Tuesday, July 27, 2010



Mr. Jacobs gave a master class and was working with a trumpet player. The excerpt was played moderately at best. Jake simply said, “Play that again and show me how ‘Bud’ (Adolf Herseth) would do it.” The student played it again and did a marvelous job. “Why didn’t you play it that way the first time?” Jake asked. “I’m not Bud.” the student replied. (The audience roared with laughter.) I do hit the ball better when I am demonstrating how Freddie Couples swings. Unfortunately I laps back into the moment of being me and my score goes up.

Ben Hogan and others have commented that golf is a game of misses. No one strikes the ball perfectly every time. Success has to do with the quality of your bad shots. Useful advice for musicians.

We suppose that the ‘Jacobs Sound’ was a result of the famous York tuba. While the characteristics of that instrument clearly contributed to the way Mr. Jacobs developed as a player, it is also true that Mr. Jacobs sounded like ‘Jake’ regardless of equipment. One characteristic of the ‘Jacobs Sound’ was the attack transient. Have you heard a singer who starts every note a little under volume? Many do it. Some string players do it too. It is often done in the guise of expressiveness. To me it exudes a lack of confidence. Find the pitch before you bring it up to full volume. Some singers and many string players jump right in with a note at full volume. To me that sounds much more confident. Mr. Jacobs had many gadgets in his basement studiofor measuring sound, pitch, air-flow and the like. A simple VU meter was a stimulus for attack transients. Try it yourself. Play a note while watching a VU meter. Don’t make mini crescendos. Start the note at full volume and sustain it. Perhaps it will feel like an accent with a crescendo. The feeling of crescendo is because the lungs deflate faster when they are full and slow down as atmospheric pressure equalizes. I have found that the attack, like vibrato, feels overdone to the player by the time it is noticeable to the listener. I have observed that that crisp attack in the tuba was part of the ‘Chicago Sound’. Jake’s sound added to the brass section, not the bass section.

It is important to note that Jake did not pressurize the air before an attack. He described it once to me. He likened mis-use of the tongue to putting your thumb over a water spigot, turning on the water and then releasing the thumb. An explosion of water follows. He advised to simply turn on the water while flicking the thumb over the flow to create an attack. He drew a large ‘H’ with a small ‘T’ inside it on my lesson book to describe an attack. He said some musicians pressurize behind the tongue and wait for the conductor to give the downbeat. This leads to explosive attacks or worse. The Jacobs approach was to hold the air in the manner of mid panting, hence the big ‘H’.

There are two golf corollaries. One is the change of direction at the top of the backswing. It works best when it is smooth like the panting air. It is essential for putting. The other is the short chip. A slow chip often results in a double hit. A short chip, like a pianissimo, benefits from a nice crisp attack.

When the Army transferred me from Chicago to Virginia Beach, I asked Mr. Jacobs if he recommended anyone with whom I should study. He tried to name tuba players in the area. I suggested that since I had already studied with him, it must be someone at an equal level. He thought for a minute and then suggested I take musicianship lessons with a cellist. He, after all, had taken musicianship lessons with Marcel Tabuteau. I wondered why he suggested a cellist. On reflection I think of the way he played Eine Faust Overture. The descending seventh was almost a glissando, a slur played on one string like the cello did. As I listen to some of Jake’s recordings, I now see that there was a cello in his head and a tuba in his lap.

Players I know who can emulate the ‘Jacobs Sound’ with an immediacy on the front and a healthy vibrato are afraid to do it in audition or in concert. I miss it. With the cello in mind I understand it more now and believe that many conductors (although not all) would find it extremely musical. I wish I had done it more.

I have talked to other Jacobs students about their lessons. There are many common threads. There are also some surprising differences. Mr. Jacobs did not waste time on things that did not need work. And when a problem was fixed he did not revisit it. Like my one etude in the Bona book, we addressed a problem and moved on. So it is with a good golf coach. I like to think that Jake did not want to bring something to the conscious level if it was working well at the sub-conscious level. He did not want to inspire paralysis by analysis.

I have read some clinic notes and lesson notes that musicians have written after an encounter with Mr. Jacobs. Some are subjects that I did not experience with Mr. Jacobs. This is to be expected. One of his finer strengths was that he worked with us all from a point of our own strengths and weaknesses. Some of the stories, however, fly contrary to what I know Mr. Jacobs preached. I have seen written commentaries about Mr. Jacobs mentioning diaphragm as proof that one must have a strong gut and ‘blow from the diaphragm.’ Nothing could be more at odds with what I learned in my several years of studies with him. I have seen music lessons and golf lesson at which the teacher wants to teach what he learned even if it is not what the student needs.

Keeping in mind that 50% of the air is downward expansion of the thoracic cavity, 35% is sideways and 15% is upward, a player who was deficient in one of these areas might take from his lessons something entirely different than a player deficient in another.

This individuality is even truer in golf. There are so many fine motor control movements, so many actions that must coordinate in sync to make a good golf swing, that when one correction is learned it becomes the Holy Grail until something else goes wrong. (And something else always goes wrong. Even for the pros.) There is a striking parallel between Mr. Jacobs teaching approach to music and Harvey Pennick’s approach to golf. There are golf instructors who teach ‘one correct swing’ for everyone, regardless of somatotype and regardless of physical strength and prowess. Harvey Pennick accepted that an endomorph could not swing like an ectomorph. He accepted that a person with a hockey background was not likely trainable to a classic reverse C golf swing. Mr. Jacobs tested his students for vital lung capacity and never demanded more than was possible in length of phrase. In fact, he told me that once Reiner had demanded a longer phrase than he was capable of. He took a rubber anesthesia bag to the next rehearsal and when Reiner asked for more, Jake blew into the bag and held it up demonstrating that there was a limit.

Comparisons could also be made between Arnold Jacobs and Ben Hogan’s teachings.

I admire a teacher in golf or music who encourages his students to use similar equipment. Why should a teacher not want a student to have the same advantages in emulating the results for which he came to that teacher? However, I quickly learned to avoid golf teachers who did not take into consideration my somatotype, my background, my age, my strength (or lack thereof) and so forth. It is easy to spot a teacher in golf or music that teaches everyone the same way. It is one thing to expect similar results. It is another to expect everyone to follow the same path.

I know a trumpet player who studied with another trumpet player who took lessons from Mr. Jacobs. The first trumpet player was evidently overly tight in the abdomen. Jake got him to loosen up. (‘Weakness is your friend.’) This trumpeter kept a check on himself by pressing on his abdomen with his hand as he set the trumpet on his face. This was then passed on to his student who then taught this as a routine to his students. In the process something that grew out of a lesson with Jake became dogma to another generation of students that may not have even needed the lesson. So it goes with golf.

I think Brian Frederickson nailed it when he summed up the essence of Arnold Jacobs teaching by titling his book Song and Wind. Timothy Gallway summed it up for Tennis with “Trust Self Two”. Harvey Pennick summarized golf with “Take dead aim.”

A teacher once told me the Vaughn Williams Tuba Concerto couldn’t be played on a CC tuba. So I did it on my Junior Recital. (It was in 1967 and I can forgive the restrictive advise.) I played Variations on _____ at a high school solo and ensemble contest and got a 2 rating because I played it too fast. He thought it should be characteristically lugubrious. (There weren’t many show off pieces back then.) "People have always been telling me what I can't do. I guess I have wanted to show them. That's been one of my driving forces all my life." Ben Hogan.

Side story (no golf corollary): Jake also played string bass when he attended Curtis. He was rejected for lessons on bass. He auditioned for a bass teacher who had limited English. The teacher asked for “a minor scale”. So Jake played a C minor scale. (It turned out he wanted the “A minor scale”.)

Side, side story no golf corollary): I was in a lesson with Mr. Jacobs when the proof tape copies of the Trombone Tuba excerpt album arrived. He played a few excerpts during my lesson. I jokingly asked if he would be sending the record around so that other orchestras knew how the excerpts should be played. There was a long, long silence during which I knew my attempt at humor was viewed as inappropriate. Finally he said “No. Let ‘em buy their own.”

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