18 Feb Blowing Your Brains Out – A Happy Little Trumpet Blog – Ep.2 – Jason Levi
(Full episode. Individual clips embedded below)
In episode 2 of blowing your brains out I look at routines from fellow UNT alum Jason Levi. Here is Jason’s bio from his press kit.
Jason grew up in southwestern Pennsylvania and started playing trumpet in 4th grade with the help of his father, Ron (also a trumpet player.) He took up messing with computers and chasing girls as hobbies but quickly found that he loved to play the trumpet more than anything. After graduating high school in 1999, he moved to beautiful, scenic Denton Texas to attend the University of North Texas where he earned a Bachelors of Music (cum laude) in jazz trumpet performance in May 2004. It was then that he realized that he has no idea what good that degree is other than it was a whole lot of fun. Thus, he decided to stay and earn a Masters Degree, figuring it would be equally as fun, and finished that in 2007.
His increasing prowess and interest in business practices (and desire to maintain his lavish lifestyle) prompted him to also start working on an MBA degree in business. He hopes to remember college as the best decade of his life.
After graduation, Jason wanted to help his fellow musicians succeed at the music business so he designed and taught the first Music Business class to ever be offered at the University, Music Industry Entrepreneurship.
From 2004-2007 (lead in 06-07) Jason played trumpet in the world-renowned, Grammy Award Nominated One O’clock Lab Band under the direction of Neil Slater. He has toured with the One O’clock band to New York, Chicago, Vancouver, Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Portland, Warsaw Poland, and Bangkok Thailand as a guest of His Majesty the King. Jason was a teaching fellow at UNT where he directed and managed the Four O’clock Lab Band. Among many others, he has performed or recorded with:
- Cirque du Soleil
- Ringling Bros. circus
- Nelson Riddle Orchestra
- Wayne Bergeron
- Bill Holman
- Pete Christlieb
- Benny Golson
- Jimmy Heath
- Phil Woods
- Dave Douglas
- Rufus Reid
In 2010 he moved to Las Vegas to wear makeup, a sparkly jacket, dance around and play trumpet in VivaELVIS by Cirque du Soleil. That run lasted until Aug 31, 2012 when the show closed. He is currently playing in various shows/acts around the Las Vegas valley. Jason is experienced as both an educator and performer, frequently being the guest clinician of college and high school bands around the Southwest. He wrote and published Fathers of First Trumpet, a text that details the origins and development of the lead trumpet style.
He also co-owns Bell’s Super Lube, makers of superior quality oil and grease for brass instruments. ha ha
Without the drive of the ever-approaching concert deadline, we can fall into a pattern of skipped practice sessions and general chop neglect. Trying to get chops back in shape can be difficult and confusing. I am fortunate to have crossed paths with these amazing trumpet players and I asked them: “What is your regimen to get ready for a tour or a demanding gig after some downtime? Does the expected workload affect your regimen?”
Jason Levi: To get back into shape, my ‘routine’ if you want to call it that, is warming up, however you do that, and then I play lip flexibilities out of the Walter M Smith book. Specifically #1-10. By #10 you HAVE to have your air moving and tongue level doing the work or you won’t make it. I do these ‘minimum pressure’ a la Jay Saunders just trying to get the notes out and don’t worry if they sound pretty just getting them to slot and sound. It centers the aperture well for me. At night I use the PETE all over the embouchure, out the sides, 1/4 way on each side and in the middle. You CAN overdo the PETE so no more than two 10 minute sessions/day. The other important thing is to STAY HYDRATED, drink lots of water and avoid alcohol (say it ain’t so) and salty foods (chips and salsa, etc.) on the day before and day of a performance. As I said before I think physical exercise is a huge part of it, I run 5k every other day in 25:00 flat. But everyone is at a different place with that, just do something to get in your target heart range for at least 30 minutes a few times a week. Core strengthening exercises like sit-ups and planks help immensely.
I decided to just post the interesting videos on the Bach partita and the Gornston flow study. Playing long tones and flexibility exercises is only interesting for about 15 seconds, twice that if it’s in the stratosphere…maybe.
Bach Partita BWV 1033
David Gornston Trumpet Velocity #85
The P.E.T.E –
I have been using the PETE for a few years now and I shout praises of this thing from the rooftops! Do you need a shiny metal device to work your chop muscles out? No, but sometimes when you invest in a tool (especially a cool shiny metal one!) you’ll put more time into using that tool. I bought mine from Terry Warburton himself at the JEN conference in Dallas. In his words: “Players always ask me if they can practice less if they use this. I tell them no, it means you can practice MORE!”
It took me about a year before I understood this statement. As a freelance trumpeter you say yes to just about every gig that will contribute to bill payment. This can make for some pretty hectic weekends. For the better part of a decade I kept my chops in shape more by playing gigs than by practicing on those Monday Tuesday Wednesdays I had off. My chops were so beat up by Monday that I needed those days off to save up for the next weekend. Playing hurt and music was a drag. But that changed once I started using this. What does Terry Warburton mean when he says you can practice more? He means endurance!
I did my own experiment with the PETE in the first two weeks I had it. As it was early January and work was slow I was able to lay off the horn for a complete week. During this week all I did was use the PETE for one to three minutes a day. The next week I laid off the PETE and just put some old fashion practice time in on the horn. My results? After the first week at my Sunday night big band gig the lead trumpet player and bandleader complimented me on how strong I sounded. And I felt strong even though I hadn’t touched the horn all week. However, I was loose and chipping notes left and right. The horn just felt too unfamiliar. The second week was even more surprising as practicing did not hurt and I actually enjoyed playing the horn again! At the same Sunday night big band after that second week not only did I feel strong but I was back to slotting my notes again. From that point on I was hooked. This isn’t a tool to be used to avoid practicing, it’s meant to be used to add endurance and strength so you can put the horn on your face more. Muscle is muscle no matter where it is on your body. Increasing the regular load on those muscles forces them to strengthen just like any other muscle. After three years of using this thing religiously I love practicing again. Not only have I started practicing when I get home from gigs (madness!!) but when I’m done practicing after that Sunday night big band gig I have a session with the PETE to put one last burn on the chop muscles. Jason is a little more insane with his PETE workout and I’ll have to step it up to reach two 10 minute sessions a day (!) but I have started to use it in the three separate spots on my chops and have seen real benefit from spreading the load around the muscle tissue. Again, this is not a substitute for practicing but an aid to practicing. Although it can keep your chops in shape during those, hopefully rare, forced downtime periods due to medical or dental work. Or if your wife is sick of you bringing your axe on vacation. Even as I’m writing this I’m on day one of one week off the horn after an out patient procedure. I’ll only have two days off before a quick local tour that weekend. So it’ll be PETE and me and a whole bunch of movies and music for a week. And some writing. And finalizing that masterclass. I could get my student library straightened up finally….
Walter Smith Studies
**These are great interval studies to increase your physical endurance but I also found it challenging to keep my mental focus balanced between keeping my embouchure working and keeping the interval patterns straight. Definitely a great exercise for focusing on the physical and mental balance!
Gornston Velocity #85
This was not only a great dexterity exercise but also a great harmonic exercise. This one moves through some interesting tonal places and I plan on exploring more of David Gornston’s material and seeing how it translates to improvisation. And to think this was written in the 50s!
This one was a bear! Trying to get a decent recording of this one took way more time than I had planned. No one scoots around like Bach! Believe it or not there are some great jazz ideas in the music of Bach.
I was really focusing on this one while I was making the video. During that time I had a couple of sight reading gigs in two different genres: jazz octet and brass quintet. I have to say that while I was working on this flute partita I had to have hit my best sight reading ratio ever. Those little pitfalls that might’ve made me stumble were popping right out almost on auto-pilot. This experience really hammered home one of the lessons my college professors hammered into me: nothing improves your sight reading like reading. Reading every piece of music you can get your hands on in as many genres as you can find will make you a sight reading monster. Thanks to technology you can find a vast array of free sheet music to challenge yourself. The Petrucci Music Library is a great resource for classical and public domain sheet music and recordings. On the jazz side JazzStandards.com has a great collection of tune guides with theory analyses, videos, and history on the tune as well as the composers. Jump in!
Thanks to Jason Levi for insight into his routine and workout. A challenging regimen that, in my experience, really paid off not only in physical endurance but mental endurance as well. A huge thank you to Jason for sharing his experiences with me! And to Mike Jones for finding the Gornston flow study book!
I hope you enjoyed the music during the full video! As a bonus I put a little music behind a helmet cam video Jason sent me of a ride through the Valley of Fire. It’s at the end of the full video but here is the video itself. Thank you for checking it out!