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Legendary lead trumpet player talks to Prozone Music...
Tony Fisher [Trumpet]
Tony Fisher started playing the trumpet at a very early age at the instigation of his father – a brass band tuba player. By the age of 13 he was already working professionally, touring the theatres of the UK as a boy "prodigy" solo artist. He Later worked with many of the ‘name’ touring bands of the day including Eric Delaney, Ken Mackintosh, Ted Heath etc. Eventually settling in London in 1965 to become one of the most in demand studio musicians – working on countless films, recordings and TV shows including all the early James Bond films, soundtracks with Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle, Carlos Jobim, John Williams etc plus albums with the Beatles, Tom Jones, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jnr, Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire plus tours with Frank Sinatra. In the world of television he has, and still does, work for BBC TV, ITV and many independent productions. Lead trumpet in the LWT orchestra of Alyn Ainsworth for many years and in the same chair for orchestras of Ronnie Hazlehurst, Alan Braden, Ronnie Aldrich, Goeff Love and more. In a Jazz context, Tony has worked with the bands of John Dankworth, Stan Tracy, Tubby Hayes, and the legendary "greatest jazz orchestra in the world" – the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band. Today he is leader of the Bert Kaempfert Orchestra and lead trumpet of the regular orchestra in the weekly 'Parkinson' show on TV. Tony is also busy giving masterclasses and seminars at The Guildhall, Trinity College, The Royal Northern College, Leeds College and The Royal College of Music.
Hi Tony – Thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us. You have quite literally done it all!!
- How did it all begin, and what are your earliest memories of playing the trumpet?
My father put a cornet in my hand at about age 6 – I went to trumpet later at about age 9, in order to join my sister and brother in law in our “family” dance band in Manchester – the “Silver Rockets” – doing all the usual weddings, birthday parties, etc.
- Like many of the great players from the UK, you have some experiences through your father of the Brass Band world. Do you think this was important or beneficial as a starting place for your career?
Most definitely – theres no such thing as having a rest in a brass band !! It built up my chops fantastically well for the years to come – plus the focus on technique of course.
- As a child star, you must have made a commitment to playing quite early on. At what point did you decide that the trumpet was to be your life’s work?
Thinking back , it is all strange really – I just never considered doing anything else – of course as a child you are not really thinking about what job you are going to do, so when the opportunity came along – an audition for the very famous – ( at the time!!) – “CARROL LEVIS SHOW” – he took me on tour around all the theatres in the UK – and in those days – (we are talking PRE- TELEVISION !! – about 1950) – the theatres were sold out every night. A major problem was me leaving school to do this – luckily my mother and father agreed to do that - much to the annoyance of the headmaster of my college – ST BEDES in Manchester. I toured with Levis for about four years, until call-up to go into the RAF, doing my two years at High Wyconbe – in the signals section !! After that I went directly into touring bands.
- By the time you moved down to London, you had a busy life with top touring bands. Did the London scene welcome you with open arms? Were you already a familiar face with the players in town?
I moved down in 1965 – already having been on the road for the previous 8 years with Ken Mackintosh, Eric Delaney and my first stint with Ted Heath. Obviously, with all the exposure on radio and TV – particularly with the Delaney band – (as it was a one trumpet band) - I was well and truly exposed and therefore most of the players in town knew about me so yes, they did welcome me.
- The array of mega stars that you have performed with is unrivalled. Rubbing shoulders with musical Royalty must have been amazing. Do you have any anecdotes that you could share with us?
Wow – I could fill a dozen pages with this answer !! One of the most embarrassing moments in my whole life happened when I was a kid with the LEVIS show – we were playing Shepherds Bush Empire – yes – the same one that is still there – it became a TV studio for a while in the 70s and now is back to being a theatre I think – and as I walked on stage with the orchestra playing a lovely intro to “ You made me love you” – (my Harry James speciality !!) – unbeknown to myself I banged my trumpet on the stage entrance – knocking off the water key – you can imagine the sound that came out when I put the trumpet to my lips !! AARGHH…luckily the trumpet player in the pit saw what happened, handed me his trumpet and I played ….maybe the audience thought it was a put-up job, but believe me it was not !! It scared me to death !!
Regarding the “stars” I have worked with – it is a dangerous game to tell stories of their sometimes not so nice behaviour – I have put up with all kinds of hysterics from some of them – as we all did in those days – I needn’t name the “stars” concerned – we all know them. I have found that generally the bigger the name – the better and more professional they are – Sinatra, Crosby, Astaire, Sammy Davis all come into that category – it’s the half-way people that I am really not impressed with – as in most of the pop people…..I sound old and crotchety saying that, but when you work with the best, others fall way behind.
- How do you think the business has changed over the years? Musically or otherwise?
I think you can get my general feeling about that in the above answer – to me it has all gone downhill – in almost every way – its silly to generalise and include everybody in that , but 99% has gone backwards musically since the advent of rock and roll – the only really good thing is that the new musicians – and I mean MUSICIANS – like the trumpet players – are all of a much higher standard now than when I appeared…you were considered a bit of a freak if you played an instrument when I was at school – now its almost compulsory to do that and all the better for it…the sad thing is that I really wonder where these great young players are going to go….in my day there were at least 20 touring bands – all good, and all “8 brass 5 saxes” bands – its very difficult to find that kind of experience nowadays. Plus of course the recording and TV industry was huge – every record and every TV show had an orchestra of some kind on it – hence we all worked our socks off – we really had to take holidays to get AWAY from playing !! It was commonplace to work from 10am to 10pm – seven days a week, plus always the early morning - (7 or 8am ) – jingles….that was the only time you could get the players you needed.
- What advice would you give to a young player just coming into the business now?
Despite all my complaints in the above, there is always room for the good player – so obviously get to as high a standard as you possibly can – nothing better than practice – and be versatile – that is most important – to be a jazz specialist or a lead specialist gets you pigeon-holed….and there just is not enough work around to specialize like that and earn a living. Also get around in as many blow bands as you can – it is the only way you will get yourself heard.
- You are well known for your strength, versatility and of course your blistering high register. How do you adapt to different styles? Is it an instinct, or are there any techniques you use?
Again I have to refer back to the previous answer – but trying to answer the three things.
1) Strength – I try to keep myself reasonably fit – at my age playing golf as much as possible helps enormously with breathing and general exercise.
2) Versatility – referring to the previous question – don’t specialize by having for example huge mouthpieces which are great in a symphony orchestra but really hard going in a jazz or big band situation – or a very shallow one that gives you the high tones but sounds not too good in the classical genre. I have only ever use one mouthpiece – a Giardinelli 10s – I find this works in across the board….I am not saying that is the way for everybody, some people use all kinds of different mouthpieces but whatever suits you - DO IT !!
3) High Register – nowadays the high register seems to have become the be-all and end-all for a lot of trumpet players – I personally certainly cannot get up there with the double C people – up to a G or A flat does it for me and I have found that is enough for most things – I honestly think that sounds and time and intonation are far more important – and I can honestly say that is not “sour grapes” from me – if you can play way up there in tune, in time, and with a good sound you are on a winner. On that subject, for me playing lots of pedal tones helps range – ironic, but it works. Plus much diaphragm breathing of course.
- Do you have a fail safe practise routine of any kind? Would you mind sharing a couple of secrets with us?
If I have enough time I always like to play pedals for a while followed by a few flexibilities – the old Charles Colin books were a godsend to me when I discovered them back in the 60s – certainly not HIGH LOUD warm ups – they are a killer !!
- What instrument set up do you most regularly play on? Do you alter much/any of it when you play in different ensembles?
I have played Benge trumpets since 1953 – when I bought what I think was the very first Benge in this country – it is the MLP model with a 3 bell – everything else just does not work in the same way – the Yamahas are pretty good but when I go back to my Benge it feels like an old pair of comfortable slippers !! as it should after 50 years !!
- Have you encountered any problems during your career, playing or otherwise? If so, how did you overcome them?
Not really – I guess I have been very lucky in that respect – I was certainly in the right place at the right time to do what I have done musically – that was lucky – plus I have had the usual set-backs – health wise I had a burst appendix in 1980 which meant I had to go in hospital for an emergency operation and stop playing for about 3 months – I really thought that was the end for me as when I restarted I couldn’t play a low C !! It all came back later.
- What’s next on the Horizon?
Just to carry on playing as long as I am physically fit enough – and ENJOY it !! When the time comes when you dread getting the instrument out it is time to call it a day – hopefully that wont happen to me !!
Great to talk to you Tony.