O.J.'s Trumpet Page Interview

I'd Rather Be Boppin'



Interview with Rich Willey
Rich Willey is a trumpeter and composer living in Candler, North Carolina, USA. He has published 3 volumes of duets called "I'd Rather Be Boppin' -- 24 Bop Duets." Each volume is 24 duets based on standard jazz tunes.

We had a short cyber talk with Rich about his duet books:

Rich, before we talk about the duets, could you tell us a bit about your background as a trumpeter and composer?

That's a pretty big question, and I'll attempt to make the answer "short."

I started playing trumpet in 6th grade, and started trying to write music in 10th grade. I graduated from high school in 1973 and became interested in improvising jazz, although I had no clue what I was doing. I joined the US Army as a trumpeter in 1974 and went to the US Navy School of Music (Army Element), and that was the first time I had been around so many excellent players. That's where I learned how to practice, and even though I'd had my charts played by my high school stage band, the Navy S.O.M. is where I first handed out charts to decent players in every chair, and I started really learning how to write and arrange there. I became staff arranger at my permanent assignment, the 24th Infantry Division Band in Ft. Stewart, Georgia.

When I got out of the Army in 1977, I joined a funk/disco band and toured the U.S. for about a year before going to North Texas State University in the fall of 1978. This made the Navy S.O.M. look like kindergarten, and I was now surrounded by many great players. I lasted three years there (with three changes in major: jazz studies, composition, music ed) but was having problems with injuries to my lower lip. I had been seeing Dr. Donald S. Reinhardt every couple months since June of 1978, and decided to move to Philadelphia in 1981 to see if he could straighten me out. I had done a lot of damage to my lip by that time, playing on open cuts on the inside and outside of my embouchure for quite a long time. Somehow Reinhardt conveyed to me that a little detour on the trombone might help my trumpet chops recover while still playing a brass instrument and earning a living.

That turned into a 14 year detour with me playing valve trombone and bass trumpet. I lived in Philadelphia, then Atlantic City, NJ, and then New York City in the subsequent years. When my marriage and personal life came crashing down in 1994, I moved to Florida, and began to follow through on some of the false starts of my past. I went back to school in 1995 and started playing trumpet again that year. I finished my associate degree (St. Petersburg Jr. College) and bachelor of music education (University of South Florida), and then won a scholarship to go to the Manhattan School of Music in 1999. I completed my masters in jazz performance/trumpet there in 2001, studying trumpet with Byron Stripling and Cecil Bridgewater. Since my graduation I have played the jazz trumpet chair for Maynard Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau and for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra under the direction of Buddy Morrow, among many other freelance gigs in and around New York City.

As for my education as a composer, I studied composition for a semester at North Texas with Merrill Ellis. I participated in the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop studying with Bob Brookmeyer and Manny Albam in 1979-80. I studied arranging both in class and privately with Mike Abene and Garry Dial at the Manhattan School of Music. Possibly my biggest influence as a composer is Frank Zappa, although I love the music of Stravinsky, Hindemith, Rimsky-Korsakov, Bach, and many other non-jazz composers, including Lennon & McCartney.

How did this book project start?

My good friend Tim McGinley and I spent most of the summer of '97 "team-practicing" nightly. We'd get together around 9pm and do about two hours worth of chop-building routines (mostly Reinhardt drills), then we'd split up to go work on some things we both needed to give additional attention (for me it was mostly multiple tonguing), and after an hour of that we'd get back together and play about an hour of duets. Tim had the funds to pick up new duets, and we played out of every book imaginable. I noticed that in the jazz idiom, the selection of good-sounding duets was limited, and told Tim, "I can write better duets than these," when we played from yet another book of not-so-great-sounding jazz duets. So, originally, I was bringing in one or two new duets every night, and before long I had a bunch of them, and thought that I could probably put them into Finale and make a book that somebody, somewhere, might actually publish.

When you compose a duet, do you improvise on the horn till you find the lines?

No. I only write a duet on chord changes that I have thoroughly memorized & internalized so I can already hear those changes clearly in my head. I prefer to sit at a desk (or table) with no piano and no horn and write lines that speak to me internally. I figure that if the melodies are strong enough to hear in my head, then they'll probably sound good when played out loud. This has also turned out to be a good way to write past trouble spots, for if I was searching on the piano or on my horn for the right note, it could stall my progress when I might have otherwise written right through the trouble spot. Then, when I actually do play them on my horn, if it sounds different than my inner ear thought it was going to sound, I'll either change it or leave it alone. When I do finally play them out loud, they usually sound pretty close to the way I was hoping. I did more and more editing of the original lines the farther I got into the series, and I think that the third volume reflects the most thorough editing process.

These duets are not for beginners. At what playing level do you have to be to play them?

I would say that an outstanding junior high student or a decent high school player ought to be able to make music out of these duets. You're right, they're definitely not for beginners. I like to say they're "not for sissies." You have to be willing to take your time with them and pay attention to the accidentals and really get the notes under your fingers if you don't want to get frustrated with them. But once you've slowed them down and worked through the tricky spots and can hear them and feel them, you'll find that they really do make a lot of sense musically. And plenty of guys can sightread them at a fairly bright tempo and bypass the slow stage altogether; when I lived in New York City I played them with many such players (pros/freelancers).

Jazz players will know how to play these duets, but what about classical players? Should they get a CD with Clifford Brown playing "Joy Spring" and listen to that, before playing the duet called "Mainspring"?

Listening to music of the genre is always a good idea. When I've had to perform pieces of a classical/orchestral nature, I've immersed myself in the recordings of Phil Smith, Hakan Hardenberger, Maurice Andre, etc., so that I could attempt to sound like them to get the correct feel for the music at hand. The same thing goes for this style of music. I'd say that Clifford Brown is an excellent place for a trumpeter to start listening for a great bebop trumpet style. His eighth notes aren't straight, and they aren't 12/8-like, either. They're somewhere in between, and that's the feel that I heard when writing these duets. These duets would sound terribly corny if you played them slow with 12/8-style eighth notes, and even worse with straight eighth notes. If you listen to guys like Clifford Brown or Fats Navarro or Lee Morgan or Kenny Dorham (and on and on with the bop-oriented trumpeters), you'll be able to play these duets in a more authentic bebop and/or hard-bop style.

Apropos "Mainspring" -- you have some funny names for the duets?

Thank you. I strive to not take myself too seriously, and I love to have fun and laugh. People who know me know that. I'm very serious about music and my instrument, but everything else is fair game for a laugh.

Do you have any tips on how to use the duets?

As I already mentioned, if you start by playing them at a tempo where you can make all the notes you'll avoid a lot of frustration.

If you're advanced enough to be able to play passages (licks) in all 12 keys, this duet series is a veritable treasure trove of material for that.

A customer who is a high school band director asked me three questions about how to use these books to help his students improve their jazz improvisation skills for soloing in their various big band charts, and below are my answers to him:

First, have them look through the chords in a solo, and find sequences which also occur in the Bop Duet books. Since so many keys are represented, you'll have a wealth of "licks" in probably all 12 keys. Then have them extract "licks" from the books, and string them together to form a rough idea of a bebop solo on the chord changes in the big band charts.

Secondly, have them go through the books and play the duets, and take notes about which phrases (licks) they like the most, and write them into a spiral manuscript notebook (I've heard that many greats, including Tom Harrell, started out with spiral manuscript notebooks full of "licks" they dug). Practice them in the key they're written, and if you have to, manually transpose them (on paper) into other keys (the easier ones first is fine, but get into the hairy ones, too). In fact, you could have them photocopy the ones they write into their books, transpose them and have your students trade them with other members of their class so that they all develop an arsenal of cool-sounding phrases. By playing these frequently, they will unwittingly be developing a bebop vocabulary, and the most subtle thing of all is that they will learn to hear such things because of the fact that they've been playing these things.

Third, get them to start writing out their own solos (or at least the first 8 bars of a solo). Maybe one a week, and have everybody take a shot at writing one and then play it for the class. Playing them in front of their peers will make them try harder to do a better job. Writing is good, but editing is good, too. If they have a half-decent sounding solo one week, tell them that the next week they'll rewrite it, keeping the parts that sound good, and trying something else on the parts that were a little weak.

Interestingly, I only recently discovered that this is probably the cheapest collection of jazz quintet arrangements on the market. I had a gig a couple weeks ago (under my leadership) with me and an alto sax player and rhythm section. For the first tune of the night I called "Like Someone In Love," and passed out Vol. 1 of my Bop Duets, giving the alto player an E-flat book and the rhythm section cats a C bass clef book. We played the melody of "Like Someone In Love," blew solos, and then for the out-chorus went to page 22 and played the duet with its built-in ending. It sounded pretty cool, and the rhythm section had a ball with it. So the rest of the gig, that's all we did; we played the melodies of the standards in that book from memory, and after all the solos played out the duet with its built-in ending, and it was very slick. The audience had no idea what we were doing, but they enjoyed hearing what we played, also.

Are you working on other projects?

Yes. I just completed an easier book of duets based on Dixieland-era tunes. I may have goofed up with the title of the book, currently called "Home Cookin' Fer Young 'Uns -- 24 Dixie Jazz Duets." Many good players may decide by the title that it's for the very young player, but it's really for good players who are young at heart and maybe young in jazz. However, they're also a blast for very accomplished jazz players because of their syncopations. I tried to use mostly quarter notes with some eighth notes (unlike the Bop Duets which are mostly eighth notes), and tried to capture a Bix-like rhythmic and melodic attitude. They're brand new (date of this writing is August 3rd, 2002); I'm always "high" on my latest project, and I think in many ways they're a much better place to start than my Bop Duets.

I have a blues project that has been nearly finished (but on the back burner) for years, and that may be the next thing out from Boptism Music Publishing. I also have made significant progress on two books that I can't tell you about because that would give it away, and I'm pretty sure I'd be the first to offer books on those two "topics," if you will.

How can people get these duets?

You can go to http://www.boptism.com and order them there. You may also order them via snail-mail by writing to me at: Rich Willey, 23 Oakwood Road Candler, NC 28715. You may also contact me by phone at (828)-665-1405 if you'd prefer, or email me at <info@boptism.com>. A few music stores have them in stock (Dillon Music, Osmun Music), but we're doing mostly direct-from-the-publisher business.

Thanks, Ole, for your interest, and for the opportunity to tell people about these duets.


o.j. 2002