Mike Ponella, Trumpet Player and Clinician located in New York City, was born in the Bronx, New York, living there until the age of five. An area where the late trumpet player Shorty Rogers, and trombone player Eddie Bert, among others, had performances at a local area jazz club called "The Bucket of Blood." Mike adds, "This was interesting to me because as a professional, I continued to work with Eddie Bert on different jazz projects, and also recorded for Shorty Rogers while I was in Los Angeles for a couple of years. My family moved from the Bronx to New City, New York (a suburb of New York City, approximately 30 miles from midtown Manhattan), where I went on to have all of my schooling from grades K through 12. In the 4th grade, I was interested in joining the band but had a choice of studying either the trombone or trumpet. This choice was a "no-brainer" because my next door neighbor was a professional trumpet player who told me that if I studied the trumpet he would give me free trumpet lessons. I imagine by studying right from the beginning it enabled me to make faster progress and gave me an opportunity to be a first trumpet player immediately. During that time, in Elementary School, I was selected to play first trumpet for the All County Band.
Moving on to Junior High (Middle) School, I again was selected to be the first trumpet player as well as soloist in the Orchestra, Chorus, and Band. During the two years in this school, I was able to take a jazz music course that enabled me to start learning jazz, playing compositions and arrangements. I must point out that my learning and playing jazz started from instruction with the late jazz saxophonist Arnie Lawrence. On Saturday afternoons, Arnie would teach me and his son Erik, and have us play at a small jam session at his house. While in Junior High, I had started to take private trumpet lessons with a free lance trumpet player by the name of Walter Nardozzi. Walter was a student of Carmine Caruso, so of course I was able to study and benefit greatly from Carmine Caruso's System. It was an interesting time for me as Walter took me to a local performance of the Danny Stiles Band, which pretty much got me "hooked" on to studying both Lead Trumpet, and Jazz Trumpet. Shortly after that we went to New York City to go to the 2nd Brass Conference where I got to meet Bill Chase, as well as Al Porcino.
Moving on to High School, again I was first trumpet player and soloist for the Concert Band, Jazz Band, Orchestra, and Marching Band. During these four years, I was also able to play first trumpet for the Broadway Summer Theater Festival Shows. The high school years were a time for me to perform in the New York All-State Wind Ensemble under the direction of Frederick Fennell, and start my 8 track, cassette, and record collection, listening to a wide variety of trumpet players, especially Doc Severinsen, and Al Hirt, both of whom I was fortunate to have worked with in my career. Also, I was playing in an original nine piece cover band called "Spectrum" which was modeled after the group "Chicago." I began to write original music as well as arrangements.
Little by little, I started to get established at home in New York, meeting more and more musicians, playing in rehearsal bands, performing for concerts, clinics, recordings, Broadway shows, headline acts, television and radio shows, Presidential Inaugurations, etc. I went on to be the lead trumpet, soloist, and composer, for such notable groups as The Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, Paquito D'Rivera and The United Nations Jazz Orchestra, and Slide Hampton and The Jazz Masters. Since being an established free lance trumpet player in New York City, I have been playing a wide variety of musical styles ranging from performances with Maestro Anton Coppola to Dizzy Gillespie. I am currently working on my "lifetime goal" of producing an recording of original music. Once completed, I will have had some of my very special friends taking part as guest soloists, such as: Barry Finnerty, Paquito D'Rivera, Slide Hampton, Howard Johnson, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and Lew Tabackin.
After High School, I went to the Boston Conservatory of Music, only to be disappointed after I found out that the jazz department was not to be included anymore there. I fully intended to study both classical and jazz styles, but needed to find a way to study jazz. I lucked out as fellow trumpet player Chris Pasin had me come over to the New England Conservatory of Music to start performing with the Medium Rare Big Band at the school. I was able to do this as my intention was to transfer over from Boston Conservatory to the New England Conservatory of Music which I eventually did. It was well worth it as the New England Conservatory of Music was one of the top schools worldwide with great teachers, ensembles, and music composition and arranging classes, and MUCH competition. In my Conservatory years, I was able to perform with the Conservatory Repertory Orchestra as well as the Medium Rare Big Band and other jazz groups, such as the George Russell Big Band. As for teachers, I was able to study with Robert Nagel one week, then with John McNeil the next. Talk about getting a "well rounded education!"
During college, I was fortunate to be in Boston where I was able to start to free-lance on a variety of professional gigs ranging from recordings, to playing with the Harvard Opera Company. I started playing lead trumpet for the late trumpet player Leon Merian. Leon was a big influence to me as I learned the importance of "sound" from him. He is gone now, but I kept in touch with him up to his death and I reminded him of how he greatly influenced my trumpet style. Throughout my Boston years, I would take auditions for summer work, and in fact I was selected to be the first trumpet player for the World's Fair Orchestra in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1982. I continued to work for the Opryland Company in Nashville, Tennessee after graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music for the next two years and also toured for Columbia Artists. I was considering staying in Nashville as I was doing some recording work; however, auditioned and spent the next couple of years on the road with the bus and truck tours of "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" as well as "Brigadoon."
After these tours were over, I had an opportunity to work into the free lance music scene in Los Angeles, California meeting some great musicians, not to mention appreciative musicians, such as the late Lead trumpet player Buddy Childers. Buddy was one of the musicians in Los Angeles who treated me well during my couple of years there. Little did I know, but I was about to try and "fill Buddy's big shoes" years later as I would be playing his parts with the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchesta. While in Los Angeles, I was able to do a variety of work, such as concerts, private/corporate parties, jazz clubs, Broadway shows, acts, and recordings, such as one for Shorty Rogers whom I mentioned earlier. I was about to spend many years on the West Coast "working up into the scene" but a couple of things made me decide to return home to New York City. I figured I needed to "give it a good shot" to get established in New York since that is where I was from. Also, I was looking for more of a "jazz scene" and New York had more of that going for it (jazz trumpet player Conte Candoli once told me that New York is the place for Jazz and Los Angeles seems to be playing "catch-up"), as well as the variety of music present in New York City. Before I left Los Angeles, I had helped establish a rehearsal band with trumpet player Larry Newman, and trombone player Dale DeVoe which had more of an "East Coast" sound playing arrangements of composers from New York City such as Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer, etc. This band helped propel me back East. Actually, a few Maynard Ferguson Band alumni played with us there, such as Bobby Militello, and Nick Lane.
Presently, I am using the gold plated version of the Jerome Callet Jazz Trumpet. It is a .470 large conical bore which starts out as a medium bore, going to a medium large bore, then to the large bore at the 3rd valve port. I alternate with three different mouthpieces (same rim size, but different cup) depending on the style of music to be played. The side to side diameter for each are similar to that of a 10 + 1/2C Bach size. I use a deeper standard cup for legit work, and two heavy metal mouthpieces custom made by Vladimir Friedman for commercial playing and high lead work. One cup style is similar to a double-cup, and the other has a tight 28 + 1/2 throat size. The C trumpet I use is Jerome Callet's "Superchops" which is a .464 bore using a Bb bell as well as a Bb leadpipe.
The Flugelhorn I use is Jerome Callet's Jazz Flugel, which has a .460 bore. For other styles, I use my 50 year old Getzen Tone Balanced Super Delux Cornet, as well as my Getzen Eterna 4 Valve Piccolo trumpet. I also have a backup Bb trumpet which is a DEG Signature LA Model 2000 Custom Series, with a medium large bore. It was co-designed by my late friend Ray Amado (who invented the Amado Water Key), and trumpet player Tony Scodwell.
Mike Ponella has performed with Freddie Hubbard, Doc Severinsen, Tony Bennett, Jon Faddis, Lew Tabackin, Randy Brecker, Paquito D'Rivera, Jimmy Heath, Joe Williams, Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Eddie Daniels Chick Corea, Louis Bellson, Slide Hampton, Harry Connick Sr., Frank Sinatra Jr., Chris Botti; Toshiko Akiyoshi's Jazz Orchestra; the United Nation Orchestra with Paquito D'Rivera; Slide Hampton and The Jazz Masters; The Count Basie Orchestra; Chico O'Farrill; Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks; George Russell; NewYorkestra; and Tito Puente ... his full extensive list can be found on his website.
Mike Ponella's Trumpet Tips