Henry Lowther - Trumpet

David Gallant talks to the trumpeter about how he got started, the instruments he has played over the years and his all time favourite choice.

“You know I played Woodstock as the first gig of an American tour with the Keefe Hartley band,”
says Lowther, whose CV links him with most of the major jazz and blues artists and musical events of the last 40 years. “The only other trumpet player at the gig was Sly Stone’s sister!” Henry Lowther - Trumpet
Lowther’s early years were less glamorous, although no less musical. His father’s family were Salvation Army brass band people, while his mother’s uncle was a conductor in the brass band world, “what the Sally Army used to call ‘outside bands," he says.

His first instrument was the cornet. “My father taught me,” he says. “I must have been about five. I still use that cornet today and it’s very special, not only because it was originally my father’s. It’s a Boosey & Co – with ‘British throughout’ stamped on the bell. When I had it refurbished I got it checked out and it turned out that it came out of the factory on 14 April 1912, the day the Titanic sank”. Lowther had joined the local Salvation Army band in his pre-teen years. But later in his teenage years, he says, stopped playing brass instruments to become a violinist. “My mother liked classical music, and I used to listen to the radio a lot and I fell in love with the violin.”

His parents sent him to lessons and a young Lowther ended up playing in the Leicester Symphony Orchestra when he was just 14. Although his grammar school head master tried to persuade his parents to get him to give up music, he was equally good at the sciences, Lowther continued with his musical studies and ended up going to the Royal Academy of Music as a violinist when he was 18. “That only lasted a year. I wanted to compose, but because I wasn’t on the composition course, the RA wouldn’t let me study composition.” He only plays the violin rarely these days. “I’d like to play it more, if I ever win the national lottery, I could devote myself entirely to my own music and I would probably start playing the violin again.”

Lowther’s first introduction to jazz came through a friend who was into Indian music. “I became fascinated by the concept of improvising,” he says. “So I listened to some ‘western’ improvisation, and when I heard the track ‘Come Gone’ on Sonny Rollins’ Way Out West album, in terms of jazz, it was a life changing moment for me.” Lowther’s first experience of playing jazz came through some student friends whose band he joined. “I remember playing a Besson New Creation,” he says, “playing Ellington stuff.” Then a friend of his invited him down to London.
“I ended up at Ronnie’s playing trumpet with Tubby Hayes. His regular trumpet player had gone to the States with Ronnie Scott, and I had taken my horn along just in case. Tubbs obviously noticed and tapped me on the shoulder with ‘fancy a blow?’ I knew I’d be forever kicking myself if I didn’t join Hayes and I’d only been in London two months.”

Stints with Manfred Mann, John Mayall, Jon Hiseman and Jack Bruce followed. “I was also doing a lot of sessions,” Lowther says. “I played a Conn Constellation with a large bell, but never liked the valves. Then I played the Conn Conquest, which was like the Constellation but with a smaller bell. I preferred the sound of that”. As for mouthpieces, “Vincent Bach’, he says unhesitatingly. “I used to play a 11/2 C, the one favoured by classical players but I dropped that after problems with volume levels in the recording studio. Now I play a 101/2 C, which is roughly like a Bach 7.”

And for his current preferences? “I play an Eclipse trumpet and flugelhorn. They’re made by Leigh McKinney and John Yianni, who used to be repairers for Boosey & Hawkes and Stirling Brass before deciding to start up on their own. This year they won the top trumpet manufacturer in the world award from the International Trumpet Guild.”  As First Class Brass, McKinney and Yianni called Lowther in to help them develop a flugelhorn. Lowther recounts the history. “I decided to base the flugelhorn on what I considered was the best flugelhorn ever made – one I’d had stolen. It was made for Bill Lewingtons in the 60s by Couesnon, and although the valves used to rattle and there were some intonation problems, it had the best sound and the best response ever. They were like gold dust, as anybody who had one would never get rid of it”.
Lowther knew his trumpeter friend John Barclay had one and borrowed it. “The irony is”, says Lowther, “that having wanted one for 25 years, once I started working on the Eclipse flugelhorn with Leigh, John called me up and offered to sell me the Couesnon horn. But of course I had to turn it down, as it would have looked as though I hadn’t got any faith in what I was developing with Lee.” Currently, Lowther has two bands. “My own band Still Waters doesn’t work very often these days, but I’m very proud of what we’re doing – when I can get everybody together. My other band, where we don’t rehearse or have any set material other than what evolves over a period of time, is the quartet with Jim Mullen, Stu Butterfield and Dave Green. I love the sound of the trumpet and guitar together and Jim does fantastic comping. He’s always perfect – all the time. We call it the great wee band, because on one occasion as we came off the bandstand at the end of a first set Jim suddenly said: ‘Och, this is a great wee band’. It’s true, so the name stuck!”

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