Student of Claude Gordon, Tom Holden

I first became aware of Claude Gordon when my brother gave me the "Claude Gordon Wins By a Landslide" album sometime in the early sixties.  After listening to it I realized that Claude had tremendous technical command of the instrument.  A few years later, I was studying with Ollie Mitchell and rehearsing with the "Swing Incorporated" bands that he and Bob Edmondson organized for young kids to get some experience.  Ollie had recorded with Claude and spoke to him about bringing his book down to rehearse with the band.  He did and we had a lot of fun working on his charts.  As time went by we got pretty good at it and Claude took the majority of us out on some of his tours.  That was around 1965.  On one of those tours Claude had a copy of his "Systematic Approach To Daily Practice For Trumpet" and let me take it to read and look at.  It was one of the originals that was a copy of his own manuscript.  In reading it, I knew I wanted to go through it because it put in print much of what I had been taught by my early teachers - use of the tongue (aw-ee,etc.) lips contracting toward the mouthpiece when ascending, blowing stronger when ascending, resting as much as you play, etc.  It also was the first time I had seen a double "C" and pedal tones in print for regular use or practice.  It was also set up with what to practice in each lesson and how to practice it.  I also noticed that it took you through all the Clarke Technical and Characteristic Studies as well as Arban, Saint-Jacome, and the Smith and Colin flexibilities.  Not only that, but it also took you through all the models.  In deed, I knew if I could play that book, I could play a lot of trumpet.  Anybody who says "Systematic Approach" is just a high note book hasn't really read or studied it.  It covers the range from double pedal "C" to double high "C", but it's a LOT more than just a high note book.  I bought the book from Claude on that trip and he autographed to me.  I later lost the book or it was stolen sometime when I was on the Harry James band.  Now I had finished going through Harold Mitchell's book with Ollie and was studying with "Pappy" at the time I traveled with Claude's band.  It wasn't until I had finished active duty with the National Guard that I started studying with Claude.  I took my first lesson with him in January of 1968.  So I had already been on his band and worked with him professionally.  I could play a good high "G" but I couldn't play pedal tones and I couldn't play a double high "C".  I also had never been through all the Clarke Technical and Characteristic Sudies.  One time we were warming up before a dance and I asked Claude if he would play a pedal "C" for me.  He played a low "C" and dropped it to a pedal "C".  It was a full-fledged note.  I was impressed because I couldn't do it and he did it like there was nothing to it.  I now know it is easy and can do it effortlessly.

Working with him on his band was fun.  He was a great player, a good leader, a gentleman, and very helpful.  He also did all the driving on the tours.

In the lessons he rarely played.  He was most generous.  I was lucky that for a period of time my lesson was his last of the day.  I rarely had only an hour.  The lesson would last until we finished all he wanted me to go through.
Sometimes after the lessons we would go out and have pizza and beer.  He had told me that he knew a place in the Valley that had the best pizza.  I was skeptical so we went there.  He was right.  It was the BEST pizza I have ever had.

Claude would write all the lesson material in a manuscript book.  At the time I studied with him, "Systematic Approach" was the only book of his in print. He was working on the others.  Bob ODonnell, John Rosenberg and myself all endorsed his "Daily Trumpet Routines".  We were studying with him at the time and he wrote out most of those routines at the lessons.  Most of his other books he gave me as they came out.  I feel very fortunate to have known Claude as a leader, a teacher, and a friend.

For me the most important thing about the lesson was the fact that he would write out what he wanted you to work on depending on what you needed at the time.  That was usually the first and second routine.  Then he would have you work on some kind of flexibility with all models, some kind of technical work, and loads of etude books.

Another important element of his teaching, I feel was the fact that he combined the benefits of Maggio's pedal usage for developing range and Clarke's tremendous technical command of the instrument instead of pitting one against the other.  So if you practiced diligently all that Claude assigned, your range would develop without leaving you stiff or muscle bound and your overall command of the instrument would improve, too.  If you were working at the time or at least doing rehearsals with different groups you were then able to apply the physical or technical work to actually playing music.  When the execution becomes easier or is not a problem then you can concentrate on playing musically.   Having better command of the instrument isn't detrimental, it's beneficial no matter what kind of music you play.

I think people get confused or mislead when talking about different "methods". They fall into the habit of having one "method" oppose another.  My Webster's dictionary states that, "method implies a regular, orderly, logical procedure for doing something".  Using that you could say that Claude's book is a method.  Certainly, both Claude's and "Pappy" Mitchell's books are laid out in an orderly and logical way.  Progressing gradually or step-by-step.  That made it easier for me to practice all the departments of study.  I studied with both Claude and Pappy and they didn't oppose each other.  In fact in my first lesson with Claude he told me a story about how well Harold Mitchell played and one time when I was working with Claude at a dance in Orange County, Pappy showed up to say "Hi", and listen.  Pappy told me he watched Claude's career progress from the time he (Claude) was a kid.

What Claude didn't like were what he called "gimmicks".  He also didn't think much of buzzing your lips or practicing on the mouthpiece alone.  One time I asked Pappy what he thought about buzzing.  He didn't think much of the "buzz system", but he said, "There was a saying in Vaudeville.  'If it gets a laugh, leave it in the act.' "  He didn't practice that way and played better than most in his generation.  Ollie didn't assign buzzing either.  But, one time I was playing an arpeggio from low "C" to high "C".  I played the root, 3rd, and 5th, paused then played the root, 3rd, and 5th an octave higher pausing after the 5th again.  Ollie walked in right then and buzzed the high "C" with his lips alone and it was strong.  He didn't think you played on the horn the same way you buzz your lips alone.  I agree with that.  But, I don't see any harm in playing on the mouthpiece alone if it helps.  I have used it myself and with students to help center the sound.  Ollie and Pappy didn't assign pedals much either, but they could play them.

I agree that there are a lot of misconceptions about Claude and that probably someone only sees one book or only sees the pedal and range routines without understanding the whole approach.  That's too bad.  I wish I could play better so as to demonstrate some of what he was talking about.