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Trumpet, Flugelhorn: Not Your Typical Solo Instruments In Pop Music

In this June 18, 2006 photo, Chuck Mangione performs during the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles, Calif. AP photo

I was listening to the radio the other day, and heard a song that is in my collection. It’s a song I like, but not for the reason you would suspect. I like it for the brass instrument solo.

In many popular songs from the mid 1960s until present solos are performed by either guitar, saxophone, or keyboards. Those instruments make for very good solo instruments because of their sonic qualities. Either acoustic or electric or a combination of both, a guitar can capture any mood or voice, and convey emotion. Just listen to the guitar in Chris Isaak’s song “Wicked Game” and you may feel the melancholy emotion cascade over you. Keyboards and saxophones have the same abilities to transport listeners to other experiences.

But what about brass instruments?

They have the ability too.

Brass instruments are usually reserved for orchestras, big bands, jazz ensembles, and drum corps. When I hear a brass instrument section in an orchestra I think of an official announcement is going to be made. Words that come to mind are regal, majestic, and royal. I think of composer John Williams and his composition “Summon The Heroes” used for the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta.

So that song I heard, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” by Paul McCartney, got me to think more about brass instruments, specifically trumpet and flugelhorn as a flugelhorn was featured as a solo instrument in that song. I dug deeper and recalled there were two composers that crossed over to the pop music circuit. Both made their start in the 60s.

One plays the trumpet and later co-founded a popular record company, A&M Records, and the other made the flugelhorn a less obscure instrument. The trumpet player is Herb Alpert who played trumpet in Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass which performed songs “Spanish Flea” used on the Dating Game TV show, a remake of a “Taste Of Honey,” “Tijuana Taxi,” and “Zorba The Greek.” You may remember Alpert’s No. 1 hit in 1979 entitled “Rise.”

The other, Chuck Mangione, playsflugelhorn and was successful with “Feels So Good.” Mangione’s song, “Chase The Clouds Away, was used in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, and his song “Give It All You Got” was used in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. Mangione performed at the Palace Theater in 1983. I had the pleasure of meeting him as he held a masterclass for the Jamestown High School Jazz Ensemble. We performed “The Children Of Sanchez Theme” for him and he gave tips on how to perform his composition better. It was a great experience. I was playing bass in the ensemble and what drew me to that song and other songs of his was the use of the ostinato bass line. His ostinato lines were hypnotic, but propelled each song. I will write more about bass and ostinato rhythms later.

So I dug even further in my collection and found “Spinning Wheel” by Blood, Sweat and Tears. To me, the trumpet solo in that song may rival some guitar solos. That band had a great horn section as well as Earth, Wind and Fire’s and Chicago’s horn sections. To me, all three sections are superior and neither is better than the other.

So I say yes, for a brass instrument as a solo instrument in pop music. Unheard of (pun intended). No. Some artists that use horn sections in their songs include 10,000 Maniacs, The Beatles, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, and The Pet Shop Boys. If you happened to see the Eagles Live From Melbourne, then you may have seen the band perform a different version of “Hotel California.” It included, at the beginning, a trumpet solo that set the tone (pun intended) for the rest of the song.

While the song is one of band’s finest, this version also is a classic because of the use of the horn section. Another song where a muted trumpet also is as a solo instrument that sets the tone is “Holding Back The Years” by Simply Red. To me a muted trump evokes a scene of a warm, late spring evening, where there is a steady, light rain dancing across streets and rooftops.

It also reminds me of a a crime thriller movie where it sets the mood of cigarette-smoking cops chasing a criminal.

There are probably many other songs where horn sections add accents to them. I invite you to email your favorite songs with horn sections.

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