Interview with Michael Sarian

Jazz musician (United States).

«The more you know about any subject will improve your musicality, so the more you know about other techniques and genres, the better»

2018-10-09

He is of Armenian descent, was born in Canada, grew up in Buenos Aires (Argentina) and has lived in Brooklyn, New York (USA) for a few years. This cultural mix is probably reflected in the music he makes. He studied with such greats as Laurie Frink and Ralph Alessi, has published several albums and leads his own groups with whom he maintains an intense artistic activity. We present to you, the great Michael Sarian! Do not miss the interesting exercise that he shares in PDF to work on scales and arpeggios in odd meters!

Up close and personal
  • Age: 33.
  • City of birth: Toronto, Ontario (Canadá).
  • A hobby: Muay thai.
  • A food: Asado.
  • A drink: Red Wine.
  • A book: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (Haruki Murakami).
  • A film: The Big Lebowski (Joel and Ethan Coen).
  • A place: Buenos Aires (Argentina).

Professional career

How did your trumpet career begin?

I started playing trumpet at school when I was about 12 or 13 years old, and progressively got better and more interested in it each year.

When did your interest for jazz begin?

I remember hearing my school’s jazz ensemble for the first time when I was just getting started on the trumpet (they played an arrangement of The Chicken). I then began checking out Jaco Pastorius and I just continued to discover new things.

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

I started playing at school, we had a band class where we all learned different orchestral instruments. Once I started taking the trumpet a little more seriously, I joined the school band, where we took section lessons with Richard Nant, a great trumpeter in Argentina. I then began studying with him privately.

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

Most recently, Brian Krock, a saxophonist and composer who also leads a large ensemble called Big Heart Machine; The NYChillharmonic, led by Sara McDonald; Jim Piela; Josh Bailey; Evan Francis.

Daily work

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

Everyone is different, and everyone’s chops will demand different things from each player. Having said that, if we have the time, a jazz trumpeter should fit in daily calisthenics (sort of like ‘maintenance exercises’), and some sort of improvisation (whether free improvisation, or working on some chord progressions or a standard with or without a backing track). I believe this is a minimum! But, some players need less maintenance than others, and everyone needs to research as much as possible and see what works best for them and their daily routines.

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

Transcribe, it really doesn’t need to be much more complicated than that. Another great exercise is playing along with recordings.

What are the steps to study a new piece?

Depending on how hard the piece is, breaking it down into sections: a few bars at a time, or a few phrases at a time. If you’re able to memorize it, then that really is the best way. Memorize the melody line, memorize the chord progression if possible. But breaking it down into sections is always a good idea, and then piecing it together.

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

Concert! It’s always better to have someone on the receiving end who’ll send some energy back your way. In both situations, I like to have learned the music as much as possible (if I’m lucky to know what I’ll be playing/recording beforehand, sometimes I don’t), I like to get a good solid warm-up in before getting to the studio/show, and being well rested. Usually a recording session will last longer, so I’ll try to pack a healthy snack and have a bottle of water ready to go. Most importantly: get there early!

Education

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

I don’t think there’s just one good answer, but I’d go somewhere that has a solid faculty, a good environment for collective learning (where you can be surrounded by other 20-year old jazz students who are also learning and discovering new things), and a place that doesn’t have a ton of distractions. In other words, not in New York City! Save that for when you’re a bit older. But again, that might not be the best solution for everyone, some 20-year old players are more advanced than others and ready for the big city.

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

I believe the more you know about any subject will improve your musicality, so the more you know about other techniques and genres, the better. I try and practice classical etudes (not as much as I used to, unfortunately).

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

I use a Schilke 13B mouthpiece and a 1960 (I think?) Benge Burbank. I’m not incredibly fussy about equipment, and both my mouthpiece and horn are pretty flexible whether I need to play solo jazz, classical, or popular music.

Recently, though, I acquired an Inderbinen trumpet, and a Lotus 3XL mouthpiece. This setup is great for more solo and jazz stuff. Big, dark, beautiful fluffy tone.

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

Transcribe and practice! You won’t have as much time later on, so if you can spend 6 hours (or more!) a day working on music, then do it. Listen to as much music as possible, learn who plays what on the records, go out to jazz clubs, get together with friends to listen to, play, and talk about music.

Performance anxiety

Have you ever had a bad experience on stage?

The worst was when I was in middle school, I had the hiccups right before going on stage at a big end of the year show. As soon as I was on stage, they disappeared! I only get nervous if I’m playing with someone I really admire, but if you’re ready and you know the music, then you’ll be fine. Some jitters can be good.

How does one need to take criticism?

With an open mind and a grain of salt. We need to learn from our mistakes, and sometimes it takes someone else to point them out. But music can also be a very subjective art form, so if someone disagrees with a conscious decision you made, that doesn’t necessarily mean you made a mistake, just a different aesthetic preference.

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

It might be. Comparing with some classical musicians I know, jazz musicians usually play a lot more, and a wider range of genres, so that might have something to do with it.

Any advice for the moment of stepping onto the stage?

Make sure you have everything you need (music, mutes, valve oil, etc.) and your fly is done!

Musical preferences

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

This is constantly changing. Right now, I’m starting to listen to more introspective, free players with darker sounds.

What are your favorite jazz musicians?

Of all time? Jaco Pastorius, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Chet Baker… Right now I’m listening a lot to Charles Lloyd, Tomasz Stańko, Ambrose Akinmusire, Braxton Cook.

What is your favorite jazz piece?

Ask Me Now by Thelonious Monk.

What is your favorite non-jazzy piece?

You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon.

Sharing exercises with Trumpetland

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

I’ve been working my way through Bryan Davis’s Combination Drills (you can check these out at airflowmusic.com). Each exercise should be played twice, at a very soft dynamic, once with an air attack, and then with a tongued attack. These are a really great approach at practicing different scales and arpeggios in odd meters, and if done properly, are really beneficial to the airflow. This is a short example of an exercise in the harmonic minor scale.

Free download:

Exercise by Michael Sarian (PDF 134,33 KB) [Only Premium members]