Interview with Alan Wise

Freelance trumpet player. Educator (United States).

«Too many of the mouthpiece makers make what they think you should be playing. Derek (Legends Brass) listens to you and makes what you want»


We don’t always have the possibility to interview one of the trumpet players that played the most time with the legendary Maynard Ferguson and his big band. Today, we have the huge honor of speaking with Alan Wise, a high note veteran of reputation, and we have asked him about his years with Maynard and his vision of music. Also, Alan has presented us with an interesting exercise for trumpet! This is something you should not miss!

Up close and personal
  • Age: 61.
  • City of birth: Alva, Oklahoma (USA).
  • A hobby: Golf.
  • A food: Steak.
  • A drink: Diet Coke.
  • A book: Patton: A Genius for War (Carlo D’Este).
  • A film: The Alamo (John Wayne).
  • A place: Major League ballpark.

Professional career

How did your trumpet career begin?

I saw Herb Alpert. I had played drums and went the next day and asked the director to play trumpet. My parents rented me an instrument that weekend. It was the end of 7th grade. I went in and took a lesson every day after school.

When did your interest for jazz begin?

Heard Bill Chase recording of Get It On. Also, had a wonderful Jr. High Band Director named Norman Clump. He would play us recordings of different performers. Played Prologue and I heard Maynard Ferguson for the first time. Doc Severinsen has also a major influence.

Were you initially self taught or did you have a teacher?

I had teachers to guide me. Dr. Jacob Larson was a major influence. He did not get caught up in a lot of the things that plague so many teachers.

What other musicians or bands that you have worked with have inspired you the most?

Too numerous to mention. Sometimes it was just little things that stood out so prominently. Lots of great players out there. I always liked the top 40 bands as the music was melody based.

Maynard Ferguson

How did you enter Maynard Ferguson’s band?

I came on the band in 1980 Winter Tour. Stan Mark called me. At the time I was a grad student at Ohio State. First gig was in Sioux City, Iowa.

How long were you in the band and what albums did you record?

I was on the band for seven years. Second longest tenure in the trumpet section next to Stan Mark (nine years). Albums include It’s My Time, Hollywood (the band really isn’t on the album), Storm, Live From San Francisco, Body & Soul, and a bunch of those compilation albums.

Were you a fan of Maynard Ferguson before you worked with him?

Absolutely. Maynard has to be the most special trumpet player that has existed. His abilities are unmatched. He was able to play things that were just sensational. He was not just a great trumpet player, but also a great musician. Most of the guys that do not say kind things about his playing are jealous. We shall not see his like again.

What did you learn from Maynard? Is there anything you could share with members of Trumpetland?

Over 90% of the time I was seeing Maynard from the back. I learned a lot from watching how he used his body. Watching his chops was not going to tell you anything. In the seven years, we talked about trumpet playing for only a couple of minutes.

L to R — Maynard Ferguson, Stan Mark, Dave Trigg, Alan Wise.

Alan Wise (left) & Stan Mark.

Daily work

What should a jazz trumpeter practice on a day-to-day basis?

Basic fundamentals. Learn to play trumpet first and then specialize in the area you want to. Repetition of basic fundamentals develops consistency. Emulate great players. Try to sound like them. This means from all styles, jazz and legit. One other thing that needs to be stressed is physical development. One will always run out of physicality before they run out of musicality.

Can you give us any advice to develop the ear and the ability to improvise?

Learn lots of tunes. There are so many guys that are so much more proficient at this. The great one seem to have a knack for it.

What are the steps to study a new piece?

Practice. Run it through at different tempi and volume levels.

Recording session or concert, which one do you like the most? How do you prepare for them?

I enjoy concerts much more than recording sessions. In concerts, you can take more chances. On recordings it is there forever. When we would record, I would use a much more precise warm-up. After all you were not trying to fill a gym, etc. with sound.


If you were a 20 year-old, where would you go to study jazz trumpet?

So many good schools. It would be difficult to pick.

Is it important for you to combine study with other fields as, for example, classic or natural trumpet?

I was classically trained. It had its good and bad points. The only time I played natural trumpet was when my valves all stuck and I used the water key for a trill!

What kind of mouthpiece and trumpet do you use? Why?

I play Legends Brass, Wise model. Derek Saidak is an absolutely great guy to work with. Too many of the mouthpiece makers make what they think you should be playing. Derek listens to you and makes what you want. The new Wise Axe model is a perfect example of what I am talking about.

My trumpet is the prototype for the Schilke S-42. However, it has been modified with the Laskey enhancements. Double silver plate, etc. He called it a “Conversion”.

What would you recommend to a young person who wants to devote themselves to jazz?

Listen all the time. YouTube is a great resource for this. Back in my day we all had to go around trying to find albums. Play all the time and focus on accomplishing something. It may be small, but something.

Legends Brass Wise mouthpiece

Performance anxiety

Have you ever had a bad experience on stage?

Sure, any performer with much time on the stage has experienced many things. The key is being able to “get out of it”. One time I was doing a series of clinics and concerts right after the end of a long tour with Maynard. The third night concert in a grueling schedule had my chops with a cut on the outside (which was not normal for me). Last tune of the night was Rocky and I knew going in to the Double B jump that it was going to be real fun. When I went for it it wasn’t there. So, I did the showbiz thing and threw my arms out. After the concert, some people were waiting outside my dressing room door and I heard one guy say, “Did you hear that note he played on Rocky? It was so high that most people could not hear it. But, I did!” Tomorrow is another day.

How does one need to take criticism?

In this business, you are going to get pounded. I saw people say crappy things about Maynard. I keep a low profile on the Internet due to the “experts” and some of the ridiculous stuff they come up with. Always ask “Is this constructive?”. The Internet has made everyone an expert.

It seems that for jazz musicians that so-called ‘performance anxiety’ barely exists; is that possible?

People are all different. Most do not let it show. I like being on stage. Remember the number one fear of people is speaking in public. Now take that and multiply it by putting a musical instrument in the equation.

Any advice for the moment of stepping onto the stage?

I always think, “Don’t play too loud”. Otherwise you can go down in flames very quickly.

Musical preferences

What sonorities and colors of trumpet in jazz do you like more? What style do you like more?

I like all the sounds. I am the biggest fan of commercial playing.

What are your favorite jazz musicians?

Maynard, Bill Chase, Doc Severinsen, Bill Watrous, Basie, Sinatra, Sal Nestico, others too numerous to mention.

What is your favorite jazz piece?

I cannot pick just one.

What is your favorite non-jazzy piece?

Beginnings by Chicago.

Sharing exercises with Trumpetland

Do you have any exercise you would like to share with the Premium members of Trumpetland?

The E exercise from my book Wise Words: Trumpet Concepts for The New Millennium. This book is designed to provide trumpet players with valuable insights to improve their playing abilities. Rather than a simple book of exercises, this is a view into the mechanics of developing improved techniques. Based on more than forty years of professional, educational, and clinic experiences, the book details the most productive ways to improve your playing. Range and endurance are among the more than twenty topics discussed in new insightful ways.

Free download:

Exercise by Alan Wise (PDF 141,4 KB) [Only Premium members]