Other Places: On Vibrato

Steve Provizer (pictured, left) posted on his Brilliant Corners blog a treatise on vibrato. He was inspired to do so by Sidney Bechet (1897-1959), the cantankerous genius who made the soprano saxophone a jazz instrument and was the king of vibrato. Steve includes links to performances by celebrated vibratoists, including Bechet, and one by Wild Bill Davison that borders on parody. He also sends us to antivibratoists like Miles Davis, Bix Beiderbecke and Lester Young. You could easily spend an hour just listening to Steve’s links. To see his post, click here.

As sometimes happens in the blogosphere, Provizer’s post inspired Bruno Leicht (pictured,right), halfway across the world in Cologne, to follow up with thoughts about Harry James. James is perhaps not the first trumpeter you would think of if you were in search of vibrato-free playing. Nonetheless, Bruno provides a lovely example of him playing a ballad with a big, fat, nearly vibratoless tone. To hear it, go to BrewLite’s Jazz Tales here.

As for Bechet, here he is in the late 1950s with musicians in France, where he made his home from 1951 until his death. He uses vibrato throughout and with a vengeance toward the end of his long sustained high G or A-flat (or, in this film, somewhere in between).

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  1. says

    Thanks for directing your readers to our blogs, Doug.

    As I’ve read in Peter J. Levinson’s interesting, though partly disputable, Trumpet Blues about the legendary bugler, gambler, boozer, womanizer, baseball player & legendary racing bet loser, Harry was a very able “impersonator” of his brass-colleague’s trumpet styles. He could imitate them all: Harry “Sweets” Edison, Chet Baker, Clifford Brown, even Freddie Hubbard.

    Although Harry’s vibrato was huge, it possessed a quite natural, a vocal, quality, and it was as inimitable as Pops’. Anyway, he later used it only for the inevitable hit-medleys, featuring his biggest tearjerkers like “I Don’t Want To Walk Without You”, “It’s Been A Long, Long Time”, or “You Made Me Love You”.

    As for Sidney Bechet’s “St. Louis Blues”: Once your ears got used to it, the vibrato will soon be overshadowed by the sheer brilliance of Monsieur Bechet’s joyful improvisations.

  2. David says

    Vibrato is also a contentious subject in the world of classical music. In classical and romantic music, string players are expected to use vibrato (although the proper amount is subject to dispute) but clarinet players are forbidden from doing so. Vibrato was once routinely used in performances of Baroque music but is now forbidden. The invention of “continuous vibrato” is sometimes attributed to Fritz Kreisler but was advocated by the 17th/18th century composer and violinist Geminiani. Performances of arias from Italian opera of the 19th century have sometimes employed vibrato of sufficient intensity to precipitate earthquakes.

  3. says

    If the classical community is aware of performance standards of other eras, which it seems to be, it’s interesting that it’s subject to the potentially anachronising influences of its own era, instead of trying to accurately reproduce the intentions of a composer of a given time,