[Dixielandjazz] Mostly Self Taught Musicians

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Fri Sep 12 20:24:17 PDT 2003

Maybe so, maybe not. Remember we're talking "mostly self taught". Red Nichols
was an accomplished trumpeter when he arrived in NYC in 1924. He was 19 and had
already been playing jazz in the midwest with the Syncopating Seven, a jazz
band before that, at age 17/18 and had already, I think, recorded for Gennett
and Edison. He certainly came from a musical family which is always a plus and
he probably learned to play music and read in the beginning from his Dad. And
at age 12 was playing in Dad's brass band. But by 17 or so, he was touring with
a jazz band and certainly not, (to my knowledge) taking "lessons" from anybody.
Today a "trained" musician usually means a stint, at Julliard, Berklee or a
degree in music from a University, or years of lessons from a big name. I don't
think Nichols had anything near that.

He was a great reader, and much in demand in NYC because of it, but IMO being a
great musician has nothing to do with being either self taught, or classically
trained. Lots of players virtually teach themselves to read. An example of both
sides of the coin? Miff Mole, classically taught, perfect in every respect.
Jack Teagarden, self taught, incredible player. Both were great musicians.
Either way works for some, and not for others. Many extremely capable musicians
are/were mostly self taught and great readers. Just check the list (if you want
to eliminate Nichols, OK, but then add Coltrane) and that becomes fairly
apparent. Like the style or not, the be-boppers are/were masters of their horns
and Gillespie, Bird, Coltrane, were all mostly self taught.

And things like Nichol's "false fingering" devices. I would think, were self

I wouldn't stake my life on either side of the Nichols being "mostly self
taught" or "classically trained" coin. One could argue either side effectively.
I don't know that much about him, other than what people have told me. And I
think if he is to be placed in the "trained" category, it all happened by age
15 or so, after which he probably spent most of his time listening to and
playing jazz away from home.

However I do know one thing, but can't attribute the proper credit to whomever
it was that said it first:

"Of all the art forms, 'jazz' is the least teachable."

Steve Barbone

Don Ingle wrote:

> Sorry Steve:
> You're off  the mark on Red Nichols being self-taught. Red was, in fact,
> highly taught and trained. His father was professor of music at Weber
> College in Ogden UT - Red's sister was a cellist who played with the San
> Francisco Symphony, and Red studied with teacher such as Max Schlossberg and
> was one of the best working, club and studio, gigging recording musicians in
> NY in the 1920's on the basis of his ability to walk in,sit down, and sight
> read whatever pat was put in front of him. He even conducted scores as well
> as wrote arrangements. He was conductor of the pit orchestra on one of
> Gerschwin's musicals, Girl Crazy, and recorded so many sides with '20's NY
> record companies that Rust almost ran out of paper and ink  trying to get
> them all in his discography.
> Red was my first teacher and my long-time mentor, and he was one of the most
> proficient and capable musicians - jazz gig or studio -- there ever was.
> No way self taught!
> Don Ingle

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