Tom Arthurs - Trumpet


“I owe a lot of where I am now to my old school physics teacher Harry Hamill,” says Arthurs. “He was an eccentric and very intelligent, and didn’t teach in an orthodox manner. He realised I had an interest in jazz and lent me this tape of John McLaughlin. He was really keen to share stuff with those of us who wanted to listen, like what are the differences between different Trumpet bores and the waves inside the instruments… he was just fantastic.”
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Although Hamill may have encouraged and fed Arthurs’ inquisitive mind, Arthurs’ first real musical influence came from jazz record requests on Radio 3 on Saturday afternoon. He laughs: “I got really hooked! The father of one of my school friends introduced me to the likes of Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald – he was really into all the ‘greats’ of that era and that really stoked my interest.”

Arthurs picked up his first trumpet at school, and took the standard peripatetic lessons which as he says, “pointed me in the right direction”. Eventually he joined the school’s big band and was asked by the teacher to write a piece of music for the band to play. The piece took the loaded title of ‘Tom’s Piece’, recalls Arthurs. “It was really just a blues. It started off as a small group thing and then became a big band arrangement for the County Youth Band. In the end it became a regular part of the repertoire – we seemed to go on playing it forever!”

So what horn was Arthurs playing? “I had a standard Bach Strad instrument,” he remembers. “And it lasted me right through to the second year at University”. Arthurs didn’t take the standard route through either the Royal Academy, Leeds, Guildhall or Trinity, but went to follow a more academic music course at the City university. “We did plenty of ethnomusicology and semiotics – thinking about the ‘whys’ of music”, he says, “but I was still putting a lot of effort into playing and practising, getting plenty of classical lessons from Andy Mitchell down at the Guildhall. I hated the thought that I might spend the rest of my life in academia. I’d also bought myself this new horn. It’s a signature model from the 60s or 70s. There I was thinking that I was going to have to spend £2,000 on one of these brand new hand crafted horns. I must have tried between 12 and 15 of those before I noticed this particular instrument sitting in the corner in ‘not a very good state’. I played it and realised that for just £500 and a little bit of money having it done up, I could get myself a really great horn. And that’s been my trumpet ever since.”

As soon as Arthurs had finished university, he set off for Canada and Banff Centre for the Arts to do an intensive three week creative music course, “as a kind of antidote”. Returning to the U.K. he formed Centripede with Ingrid Laubrock and other F-ire collaborators, reviving a relationship that had began with Barak Schmool, one of the originators of the F-ire Collective, who he had first met at City University while Barak was leading a workshop. “Barak was kind of instrumental in introducing me to a lot of new music and things like that,” says Arthurs.

So who else has influenced Arthurs? “Miles, Chet Baker, then the older guys like Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison and Roy Eldridge – those are like the original way back kind of inspirations. More recently people like the Americans Cuong Vu and Taylor Ho Bynum and right now guys like Evan Parker and [bass clarinettist] Rudi Mahall are a really big influence and Kenny Wheeler of course. Ever since I heard Kenny, I was interested in the sound of the flugelhorn”. Arthurs bought his flugelhorn when he was 18. “It’s a Couesnon,” he enthuses. “It’s one of their new ones. They used to make classical instruments and a lot of people played them and now they’ve started making them again and I stumbled on one of these. I loved it from the moment I picked it up and blew a note”. Mouthpieces are as personal as pants to any wind player, so what I wondered what Arthurs was using? “I use a straight 1 1/2 C Vincent Bach on the Flugelhorn,” he says. “And I have a Warburton 3D on the trumpet, with a series 80 10 star back bore.”

Always busy, I finish by asking where his current collaborations lie. “I’m playing with Ingrid’s (Laubrock) Nonet,” he starts, “but I’m also really into doing things on a smaller scale. More intimate. More about the improvising. I have a trio with Jasper Hoiby and Stuart Ritchie and we have an album coming out later this year. I also have a duo with the pianist Richard Fairhurst and we have an album coming out on Babel very soon. Then there’s the project that I have with Ollie Bown, the computer programmer. We’re using some computer software and we’re working with visual artists as well. The programming is interacting with what I play – taking the information from what I play and making other layers of music which respond to it. I think it’s important to play music that reflects the times that we live in and I’m comfortable in that environment rather than the more mainstream music scene”. Then after a momentary pause…“You must excuse me,” says Arthurs, counting time. “I’ve got a plane to catch . . . there’s no rest for the wicked!”