Jazz Birthday: William “Cat” Anderson (1916)

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Cat Anderson played lead trumpet for Duke Ellington for 22 years. As the top voice in a big band, the lead trumpet player is often swinging the entire band. Cat pioneered high note trumpet playing, with a range of five octaves and strength throughout. No one can become a player of Anderson’s caliber without extraordinary dedication, skill, invention of proper technique, and daily practice to build and maintain the lip muscles (embouchure). I’ve chosen an untitled blues in which you can see his fingering and half-valve technique, observe his gentle approach to the instrument, and see his easy embouchure and masterful control. He’s playing into a harmon mute with the stem removed, also favored by Miles Davis. At 25 seconds in (after some blue note half-valving), he starts the first of several minutes of 12-bar choruses with two solid D’s. Rhythmically, he adds swing and tension by often starting a new idea in the bar preceding a four-bar segment. It’s interesting that Duke introduces his playing as “tipping and whispering” because Cat’s unique practice exercises include some with the instruction “like whisper”. It is said that in the orphanage where he began playing, he had to play softly and by this means he discovered that it built up his embouchure strength for playing high notes.

5:40 am on September 12, 2012