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Interview with Brian Scriver
Brian ScriverRaw Brass is pleased to present this interview with Brian Scriver, Toronto trumpeter and performer who has recorded a CD with his band Primal Therapy. Brian is also a consultant for GR Mouthpieces, used by top orchestras, on Broadway, and many Jazz performers.

Brian, please tell us about yourself. I visited your web site www.brianscriver.com and I can already tell that you have a sense of humor! From your bio, however, you have played with some of the greats. Tell us a little about some of your memorable experiences.

....................Thank you for your kind words Don! I am very flattered that you asked me to do this article for your website. As far as my sense of humour (Canadian spelling), I really believe that we should all be able to laugh at ourselves. After all, when playing the trumpet, you are really sticking your neck out. If you clam a note, everyone knows and you must be able to shrug it off. But, if you perform beautifully, everyone knows that as well. I was sitting in with a big band once and they were doing a television promo spot. I was reading the lead part and there was a cool shout chorus, then 4 bars rest, then a killer high G shot just before the vocalist came in. I nailed the G, but only counted 3 bars rest! Oh well.

As far as playing with some of the greats, I have had some opportunities, such as leading the Tribute to Bill Chase at the New York Brass Conference. I got to play with guys like Carl Fischer, Walt Johnson, Rich Szabo, Winston Byrd, Eddie Severn, and Dennis Noday. The rhythm section was made up of ex-Maynard guys and they kicked butt. That was quite an experience for me, especially since I got to lead the whole thing!

I do most of my playing in Toronto Canada and there are many fine players here. It is an honour to play with them. It is also great to see so many non-professional players playing the way they do.

I must admit that I don't earn my full time living at music. I do consider music a very serious part-time gig for me. My full time gig is fighting fires on the Toronto Fire Department. Great gig with lots of time off to play, and I can actually practice in the firehouse!

How do you get those kinds of gigs?

....................Networking, practice, patience, and be a nice guy. I get a lot of gigs now playing in an Elvis Presley Tribute now...of all things. Great trumpet parts, lots of gigs, great pay. The Elvis I work for is actually one of the top tribute artists around. I got that gig through a sax player friend of mine who plays in a big band that I am in. Big bands are a great place to network. Man, every time you go out in the big band, you are networking with 20 other musicians!

Of course you must be in good form to get gigs and not step all over it. I basically get called to play all of the crazy high stuff. That is great but you must work to keep the chops up for that type of playing. Lucky for me, I don't get called for any improv gigs as I am not really great at it. I have found that the more I worked on my improv, the worse my lead chops got, so I took my wife's advice and stuck to what I am good at. She didn't like my jazz playing!

As far as being a nice guy, I needed a sub for a Primal Therapy gig. Primal Therapy is my CHASE Tribute band. A trumpeter's dream gig. Well, I called about 20 guys and all I got were answering machines. Only one guy called me back!! Needless to say, he got the gig, and about 5 or 6 more after that. I erased the other guys from my little black book.

There are a lot of aspiring trumpeters that visit our site. What kind of advice would you give a young trumpeter that would like to make playing trumpet a full-time gig?

If you really want it, go for it. It is a lot of hard work but it is possible. Learn all you can. Have big ears and keep your mouth shut. Get your fingers into as much as the pie as possible. By that I mean learn how to improvise, play lead, arrange, play classical, flugel, piccolo trumpet, teach, theory...etc. The more you can do, the greater your potential to put food on the table. For me, I knew that I could play but I wasn't certain that I could support a family. So, now I kick in burning doors but I do earn a good chunk of money with my horn as well.

Do you use different mouthpieces for different kinds of gigs? If so, how do you train your embouchure to make the switch?

....................Personally I don't use different mouthpieces. Well, I do double on slide trombone so there is some switching to be done. I don't switch trumpet pieces because the work that I get is not that varied. Pretty well everything I do is lead trumpet. I do also get some weddings or race track gigs doing the call to the post, but because I play GR Mouthpieces exclusively, I can do those gigs without switching mouthpieces. Gary Radtke's mouthpieces have such a big fat sound, that they will really rip for lead trumpet, but also sound great all over the horn.

I get used to switching from trombone to trumpet basically by having the bone on a stand all of the time and mixing up my practice routine a bit. I find that playing the bone near the end of my routine really relaxes my chops.

How did you get involved in the business of mouthpieces?

.....................I met GR around 1998. We instantly became friends because he is pretty well as crazy as I am! Actually Gary Radtke is a very gifted man and perhaps the smartest guy I have ever met. That's why I am just the good looks of the GR company.

GR was thinking of a career change at the time and we started talking about mouthpieces and just geeking out. His ideas were really interesting and I actually said to him, "You know, people will buy these." Next thing I knew, he mortgages his house, gets a shop and fills it with CNC lathes. All of a sudden, I am involved from the ground floor with GR Technologies. I make the website, do mouthpiece consulting, marketing...I even designed the logo. Gary is the real brains of the operation and I have learned a lot from him. He taught me how to listen mechanically to a player to determine proper rim, cup diameter, alpha angle, blow resistance etc., to match the player and his horn. Through his training, I am actually using an online questionnaire to determine proper mouthpiece fit for players that I have never heard play! I am pretty darn accurate too!

I have never played on one of your GR mouthpieces. I went to your company web site at www.grmouthpieces.com and, quite frankly, I do not have the technical capacity to understand half of what you say regarding why it is better than the rest. For some of the younger people out there it might make sense, but, for this old coot it was clear as mud (except it sure looks like you have done your homework and have produced a great mouthpiece). So, would you mind explaining to me in layman's terms the following:

What is going to feel different when I put my lips to your mouthpiece that is going to say "buy me" or "I want one!"?

....................First of all, proper fit is paramount. You must really know how to test a mouthpiece. Most players, including myself many years ago, would go into a music shop, grab some mouthpieces, and try to play notes that only dogs can hear. That is useless. If we blow real hard, almost anything will work a bit. The secret is in playing very soft articulations and breath attacks, some soft slurs, some low note etudes, etc. Listen for how quickly the note starts and if you come in under the pitch, or if you clam the note with an "air ball".

If you get the proper fit, then you will notice a fatter, richer sound with a GR. The horn will vibrate! You see, this is due to the fact that GR Mouthpieces are designed and manufactured with no discontinuities. A discontinuity is a bad design, or poor machining that will actually disrupt the sound wave. We're not talking air here, but the sound wave. The sound wave is not disrupted with a GR which results in a fatter sound, better intonation, and all around better playability. The soft playing tests will tell the tale. Try it with a GR and then with any other mouthpiece.

I have seen some very expensive mouthpieces where you can run your thumb nail in the cup, and feel machining lines! Those are major discontinuities. You won't find that with a GR.

What difference should it make to my tone and endurance?

...................Many players may perceive the GR to play bright. I will then ask them to get a friend to listen or to record themselves. They will come back and say man, you were right.

What happens is that we hear the horn like we hear our voice. Ever hear yourself on a recording? Doesn't sound like you does it? That is because we hear our voice with our ears, and also through the flesh and bone vibrating in our skull. We actually perceive our voice to sound different than it actually sounds.

With the trumpet, the sound wave reflects back from the bell, and smacks us in the chops. We then perceive the sound from that, plus the sound actually coming from the bell. With a GR there are more overtones due to the design. That means more higher and lower overtones. The higher overtones are more easily "heard" through the flesh in our skull, and we may perceive it to be bright, when in fact, the overall sound is fatter, with higher and more lower overtones. By the way, I like my sound to be fat and beefy. I think that bright and thin lead trumpet sounds don't carry like a fat sound does.

As far as endurance goes, you may actually lose some at first. The reason is that many trumpeters manipulate the chops to play mismatched or poorly designed equipment. With a GR Mouthpiece, manipulation will produce very poor results, so we start to play more naturally and freely. This new feel may take a month or so to get used to but it is worth it. Your sound will be bigger, response faster, and your endurance will improve as you learn to play without manipulating the chops.

I am not going to spend the $$ to buy the mouthpiece for a tryout and then find out it is not the size or feel I wanted. How would the trumpet playing world be able to know which one of your mouthpieces is the one for them?

................We have dealers who have taken their time to visit GR at his shop in Wisconsin. He has them go through two tough days of training to learn how to match the player, horn, and mouthpiece. If you can't get to a trained dealer, I can send you our Mouthpiece Questionnaire where I will narrow the field a bit for you. The Questionnaire is very accurate in determining proper fit, as long as you answer truthfully! Once I direct you to a mouthpiece, or a few mouthpieces to try, you can do so through a dealer, or directly through us.

It isn't the cost of the mouthpiece that concerns me, I just don't want to buy 3 or 4 of them before I find the one for me. How can I get around that?

..................Don't be afraid to ask questions. We will answer any questions you have as we are just as concerned that you get the correct mouthpiece. It is better business for us to have happy customers who tell their friends about how he got the greatest mouthpiece ever, than selling you two that are not right for you.

Getting back to you, can you give us some practice tips? What works for you? How do you keep the chops in shape while on the road?

................I really love leadpipe buzzing exercises. Do them softly to learn how to set up the sound wave efficiently. There is info on my website on how to do it. After that, I will do some arpeggios down to low F#. I don't use pedal tones too much. Then I really like double octave scales. My thinking is to take the fatness of the lower register all the way up. Don't blast up high and play with control. Remember that bottom lip! Most players use too much pressure on the top lip. Long tones are killer, but necessary to keep up the endurance. Don't overdo them as they can make the chops too stiff. The chops must be supple and free to vibrate. Then it is time for lip flexibilities, tongue exercises, some Clarke's, some etudes or tunes that I am working on, maybe some sight reading, some trombone playing just to drive my dog nuts, mess around on the flugel, and some cold Canadian beer.

When strapped for time, do 20 minutes of leadpipe buzzing. I went on vacation in for two weeks Europe with my wife and kids a couple of years ago and the day after I got back, I had a demanding lead gig. I only had my leadpipe and mouthpiece in Europe and maybe only got on it for 5 minutes a day. Well, I got back and nailed the gig...even though I did have to use a bit more arm pressure than usual!

Thanks again for the interview. All you trumpeters out there, feel free to ask any questions you may have, or just drop me a line. bri@brianscriver.com

Submitted by Don Shire,

I would like to encourage our Raw Brass members to submit articles that will benefit and encourage the trumpet playing community. This website is dedicated to helping trumpeters at all levels improve in their trumpet education as well as their skill level. Your participation is welcomed.
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