Tuesday, July 27, 2010



Arnold Jacobs’ marvelous 6/4 CC York tuba was originally made for his teacher at Curtis, Phillip Donatelli, tubist in the Philadelphia Orchestra . Donatelli found it too big for his use. There were two of these tubas built by ‘Pop’ Johnson at J. W. York and Sons in Grand Rapids Michigan in 1938. Donatelli suggested that Arnold buy one of these as the young student did not yet own his own tuba. It was the tuba Mr. Jacobs played through his entire career. Coincidently Fritz Reiner was the conductor at Curtis and followed both Arnold Jacobs and this tuba to Pittsburgh and ultimately Chicago. Was the York tuba part of the Chicago sound? I suggest more than the tuba being part of the Chicago sound, it was part of Arnold Jacobs’ development. When I first studied with Mr. Jacobs I played a Bach 7 mouthpiece with a Meinl-Weston Bill Bell model CC tuba. I struggled with the Petroushka Ab. Jake said “Maybe it’s the equipment.” He picked up my horn and played a wonderfully centered loud, clear Ab. “Nope. The Ab is fine.” I was puzzled. Some months later I brought a larger tuba to a lesson and had found that it worked better with a Helleberg mouthpiece. Jake was finally pleased with my use of the air. I said, “But Mr. Jacobs. I’m playing the same. It is a different mouthpiece and a different tuba.” After some discussion he acknowledged that I was responding differently to the stimulus of the equipment. Needles to say I bought the tuba. I hadn’t played the old one for a year, and out of curiosity picked it up and played Petroushka. The Ab soared out clear and loud. Jacobs likened it to a hot stove. We touch it every day and pull our hand away. One day the stove is cold but instinctively we pull our hand away. It took a year for me to forget the stove was hot. Sometimes I have to ‘punish’ a bad putter by leaving it in the garage for a few months. When I forget that the stove is hot I get the putter out. It performs better after a rest.

I believe Jacobs developed into the player he was in part because of his equipment. The same was true of Bill Bell. The same was true of Harvey Phillips. Jake told me one time Harvey tried the York and said “I don’t know how you can play this.” Jake had a horn like Harvey’s that Conn had sent him. “I can’t play it.” was his comment. In a similar manner two golfers would develop different putting strokes if one started with a belly putter and one started with a standard length blade putter. All three were marvelous players. All three were different. Each developed as he did because of the musical situations in which they found themselves. I believe too that their equipment led them down their individual paths as well. There is a debate in the golf World about whether the golfing greats of the past would be competitive with today’s golfers. Would Bobby Jones or even Harry Vardon hit the ball as far as John Daly or Tiger Woods if they had the technology of modern equipment. What about the converse? Would Tiger Woods be able to compete with Harry Vardon on clubs from 1897? More importantly would the players develop to the same level on equipment from a different era and technology? I shrug when I see comments posted critical to youtube tunes of the past. Young musicians are quick to criticize the old recordings that may not hold up to the best of today. What they fail to take into consideration is that those performers of yesteryear paved the way for today’s standards. Never mind that the best recording equipment from 1950 pales in comparison to what can be done on with a simple laptop computer today.

Another example of the equipment shaping the player is Phil Michelson. A naturally right-handed person, Phil learned by watching his father and mirroring him. Some left handed golfers learned to play right handed because there are more right handed golf clubs. For Phil, having his natural controlling hand being the leading hand certainly had an influence on his game. He is the number 2 golfer in the World.

I heard Jake play the Vaughan Williams on his York with the Evanston Symphony in 1969. During my lessons he played it in his basement and had me stand across the room with a decibel meter as he compared a bell-front Meinl-Weston to a Besson F. He wanted to perform it with the authentic British sound. He also wanted to project. He also didn’t feel comfortable with F fingerings. Ultimately he played it on the York. Walter Sear once said “When the chips are down, you turn to the equipment you’ve played on most of your life.” Though he sounded like Jake on all three, there was a comfort level, partly intonation related, with the York. I believe equipment helps form the player but after that, the player sounds much the same regardless of equipment. I feel it takes at least two months of exclusive play to truly evaluate new equipment. It takes that long for the equipment to remold the player. Mr. Jacobs used the Besson F for his recording with the Chicago Symphony because it was the instrument it was written for. I think it unfortunate that Mr. Jacobs did not chose the York. It would have left a legacy of the great man on the instrument for which he was famous.

Side story (no golf corollary): Fritz Reiner, conductor of the Chicago Symphony for much of Jake’s career, came back from Europe with a Viennese style F tuba. He made Jacobs play it on the Berlioz Hungarian March. F tuba was not Jake’s cup of tea but moreover the main valves are on the left hand on the Viennese F tubas. Reiner went over the march faster and faster until Jake finally reached around in an awkward position to play the valves with his right hand. Reiner finally backed off.

I was playing golf with a friend who had just purchased new Ping irons. “These work great and allow me to just swing easy and let the club do the work.” “Don’t your old ones work well if you just swing easy?” I asked. He had to admit that they did but he had gotten out of the habit. Apparently some of it has to do with confidence in your equipment. Sometimes we buy new clubs just to break a habit. Sometimes we buy new equipment because we refuse to believe the problems originate with us. It must be the equipment. Perhaps a psychologically healthy approach. I need a new putter. I need a new mouthpiece.

A friend of mine was in a pro-am golf tournament/demonstration with Lee Trevino. Lee had a short shot over a tall tree. He laid flat his two iron (normally a club used for long shots with a low trajectory) and the ball sailed over the tree as if struck by a nine iron. The amateurs praised him for the ‘trick’ shot. Said Trevino, “You don’t understand. Any one of the guys on tour can do that. You think you shoot well at home but you have no idea how good the guys on the pro tour really are.” Professionals play in spite of their equipment, not because of it.

There are musicians who play one mouthpiece their entire career and never even think of experimenting with a change. Others seem to change at the drop of a hat. I trumpet player I know took a lesson with the great William Vachiano. Vachiano dug into a barrel of mouthpieces and pulled out ‘just the right mouthpiece for him’. He traded my friend even up. My friend assumed his mouthpiece went into the barrel until he went back for a mouthpiece a week later and saw Vachiano playing it. So it is with golfers and putters. Some play the same putter for years and some seem to change almost weekly in the search for the magic putter. Jake had a medicine cabinet in his basement filled with Helleberg mouthpieces. A favorite mouthpiece of his in lessons was an adjustable cup mouthpiece and a frequent alternate to his usual Helleberg was a Schilke 66 used when he wanted to ‘make the York sound like a smaller horn.

When building a professional flute a very tight pad seat with a light touch is one of the goals. However it is the professional that knows when a pad is not seating properly and can apply a little extra pressure to close the hole. It is the beginner that needs the best seal with the lightest touch. And so it is with golf and perhaps most endeavors. Beginners need the best equipment.

A professional plays in spite of his equipment.
A student develops in a particular way partially because of his equipment.
Problems arise when the equipment in our hand is in conflict with the equipment in our head.

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