Claude Gordon and Jeff Purtle (The Brass Herald)

“Don’t stop where I have gone!” said Claude Gordon to his students. That was the same admonition given to Gordon from Herbert L. Clarke. My previous three articles dealt with Claude Gordon himself, the content of his teaching, and how to apply it in a daily practice routine. This article is about moving forward in brass playing and teaching.

We must never be content with mediocrity, but strive for excellence. Clarke said, “Ninety-nine percent right is one percent wrong and it must be one hundred percent right before it is consistent.” Having the attitude of an olympic athlete is important to accomplish what others so quickly give-up on. This attitude not only drove Gordon to excellence as a player, but as a teacher.

Claude Gordon made significant improvements on Herbert L. Clarke’s work. Gordon added more structure, wrote more books, designed two popular trumpets, made a clinic video, conducted sixteen annual brass camps and reached more people worldwide than Clarke. The work of both men is still impacting the brass playing world long after their death. My goal is to give something to the brass playing world that will further our craft.

The published works of Clarke and Gordon were the results of their experiences. Their books were published only after they were personally used and tested on students. Claude’s focus on the fundamentals is what gave players the skill to pursue any kind of music and in excel where their heart leads them in music.

Experience with Amateur Radio and computers plus my teaching and playing are what enabled me to expand upon Gordon’s work. I remember hearing several students at Claude’s funeral say that it would be good to do a website about Claude, but it never came to fruition. This inspired me to later create my own website because I noticed all the inaccurate information on the internet about Claude’s teachings. My hope was to present the ideas completely, clearly, and put everything in proper context. I posted many hours of audio lectures and wrote some articles to summarize my ten years as a CG student.

I have received many emails from individuals thanking me for improvements in their playing. These were players I had never met, yet were visiting my site for months and benefiting from what my site explained. Some have traveled from various parts of the USA for crash course lessons similar to what Claude used to do. I remember a person asking me to do lessons by video tape, which I wouldn’t do. But, soon after that the internet and computers improved enough that live video chat was more accessible for the average person. I had used video chat to communicate with my now wife as early as 1996, when I was in Los Angeles preparing to move to South Carolina to marry her. I knew video chat could work well.

After 20 years of private teaching I added online students to my studio in 2004. At first there were those who were skeptical that it could work. They soon became fans seeing the quality and results in their playing. Teaching this way has allowed me to see students regularly from many places in the world without travel related expenses and hassles dealing with visas. This works particularly well for the step-by-step instruction needed to apply Gordon’s principles. I can teach better because bad habits get corrected sooner and the assignments are made more relevant to each student I see weekly. Gordon was always opposed to gimmicks that promised a quick fix. This isn’t a gimmick and is merely another form of communication.

As I began to teach students in different time zones I was reminded how similar it felt to talking with DX (i.e. distant) contacts in my Amateur Radio hobby. I was a Ham Operator since I was in eighth grade. At the same time my math teacher introduced me to computers and enabled me to play with a DEC Mainframe computer at a local college. Shortly after my interest in trumpet grew and I met Claude Gordon and began to study with him. It later made sense to combine my interests in this new way.

In some ways video chat is better than being in person. I can zoom in on a student’s face in a way that would be awkward in person. Through my own servers I can now host live events and broadcast clinics worldwide, giving the master class experience without the travel expenses involved to get me to the location. With my iPhone I can be reached by email, cell phone and instant messenger in a way not possible in Claude Gordon’s day. This personal attention is what makes things work so well.

As mentioned in the previous article, Claude wrote all his assignments on paper in a very specific manner. I too did that from day one of my teaching. But, several years ago I went paperless, by storing all my student’s assignments in a computer database. This allows me to study each student between lessons, know their history and plan for future lessons and to also improve my teaching.

The Claude Gordon Brass Camp was a source of inspiration to players that came every year. One of the highlights of each camp was the final lecture where Claude displayed and demonstrated his antique cornet and trumpet collection. This went along with recordings of famous soloists like Jules Levy, Bohumir Kryl, Alessandro Liberatti, Herbert L. Clarke and others. A couple years ago I created an online radio station and a podcast to share even more of these great historical recordings with the brass playing world. Everyone needs to know and appreciate this part of the history of brass playing.

In the summer of 2003 I visited Brazil and while in the São Paulo airport met up with a trumpet player, Otavio Nestares, with whom I had previous correspondence. Otavio explained how hard it was to find trumpet methods books even in São Paulo, one of the largest cities in the world. I was able to bring him a supply of great trumpet method books. This made me realize that non-English speakers don’t have as many resources. In 2008 I revamped and started the process of publishing the site in 27 languages. Most of Claude’s work was only published in English. So, I hope to spread his method of playing through this new website.

In the future will add more Claude Gordon lectures, more languages and more multimedia. I hope that this information will inspire and encourage players to work harder and work smarter as they strive for excellence.


Jeff Purtle studied for ten years with Claude Gordon, taught at the CG Brass Camps and was certified directly by Dr. Gordon to teach according to his principles. Jeff has taught since 1984 and in 2004 added live video chat students to his Greenville, South Carolina studio.

Published by The Brass Herald - May 2009