A Lesson With Claude Gordon By Carl Leach, Jr.
When I was asked to write this article, I immediately searched for and found a cassette tape of my first lesson with Claude Gordon.
I played the tape to help re-experience that very important point in time for me. I was 24 and it was August 1972. Throughout my school days I had been first chair in most bands that I played. I had no lessons as such, but had a fairly good knack for playing. In 1966 while performing with a college Jazz Band, in a festival of bands. 1was heard by Stan Kenton (one of the adjudicators for the event) and about a month later I was traveling with him in his Orchestra. It was a great experience!! I was able to meet many well known musicians and talk with them. As I traveled, in each city, there were many trumpet players always eagerly waiting before and after concerts to ask any number of questions concerning playing. This was my first realization of how neurotic Brass players can be. Some would bring their mouthpieces and ask me (as If I was an "authority"), can this mouthpiece play a High G, etc.; I guess at first that I was rather naive to them, because my reply was "It seems to be fine, if it has a hole all the way through." After months of unending questions, I started my spiral downward. I began thinking (my biggest mistake) about all these things, like back-pressure, upstream, pivot, air velocity, jaw forward, etc. BOY!! NEUROTIC BRASS PLAYERS ARE CONTAGEOUS!! If I had a bad night or could not hit my top note I started to panic. My next mistake was asking "Authorities" what to do. You would not believe the vast array of solutions. My playing started getting very hard and no fun at all. Next I was drafted in 1968 and played with an Army Band till completion of my service in 1971. At this time I was so unhappy with my playing that I quit and sold my instruments. I figured that I had better go to school and try some other vocation. Soon I had the "Bug" and thought I would make one last attempt at Trumpet. I searched for and found a great teacher and player who had just tried out himself a fairly new book on Brass playing, that he said made a lot of sense. It was Claude Gordon: "Systematic Approach for Brass Players" just by reading exactly what was in the book, my teacher guided me through. I started to feel so much better and stable that after completing the book I decided to take from Claude. (I was lucky, he lived in the same State.)
I was living in San Francisco Bay Area and would drive once a month to Los Angeles for my lesson. On my first lesson I was extremely nervous but in a matter of a few minutes, felt like Claude was a dear Friend I had known for years.
He started by explaining the 7 points in Brass playing. He demonstrated how to take a breath and blow properly. Keeping the chest up (Good Posture) and taking a full comfortable breath. Everything was common sense—NATURAL.
Next we started on Lesson 2 in "Systematic Approach for Brass Players," and Claude demonstrated how to hold long last note, so that the muscles that blew air are exercised. I had always thought I knew how to do this right, but when Claude held the note, he did it at least 5 times longer than I ever did. I realized that things have to be done completely to achieved maximum results.
Following that we went to the proper playing of pedal notes. As explained in his book, he stressed dropping the jaw and blowing or the playing of pedals are a waste of time. With his patience I soon had the idea. Claude showed me how pedals would sound after a lot of practicing. It sounded like he was playing a baritone horn. Big and Full!!!
We then played the Range Study in Lesson 2. Claude made sure I had the idea of the tongue and air working together. I was so inspired with his constant guidance that I played higher than I had ever played in my life. The next thing that Claude did was to write out some special flexibility routines for my particular needs. Then we ended with Clarke's Technical Studies*1.
My lesson lasted almost 2 hours, and is typical of a first lesson with Claude. He is incredibly thorough and makes sure you get everything understood before you walk out the door.
I recall on the Third lesson that I was determined to get Claude to play something so I could hear how he played. He had just gotten up when I arrived and he was still tired from teaching late the previous night. When we got to Clarke's #3 Etude, I bought my plan. Looking back I see how ridiculous it was, but I had to get him to play. Claude knew what I was doing, but he said, "Allright, get my Horn", I raced over to the corner of the room and opened the case. The Horn and mouthpiece were very cold. WHAT A TEST!!! Little sleep, cold hom and no warm-up. Claude licked the mouthpiece and said, "This doesn't feel good." Then he took a big breath and played the Etude so fast and with zero mistakes, I dropped my jaw in amazement, I know he wasn't practicing this Etude, waiting for me to have him play it. It dawned on me that this man had forgotten more than I was ever going to find out on trumpet playing. When he was done, he looked at me over his glasses and said, "Any Questions?" The words I uttered can't be printed here, but I was starting to realize how great a GREAT PLAYER REALLY IS.
Years later we were working on playing light on Clarke's #1. When Claude played the first line I had to walk over and put my head in the bell of his horn to hear each note. I found this rather funny because a College teacher I knew said that in the Claude Gordon "Method" you only blast. This is typical of misinformed people. If they criticize the Claude Gordon "Method", they also criticize Schlossberg, St. Jacome, Arban, Gatti, Colin, Smith, Clarke, Charlier, Maxime-Alphonse, Irons, Harris and on and on. These are the books he uses!!! It is not the "Claude Gordon Method" but a Systematic Approach. That is Claudes' Genius. Knowing what these great players were doing and applying it to the needs of the student. If he needed some exercises for a certain problem and could not find it in the many books, he would create the necessary exercise. Sometimes it required only an alteration of existing routines.
One day at the first Claude Gordon Brass Camp, I was listening to Claude practice. He was working on a new flexibility exercise that were added to some "Irons" studies. They sounded great and (Thank God), he called me in to listen to them. He played four Giissandos on the end of each finger pattern (123-13-23-12-1-2-0) from Low C to High C—then E then G and Double C. Later on when he had worked out the procedure, he gave me the C. At that time I felt I was done with these particular routines, but Claude wanted me to use them a little longer. He said there was a certain thing that he was waiting to hear that would indicate the study had served it's purpose. At 8 months I was complaining that I'd had enough
of these exercises and I was going crazy if he didn't get me off soon. Claude calmly listened to my protests, but urged that I continue a little longer. I GAVE INI!! Then about 2 weeks later something snapped. The study became easier than I dreamed possible. From that point on I was able to consistently play range Studies above Double C (something that had eluded me for years.) Thank Heavens. Claude had my interest, in mind when he kept rne on those studies I NEEDED. He knew what I had to have to overcome my next barrier and he stuck with it!!!
After that I never questioned the direction of exercise or it an exercise was repeated.
Looking back I was never given a lesson that overwhelmed me but just ahead of me enough to make me work to master it.
During the many years that I studied with Claude, I learned from my questions and my personal lessons how to help other Trumpet players, it is really fun taking the mystery out of Brass Playing. Showing young students the way everything works and then letting them get down to the business of practicing (the hard part), creates fantastic results. Claude and I have spent a lot of time together. Each time I have learned some new thing and have been inspired by this Man. I only wish more Brass Players could have the privilege of taking a lesson with Claude Gordon.
CARL LEACH, JR, Ist TRUMPET: FLAMINGO HOTEL, LAS VEGAS, NEVADA