The Best Advice, Part IV: Brian Pareschi
This week, I return to my series on “The Best Advice.” The source of today’s advice is Brian Pareschi. Truly one of the greatest and most versatile musicians ever to pick up a trumpet, Brian first came to my attention when I heard his playing on recordings by the David Berger Jazz Orchestra and Octet. I’ve had the opportunity to take a handful of lessons with him, and he is a fount of knowledge, having performed with and learned from many of the greats in the trumpet world, and the music industry in general. He literally could write a book, and I hope he does at some point. One of the critical ideas he imparted upon me in lessons was the importance of not merely reading written music, but interpreting it with style, personality, and the utmost conviction. Another was the need to find a way to play at the very highest level possible in the moment while accepting the reality that some days will be easier than others. I first met him while in recovery from a severe embouchure overuse/borderline injury situation, and this was an especially important thing for me to hear at that time. But of all the wisdom and ideas he shared with me, the most consistently useful piece of advice I took from him was simple and more or less universal. It came as I was feeling disappointed that some relatively advanced flexibility and upper register exercises that had seemed to be coming along well were simply not working in the lesson. He sensed my frustration as I tried and failed, and prescribed the perfect remedy: “Back up.”
“Back up.” Brian had me switch from the exercise that I was attempting to execute to some simple middle and lower register lip slurs. What a shock! I sounded like garbage on those as well. I had the realization that I was allowing my impatience to push me to try to build a fortress on a foundation of marshmallows. What I took from this is relatively straightforward compared to my other “best advice” examples, at least in its most immediate application. Because every day is different, and I have yet to meet a trumpet player for whom that is not a factor, I need to recognize days when the best thing I can do to move forward in the long term is to back up in the short term. I would rather reinforce good playing habits while playing something uncomplicated than reinforce mediocre or bad playing habits struggling with something that just isn’t working. It’s all made of the same stuff. That’s why we call fundamentals “fundamentals.” There is no glissando, no two-octave leap, no rapidly articulated passage or slurred angular melody, that cannot be improved by easier, more immediate, and more efficient sound production at the most basic level. By the same token, every single complex technical feat will carry in it embedded flaws if that basic sound production is itself flawed in any way. Clearly, when I am demanding something brand new of myself, early failure is to be expected. Backing up is not about avoiding working on weaknesses. It is about intelligently recognizing when, on a particular day or run of days, the point of diminishing returns has been reached before I even start, and reacting accordingly.
Certainly, the advice to “back up” can be applied to other circumstances in life, but I’ll leave it to you to think about that.
Please stay tuned for The Best Advice, Part V: Harold Danko, coming next week. As always, I welcome your questions and comments below. Thank you for reading!