Trumpet Players Directory

Trumpet Player Paul Stephens
formerly of The Army Jazz Ambassadors

 Paul Stephens Lead Trumpet Player

Paul Stephens Lead Trumpet Player

Paul Stephens performs "MacArthurs Park"

Paul Stephens performs "Cleopatra"

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.

My high school band director, Wes McLennan, is an amazing lead, jazz, and classical trumpet player that I still respect tremendously. I took his advice and he started working with me to change my embouchure. He got me to center my mouthpiece evenly on the top and bottom lip. Also, since it was marching band season and he wanted the trumpet players to point our "bells to the box," I decided to push my lower jaw forward to make it easier for me to point my bell up. Within weeks of doing this I started building up my range and by the end of my 10th grade year I could play a high "G." Unfortunately I had developed another bad problem. My cheeks were puffing way out like Dizzy Gillespie and I was actually tearing the soft tissue in my cheeks. My band director saw my determination and invited a friend of his over to the band building to have a look at me. This guy, Danny Zaloudik, became my life long mentor and friend. Danny had absolutely mastered an embouchure system called the Stevens-Costello method. He could play clearly and cleanly from pedal "C" all the way up to triple "C." He was incredibly inspiring to hear. I spent the summer between my 10th and 11th grade year studying with Danny. He got me started on the Stevens-Costello upstream system of playing. Within two weeks of studying this system, using the pencil exercises he taught me, I had built enough muscular strength to hold my cheeks in. Once the cheeks came in things really started working. Within a month I was playing double high Cs. That year, 11th grade, I was assigned as the lead trumpet player with the 2nd jazz band and about half way through the year I was moved up to split lead in the 1st band. My band director started featuring me with the band playing Maynard Ferguson arrangements like "Rocky," "Country Road," and "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me." By the end of my senior year in high school I was able to play up to Fs and Gs above double high C. Now you're probably thinking to yourself, what a miracle story. Guy goes from alternate last chair in the 2nd band to lead in the 1st band within a year and a half. Well, here's the catch. My sound in the middle register of the trumpet was terrible. I had no control and cracked every other note I had to play below high C. Sure I could play high, but that was all I could do."

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 playing.

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.

In 1993, I toured as the lead trumpet player for Maynard Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau band. This was truly a dream gig for me. I never, ever, imagined that I would wind up playing lead for my hero, the man that inspired me to be a trumpet player. Working with Maynard will always be the most treasured experience of my life as a trumpet player. The most significant thing I learned from him is to play every note with all your heart and soul. Up to this point, I just played the notes on the page. After touring with Maynard I understood that there was a lot more to playing music than playing the notes on the page. Unfortunately, because of my commitment to the Air Force, I had to leave Maynard's band after only one tour.

In 1995 I was transferred to the U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific-Asia in Tokyo, Japan. I lived in Tokyo for the next three years. It was during this time that I hooked up with Eric Miyashiro, a great lead trumpet player who had toured with Buddy Rich, Woody Herman and others. I had met Eric while I was touring with Maynard, so he was already familiar with my playing. When I arrived in Tokyo, Eric got me working almost immediately with numerous Japanese bands, including his own. Eric was the first person to show me what it was like to be a studio musician. I would travel around Tokyo from studio session to studio session performing jingles and soundtracks with him. It was an amazing and incredible learning experience. Mike Bogart was also in Japan during this time. He was there stationed with the U.S. Navy. Eric, Bogie, and I played together on a regular basis during this time. We were the "Three Amigos" of Tokyo. During my time in Japan I played lead for the Tokyo Leaders big band, the Kenichi Tsunoda big band, the Yoshiko Katori Big Band, the ABC Big Band, and of course the Eric Miyashiro Big Band. I was also a part of Eric Miyashiro's band, Z-Force. Z-Force consisted of five trumpets and rhythm. I also had the wonderful experience to perform as the lead trumpet player for the rock band Chicago on their "Night and Day" big band tour at the Budokan in Tokyo.

In 1998 I left the Air Force to enjoy a very successful and rewarding career as a full-time, free-lance musician. During this time I toured with numerous artists and shows including two and a half years with Nicholas Payton's band.

In 2003 I decided to come back to the military and finish the career I had begun in 1988. There were many factors that influenced this decision. The biggest one being 9/11. I was at my home in San Antonio watching CNN live when the second plane flew into the World Trade Center. That was a life changing moment for me and it's when I knew that I would be coming back to the military. I felt that I needed to do something to support my country during this time. I decided to join the 49th Armored Division Band in Austin, TX. Then while in the process of enlisting into the Guard I found out about an opening with the U.S. Army's Jazz Ambassadors. So flew to DC, auditioned, and here I am. I'm currently performing as the Lead trumpet player for the U.S. Army's premier touring jazz orchestra, The Jazz Ambassadors. I look back on my life and think that if I had to quit playing trumpet today I would have no regrets. I've had a wonderful career and I've worked with a lot of very wonderful people.

My advice to up and coming musicians would be, have a friendly personality, be dependable, treat people the way you would like to be treated, and always play every gig like it's an audition because you never know who's listening.

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.

Symphony Orchestras:
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.

Performed for:
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 Gear:

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.

Paul Stephens On Trumpet Range

  • QUESTION -What equipment do you use for upper register playing and why?

    I use a mouthpiece of my own design made by John Stork of Stork Custom Mouthpieces. This mouthpiece has a shallower and narrower cup than a more traditional classical type trumpet mouthpiece, i.e. Bach 1C. My lead mouthpiece is similar in size to a Warburton 5SV. I only use this mouthpiece for lead playing. I use a Bach 1.5 C for legit or section playing. The lead mouthpiece helps to create a brighter and more projecting sound with less effort. Because of the shallower cup, it also helps to more easily compress the air going into the instrument, which is essential in producing that sizzle or burn associated with a strong commercial sounding upper register. I'm a Yamaha Performing Artist and I'm currently performing on a Yamaha 8345RGS trumpet. It's a large bore, heavy receiver instrument that I really like.

  • QUESTION - How does a player go about finding optimal equipment?

  • Through trail and error, I remember Maynard Ferguson saying, "One man's sugar is another man's poison." In other words, what works for one person may not work for you. You have to figure out what feels and sounds the best for your particular embouchure. The best way to do this is to try several different brands and sizes of mouthpieces without paying any attention to what size or brand your trying. For example; Take 10 random mouthpieces and play them one at a time creating two different piles of mouthpieces; one pile of your likes, and another of your dislikes. Then take the ones you liked and repeat the process until you're down to only one mouthpiece. Remember that you should not be looking for a mouthpiece that will only help you play in the upper register. You will have to make some compromises because a good sound, intonation, and flexibility are more important than strictly playing easier high notes. You can go through the same process in searching for the right trumpet.

  • QUESTION -In your opinion, approximately what percentage of high note playing is mental vs. physical?

    Short of a some type of physical deformity, I believe it's more than 90% mental. In my case, it is definitely a learned ability and it took a lot of dedicated practice for me to learn it. But this varies from person to person. Some people seem to develop it very naturally. I do believe anyone can develop this ability with proper guidance and hard work.

  • QUESTION - What is your philosophy on breathing concerning the upper register?

    Training your body to compress air is essential to developing a strong upper register above high G. It's the one thing that separates players that can play a strong high G and a player with a "strong, full sounding," double high C.

  • QUESTION - How does air compression effect upper register playing and should a player be able to execute upper register playing both with and without compressed air?

    The upper register can be developed without air compression. I know a few classical trumpet players that can play with a lot of control up to, and beyond, double high C. Although, because they cannot compress the air, they are unable to produce that burn, or sizzle, that is an essential trait of a powerful upper register.

  • QUESTION - How and what do you practice to be able to play consistently in the upper register?

    I have an expanding arpeggio based exercise that I do every day as a warm up. It takes me about 15 minutes to perform. Then I follow that up with a 5-minute lip trill exercise followed be 5 minutes of pedal tones. I like to start this warm-up 45 minutes prior to the downbeat of a performance. For me, flexibility is everything. Staying flexible helps me greatly with accuracy, consistency, and range. If I've been off the horn for a few days, I'll play things that help to build my endurance back up. I will sometimes play the first cornet parts on marches taking all the repeats. Then go back and play the same march again up an octave. I also have a practice book that I've created from several other books that I own. It's about a hundred pages of various etudes; Arban and Clarke studies, Vizzutti exercises, solo, and scale exercises. I'll play through the whole book everyday until I can get all the way through it without a break. On a normal day of performing or rehearsing with a band, I will only do the warm-up portion. I also believe that soft long tones can be very helpful especially after playing very demanding or loud performance. Playing soft long tones can help to keep you chops focused, and your tone pure and clear.

Trumpet Player Paul Stephens Discography At CD Universe

Home | Trumpet Method Books / Sheet Music | Contact Trumpet Players Directory | Buy A Student Trumpet
| Trumpet Mouthpiece Comparison Chart | Professional Trumpet Players Gear Listed | Privacy Policy
Trumpets Manufacturers, Mouthpieces Manufacturers, Trumpet Repair, Trumpet Accessory Links
| Professionals Talk Trumpet Range | Free Trumpet Music & Method Books

Trumpet Players Directory Affiliate Link

Professional Trumpets