On the Eve of winter storm Jonas, all I can say is that Jazz is going to thrive this year, and then again it usually keeps a steady flow in this hectic musical climate. Many jazz musicians are constantly collaborating and making amazing new tunes for the airwaves. In late 2015 I was working hard to connect with more jazz legends still hard at it throughout the space. Despite months of delay due to holidays, work and other events, I was finally able to do a Skype call with none other than the trumpet master, Rick Braun at his home studio. A music legend in his own right, he was kind enough to spend some time talking about his career in music and his work to date.
Before I get into our conversation, let me just say that Rick Braun has been a steady player in my music catalogue. Again, thanks to persistent family stereo play, his music was introduced early on in the household and later via my proud iTunes collection. So, this was a real pleasure to take part in.
As I always do, I started things off by asking Rick how music came about for him in his life. “Well, I started playing the trumpet when I was eight years old. To back up a bit, my brother had been a trumpet player but stopped and I found his trumpet in his closet one day in Allentown Pennsylvania where we grew up. I got in there and started playing with it and even got a sound out of it once. It is actually hard to get any sound out of the trumpet unless you know how.” Young Mr. Braun was already destined to become a trumpet prodigy!
Rick went on to elaborate on his place in the jazz genre. “I have always enjoyed jazz, growing up, my mom always had the radio on. Eventually, I became even more interested in the trumpet after listening to Miles Davis. As time went on, I was able to kind of bridge this gap between rock and roll, rhythm and blues and even tried some classical trumpet at one point. However, it got on my nerves counting all of those bars all of the time.” While his attempt at classical trumpet is admirable, his place in that genre may have been an interesting one. However, Rick has paved a unique path in jazz and has made a successful career along the way with it.
Rick remains a modest and enthusiastic musician. “I am very lucky to do what I do. I mean look at us; here we are having a Skype interview. It is so easy to reach out and become acquainted with people who are fans.” Now that he mentions it, most jazz musicians have been eager to connect with their fans as well as people who simply appreciate the craft.
For example, my favorite song of Rick’s is Christiane, which is unbelievably uplifting. It starts off smoothly, as most of Rick’s material is, with a putter of trumpet. As the song progresses the trumpet then takes a new form with long graceful tones. Then, right up in the clouds a high note is played and listeners are compelled to close their eyes and smile. That chorus of the trumpet is just so hopeful and powerful every time it reappears. Each blare unleashes another powerful melody of happiness. It is simply one of the best examples of Rick’s skill in this craft.
Even though Mr. Braun has enormous expertise with the trumpet that does not stop him from improving. “I am still trying to learn how to play the trumpet. Thankfully, I am using the Internet by watching Woody Shaw videos and trying to play along. I am trying to learn like I did when I was kid but it is hard to keep up with the legends. I love finding new stuff and new talent and even finding old stuff that has never been seen or heard before! I am trying to practice to be a better jazz player… Spotify has been a great help in that regard to explore.” Here is another artist who is curious and ambitious in discovering the vast music world. If only more musicians did that!
During his career, Rick has had the great fortune to play with some prodigious stars in the space. I asked if he could mention a few. “I have had many great performances with Rod Stewart, which was pretty awesome. I enjoyed playing at Wembley Stadium and touring with BWB [band made up of Rick, Norman Brown and Kirk Whalum] at the Cape Town Jazz Festival in 2013. Every time I get on stage it is an experience to remember.” Now that is an amazing collective of peers, simply astonishing. “I have worked with so many great musicians like Kirk Whalum and am currently working on some new BWB music in my home studio. All of their families stayed (when we were recording) and it was like a big old garage band playing together. The (collective) creativity is an amazing part of it all.” Jazz fans; keep an eye out for some great new material from this guy.
To end, Rick went on to talk about his feelings toward the music world going forward. “I feel excited for all of the new stuff and the new ways of reaching people. It is so easy to self-market nowadays instead of relying on a huge record company. However, while it is an exciting time it is also challenging. The CD will be a thing of the past and all of he music is going to go to streaming networks. It is getting harder for artists to make it work, but you have go with it and just work on making it happen. We are in new territory trying to create the best music we can make.” Going with the flow, which is a new thing to hear. Most of the time musicians fight hard to change it in their favor. Rick, however, seems adamant on keeping his work alive by continuing to make music. Well, major players like Rick will be sure to bring the best new tunes out there for the world to hear.
There you have it folks. Rick Braun is a man of unprecedented ability and keeps on keeping on. From what I can see, he has no plans to stop and is only looking onward. As a jazz fan, I for one am very excited to see where Rick and his contemporaries go from here. For those of you less patient than I, go check out Rick’s past work across the board. There is bound to be something you all like. Rejoice jazz lovers, the tunage will stay alive!