Guess the Embouchure Type: Bob McChesney

First, sorry for the lack of regular updates lately.  As things so often go, I got slammed with grading and class prepping and then wanted to unplug for a bit.  I hope all the U.S. readers had a pleasant Thanksgiving.

Today I’m going to try to guess Bob McChesney’s embouchure type.  McChesney is a fantastic trombonist (as you’ll hear in these videos) and also the author of a very popular book on the jazz trombone technique of doodle tonguing.  Here is McChesney playing one of the parts for his arrangement on I Love You.  As you watch, see if you can guess which of the three basic embouchure types he is.

This video is hard to get a clear enough look so I’m not completely certain.  His mouthpiece placement seems to be mostly top lip, almost definitely downstream.  Looking for his embouchure motion is also a little hard to see because he moves his head around just enough while he plays that it’s sometimes hard to follow it while he plays.  Still, there are a few times when he plays large enough intervals that I *think* I see him pushing up to ascend and pulling down to descend.  So my best guess is Very High Placement.

In case you’re curious as to why McChesney mentions that he’s playing a “live version” it probably has to do with some of the comments about his recorded version below.

What an outrageous chart!  McChesney also plays so perfectly on this recording that some people were certain it was fake.  One commenter correctly, I think, pointed out that at lot of what makes this sound fake is that it’s the same player on all the parts and it doesn’t sound natural because of it.  I’ve heard this done by other performers (and goofed around with it myself) and it always sounds a bit like a synthesizer with the exact same sound on all four parts.  If you’re familiar with McChesney’s playing you know he is capable of playing that chart that well.

It’s fun to also look through his score.  Check out some of the voicings he uses.  I like the way he goes in and out of unisons.  Coincidentally I’ve been playing around with this a bit in a big band composition I’m composing, so it’s given me some other ideas to try out and explore more in my chart.

Paul T.

I agree–Very High Placement. If you look carefully you can see him pushing up and to his right for the upper register, and down and to his left as he descends. However, once he gets to those low C’s, he turns his head instead of adjusting the angle of the horn (possibly he’s playing in a cramped space and can’t move the horn).

I should also mention that my own experiments with playing jazz at very quiet dynamic (as McChesney does) seem to indicate that it’s possible to play that way with almost no embouchure motion. At least for me, this is true: when I was playing with no embouchure motion, I could play very functionally by playing quietly into a microphone–even though I could barely play *at all* at any decent volume at that time!

That experience came to mind when I saw Bill Watrous’ clip in Lloyd Leno’s high-speed film: there’s very little movement over two octaves, and I wonder if he does something similar to what I was experiencing.

Thanks for posting this: I did not know there was any controversy about this clip! (But I’ve heard McChesney before, both on record and live, so I’m not surprised at either the high level of execution nor at the “synth-like” sound.)

Paul T.

There’s one particular embouchure type I’ve seen recently that I find hard to understand. A particularly good example of this type is Curtis Fuller–I hope you’ll give him a try next!

Matt Harris

Very interesting post indeed, McChesney is a monster player!

About the “synthesized” sound I’d like to mention a story about Maynard Ferguson I was told not too long ago by one of his band mates at the time. His band was doing a recording of a live gig one night at a club/bar and his trumpet players had a little too much to drink and weren’t exactly spot on to say the very least(Haha). So, later on he went into the studio and re-recorded the trumpet sections parts. I’m not sure if he had run into the “synthesized” sound problem before or discovered it on that session, but he ended up recording all 4 or 5 parts on completely different trumpets, and if I remember correctly, different mouthpieces as well, so that it didn’t sound like one player. I think when the overtones produced in our sound are duplicated exactly but us recording over ourselves we get an odd sound quality, which is what is heard in the clip above. Regardless, it’s really him playing, and he really is that incredible

Don Jordan

I don’t think you’ll ever see Bill Watrous play other than very close to a microphone, so that he can play quietly. I gather from something Jim Fulkerson told me years ago that his rapid playing ability is due to playing quietly. – hence the mic. Seems reasonable to me.

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