Arnold Jacobs by Jonathan Rees
A Discussion, Remembrance, and Celebration of a Life in Music
One of the greatest privileges of my Hfe as a musician has been the influence of Arnold Jacobs. The first recording I ever bought of an orchestra was of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Claudio Abbado performing Mahler Symphony no. 1 with Mr. Jacobs playing tuba.
As my studies progressed with Nigel Seaman in Wales and later George Wall in London, the name of Arnold Jacobs featured heavily in both the areas of teaching and performing. The sound of Mr Jacobs on recordings and the results of his teaching made me realize that if I got a chance to study with him, it should be taken. I was fortunate enough upon completion of studies in London to undertake post-graduate work at Northwestern LJniversity under the direction of Rex Martin – a wonderful teacher and performer in his own right and a product of Mr. Jacobs’ teaching. My first lesson with Arnold Jacobs was during my first year of study at Northwestern in Mr. Jacobs’ studio. 1 think there are times in life when words cannot express one’s experience of an event. This was definitely one of those times. Further lessons were taken and their influence on me is profound and long lasting.
The news of Mr. Jacobs’ passing was terribly sad but somewhat inevitable given such factors as age, ill health, and the frailty associated with old age. However sad I felt, my over-riding emotion was one that if ever proof was needed of human spirit living on after physical presence has passed, it was now provided.
In the weeks that followed his death, I received a phone call from Gene Pokorny (whom I had also studied with privately in Chicago). Gene informed me that he was involved in organizing a memorial celebration concert in Symphony Center for Mr. Jacobs. Gene had the idea of inviting several of Mr. Jacobs’ former students to have a pre-concert seminar to discuss Mr. Jacobs’ life. I thought this to be a terrific idea and was deeply honored to be asked to chair this meeting, especially when Gene mentioned the names of the participants.
I had a week or so to prepare my questions. Having studied so recently with Mr Jacobs, I felt I had been in a wonderful position to be able to glean knowledge from him at a stage when he had had a lifetime of experience teaching and performing. I was interested in all aspects concerning him but in particular, to see how his teaching had evolved and possibly differed over the years. TTiere were so many questions concerning so many interesting topics but only two hours to do so.
In order to ensure that the questions were relevant, I am indebted to the help and positive input of Denis Miller and Rex Martin. Thanks must also go to the members of the discussion group who are listed below. Special thanks must go to Gene Pokorny for making this discussion group and event happen. Chris Willis taped the seminar and the writings below are the edited highlights of the discussion.
On December 17th, 1998, a unique event took place in the Symphony Center, Chicago, Illinois. A tribute was given to the life and achievements of a legendary tubist, teacher, soloist, masterclass clinician, and friend, the late Arnold Jacobs. Mr. Jacobs’ life was utterly dedicated to the world of music, and the impression he leaves on that world is deep and ever lasting.
As a precursor to this event, a small group of six musicians prominent in the tuba world joined together at 2 pm that day to discuss and celebrate the unique riches Mr. Jacobs possessed and has handed down to future generations. The musicians are: Ron Bishop (RB), Rex Martin (RM), John Taylor (JT), Floyd Cooley (FC), Michael Sanders (MS), and Dan Perantoni (DP). The moderator for the discussion was Jonathan Rees (JR).
Discuss the effect Mr. Jacobs has had and will still continue to have on your (the members of the panel) everyday approach to making music on the tuba, be it as a teacher, orchestral performer, soloist, or masterclass clinician.
RB Well, it’s certainly obvious every time that I play, that music is what it is all about and that’s what Arnold Jacobs talked about – the fact that we played the tuba was our particular blessing. But, it was music we were serving and that point was made with the utmost clarity to all the people in this room.
MS: 1 think it was unfortunate that a lot of people who didn’t know his teaching tended to peg him as someone who “taught breathing,” etc. Yet his approach — if you had problems – was a remedial means to an end and he always talked about music and it was music that was the end goal. PC: 1 think from a psychological standpoint all of the distractions that he posed to us with – such as the “breathing” that John mentioned – were just a way of getting us back to the music more.
MS: I think the following statement he made to me was during my first lesson. “Everything I am going to tell you is not worth anything unless your main goal is making music.” I find many people out there who only took a couple of lessons with Mr. Jacobs, and whereas they received some help with breathing, they seem to have missed the most important one. They are dealing with their instrument on a purely mechanical level and that was certainly not what he was about.
RB It’s not to say that he didn’t talk about specifics to help you make music because I certainly learned a lot about how to take a breath. One of the really valuable things that still rings in my ears from sitting beside him was the calm intake of air before he would play a phrase – so relaxed sounding but so efficient. I’m still trying to get that!
MS: 1 always felt that he was a very musical person. There was something musical about his personality that was evident from the moment you met him. He always emphasized the storytelling aspect when playing, and the personality that you sensed being in a room with him came through so very obviously and powerfully. To get that aspect in a person’s playing is almost a magical quality. He had it. That musical personality was very much to the fore. JR; In my own experience, 1 found being near him was really inspirational. I’d sometimes go for a lesson feeling a little jaded with music and he immediately re-lit the flame. 1 didn’t even have to hear him play!
MS: I can’t remember a single incident when the man was not smiling. Mr. Jacobs always lit up the room. These things have such an effect on your teaching. His absolute confidence and positive thinking really impressed me and 1 will always think about Arnold Jacobs with that positive approach.
RM: The big influence he has had on my everyday approach and my teaching is brought home to me when 1 find myself saying phrases that 1 didn’t make up. They come directly from Mr. Jacobs and that happens to me every day. There is not a concert 1 play or a lesson 1 teach where 1 don’t notice a very, very direct effect he’s had on what I am doing.
DP; I was told, “that’s where I wear a hat. Dan, you got to wear different hats — one as a player, one as a teacher. Don’t ever forget that.” Every day, I remind myself of that. I come across many problems with students that I have to deal with and I have to make sure that I don’t think about them too much as they start to go in and become part of my playing! This advice is what really sticks out for me.
MS: I think for all of us, we are very fortunate in that we studied with him, we perform, and we teach. What I’ve noticed is that there is a very big circle that he began and by teaching us, us performing, and us teaching it goes right back where Jake started. To be in this unique circle is one of the greatest joys. It’s great that he was there for us, his students. We’re there for our students and we’re there for us, and he’s helped every aspect that way for me.
MS: When I heard that Mr. Jacobs had died, 1 was on a European tour with the St. Louis Orchestra. We were in Paris when I received the news. We heard the news around breakfast time and that night, when I went into work, 1 made it a point to go in and talk to our conductor who is from Holland, Hans Vonk, to give him the news. Although he wasn’t as familiar with Mr. Jacobs as people from this country, he had certainly heard of him. We were going to be performing Bruckner’s 9th Symphony, and I explained to him that at least half the brass section in the orchestra had studied with Mr. Jacobs, and everybody else in the section had studied with somebody who had studied with him. 1 told him that when he heard us play those beautiful brass passages in the symphony, that they were very much being played using Arnold Jacobs’ concepts – right from the first trumpet, down the row, through the horns, the trombones, and down to me. It was very funny, you know, that when we heard the news, it galvanized those concepts. I mean, I play the way he taught me to play, and 1 use his methods and concepts all the time to the point where it’s probably good that I don’t have to think about them tcx) much. But, after hearing the news, every breath I took, it was renewed in my mind how to approach this…and it’s almost as if I dedicated the rest of the tour to him.
The musicians in this room represent a cross-section of Mr. Jacobs’ students from his early days as a teacher right through to people who studied with him up until recent times. Did his style of teaching or the points he emphasized for helping the student make better music change over the years? Mr. Jacobs had a marvelously unique way of phrasing sentences, giving the students catchphrases that could be easily remembered to enable them to make better music — for example, song and wind. Do the members of the panel have any particular sentences they remember that especially enable them to recall a point that needed addressing, either with their own practice or somebody else’s?
RM: I was on the phone with Paul Haugan just a couple of days after Mr. Jacobs died and he said: “Rex, you know we studied with Mr. Jacobs when it was wind and song, before it switched to song and wind!” This was before Mr. Jacobs decided that wind and song was misleading as it made the wind a little more important than he thought it ought to be. We don’t play by wind we play by song – hence the change in the last ten years or so.
MS: I never heard him say the expression either or! One thing that he said to me that really sticks out is “are you going to make music on this?” I think I’m different than a lot of you in the sense that when I was studying with him, I was doing some very avant-garde music. It was very interesting to bring these modem pieces in there and he could see right away what had to be done and how to fix them and expand upon that.
RB Of course, one that jumps out that I’m sure we’ve all heard and used, “suction without friction.” Some other things he said to me from my first lesson in 1959 right through to when 1 finished in 1982 were “you need a thicker air column, you need a thicker air stream,” and I’m accused of having a rather dark, murky, muddy sound but he still wanted it thicker!
MS: He said a similar thing to me. He told me to “make the air column larger than the embouchure.” He always worked with concepts that would elicit an image in your mind, and it’s so easy then that way to imagine something. He really used your imagination in the best way.
RB “Sit as though you were standing.” This is very, very simple but very easy to understand and extremely helpful.
MS: “Blow from the lips, these are your
MS: He said, “The only resistance should be at the lips.”
RM: One of my favorite phrases is that “a short note is a short vibration, not a short attack.”
MS: “H ending!”
RM: Yes! “You have got to add a little of the “H” consonant.”
MS: It’s funny though, although 1 heard that many times myself, there was one time we were doing some avant-garde piece and he said, “You want a short note, just say ‘tut.'”
MS: Another interesting thing is that Jake was self-taught and we grew up about the same way. “My mother taught me to play tuba, I never had a lesson,” and 1 didn’t either until I got to school. He also said “my mother used to play piano with me and sing the tunes. The tunes are the most important thing, that’s what sticks out most; always the melody.” He was also a really good bass player!
RB I really think that in some ways Arnold Jacobs was an enlightened human being. It seemed he could just do things like this example of playing the bass with the utmost confidence in his ability. I’ve heard so many masterclasses where we talk for a while and your lip gets cold, you’re throat gets dry and…well, it never seemed to bother Jake, he just did it! The message and the confidence seemed so strong in him that he just did not doubt it for a moment that it was going to come out the way he imagined it would come out. I
RM: You know he was extremely adept at using visual imagery and making sure he found out how the student leams best. He could use methods through the ears or through the eyes, and he also used a lot of different notations on your parts to help you understand his concepts. We all know about the parallel lines of different lengths or the small “t” with the big “A” for the articulations.
RB – or the “oboe reed embouchure”
MS: – or the “contra-bassoon reed.” Coming back to my early years of studying with him – 1 started in 1969 and my last lesson was in March this year – and part of this question is asking how did his teaching change over the years; well, it would always be a personal experience for all of us, but he vividly remembered my first lesson at his house on South Normal much better than 1 did and in my last lesson with him in March. He ended up saying the same things as he said to me in 1969! One of the strongest things he said that helps me was not the phrases or the visual imagery but the musical vignettes. He would create, for me – through the use for example of maybe an etude to help develop this or that – two or three measure musical vignettes that, for myself as a student, when I was facing something that just wasn’t going right I could grab that musical vignette; and that obviously goes back to his musical mind. I think that for me was the highest form of his teaching, giving me those musical vignettes to make all the lower parts of the food chain come up and make everything else work.
MS: As a little aside, a lot of the visual things were developed when Paul studied with him and continued when I was studying with him. One of the jokes we used to have was that every fifth lesson was devoted to science because he would have a new gadget and would spend about two thirds of the lesson either getting the bands around you from a lie detector or some other things like this!
RM: 1 think that’s what seemed to have changed the most over the years in his teaching. He got away from the science aspect and by the time he finished teaching it was now strictly based on how to sound and not how to play. For me as a player, I think I learned a lot more from hearing him play in lessons specifically on my tuba than I did from hearing him speak. However, I learned a lot more as a teacher from hearing him speak and watching him teach others, and all of it comes down to his whole concept of imitation – that we leam easiest and best dirough imitation.
MS: Whenever he gave you a new etude, the first thing he would say is “let me stylize this for you.” He would then take your hom and play it through and then you went to the orchestra and heard him play there. So, some of the science was compensated for elsewhere.
RM: It was pretty strongly reinforced when you showed up at a concert and heard a half hour cadenza before every concert of Arnold Jacobs playing a little solo concert!
Mr. Jacobs was extremely adept at solving ail sorts of problems. Are there any particular types of playing problems that the members of the panel feel that Mr. Jacobs was particularly adept at solving that other teachers had problems in helping the students overcome?
RM: I would say the one overriding concept for what he was able to solve was the psychological base – what most teachers do is operate from a physical base. If there’s something physically wrong in the playing, they try to attack that head on, which he would not do. At first, anyway, he would get the student involved in a musical setting so they would be thinking musically and not about the problem, and nine times out of ten, whatever physical problems there might have been would be solved. If he did attack the problem head on, it would generally be without the student having any idea that he was doing so and would keep the student thinking as an artist or as he would say “As a driver, not a mechanic. Don’t get under the hood!” JR: Some more sayings, perhaps?
MS: I think his greatest gift was his almost uncanny ability as a diagnostician. People would play the first four measures of Arban number six, and he would stop them because he knew what was wrong. He would then go about – usually obliquely – some way of fixing it. It was uncanny watching him in masterclass, just how he knew how to do the right thing.
MS: I think watching him teach over the years – I’m sure everybody in this room watched him teach, too – it was very interesting to see three or four different people come in with a similar problem, and I was amazed at the size of his “toolbox.” He had so many ways of obliquely approaching a problem and I remember one lesson he was giving to Michael Lind, and Michael and I both play a lot of F tuba, and when we get to the big tuba we have that very “un-thick” air…
RM: – call that “thin air”
Everybody: — “hissssssss!”
MS: …and I was just blown away by how differently he approached similar things with myself and with Michael. It was just phenomenal and such a great inspiration for all of our teaching.
RB I think the tricking you into solving your own problems is one of the big gifts and the toolbox is a perfect way of putting it. He did have actual tools that he would use, but only to help you towards being a better musician. He recognized that we are all different and we all leam differently. He picked up on that and would do the short cut and help in a very effective manner.
MS: It was great that he always let us be different. I will always remember Jake for his concept of sound and also his ability to teach your kind of sound in your head that you wanted and give us the freedom to develop this. All of us are a lot different. He realized that and expanded upon it: “now this is your best point…and drive this one home”…
RB “the tuba of the mind,” now that’s another one of his catchphrases.
RM: “two horns – the hom in your head and the hom in your hands.”
MS: I think he was so individual that it’s very difficult to say “The Jacobs Method” because there is no Jacobs method! I also think the toolbox was huge but it definitely changed over the years. I think he could get just as good results by the end of his teaching career by saying “think of this, think of that” as by getting one to do physical things as he would have done at the start of his career.
MS: Another catchphrase that struck me was “always remember what made you good in the first place.” I use that every day. I have one question for all of you — how much do you think his instrument influenced his teaching?
RM: Personally, 1 think little or none.
MS: I agree. I think that his whole concept was based on his singing because if you really listen to him play, you hear that bass voice with the vibrato and I think it came from within just 1 like his singing did.
RM: When you heard him play on a garbage can it still sounded beautiful.
MS: It was always vocal!
RM: I do think, however, that there were certain concepts that came possibly from the size of the instrument and the sense of ease that it takes to play an instrument like that…
MS: – that’s what I mean, yes…
RM: …and on an instrument like that if you do work too hard, you get little or nothing or you certainly get a very different tone from what he was after.
MS: He always used to say, “This is an old man’s hom. I don’t have to work hard.” That’s why I’m asking that question because 1 hear a lot of people talking about this, and I have never clearly defined this in my mind. It can go both ways.
RB He said to me in 1982 “if it were hard work, I wouldn’t be able to do it.” He was fairly old then and he had figured out how to get the most with the least. He said “you get paid for the product, not the effort that goes into the product,” and I’m still trying to get that one down too!
RM: “The product and not the process” was another of his catchphrases. JR: I think it was wonderful the ease that he put me at, and also the way that he felt it was easy to do – that nothing was insurmountable. That was one of the most inspiring things.
MS: A catchphrase he used with me more than once that conjured up this ease was use warm air instead of wind… like the > warmth from a yawn. It made me feel very relaxed and at ease.
RB I don’t remember if it was Mr. Jacobs or Mr. Van Haney (second trombonist in the New York Philharmonic) who told : me they wanted “a germ-laden breath.” Germs like dark, wet, and heat, and that’s the same thing – it’s the warm breath.
MS: Mr. Jacobs used to say “blow as if you are blowing your breath on a window.”
RB – or “trying to clean your glasses.”
MS: One of the things I enjoy most about teaching is passing along this quality and sense of ease while playing that came f from Mr. Jacobs. The look of amazement on a student’s face I when they realize that it is that easy and not hard work, this is I one of the most fun things. The realization that they haven’t had a huge physical involvement is a wonder to behold!
If you had to characterize one of these particular roles of Mr. Jacobs, orchestral player, soloist, or teacher that had the most direct influence on your playing, which role do you find the most value in?
(after a very long and significant pause)
MS: That’s a tough one! They are all so tied in with one another. He played as a soloist in the orchestra, even when he was supporting. He approached it from the point of view as a soloist as far as the care he took, the sense of pride he took, and j the joy he took in playing his part. There’s a quote in Ed ^ Kleinhammer’s book that sums it up for me, “he would make a 1 one-note concerto.” 45
RM: I agree. Ed Kleinhammer once told me that Jake never played an uninspired note. JR: I had to think long and hard before coming up with these questions and this is the toughest one to answer, in my opinion. My answer to it, if the panel is interested, is that all three are so tied up – which is another thing that makes Mr. Jacobs so unique – that really it’s impossible to separate one from another.
RM: I think we had such an incredible role model in Mr. Jacobs that it has helped us all quite a bit and has brought a great sense of honor to the profession of teaching from professional musicians. We, in this room, all saw what an incredible joy he took in teaching. He had as much joy and enthusiasm in his studio as he did on stage. It was all just one big circle and 1 think he would probably have never wanted to teach without playing or play without teaching.
MS: He told me “the tuba was really designed – the CC tuba – for orchestra and never forget that.” Try to take that concept and do anything you do. So, as a soloist it rubbed off. In the direction I had to go – mostly f tuba (as Floyd and I have both done) – it was important to maintain my sound on the CC tuba. Mr. Jacobs told me to practice my orchestra stuff and what made me good in the first place. So, as an orchestra player and a soloist, I tie it all together and still try and maintain that sound of what the instrument was intended for in the first place. 1 don’t know if 1 always get there, but that’s what I am trying to do. The way his teaching philosophy rubs off on me is to try and be positive and to try and have the same kind of confidence he had. I feel that he gave me so much, that in the hard times, I remember him and somehow I don’t get hurt so bad.
MS: Certainly, for me as an orchestral player, he was the initial influence. The first orchestral recording I bought was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Reiner Pictures at an Exhibiticm recording, which 1 bought because I liked the cover art and the tuba was listed in the program notes on the back. When I listened to it, there was this tuba sound that wasn’t a big “spready” sound but was a sound that had vitality. The words Bob Tucci uses to describe it sums it up perfectly for me – vitality and vibrancy. A few weeks ago our Music Director Laureate, Leonard Slatkin, was in St. Louis and I approached him about the tributes that were being collected for Mr. Jacobs, and I found that Gene Pokomy had already talked to him about that matter. However, Mr. Slatkin expanded on the subject and he talked about Mr. Jacobs as being a contributing voice in the orchestra. That’s the way he heard Mr. Jacobs’ playing.
MS: I agree that his was a contributing voice – a contributing bass quality. He had an ability to lift that orchestra, and I cast no aspersions in this statement! Like nobody else could. When he played and it was time to really let it go, it wasn’t crude or blatant. Instead, it was an enormous sound that the tape cannot do justice to what my hands are demonstrating right now! He was also incredibly precise rhythmically. These aspects spilt over into his lessons and my last lesson was no less exciting than the first one I ever had. JR: One of the things he always seemed to have to me that the very top athletes have, is to have another gear when it is needed. Somebody like Michael Jordan has this and in a split second can lift everything going on around him to another level. For me, what Mr. Jacobs could do in the orchestra was fairly unique in this aspect.
Mr. Jacobs had a very distinctive style with two notable characteristics. These were a buoyant attack and a singing vibrato. He also spoke of the tuba as being a solo instrument isolated from the trombones, horns, double basses, low woodwinds, etc.
In spite of his distinctive playing style and his assertion of the tuba as a solo instrument, he seems well matched with these instruments when the tuba line and another instrumental line are similar. How do you account for this apparent conflict of solo independence versus ensemble interdependence? Are there any instances where in spite of similar lines, his tuba line did take on more of a solo role than an ensemble one?
RB I always used him for an example that was all the “P’s.” Present, powerful, punctual, and the other p – Perfect! There was such intensity to even his soft sound that you could still hear the tuba even though he maybe didn’t necessarily want you to hear the tuba sound per se, but you could pick out his color. Some of that might be the particular tuba he played, but he just had that presence about his song.
MS: It always seemed to me that he thought of it like a stereo system. You put up the volume and it really hits the peak, and you maintain the same level of energy but at a different dynamic level.
RM: He never changed the color of his sound unless he wanted to change the color of the sound. It wasn’t that he had to get a different color because he was playing softer or because he was playing very loudly, it was still with the utmost clarity. The clearest tone I’ve ever heard in my life.
MS: He used to call it the focal point.
RM: I’ve heard some marvelous brass playing – including from everybody in this room – and I’ve never heard any other person on any other brass instrument that got that kind of clarity on every note he played.
MS: Many fine examples of the different facets of his playing are on the famous Gabrieli recording. Everybody hears the big, lifting style of playing, but if you really listen to it there’s some soft things in there that are just phenomenal.
MS: It takes a real musician to notice soft playing!
RM: He had the world’s largest mid-range – it was four octaves wide. It went down to the bottom of the instrument and up to the top.
MS: He always said to take the mid-range and expand it – take the quality of sound you get from low a to g at the top of the stave and transfer that quality to all registers.
MS: He called that “the cash register!”
RB 1 remember talking to the recording engineer Buddy Graham, who recorded the Gabrieli album, and he told me that when Jacobs played there was a lot more movement on the needle. 1 don’t think he played any louder than Abe or myself, but Buddy said, “You wouldn’t believe the difference!” Everybody: laughter
MS: Mr. Jacobs has always been associated with the great brass section of the CSO, but 1 have always associated him also with the great bass section of that orchestra. That’s always been one of my favorite sections besides the brass section. Going back to your question, his ability to join them or be a soloist was really uncanny because there were times, because of his great variety of tone qualities, he could just fit into the bass section. Then there would be times where you didn’t know where he was and he would go in a completely different direction and turn that whole sound into something else. He had total control of the bass section and they had total control over him, but they worked so well together it was a complete joy to experience. He had, in his own way, taught the bass section. JR: To me it was a chamber music experience in a symphonic setting. He knew when to step up and also when to step back. I listened to many recordings of Mr. Jacobs’ in coming up with these questions, and the recording that really got me thinking for this particular question was the Pierre Monteux/Cesar Franck Symphony in d minor recording. To me, you have Mr. Kleinhammer on bass trombone who is providing the most wonderful black and white sketch drawing with Mr. Jacobs adding all the color combining to make the most beautiful sound picture imaginable.
RM: The chorale playing in that recording is just without peer. It’s just his voice – there is no separation between his singing and speaking voice and his tuba voice.
When playing music of a lighter nature or of a higher tessitura, Mr. Jacobs seemed to favor altering the mouthpiece selection and keep playing the contrabass tuba as opposed to changing to a smaller instrument. Did his choice affect how you approach the same type of music?
MS: Many years ago, Custom Music Company was looking for consultants and it was Arnold Jacobs who had the idea of teaming myself up with Bob Tucci. This was also correlated with the fact that when TUBA was formed we wanted to have a larger selection of instruments. The reasoning was that a greater variety of quality mouthpieces and instruments available to the artist would provide a better chance to find our own voices and raise our art. Without a doubt, Arnold Jacobs was the catalyst behind this.
RM: I agree. What helped me with this concept was that he always said, “Just choose the right tools for the job. Perform on what sounds best and never switch instruments on what’s easiest but on what sounds right – what helps you get the sound that’s in your head.”
MS: He played almost exclusively on the York CC tuba, so he did not play much F tuba. He didn’t need to. He didn’t have the choices of tuba we have today, but he wanted to see that out there. From my own example, it was at his encouragement that I went to playing F tuba at a time in my career when I was performing a lot of avant-garde music. It sounded better for that type of music and helped me find my own particular musical voice
MS: I think conceptually he was more challenged than we are today; and going back to an earlier question that ties up with this question – yes, the instrument he played did have an influence on his playing. It forced him to have more of a vision of what he wanted. What he tried to instill in people was to have the same level of confidence that he did and to portray the correct tonal quality for the music in hand with whatever instrument you were using – whether the F, CC, or whatever instrument you had. He was obviously the master of this.
RM: I think he could get more variety of sounds out of his instrument by changing the mouthpiece than by changing the instrument, because he was changing his concept of what he wanted – he was changing the song in his head.
MS: He never thought about the tissue or the feedback, etc. He didn’t know what his lips were doing. He just had the song in his head and used the right mouthpiece to portray that song exactly.
JR: I think a word we hit on earlier was the key to all this – confidence. I found his confidence to be infectious and it really rubbed off on me in my lessons. The confidence he instilled in me as a person and as a player was just wonderful.
MS: Ron and I were discussing something this aftemoon. The amazing influence he had on so many people. The only thing in this discussion today that I would like to make a point of is that there are a lot of people out there who we are going to run into who have taken one or two lessons. These people received information that was only relevant to them, and when they teach they pass on information that was meant for them and them alone.
RM: Yes, and what they lack is the insight that he did teach each student so differently.
MS: I find so many students sound so similar or try to become poor copies of Mr. lacobs. This is not what he wanted at all.
RM: They often copy the idiosyncrasies instead of what was really pure and beautiful about what he did.
RB He told me “you’re going to be uniquely Ron Bishop – there’s no way it’s going to be anything other than that.” However, he would also say when giving a playing demonstration “but for lack of a better example, copy my sound!”
Do you think Mr. Jacobs would have changed his selection of playing the music on the famous York tuba if an F or EE-flat tuba of the quality that is currently available had been around in his heyday?
MS: He didn’t have it! I mean, he had a wonderful Besson F tuba, but it was a little too tiny for some of the things he was doing.
RB It wasn’t him, and it wasn’t his concept. Like all of us in the room, we will sound like we sound, regardless of the equipment – much more so than the equipment affecting us. We do have the power over it, but I think the real sound he wanted – his song—that was in his head he made on the York. He liked that sound, so why go to something else?
MS: I think in addition to what Ron says Mr. Jacobs talked about balance and coming up to the other boys, the guys in the trombone section. 1 think he felt more comfortable because he could get so much sound out of that big tuba. He didn’t feel like he was going to lose anything to Ed Kleinhammer.
RM: Well, as Floyd and John both know from first-hand experience, Mr. Jacobs established such a tradition in this orchestra that there was a certain expectation of what the tuba is going to sound like and if he brought in a smaller instrument it just wouldn’t sound right. It wouldn’t sound the way Ed was expecting.
RB; And he was encouraged by all of his conductors to make that sound it seemed. He was lucky that way!
MS: Very lucky!
RB It’s nice when the boss appreciates your work!
My own personal experience of studying with Mr. Jacobs was that I received an incredible amount of highly relevant information in my lessons, which took quite a while to comprehend and implement into my playing. My last lesson with him was in September of 1998, and I can still hear his voice instructing me and coaxing the very best I could give out of me. I also find “flashbacks” to lessons from several years ago, which remind me of information that seemed superfluous at the time but is highly relevant to where I am now. Am I alone in this, or do any of you share similar experiences?
MS: This whole aftemoon!
RM: My own experiences tie in almost exactly with what you have said, Jonathan. When 1 first started studying with him, I was 19 years old and he gave me so much information – “now when you’re older…now when you’re in middle age, you’ll be glad I taught you this” – and at the time I remember thinking “why on earth are you telling me this!? I’m 19 years old. 1 haven’t even finished growing!” He was preparing me for middle age and later, and now I thank him every day for developing strong habits that were going to see me through later on.
MS: He would fill you up with so much information that after a while it almost got to the point of saturation. Things would be just blowing over your head, and then the point he was trying to improve in your playing would just click in a week or maybe a month.
RM: 1 think that was quite intentional. I think his way of using language and filling you up with too much was often a way to get your head swimming. He could give you a new concept that just fits in right where he wanted it without you even knowing it.
In addition to the previous question, if something goes wrong, or maybe not quite right, be it in a practice or performance situation, do you still hear Mr. Jacobs’ voice explaining how to put things right?
MS: I think that’s a universal yes.
RM: And as a teacher also, 1 hear that quite often. Just hearing a little voice in my head – Mr. Jacobs’ voice – telling me what to do.
MS: We all need inspiration. TTiat’s our inspiration and that’s what we pass on.
RM: I think it happens more strongly for me when I am playing. It is not so much his words that I hear but rather his sound. I can remember the first few notes I heard him play live in my first lesson twenty something years ago, and I just couldn’t believe it was coming out of my instrument, a mouthpiece just like mine and I’d never heard anything like that. It was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.
MS: It was like a thunderclap. It just struck. I know I’ll never forget that. First note, last note and all that…
RM: – and I can still hear it like I heard it today.
MS: Yes, amazing what you can hear. I also remember the positive effect he had as a teacher and of looking at things generally and whenever – Floyd will probably testify to this – you have a real tough day teaching; maybe six or seven students come in there and you don’t feel like it, you close your eyes and 1 can see Mr. Jacobs’ smiling face and I think to myself “I’d better produce!” It’s wonderful. I feel so privileged to be in such a close fraternity.
RM: He always taught six or seven hours in a row without a break and would then play a concert that night!
Was hearing Mr. Jacobs perform live or on recording for the first time a pivotal moment in deciding your future?
RM: It didn’t decide my future, but it certainly was a pivotal moment. I had already decided what I wanted to do. I will never forget the first time I heard him play a couple of notes. I had thought up until that moment I had a very nice sound and then I realized 1 didn’t.
MS: 1 went to Arnold Jacobs on the recommendation of Ron Bishop. 1 had already graduated from Eastman where I had studied with the trombonist Donald Knaub, whom I had found to be wonderful. I took the University of Illinois job and it enabled me to be near Mr. Jacobs so 1 could leam from him. I hadn’t even heard him play at this point! I felt I needed it as I was very uptight all the time in my playing and Ron said, “Well, it’ll make you very relaxed.” That magic was worth it. It was the best advice I ever got from anybody. Then when I heard the sound, oh my goodness! Did I do right!
RB My first impression was through an audiophile friend of mine at Eastman in the 1950s. I heard the most remarkable tuba sound in Kubelick’s recording of Pictures. 1 then concentrated on music education at Eastman and then went into the army. It was during these army days 1 started thinking more about being a professional tubist, and I heard Mr. Jacobs play live when they were on tour in Washington. So yes, it was pivotal. The sound, definitely, was a pivotal moment and still is as we have all been saying. We still hear that sound and try to come close to it or at least make our own interpretation of it.
If you had to recommend one recording for a student to listen to, what would it be and why? JR: 1 think we’ve covered the why many times.
RM: 1 would actually recommend the one that he recommended to me first, Alexander Nevsky with Reiner, which took me forever to find because it had been out of print for twenty years at that point. He considered it his favorite as he had a chorus microphone near his bell…
MS: “I told that boy it was going to pick me up and he didn’t believe me!” Everybody: laughter
MS: That became the sound that was expected of that orchestra. When they recorded in Champaign-Urbana they used microphones for that whole section. He always had a microphone down there.
MS: 1 agree with you about Nevsky. It has some beautiful legato playing and the “battle on the ice…”
RM: – and that singing style.
MS: “the big splash” as he used to call it – the big splash of sound at the beginning of the chorus.
MS: My favorite is the Meistersinger with Reiner. I hear that solo and there’s nothing else left for me.
RM: For me also – 1 also love the middle of the first page when he goes into the legato section. There’s such rhythmic precision and yet so much style in what he was doing. Just beautiful!
MS: Meistersinger is my favorite also, but it’s also a favorite of all tuba players! We’ve talked earlier about his spirit lifting the whole orchestra. When I listen to this recording, I almost have to get up and walk around the room to the music. It steps out. It’s got spirit, rhythmical precision, the attacks are perfect, the sound is wonderful, and it is so lyrical. It’s all there. The whole orchestra has it.
MS: Let us not forget that those recordings were made under much more primitive circumstances.
MS: They didn’t splice back then.
MS: They had one microphone. JR: They had to record all in one take.
RM: So many beautiful recordings – the Nielsen 4 really stands out also.
MS: That’s my favorite!
RM: I think that’s the finest recorded example of low brass playing and playing together as a group. I’ve never heard anything like that.
RB I recently obtained a book by Gerald Sloane entitled “Orchestral Recordings for Low Brass Players” published by Encore. It lists hundreds of wonderful recordings with comments from people in the profession – some of whom are sitting at this table now – and Chicago gets mentioned in there a lot, as does Arnold Jacobs.
Do you have a recording that provides inspiration when all else fails?
RM: For me it’s the Gabrieli recording that we’re looking at on the table. That’s been very inspirational to me.
RB We have a new addition to our bassoon section as Chicago stole ours. Jonathan, our new principal, has just discovered this recording and it’s so much fun. For three days after he got it, he’d come in and rave about it – “it’s so great!” I said, “Well, I was really privileged to be there.” I played on two takes. Mainly, I was a gopher, going out and getting coffee or something for the guys. It was such a thrill to be in the midst of those players and no conductor. We all just came in and let it roll.
RM: The recording with the low brass and the old Chicago Symphony Brass Quintet record are two real beauties.
MS: I wore out at least three LPs of the low brass recording! JR: It would be wonderful if there were to be a CD reissue of those two.
MS: And the Nielsen 4!
MS: The Nielsen is out on CD.
RM: The performance is still incredible but the LP is a much better quality recording than the CD.
RB There’s one that Dan and I were discussing earlier and that is the video of Bruckner 7 that is apparently very good. We are going to go shopping after this discussion to see if we can find it! The other big tribute – the one hundred year anniversary box set of twelve CDs from the Chicago Symphony – will probably have things on it that you cannot get anyplace else.
MS: Variations on America is on there that did come out on LP but has not come out on CD.
RM: And the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra with Ozawa is another wonderful recording. Have you heard that one, Floyd?
MS: Yes! That’s fantastic. 1 still have that!
RM: It was on the same album as another version of Pictures.
MS: I have it on a cassette. 1 was in high school when it came out on LP, and I bought it then. It came out about the same time as a recording of Tchaikovsky’s 5th with Ozawa, which was pretty amazing too.
MS: What about both the Reiner Zarathustra recordings? 53
What was your original impression on hearing Mr. Jacobs perform live for the first time and where and when did this take place?
MS: It was like the earth opened up! It was probably in December of 1961 in Orchestra Hall, but 1 don’t remember what was on the program.
RB I heard him in Constitution Hall when I was in the Army Field Band. The CSO was performing some Beethoven in the first half, and 1 went backstage to meet Mr. Jacobs. I felt like a little puppy panting at the feet of the master. I then went back out and got a good seat quite far back and they played The Fairy’s Kiss by Stravinsky, and it was pretty impressive!
MS: The first time 1 heard him play live in a concert it was like the first time 1 heard Frank Sinatra sing! “WOW!!!” It was one of those times when you hear someone that is in a class by themselves, such as Rostropovich and Leonard Rose on cello. Mr. Jacobs happened to be a tuba player. Thank God!
MS: 1 think my first time was in December of 1967.1 had snuck up from Indiana University – where I was a student of Bill Bell’s – for a lesson with Mr. Jacobs, and it was during that week I heard him. 1 don’t remember what he was playing but it certainly created a life-long addiction.
MS: The first time 1 heard him live was in Orchestra Hall. I d heard him in my lessons previously. My reaction on hearing him in the orchestra was the same as everybody else’s here. Solti was conducting and the piece was Stravinsky’s ]eu des Cartes in around 1970. It was a Friday aftemoon concert, and I had a lesson with him the next day.
RM: I don’t remember exactly what he was playing the first time 1 heard him with the orchestra, but what 1 remember vividly was sitting up in the gallery listening to the half hour solo concerts of him warming up before the orchestral concert! 1 heard a lot of wonderful playing.
About the author…
A native of South Wales, Jonathan Rees has worked in several continents as an orchestral player, chamber musician, and teacher. His studies include Trinity College of Music, London where he studied with George Wall, Principal Tuba of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and Northwestern University with Rex Martin where he gained his Masters degree and Performers Certificate. Jonathan has also studied privately with Nigel Seaman, Gene Pokomy, and Arnold Jacobs. Since returning to the United Kingdom in 1999, Jonathan performs, records, and tours with many of the UK’s leading symphony, opera, and ballet orchestras and has also recently been performing with the Orquesta Sinfonica de Tenerife in Spain. His article, “Some Thoughts on Brass Playing” was published in the Winter 1999 issue of the TUBA Journal.