Interview with Jonathan Ruff

Internet Customer Relations’ Representative at Stomvi USA (United States).

Jonathan Ruff performs on trumpets made by:

Stomvi

«Winning the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Tropical Latin Album is beyond anything I ever imagined»

2018-09-25

The trumpeter we will interview today is no more and no less an absolute lover of music. He has had an immense career as a freelancer in California, but also was a member of the Band of the Golden West for 20 years, has won a Grammy Award, and is now a representative for Stomvi, the Spanish made brand of trumpets, in the United States of America. Don’t miss this interview with Jon Ruff, who is just loaded with knowledge… and also don’t miss this interesting PDF of exercises that he wrote with his own hand for the Premium Members of Trumpetland!

Up close and personal
  • Age: 57.
  • City of birth: Dayton, Washington (USA).
  • A hobby: Motorcycles.
  • A food: Chicken burrito.
  • A drink: Rum.
  • A book: The Urantia Book (Anonymous).
  • A film: Hostiles (Scott Cooper).
  • A place: Sonora Pass, California (USA).

Professional career

How did your trumpet career begin?

My mother was a wonderful musician and educator. She had perfect pitch and was a very demanding public school band director. She had me interested in music quite young — I was playing drums at 5, piano at 7, trumpet at 9 and french horn at 12 years old.

When did your interest for jazz begin?

I was exposed to a wide variety of music when I was young. My mother would play all kinds of music and I enjoyed listening to everything. At age 12 I started playing in jazz bands and listening to more jazz albums. I began to enjoy an ever-expanding list of jazz musicians. As I turned 15, I was primarily listening to jazz and funk recordings for musical inspiration.

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

My mother started me on trumpet at 9 and by age 10, I studied with my first private teacher. My teacher, Elaine Vigil had played professionally with big bands in England starting at age 16. She gave me a solid foundation and fundamentals that I still use to this day. Her guidance launched me in the right direction and contributed immeasurably to my future success.

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

The two teachers I studied with as a young adult that had the greatest impact on my development were Dave Eshelman and Don Hazzard. Dave shaped my growth as a player and musician. He helped me become aware of proper ensemble playing, the fundamentals of brass playing and the study of jazz improvisation. Dave taught me what it meant to work hard to achieve your goals. Don was key to my growth as a trumpet player and introduced me to classical repertoire. He pushed me in directions I had not experienced before.

When it comes to inspirational players I have worked with there is a bit of a list: Arturo Sandoval, Bobby Shew, Chuck Findley, Jeff Tyzik, Byron Stripling, Roger Ingram, Ingrid Jensen, Chuck Mangione, Marvin Stamm, Mike Vax, Sadao Watanabe, Sheila Escovedo (AKA Sheila E.), Carl Saunders, Louis Fasman and Scott Englebright. These are just some of the incredible players I have had the honor to work with. There are certainly many others and each has had a serious impact on me.

I have worked with some incredible ensembles over the years full of fantastic musicians. The San Francisco Symphony and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra come to mind but playing with Pacific Mambo Orchestra must be the greatest inspiration and joy for me. Winning the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Tropical Latin Album is beyond anything I ever imagined. The players that make up this fine ensemble are incredible musicians and absolutely beautiful people; they are family!

Daily work

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

Well I think there are two parts to this question. Let us examine the trumpeter aspect. I have known a few players that sounded great while playing jazz on the trumpet but once removed from this idiom they were not very good ‘trumpet’ players. I think it is important for all musicians to learn their instrument no matter what type of music they choose to play. Fundamentals and mainstream or traditional studies are very important when developing proper technique. Developing a disciplined approach to the instrument facilitates excellent habits. These habits will in turn provide greater performance results in the long run. I also think that it is wise to be a well-rounded player and musician. Understanding different musical idioms is important.

When studying jazz, work on scales and chords in all keys, transcribing, and transposing ideas and melodies in all keys, memorizing tunes and progressions as well as hours of listening are all very important parts of this process. This develops a melodic, harmonic and rhythmic foundation. Learning the ‘language’ involves melodic, harmonic and rhythmic components. If any of these components are weak the entire performance will suffer. Understanding how to put these components together is the key to fluid improvisation. This is a lifetime quest and can be the most rewarding thing any musician ever does.

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

Learn/transcribe solos two different ways. Learn some solos by ear without writing them down. Learn other solos by transcribing them on paper. Play ideas in all keys without reading them. Write down the things/ideas you hear that you like. Then learn them inside and out. Solo or play along over the top of all kinds of music. Work on harmonic, rhythmic and melodic soloing so that you can choose to play with a particular approach or a combination of approaches. Understand the importance of rhythm or feel. When improvising in different idioms like Salsa, Cumbia, Timba, Bossa Nova, Traditional Jazz/Dixieland, Funk, R&B, Blues, Swing, Bebop, Straight Ahead Jazz, Acid Jazz, Fusion, Rock and Pop it becomes obvious that they all share harmonic similarities but have different rhythmic or feel approaches. Understanding how to play a melody in different styles will help the player understand how to improvise in these different styles. Play along with solos you like. Learn them so that you can match every inflection of the original solo. Learn phrasing, this is a gigantic piece of the improvising puzzle. Understanding how to shape a phrase and developing a solo go hand in hand. Finally listen, listen, listen!

What are the steps to study a new piece?

In the modern age, there are many resource materials available and most music can be found on line. I would start there, try to find a quality performance of the piece and study that. I would work on the areas in the piece that are difficult first. Slow them down and pick them apart so that you can play them perfectly when finished. Learn the feel of the piece and the intent of the composer. Make the melody become natural and have the ability to hear and anticipate the harmonic progression. Strive for a clean musical reproduction of what is written on the page following all dynamics, accents and markings. This will help you ultimately interpret the emotion of this piece bringing the music to life. Finally work on interpretation and make it your own.

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

Each have their challenges and rewards and I enjoy doing both. I do much more live performance and this is home for me. To prepare for live performance is to be prepared to do a performance at any time. You have no idea when you are going to get a call to play. When you receive the music before a live performance, take the time to studying the music; this is key to being comfortable and having a relaxed enjoyable performance. I try to find examples of the songs I am going to play. YouTube is a fantastic source for this type of study. Once again learn the parts of the charts that are difficult and study the forms. Being as prepared as possible will enhance the performance experience.

For studio playing, if you have the opportunity to study the music, be sure to take the time to learn it. Studio time is expensive and if you are not prepared you might cost someone money and time. If this happens your chances of getting called back are diminished. It is all about getting things correct, quickly and efficiently. One of the things that can be difficult about the recording process is playing while wearing headphones. I recommend playing along with familiar songs wearing headphones to get used to how this affects the way you hear yourself and how you play. Being comfortable is key to success in the studio. Dress in layers, bring snacks and water. Also be prepared to stay later than contracted. Stay relaxed and flexible and you will have a better experience in the studio.

Education

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

This question is difficult to answer without greater context. If you want to be a jazz soloist solely focusing on improvisation development I would head to New York City. There are excellent schools with excellent programs to choose from and the jazz scene in town is legendary. If you want to be a well-rounded player capable of many styles, section playing, and strong sight-reading along with developing your improvising skills I would head to the University of North Texas. Spending time in New Orleans is also an incredible place to immerse oneself in jazz playing and jazz history. This is a town full of inspiration and knowledge, it is The School! You can learn many things there about life and music.

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

Becoming a well-rounded trumpet player is very important to me. It is the key to playing in different musical settings. Being able to play different styles and types of music helps pay the bills. Beyond that, this type of study enhances a player’s abilities and performance. Developing the best possible approach to your instrument is paramount to success and longevity.

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

I use what works best for me because it works best for me. I recommend that everyone find what works best for them. Find gear that allows you to produce the sound in your head with the greatest ease possible. If you are fighting your gear you are wasting energy. It should simply be easier to play! What I play may not work for someone else. It is worth looking at what professionals use but just because they use particular gear and sound great does not mean it will do the same for everyone. Find your voice and find the gear that makes it easier to create the sound you want.

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

Learn your instrument, learn the vocabulary, listen all day and play in as many situations as you can. Find a good teacher or two and study, study, study!

Performance anxiety

Have you ever had a bad experience on stage?

Lol, sure! Once, during a performance, the bandleader turned around and asked me if everything was ok! Everyone has a bad day, bad performance or a bad moment. It comes with the territory. The key is to not let it get into your head. Shake it off, dig in, relax and concentrate on playing and you will recover.

How does one need to take criticism?

Oh boy, this is deep. First thing not to do when you are receiving criticism is talk back. Listen with a relaxed open mind. Let this conversation be one way! You must consider the fact the person offering the criticism is taking the time to engage with you and offer advice. Becoming defensive is a waste of everyone’s time. After you receive the criticism you must consider if it is something that you should or can work on. Even criticism that is not done in a nice way can still be constructive. It is how you receive it and examine what is offered that will change the character of the content. If you let go of your ego and listen, you can learn things that just might propel your playing to another level. Growth is often a bit painful.

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

Living in the moment and concentrating on what you are doing are the two most important things that will help your performance. Anything else is a distraction. As soon as you are worried about any other aspect of what you are doing you are not going to perform at your best. Don’t worry about what other people think about your playing, chances are they are just as focused on their playing and are not critically listening to you. The more you enjoy what you are doing, remain relaxed and focused the less stress you will experience in your performance. It is possible to exist in a completely anxiety environment while playing. It is about learning to put yourself there.

Any advice for the moment of stepping onto the stage?

Have fun and play music! Stay relaxed and remain focused. Forget about anything else you have going on in your life. Remain in the moment and make that moment fun.

Musical preferences

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

What style do you like more? I am a west coast kid and must admit I love west coast style from the 50s and 60s. I also love Latin Jazz! There are a multitude of colors and voices that exist in the trumpet world. They all have a place and I enjoy listening to each.

What are your favorite jazz musicians?

Louis, Miles, Freddie, Hugh, Clifford, Clark, Chet, Lee, Art, Claudio, Nat, Woody, Bobby, Tom Harrell, Jack Sheldon and many other trumpet players shape my musical world. I love the sax playing of Cannonball, Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Paul Desmond and Michael Brecker to name a few. J.J., Urbie, Slide, Frank, Carl, Wycliffe and Conrad Herwig are some of the bone players I enjoy. Oscar, Herbie, Thelonious, Chick, Bill Evans, Bud Powell are piano players that immediately come to mind. Art Blakey, Buddy, Elvin, Max, Tony, Jack and Steve Gadd are some drummers I love hearing. Mingus, Clark, Carter, Wooten, Gómez, Holland, McBride and Ray Brown are some of the bass players. Guitarists Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Kenny Burrell, Al Di Meola are some of the fantastic musicians in the mix as well. There simply are too many players to mention.

What is your favorite jazz piece?

Miles Davis Quintet at the Philharmonic Hall of Lincoln Center - My Funny Valentine (1964).

What is your favorite non-jazzy piece?

Bobby Valentin & Rafú Warner - Cantaré con una orquesta.

Sharing exercises with Trumpetland

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

I very much enjoy the sound of a diminished scale over a dominant chord. I think this is a very interesting sound and can be used in different ways to bridge different key centers. So here are the first 12 pages including the forward and the first 10 pages of the study.

Free download:

Exercise by Jonathan Ruff (PDF 3758,83 KB) [Only Premium members]