Thank You Jason Derulo, For Bringing Back The Horn Section
I would like to personally thank Jason Derulo for doing something no one else has been able to for almost an entire generation – returning the horn section to an honored position in pop music. To me it’s no surprise his ‘Trumpets’ is now one of the fastest rising songs on the Pop and Rhythmic charts.
Of course I’m reading more into this than I should – the metaphorical genius and suggestive lyrics have more to do with the song’s success than visions of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie (by the way Nice and Smooth’s ‘Funky For You’ is so hot I don’t care that Greg Nice said he played the sax or Louis Armstrong but just indulge me, something has to be said for one of today’s R&B and Pop icons placing underutilized brass and woodwind instruments front-and-center.
I’ve pondered D.O.T.H. (Death Of The Horn) in Urban and Pop music for some time. But it is still a mystery to me as to why the saxophone, trumpet and trombone did not just fade away but literally turnt up missing overnight – milk carton status.
My late Grandfather – a saxophone player – used to say that no instrument approximated the human voice as much as the saxophone and no one dramatized another point any better than James Mtume (redbullmusicacademy.com interview) when he recently noted how people would literally lose their minds over just one toot from Miles. So, I never understood why horn instruments and what they make possible were so dramatically written out of history.
So, here’s a few suggestions for those – who thanks to pieces of groove production equipment like Maschine – now have access to almost unlimited sounds from every acoustic and electronic instrument.
- Use the horn as ‘Ear Candy’ and a lead-in to lock in a groove. Set up your keyboard figures, guitar riffs, basslines, drum and percussion patterns and vocals with a horn. Check out “Choose Me” by Loose Ends, as a classic example. From Hip-Hop a great example of horn usage is ‘One To Grow On’ by the UMCs.
- Study how great vocalists often phrase like horn players. One of the things that makes ‘Outstanding’ so outstanding is the sax-like phrasing of Charlie Wilson. Listen closely, those aren’t ad libs those are practically instrumental solos. He sings over and under, like a great player.
- Use your effects and samples more creatively. An equalizer, pitch bend and cross-fader are creative ‘instruments’ too and they can bring out new colors and nuances in a horn instrument. Study what Miles Davis was doing with the ‘wah wah’ and the trumpet and how much he brought to that instrument by studying the guitar.
- Talk to trained musicians more about their instruments. This is happening more and more as artists work to get around sampling and intellectual property issues but there is so much unchartered territory. DJs, audio engineers, producers can teach and learn from all kinds of instrument players.
- Study great horn arrangers. An example of one such person is Thomas Washington, also known as TOM TOM 84 who did horn arrangements for Earth, Wind and Fire and Phil Collins among other great work. These giants tapped into a lot of secrets about how certain instruments complement each other and how certain sound frequencies have unique harmony. Quincy Jones is another great example in how he recognized the way beautiful certain combinations of French horns and Flugelhorns sound together. Also Wynton Marsalis’ insights into how the clarinet, trumpet and trombone can be arranged like a conversation is brilliant.
One of the great things about the creative destruction underway in the music industry is that rigid genre classifications are dying. The distinction between ‘Rock,’ ‘Soul,’ ‘Country,’ ‘Jazz,’ ‘Gospel,’ ‘World,’ were partly perpetuated by industry taste-makers forcing us to accept what instruments and sounds could and couldn’t be used in certain genres. The guitar was eventually diminished in R&B; the piano never fully cracked African music and took on different role in experimental Jazz and of course the ridiculous ‘acoustic’ versus ‘electronic’ music debate was aggravated by cross-generational disunity and elitism in the world of jazz music critique and academia.
Today we have a great opportunity to erase all of that nonsense. Thanks, Jason.