Trumpet Player Paul Stephens formerly of The Army Jazz Ambassadors in Annapolis, Maryland was born in Kingfisher, Oklahoma in July 1966. Trumpet Player Paul Stephens grew up in Del City, a suburb of Oklahoma City, as the only child of hard working, blue-collar parents. Nothing about school really interested Paul. Paul recalls, "Even the thought of being in beginning band in 6th grade didn't sound interesting to me. I had no intention of joining band and didn't want to play a musical instrument. However, a few weeks into my 6th grade year I gave in to peer pressure and reluctantly joined so I could hang out with my friends. My relatives, especially my father, tried their best to convince me that being involved with band was a complete and utter waste of time. I had absolutely no support from my family, so there was no way my parents would buy me a musical instrument. When I showed up for class the only instrument the school had left on the shelf was a baritone. I played the baritone the rest of that year and through half of 7th grade. During 7th grade, my cousin gave me an Olds Ambassador cornet. I played that cornet until I got my first, very used and badly beaten, Bach Stradivarius trumpet at the end of my 9th grade year. I played my Bach all through high school.
I didn't have any guidance when I first started playing the trumpet. I didn't take private lessons, so I pretty much figured out how to play all on my own. Of course the downside to this was that I didn't know what the heck I was doing. I developed all sorts of bad habits and could barely play the instrument. Somehow, in spite of all these issues, by the end of my 9th grade year I was able to develop my range up to a fairly consistent high C; although, very puny and pinched sounding. That said, up to this point I really disliked band class and never took it seriously. It was more of a social club for me. Before I finished junior high school I had actually decided to not continue with band in high school. I was a terrible trumpet player and really did not enjoy it. But somehow I let my junior high band director convince me to try band one more year in high school. He said, "I know that you don't like band much now, but maybe things will change when you go to high school." I went to the high school band director and said, "If you let me play in one of the jazz bands, I'll sign up for band." He said that to join the jazz band you had to have taken jazz band in junior high. I told him I didn't really enjoy band in junior high and was hoping that playing in a jazz band might change my perspective. So even though I had never played in a jazz band before he reluctantly agreed to let me in. After a terrible audition I was appropriately assigned to the alternate 5th trumpet book in the 2nd jazz band, the last chair out of about 16 trumpet players.
Within a couple of months of entering high school my band director invited our entire class to a Maynard Ferguson concert. I had never heard of Maynard before this concert and had no idea that this one concert would change my life forever. After hearing Maynard I knew immediately what I wanted to do with the trumpet. After the concert I began, for the first time in my life, to practice very seriously everyday. This is when I first realized I had fundamental problems with my embouchure. I first tried changing my embouchure myself so I could play high notes. I pulled the mouthpiece way down in the red part of my upper lip and way off to one side at an extreme downstream angle. With this embouchure I was able to create very small annoying sounds and began to squeak out E's and F's above high "C." Luckily, my band director saw what I was doing and immediately corrected me. He warned me that if I didn't develop a good embouchure I would be handicapped for life.
Paul continues, "Basically, I believe if you spend enough time practicing and practicing correctly, because there is a difference, then you can do pretty much anything want to do with the trumpet. The worst thing you can say to yourself is that it's too hard. Walking seemed hard when you where a
baby but it doesn't seem so hard now does it. If fact, you don't even think about it you just do it. In a sense, the same goes for trumpet
I've had wonderful experiences performing with some really amazing musicians in my life. I suppose that my full-time performing career began in 1988 when I joined the U.S. Air Force Band of the West in San Antonio, TX. This was a great learning environment for me. I performed with the concert band, jazz band, marching band, and numerous chamber ensembles. This variety of styles helped make me a more well-rounded musician. My biggest growth as a lead player came from performing the music of one really amazing trombone player we had, David Bandman. David was a prolific writer for the band. We were sometimes performing entire concerts of his music. He was always writing harder and harder lead trumpet parts. He kept pushing my abilities with every new chart he would bring in. He made me a much better, and stronger lead player. His charts forced me to increase my endurance, range, and consistency to a level I had never experienced before.
Paul Stephens graduated high school and went off to college as a music education major. Paul attended Southwestern Oklahoma State University, The University of Mississippi, Rogers State College in Claremore, Oklahoma, and finally Central State University (now the University of Central Oklahoma) in Edmond, Oklahoma. Paul got great scholarship offers because every school wanted a "screamin" lead trumpet player. But once Paul started college, he quickly discovered he had yet another major problem to overcome. Paul had worked so hard in high school to play high notes that I completely blew off developing a solid foundation of trumpet playing fundamentals.
Paul recalls, "I found myself attempting to play stuff like the Haydn, Hummel, and Carnival of Venice with this high-note-only embouchure and it just would not work. So once again I was back to the drawing board with yet another embouchure change. I figured out that if I played a standard downstream embouchure I could play fairly cleanly with a good classical type sound in the middle and lower register, but I couldn't play one note above high C. So for a while I tried just switching back and forth between the two different embouchure placements. This really didn't work that well and I knew if I was ever going to become the trumpet player I needed to be I would have to do something about it.
The solution would come from merging the two embouchure placements, upstream and downstream, into one embouchure. So I split the difference by pulling my jaw in slightly from the upstream set so that my top and bottom front teeth were in line with each other (no over or under bite). This was the compromise I needed and it allowed me to navigate the entire register of the instrument with one embouchure. When I made this switch I immediately lost somewhere between a fifth and an octave in my range, but I started developing a much richer, fatter sound throughout my entire range. This final embouchure change has put me where I am today. Had I not made this change, I would have never been able to play lead at a professional level. When I toured with Nicholas Payton's band I was required to play written continuous lines that started on A below the staff and would extend to A above high C all in within a couple of bars and in one big breath. That would be impossible using multiple embouchers. I have to say that because of all the mistakes I've made and difficulties I've overcome, I've definitely learned a lot more about how the trumpet embouchure works than I would have had I started off with a perfect embouchure. Maybe someday I'll put all of this together in a book. I really hate seeing all of those double high C in 5 minutes type books that are out there. That's the kind of hocus pocus that has screwed up more trumpet players than has helped. There is a lot more to playing the trumpet than being able to play high notes. I believe anyone is capable of having a strong upper register with the right info and willingness to put in the hours it takes to do it the right way. I know that we've all seen those natural players where everything seemed so easy. Playing a musical instrument can come easier for some people than for others. I'm here to tell you, I'm not one of those natural players. I've worked very hard to develop the ability I have today.
My sound concept comes from many years of listening to recordings and live performances of Conrad Gozzo, Al Porcino, Snooky Young, Doc Severinsen, Maynard Ferguson, Harry James, Sonny Cohn, and numerous other legendary trumpet players. I've always strived for a big, full-bodied sound throughout the entire range of the instrument even if it meant I would be sacrificing some of the extreme high notes to get it. In my opinion, sound is everything. I've heard a lot of great trumpet players who could never play above a high G, but they sounded awesome with the range they had; Gozzo was one of those players.
My current range varies depending on what I have to play and how much I'm playing on a daily basis. If I don't practice playing in the upper register, I will lose some of notes off the top of my range. "Use it, or lose it." The shows I'm currently playing with the Jazz Ambassadors require me to play up to double Ds. I rarely ever play above that, although I've been recently working on my double Es. But, my general belief is that if I can't play the note with a nice fat sound that can sing over the band during a loud shout section then it's not a usable part of my range. There are some guys out there that are capable of playing strong usable notes well beyond my current capabilities. Chad Shoopman comes to mind. He's got some of the most ridiculous chops I've ever heard. He can play consistent and solid Gs above double high C. But the reality is that to play most professional lead trumpet books today, you only need a consistent high A. Rarely ever will you see written lines above an A.
Paul Stephens has had the opportunity to perform with some of the biggest names in the music industry:
Barry Manilow, BJ Thomas, The Four Tops, Roy Clark, Gloria Gaynor, The Temptations, Vicki Carr & Bob Florence, Maureen McGovern, John Pizzarelli, Ben Vereen, Nell Carter, Cleo Laine, John Schneider, Wilford Brimley, The Guy Lombardo Orchestra, The Ink Spots, The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, Louie Bellson, Don Rader, Frank Mantooth, Marvin Stamm, Jon Faddis, Allen Vizzutti, Bobby Shew, Jeff Tyzik, Nicholas Payton, Christian McBride, Herbie Hancock, Slide Hampton, Arturo Sandoval, and Ruben Ramos.
The San Antonio Symphony, The New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, The Boston Pops, The Milwaukee Symphony, The Long Beach Symphony, The Dayton Symphony, and The Syracuse Symphony.
The Hoagy Carmichael Orchestra (Orchestra Manager and Lead Trumpet), Westside Story, Sophisticated Ladies, Annie w/Sally Struthers, Victor-Victoria w/Toni Tenille, The Music Man w/Larry Gatlin, Fiddler On The Roof, Our Sinatra, and others.
Most notably the U.S. Presidents George Bush, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Vice Presidents Dan Quayle, Al Gore, Dick Cheney, and Joe Biden. Generals Colin Powell and Richard Myers. Ambassador Walter Mondale as well as many other American and Foreign dignitaries, movie stars etc.
Paul has performed on three Grammy nominated CD's and one Dove Award winning CD. He can also be heard on more than 30 CD's.
Paul Stephens is a Yamaha Performing Artist. He is currently playing a
Yamaha YTR-8345RS Professional Model Bb Trumpet and a Yamaha YFH-631 Professional Model Flugelhorn.
Paul also plays a Yamaha YTR-9835 Piccolo Trumpet and a Yamaha YSL-354V Professional Model Valve Trombone. Paul plays a custom Stork Mouthpiece of his own design that is manufactured by John Stork of Stork Custom Mouthpieces. He also endorses and uses Zaja Valve Oil and Lubricants with all of his instruments.