Brian MacDonald, Lead Trumpet Player of The Airmen of Note, Washington, D.C
Brian MacDonald Trumpet Player
Brian MacDonald Trumpet - "Begin The Beguine" with The Airmen of Note
Brian MacDonald Trumpet - "I Want To Be Happy" with The Airmen of Note
Brian MacDonald, Lead Trumpet Player of The Airmen of Note in Washington D.C. has also played lead trumpet with KC & The Sunshine Band, the Woody Herman Thundering Herd, the Alan Baylock Big Band, the Taylor/Fidyk Big Band, the Ryan Haines Big Band, the Smithsonian Jazz Orchestra and the Maynard Ferguson Big Bop Nouveau Band.
I was fortunate to see Brian perform with Maynard Ferguson in Akron, Ohio. I'll never forget Brian's solo on "Caravan" at Tangiers Night Club in Akron, Ohio. What a joy filled inspirational concert and Brian did a great job of playing the lead trumpet book on this two set gig that evening. Brian is undoubtedly one of my all time favorite lead trumpet players and an under recognized talent in my opinion. Brian is a very consistent lead trumpet player and wonderful human being to associate with.
Brian MacDonald was born in Paris, France and began playing the trumpet at the age of twelve. After graduating from Nova High School in 1991, Brian MacDonald began his studies at Broward Community College where he was a member of the International Association of Jazz Educators National Community College Jazz Band in 1993 and 1995. At age nineteen, Brian played in a show band in Marcolla, Spain.
Trumpet Player Brian MacDonald studied with great lead trumpet player Roger Ingram for about a year before attending the University of Miami (Fla.) ... Brian says of Roger Ingram, "his teaching definitely took my trumpet playing to a new level." Brian also studied with Los Angeles trumpet legend and guru Bobby Shew while on the road and in the Los Angeles area.
Brian did a few stints on the various cruise ship bands and enrolled in the University of Miami (Fla.) in the fall of 1995. After beginning school at the University of Miami, Brian started playing trumpet with KC & The Sunshine Band ... "thanks to Billy Spencer (formerly of Woody Herman's Band and a swinging lead trumpet player)."
During the fall of 1997, Brian took a break from school and KC's gig to do a tour with Maynard Ferguson. That was a dream come true to play lead trumpet for Maynard's Big Bop Nouveau Band. Brian relates, "Scott Englebright was instrumental in throwing my name into the mix of great lead players that were available to do the job."
After touring with Maynard Ferguson, Brian rejoined KC & The Sunshine Band until he finished his degree in the Spring of 1999. Brian joined the prestigious Airmen of Note in the summer of 1999. The recordings of Rewind Play - The Airmen of Note are some of the very best big band recordings you will hear period. Go to their website and check out their sound files ... astonishing arrangements and playing!
One of my favorite big band recordings with Brian's Lead playing in the spotlight is Alan Baylocks "Eastern Standard Time." This is a very entertaining jazz orchestra recording featuring Bryan's lead playing and Alan's incredible arranging skills. Alan Baylock is a composer and arranger for the Airmen of Note. I was very fortunate to have heard The Airmen of Note at Ohio State University in March of 2009 and again in the summer of 2010 in Lima at an outside pavilion. They are incredibly entertaining and one of the very best big bands on the jazz scene today. Master Sergeant MacDonald's military awards and decorations include the Air Force Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
Brian states, "I have had the pleasure of playing with The Woody Herman's Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Frank Tiberi a few times next to some great trumpet players like Pete Olstad, Brian O'Flaherty, John Chudoba, and Roger Ingram." Brian can also be heard at Rewind Play - The Airmen of Note website.
Says Brian, "I don't practice range much at home since I'm usually pounding on all my rehearsals with The Note and also civilian gigs that I do on the weekends. Sometimes I'll play my Shew piece (Marcinkiewicz E-14) at home, if I've been taking it easy just to keep my high chops in check. Otherwise, I do use a Bach 10 1/2 C to mainly play low and soft to counter all the high and loud playing I do. I don't ever practice playing high on the Bach though, because I feel that I play differently on the two pieces. I put more top lip in the Bach, and I feel I come out of the Shew piece in order to get a big sound. Roger (Ingram) had me play glissandos starting on middle C going to high C at mf (dynamic level) then to pp then to FF and back to mf on one breath using the wedge. Then I would go up in half steps using the same method for each until I got to high F, take a break then I'd start again on D, go to High D, one breath, all dynamic levels evenly (that part is very important) continuing up in half steps (new full breath for each new note) till I got to high G. After that I would take another break then do A, B flat, B, and double C, but only say one or two glissandos at each dynamic level. Definitely do not do it on a day that you have a gig! Rest as often as you play. Brian uses a relatively small mouthpiece and a large aperture set-up as does his trumpet teachers Roger Ingram and Bobby Shew.
Brian MacDonald's Advice On High Range For The Trumpet
QUESTION - What equipment do you use for upper register playing and why?
I use a Marcinkiewicz Shew 1 (E-14) for lead playing (up to high A) and a customized
flat rim for notes to double C or D. Both mp's are cut for Reeves Sleeves.
QUESTION - What is the effect of the proper equipment on upper register?
It's easier to get the right sound out of a shallower mouthpiece with less work. I
can cut through the band rather than trying to bury the band, therefore it
gives me more endurance and range.
QUESTION - How does a player go about finding optimal equipment?
Basically, play on the shallowest mouthpiece you can play while still
getting a good sound and not sacrificing a lot of technique. Some
technique and flexibility may be affected by this change, but for certain
situations like lead playing or other needs, you can sacrifice a little bit to
gain endurance and notes in the upper register.
QUESTION - In your opinion, approximately what percentage of high note playing
is mental vs. physical?
I'd have to say that 60% is physical, and the mental part I'd split in half
20% mental (actually fighting what your mind THINKS you should be
doing) and the other 20% is knowing how to effectively use the resistance
of high compression mouthpieces and trumpets.
QUESTION - Is upper register playing a learned trait or is it based on natural
Many of the famous high note trumpet players just had the natural ability
to play well in the upper register. There are ways to improve your range
based on your type of embouchure, but it's generally hard to kick old
habits and take on a new approach.
QUESTION - What is your philosophy on breathing concerning the upper register?
How does air compression effect upper register playing and should a
player be able to execute upper register playing both with and without
I learned Bobby Shew's "Wedge Breath" from Roger Ingram. That coupled
with learning how to play on a Marcinkiewicz Shew 1 and utilizing resistance rather than fighting it
definitely added notes and the right sound to my playing. The first step of the Wedge Breathe is
most important. The farther down you support your sound (where you start your breathe and lean
on that spot) the easier it is to ascend without much effort. If you take a breathe and it's quick and
unsupported, by the time you get into the upper register, you will have nothing to lean on; that's
when your body takes over and starts doing all sorts of funky things to try and make it happen.
QUESTION - How and what do you practice to be able to play consistently in the
Personally, I never practice high notes since most of my playing is in the
upper register and mainly lead trumpet parts. I practice low and soft to
maintain a balance to my playing. But when I was working on it, I
practiced octave glissandos at all dynamic levels to get the right feel up
there. Also, I wanted to remember what those slots feel like; that's what
the glissandos do. Muscle memory is key to recreating those extreme
Please provide any additional comments you feel would be helpful in
advancing the knowledge of upper register playing?
The best advice I can give comes from the teachings of Doc Donald
Reinhardt ... don't play too loud in the middle register! If you're playing at
100% of your volume on a high F, you have little to no chance of playing
higher with the same amount of sound or MORE since it should be higher
and louder. Back off on the volume, learn to play by feel and not by
what YOU hear.