“Don’t call me Sir, the last man who called me that gave me a parking ticket”
The moment Warren Vaché said this, I was assured that this was going to be a fun interaction. And sure it was. The man not only is a renowned trumpeter but is also known for his wit.
Born in the year 1951 in New Jersey, Warren is a witness and a part of the Jazz scene since its glory days. Born to a musician father, Bassist Warren Vache Sr, he went on to earn a Degree in music education from the Montclair State College. He learnt the trumpet from the master Pee Wee Ervin. As a four year old, the piano was his choice of instrument. Quick to realise he was no good at it, he wanted to follow his father’s footsteps and be a bassist. But Vache Sr had other plans for his son.
“My father told me, don’t be a bass player, you will be the forgotten man. Nobody pays any attention to the bassist, they don’t even tell you what key you are playing. Be a trumpet player you will get more work. Next day he got me a cornet,” recalls Warren.
This is how his love affair with the trumpet began. From performing in school groups to playing Detroit with the Billy Maxted band to the clubs in Manhattan, New York, Warren was always encouraged by his peers. He rates Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge among many as his major influences.
“If there is a trumpet player in the world who says he doesn’t admire Louis Armstrong he is lying.” That sums up his admiration for Armstrong.
Unlike others he never tried to imitate his idols, he created a cornet voice that stressed on the purity of the tone. Such was his versatility that he was once almost labelled as a Swing musician. While working six nights a week at Manhattan clubs, Warren would wrap up his set and head down to where Roy Eldridge would play.
( pic : Warren Vache)
His first Record
Warren released his first album ‘First Time Out’ way back in 1976. When I remind him of this, the man chuckles,
“It was long time ago, I haven’t heard it in a long time.”
Releasing your record is a memorable experience for any musician but not for Warren.
“It was a frightening experience. I was in the studio for the first time and I had no idea how to put a record together” recalls Warren.
Admitting that he is now an old man and memory evades him, he sighs. How does this ‘Old Man’, who is still performing across the globe, deal with the change in music and technology? Before I could ask him more about it, he interrupts laughing,
“We were talking about this earlier before you started this interview.”
A little more probing from my end leads to the man saying,
“In the early 1970s, I would play four weddings a weekend. It wasn’t big time but you were playing your trumpet. These weddings aided in paying out the bills. Now people hire a DJ and have a playlist. That charm of a band playing live at the wedding is not there anymore.”
I nodded in agreement and asked him to delve about the technological changes between the eras.
“Technological changes are the engineer’s headache not mine”
was his answer, sending me and the legendary pianist John DiMartino in a fit of laughter.
(More with DiMartino next week)
Sobering down, Warren admits that technology has made life easier.
“Earlier, there were 4 inch tapes to record 24 tracks and to edit they would have to twist the tape and cut it with a razor blade. Now you have Pro Tools so it doesn’t matter, if you play a bad note and go to mix they engineer will change the note to good. For an old guy like me, it’s the tail wagging the dog.”
Warren dons many hats. He has been a performer, composer, arranger, a teacher and even sang sometimes. I wondered what would the old man like to be known for?
“All are the same for me but I would like to be known as a cornet player. As a solo musician it helps me express better. Sadly now it is almost a forgotten instrument.”
And what about your singing, Warren?
“I would call my singing, controlled groaning” chuckles the trumpeter.
Playing for the audience
As the coffee pot emptied itself and we were heading for lunch, I asked Warren, if he had a few words for the aspiring musicians.
Before narrating a tale, Warren said,
“Listen son, let me tell you a story. While working with the Concorde in the 1980’s, I was asked to record an album. I put together the best musicians I knew. Hank Jones on the piano, George Duvivier on the Bass and Alan Dawson on the Drums. It was only when we started recording and I heard them play, I realised how good they were. It was like swimming in the water with sharks, I was intimidated. George realised this and advised me to go have a smoke, a drink or whatever that can put me together, we have a job to do and it has to be done. That is the best lesson I ever got.”
“Go out and play for the people. If you practise your tail off for 30 years in a room and can’t play in front of people, it’s a waste,” he signed off.