Mexican trumpet player Rafael Mendez was one of the most well regarded trumpet players of his day. He was noted for his incredible flexibility, multiple tonguing, and large sound. While researching for an article I wrote several years ago on Donald Reinhardt I heard from a couple of teachers whose opinion I trust that Mendez had an embouchure type that corresponds to what I call the Medium High Placement embouchure type. Based on photos and video of his playing I would agree.
The best look at his chops happen towards the end of the video, starting at around 7:11 into the clip. There are three things that I would point out that, in combination, make me believe that Mendez belonged to this embouchure type.
First, his mouthpiece placement appears to have more upper than lower lip inside the mouthpiece. Most brass players place the mouthpiece like this, which makes it a downstream embouchure. There are two distinctly different downstream embouchure types, however, the Medium High Placement and the Very High Placement types. Of these two types, Medium High Placement types will tend to play with a slightly receded jaw position and have a horn angle that is tilted down, while the Very High Placement players tend to keep their teeth aligned and have a horn angle close to straight out. Mendez definitely has a lowered horn angle and leans back a bit to raise his bell up. Since there are exceptions to this for both the downstream types, this alone isn’t enough to determine Mendez’s embouchure type.
The main distinguishing factor between the two downstream embouchure types is the direction of the player’s embouchure motion. It’s a little tough to spot on this video, as it helps to have the player play large intervals (like an octave slur) to spot it. At around 7:15 in the video Mendez plays a descending and ascending passage that shows him pushing the mouthpiece and lips together up slightly to descend and then pulling them down to ascend back up.
Looking through a couple of other videos of Mendez playing shows similar characteristics. Look closely at around 0:35 into this clip and see if you can also spot Mendez’s embouchure type.
Here’s another one with a fairly good look at Mendez’s chops at around 1:09.
Mendez had a couple of accidents that damaged his lips during his life and spent some time rebuilding his embouchure. There are some internet references that discuss how he would play on multiple embouchures, but I was unable to find anything online that could corroborate this. Since I’ve got other, somewhat related, research interests that might lead me to investigating this a little further I’ll be sure to update this post if I come across anything. For now, however, I think that this might be one of those legends that might have a grain of truth to it, but may be a little misleading if taken at face value.
I suppose I should also remind everyone that a player’s embouchure type is dependent on the individual’s anatomy, and isn’t a choice that you can make based on who you want to play like. Teachers shouldn’t try to force all their students to play with their own embouchure type either. Since every player has a unique face, every embouchure is going to be individual.