Abram Wilson - Trumpet

“Good teachers are so important to your natural development,” says Wilson, as he recalls a memorable moment of musical inspiration. “My first teacher, Lester Wright, was a crazy kind of individual, but he had really creative ways of teaching. I remember he pulled out this boiled egg, set it down and said ‘now this is a whole note – it has four beats’. Then he attached a pencil to it and called that a half note and then coloured the egg and called it a quarter note. That visual representation of a note kind of keeps it in your mind.”

Active ImageOriginally Wilson wanted to play the drums and when he was seven, his parents bought him a snare drum for Christmas – “I played it to death,” he says with a chuckle. “There I was, happily playing drums in the school band, when my mother, who was a clarinet player, had this idea of buying me a trumpet. When I saw this shiny gold trumpet in its case, I thought, what a lovely instrument. I remember it was a King student model.”

Needless to say, Wilson switched to playing trumpet in the school band tutored by the charismatic Lester Wright. “Lester would do things like showing us three simple notes on our instruments and after we’d learnt these notes he’d say, ‘very good – now let’s play some music.’ We really enjoyed playing in that band, because Lester always had the element of improvisation in his teaching. And he was always encouraging, like getting us to audition for other bands.”

When he was 12 Wilson went for an interview/audition at the New Orleans Centre for Creative Arts, “but they said I wasn’t ready and that I should wait a year ”. However, they did suggest a teacher. So Wilson spent his twelfth year studying with Ronald Binko who played in the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra. “The first thing Ronald Binko said was ‘kid, we gotta’ get you a proper instrument’. After all, my King was just an ordinary student model.” Wilson was lucky, because Wynton Marsalis’s cousin Rodney Mack, who was also a student of Ronald Binko, was selling his late- 60s silver Bach 72. “It was a great instrument,” remembers Wilson. “That’s the instrument I did all my classical studies on – it stayed with me for many years.”

A year later Wilson joined the full time course of study at the Centre for Creative Arts and studied for three years under Clyde Kerr Jnr who was really influential in his playing. Wilson decided to audition for and got a full scholarship to go to the Ohio Wesleyan College. “I particularly wanted to go to Ohio because there was a tutor there called Larry Griffin who specialised in Baroque trumpet and at the time I was interested in trying to develop my classical playing. I remember buying a Yamaha C trumpet for my orchestral playing.”

After the Wesleyan, Wilson moved to New York to do a “jazz major” at the Eastman Conservatory. He delivers a deep sigh. I ask why. “That was when I lost my silver Bach. I was called to do a gig with Ronnie Brown – a rhythm & blues singer. The gig was in California and we had to drive to Chicago because the weather was so bad. When we got to Chicago it was very, very late and I went to the bathroom very quickly – it was three in the morning and there was nobody around – or so I thought. And when I came out of the bathroom my trumpet had gone. I bolted off around the airport trying to find my instrument but I couldn’t find it. Man – I even had the police running after me!”

Wilson replaced the stolen 72 with a Bach brass medium weight 37. “Then I had an accident with that one,” he laughs, “so I needed to get it repaired. It’s now black lacquer on the outside and gold-plated on the inside. I got Tom Heyward to do it – he has a workshop right across the street from the Arsenal football ground.

“My first Bach was incredibly dark and I wanted to replicate that, plus I wanted to make it even more so. It also looks really cool. It’s kind of a deep purple – there’s no other instrument like it on the planet. It’s very original and I’m really lucky to have it. Everybody’s playing Monettes these days. Although I like the Monette, I don’t like not being original!”

“As for mouthpieces, like most kids, I started out with a 3C. Then when I got to high school I started chopping and changing. I was curious – particularly about the 1C. I tried it for about six months and didn’t like it at all and came back to a 3C until I went to college. Then when I went to the Wesleyan, Larry Griffin told me about the Megatone mouthpieces. I’m not a parts cat – I firmly believe that the musician makes the instrument. But when I picked up that mouthpiece there were some definite improvements. It made it easier to play and made the articulation easier to centre. And the sound carries better. I found that I was using less effort and producing more using the Megatone mouthpiece. And I still use that 3C Megatone today.”

He also uses a Plunger mute. “I like to have it covering the entire bell and I put a small hole into the plunger so that it makes it easier to manipulate and of course it’s black.” Wilson continues. “It’s a simple mute from the ‘hardware store’. The creative element comes from putting in the hole – and of course the size of the hole which I cut is very important. I make it slightly smaller than the diameter of the stick that comes with the plunger.” Wilson has always played a medium bore horn. “I like to get the perfect balance and maintain my options. With a large bore you can’t get to the high notes and conversely, with a small bore you can’t get down to the bottom of the lower register.”