it on the floor and the whole bell came up like a soda can and I thought oh my god my mom’s going to kill me. Needless to say I got it in the neck when she noticed what had happened.”

Phelps then progressed on to “a shiny silver Jupiter” which he kept for a couple of years, before his teacher Ray Kirkham, principal trumpet in the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra told him that he had to play on a better trumpet. “So I went on to a Bach Stradivarius 37. That was kind of my introduction into professional trumpet playing.” Phelps had gained early inspiration from Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue (“I just thought Miles’s horn sounded like a singing bird), Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. “Then I got into Clifford Brown – man, his sound just blew me away.”

Fast forward to just five years ago when Phelps went to a gig at London’s Jazz Café where one of his other trumpet heroes Wynton Marsalis was playing. “There was a whole bunch of trumpet players hanging around back stage and there was this trumpet player called Alex Bonney who said, ‘Jay let me see your trumpet.’ Then he showed me this beautiful Eclipse and said, ‘this should be your horn.’ I played two notes – and I thought oh my goodness! The next week

Alex took me up to the factory in Luton to meet the guys who made the horn and we did a deal. So now I’ve got my great Eclipse horn. But it’s changed quite a lot over these last five years. I’ve put different bits and pieces on and taken various bits and pieces off.

“The first thing I did was to take the bell off and put on a much bigger, wider bell. Then I put on a new, much wider lead pipe. This opens up the sound and gives me a much brassier edge when I need it. Since I’ve done that I’ve been able to really find my own voice within it, because I can play with the many different tones that the horn has to offer now. I can play really quiet, or loud and brassy when I need it and it produces a really big sound when it’s played properly. It’s been a journey over this last year since I changed it – it’s made me a better player. I have to practise in a different way. I’ve been able to get more breath and depth into the sound.

On Phelps’ beautiful matt gold instrument there are a couple of extra features. “You’re right,” says Phelps. “I’ve added a lot of little trinkets around it, and not just for show! The trinkets are essentially there for counterbalance, although I do have my name engraved on it. Leigh at First Class Brass, who leads the team that makes the Eclipse trumpets made the third finger ring and first slide saddle extra thick so I have a better grip on the horn, and I reckon it also looks good.”

As for mouthpieces Phelps started with a 7C before moving on to a 101/2 C and a 5. “After that I moved on to a 3, which was where I stayed before moving over from the Bach to a Monette.” He then acquired a Monette Pirana mouthpiece, “big, with a really deep cup – the equivalent of a 1. The weight distribution in the mouthpiece is just great. When the horn is played right, it offers you great all round flexibility. When you want to sustain a note properly it works wonders.”

Does Phelps use mutes? “Yeah,” he responds. “I like cup mutes, and sometimes Harmon ones but it’s got to be in the right kind of setting. I’m trying to get back to that good old swing sound in my music, rather than going on that totally contemporary, classically-influenced trip. I want to recreate that good feeling in my music again.” Jay Phelps is the host of the Sunday afternoon jam sessions at Ronnie Scott’s