Posted: Sat Feb 24, 2018 8:37 am Post subject: Wallace Roney and the Kanstul 1603+ (revised)
Note ~I've rewritten my original article, which was lost in the recent data glitch, to include my experiences with the 2018 NAMM show and meeting Wallace Roney in person. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed its writing. This is a good story!
Protégé: a person who is guided and supported by an older and more experienced mentor.
It wasn’t so long ago that I had never heard of Wallace Roney, never knew about the Martin Committee trumpet and hadn’t listened to what is known as Straight Ahead Jazz. “What?” I can hear your incredulity. It’s true. I’m a guy who grew up listening to pop standards and rock and roll. Nat King Cole, yes. Clifford Brown, no. But, you can’t hang around the trumpet scene in Southern California for long without getting an education.
“You know, I loved JAZZ since I was 3 yrs old and possibly before. I knew I wanted to play the trumpet because I loved the sound of the trumpet and the sound of the trumpet that I loved first was Miles' sound! He sounded human and futuristic!!! ~Wallace Roney
My first exposure to the sound of the large bore Martin was on the local smooth jazz station. They played one or two Chris Botti cuts. Then, I started hearing the names: Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, “early Maynard,” and of course, Miles Davis. There was supposed to be something special and elusive about the Committee. Something magic in how it played and how it sounded. But, I was an outsider completely unaware.
A day came when I finally got to play a Martin. It was a medium bore Committee from the “good years.” I liked it well enough and reportedly sounded good on it. But, wasn’t it the large bore that had everyone’s attention? Weren’t they the ones of legend that commanded the biggest price? I was curious.
I watched as, one by one, Lawler, Adams and Schilke each developed their versions of the Martin. Theirs were touted as having the Committee sound, but with “modern intonation and slotting.” What did that mean? Was the original not very good? How did it come to be so revered, if there was so much wrong with it?
This is where I was when I heard that Kanstul was developing their version of the large bore Committee. They called it the 1603 Handcraft and I wrote an article about it called, Experience - Kanstul 1603 “Committee”
‘Round About Midnight
I think everyone who knew Zig Kanstul understood that those were his last days. He had suffered a sudden downturn in his health a year to two before. Even though he did recover more than many expected, it was clear that it was time for his sons to take the reins. Mark Kanstul took over as CEO and began to rescue the business from what we now know were desperate circumstances. Mark’s quick, decisive leadership has brought Kanstul Musical Instruments away from bankruptcy, out of debt and into a positive financial standing. Whereas, his initial assessment meant that he would slash the staff numbers at least in half, Kanstul’s ongoing recovery has led to the beginning of a re-expansion back toward its former strength. At some point in their progress, Mark and Jack decided to develop their own rendition of the famous Martin Committee. They enlisted the help of Wallace Roney and started work on their large bore version.
”I heard Miles and just loved his sound!!! I also loved Lee Morgan on Art Blakey's recordings, and especially "Here's Lee Morgan"! Then Blue Mitchell!!! Then Don Cherry and Nat Adderley!!! Then Kenny Dorham on Coltrane Jazz!!! Clifford Brown-Mildama!!!Then I heard Dizzy and flipped!!! But it all took me to Miles' ESP to Files De Kilimanjaro, that blew my mind and never looked back!!!” ~Wallace Roney
As many know, when Wallace was a young jazz player, he had the good fortune of catching the eye and ear of Miles Davis. Miles liked the way Wallace played and invited him into his very small inner circle of friends. Many of Miles’ contemporaries, jazz legends in their own rights, longed to be in that exclusive clique and would ask Wallace if Miles ever talked about them, or if he could get them “in the door.” Miles Davis became a sort of mentor to Wallace, even giving him one of his personal Martin Committees as a gift. It was this horn that served as the gold standard for developing the new Kanstul trumpet destined to be called the Model 1603 Handcraft. Zig was still there, too, a sage with six decades of knowledge and experience in brass instrument building and acoustics. Work on the Handcraft began.
At the point where I crossed paths with the 1603, Kanstul had been working with Wallace for about two years. I first played an early version at ITG in Anaheim in June of 2016. I remember thinking that it was a natural crooner horn, very smooth and lyrical in its feel, very intuitive with an easy style. It played like the horns in the Committee recordings I’d heard. It had the same distinctive sound quality and scale. I thought, “That’s where that sound comes from!” I was entranced.
The horn was already very good by then, but there were still some decisions to be finalized and some special tweaks that Wallace wanted added to his own personal horn. One change from those early development horns is the decision to emulate the 1st valve pattern of the Martin, which has the two valve ports entering and exiting the valve in parallel.
Most trumpet makers, Kanstul’s other horns included, have the upper port coming off the casing at a lesser angle from the horn’s center line, giving the assembly an incline toward the player’s left hand. This allows for good control of a saddle or ring with the thumb. The Martin valve arrangement makes such intonation controls difficult, so for the 1603+, Wallace specified a lever to extend the slide. It’s the same arrangement that was on the Martin that Miles gave to Wallace.
At the other end of the valve block, the Martin used a double-male arrangement for the 3rd valve tubing assembly, These upper and lower tubes do not allow for a directly mounted finger ring, hence the classic side-mounted adjustable unit. For his horn, Wallace asked for a much more typical over-under design, but instead of a sliding or solid mounted ring, he chose another lever to use in concert with the one on the first valve. This is a modified version of the design used on the Olds Mendez model. Wallace asked that the ring be cut with an opening so the finger can slip into the 2/3 circle easily. The result is a balanced, comfortable grip that allows easy manipulation of the 1st and 3rd slides.
At first, I didn’t like the levers, because I was used to extending slides with the normal saddle and ring. Levers reverse the work of the left hand and that took some getting used to, but after awhile I agreed with Wallace’s solution and found that I could use the slides to alter intonation in new and different ways. For instance, if I wanted an extra low pitch in a blues phrase, I could extend either slide with great control using these levers. It’s not as easy to do with a saddle or ring. The question remains, though, as to how these levers affect the horn’s response. More on that later.
Another change for the plus version of the 1603 is the use of nickel for all of the inner slide tubes. The change is easy to see when tuning the reversed main slide, but all the valves get nickel inner and outer tubes as well. They also have the over-under design seen on the 3rd valve. Even the 2nd valve slide features this male/female arrangement; a first on a trumpet, as far as I know. Wallace spec’ed a larger 5-1/4” bell rim for his personal trumpet and some specific annealing. It is the same on every 1603+.
]color=blue]“The large bell just plays and projects better, I feel. The nickel kind of makes the horn ‘snap!’ You know, between notes. The ’60s Martins had the nickel. Mick Gillette’s horn had the third valve trigger and I liked that. I added the first valve trigger, because the Martin that Miles gave me had it. I have four altogether plus two flugelhorn with them. I don’t know why, but the under-over slides - even the second valve slide - just help the horn feel settled.” ~Wallace Roney[/color]
Probably, the most important change that separates the 1603+ from the 1603 is the hand-drawn, tapered tuning slide crook. This change required Kanstul to develop a mandrel over which to draw the tube. The taper gains .017” from its beginning to its end. Then, the tube has to be hand bent into shape, rather than put in a clamshell die and formed with hydraulic pressure and size balls like all other tuning slides are done. This one part takes the 1603, which is already a very close rendition of the Martin Committee from the standpoint of sound and response, to the level where it might just out Committee the Committee. How do I dare say this?
As I stated above, I first played a 1603 at the 2016 ITG show in Anaheim. I was eager to play it, having asked Zig in the past if he would ever do a Committee and being told by him that, “I would if I could.” Then, after hearing about this new project I was excited to give it a go. I took my time. I brought a middle of the road mouthpiece to give me a good idea of its general qualities. The 1603 had a very special style. It was a crooner horn like none I’d experienced before. It intuitively led me to play smooth phrases. It loved to ballad. It was easy. It was relaxed. It had the same sound I could pick out in certain recordings of real Martins. I didn’t want to stop playing it and I came back to it more than once that day. The real Martin Committee Deluxe I had later for comparison didn’t play this well
Honestly, the two horns I played for the Experience article about the standard 1603 model didn’t have the same ease or intuitive response of that show horn, either. After playing the 1603+, I asked Jack Kanstul if it was possible that the ITG horn had the tapered tuning slide crook. He worked his way back through his memory of the development process and proclaimed that it very well could have. I’m guessing that it did, because this blue trumpet does and it has a different feel than the 1603s used inmy article. It’s not quite the same as the ITG horn, but maybe the levers account for the difference. The ITG horn had the standard Martin male/male slides with the adjustable finger ring. Which is better, levers or no? It’s a tradeoff. The horn feels a little more alive without them, I think, but those levers are pretty handy for intonation adjustments that otherwise have to be made with the embouchure.
Kind of Blue
Finally, Wallace requested that Kanstul use tinted lacquer for his personal trumpet. He had them make up a specific aqua-marine color, which is contracted to be for his instruments only. You may have seen its picture on the web. Though you can’t get that color for your own horn, you can choose from the variety of colors Kanstul offers. This trumpet has been finished in Midnight Blue. Being more of a traditionalist than I realized meant that I didn’t respond well to the idea of a fine trumpet finished in colored lacquer, especially over knurling and Mother of Pearl finger button inlays. But, once again, I found that my opinion was not shared by everyone else. My son and his wife really liked the look and felt none of the visual conflict I had. Even my friend and professional trumpet player, Rex Merriweather, liked the blue. He and his wife, Christine, said it looked “cool.” However, you may be able to see flaws in the lacquer in the photos I’ve included. Early applications like this one revealed that the lacquer wasn’t bonding well to the nickel parts. Mark Kanstul assured me that they have solved this problem.
By the way, Rex took the chance to play the 1603+ and liked it. He plays a copper bell Wild Thing, one of only two with the original spec mouth pipe. Rex leads his own This Ain’t Your Daddy’s Big Band and plays in a Motown cover band called Stone Soiul, as well as being a full time studio musician. He felt the Handcraft was great as a soloist’s instrument.
Once I had returned the horn to Kanstul, they decided to refinish it for the 2018 NAMM show in Anaheim. The result was stunning! They had used a medium blue over a lightly scratched surface that worked very well with the polished nickel details of the top and bottom valve caps and the finger buttons. Those buttons had been changed to a knurled all-metal type with convex tops. These complimented the overall look perfectly and felt great to use.
Other players at NAMM had very good things to say about the 1603+. One was quite surprised at how the horn projected and had such a solid core, considering it was noticeably lighter weight construction than the Bach he was used to playing. Another, Brian Switzer (author of JazzDeck, a improvisation teaching tool), sat and played it for about 45 minutes. He had bought an early 1603 that he really liked, but had found that other, later 1603s didn’t play the same. My guess is, once again, that his is one of a small number of development trumpets and may have the tapered tuning slide. Yet, he loved the 1603+.
After the show closed for the evening, I made my way over to the Kanstul factory to hear Wallace Roney and his quintet. When the band made it’s way out, the first thing I noticed was the age spread of the musicians, Wallace is about my own age (mid-late 50s) and his bass player is somewhere in that range. The keyboard guy looked to be in his early 30s. Nothing unusual so far. But, there were two young players, one on tenor sax, the other on drums. These boys are young! the sax player - and I mean PLAYER! - is 17. The drummer is Wallace’s nephew is… Wait for it… 13 years old!
I asked Wallace later if he had brought these young guys just on this trip to mentor them and expose them to the music scene, but he said, “Well, yes, I am sort of a mentor, but they’re a regular part of the band. They’re the best musicians in the world, so why wouldn’t I want them playing with me?” I can tell you, the saxophonist’s solo work was every bit as fresh, lyrical and melodic as you would expect from any player at any level. When Wallace let his nephew loose for a drum solo, it was interesting, not just technical. He was saying something.
“Mentorship is an African cultural tradition; passing what is valuable on to those who show they deserve it. I was mentored by Clark Terry, Art Blakey. And Dizzy, too! And, of course, Miles.” ~Wallace Roney
After the concert, Wallace and I met for the first time in person. He shook my hand with a warm greeting and motioned for me to follow him. He walked into what had once been Zig Kanstul’s office and sat behind that iconic (at least to me) desk. I stood in the corner, out of the way. Then, the others started coming through the door, jockeying for a position near this big man.
I could see in their faces, that here was someone they looked up to. Someone who was more than simply a celebrity to them. Wallace smiled at all of them, welcoming each one from behind those dark glasses that always seemed to find their way back to his face, should he take them off for a moment. A couple of close friends, also professional musicians, filed in to greet him. Wallace stood to welcome them into his great arms, announcing to us all who they were and the accomplishments they had made. To him, they were “the best in the world!” To the people in that room, Wallace was hope. Hope that life would smile on them, too. That they might be worthy to receive what is valuable from someone great and that someday they themselves might become someone.
And that is the picture I hold in my mind that defines the man I met that day. Warm, generous with his time, constantly adding value to those around him and living a standard of love and of character, along with disciplined use of his talent, for all to see.
“Now, I sort of live by the motto: ‘Be that person, yourself’ Always striving to get better at what you do, so others can look up to you and follow your example.” ~Wallace Roney
To me, jazz is best served live. The spontaneous nature, the interaction between the established theme and the improvisation of each individual player, tells a new and different story each time. Players react to each other, the venue and the audience to make the music an event. The jazz experience rises and falls like a sunset that forms with a beauty that is uniquely breathtaking then is gone, leaving us with the feeling that we have just witnessed one of life’s best offerings.
The Wallace Roney Quintet didn’t disappoint. They played for about 45 minutes. Their selections covered a broad range of moods, tempos and styles. When it was their turn to solo, each player added an imaginative paragraph to fill out the story line in each composition. It was obvious to me that Wallace was enjoying his band. There was always a subtle smile waiting when one of his guys played a particularly good riff. He smiled a lot. When Wallace took the lead, his Kanstul Handcraft sounded… just like his Martin does in the videos online.
That’s the point of the 1603 project, isn’t it?. Kanstul has been able to produce what Wallace says “is a Martin Committee.” His comments about the 1603+ can be read on Kanstul’s website, but the one that stands out most to me is where Wallace is quoted as proclaiming it, “The best trumpet I’ve ever played.” The range of tonal colors, the clean, quick technical passages, the resonance that was there in the soft lyrical lines and burned bright in the dramatic fortes all told me that the Kanstul Handcraft is a premier soloist’s trumpet.
You can have yours the way you want it. Kanstul still builds every 1603 to order by hand. So, if you like the levers you can have them, or specify another solution. If you want brass slide tubing, that’s how they’ll build yours. If you like traditional finishes, of course those are available, but you really need to consider one of the new tinted lacquers, like the one on hand at NAMM. They can be spectacular!
By the end of my time with the 1603+, I’d come to appreciate all that has gone into making it. It stands as Kanstul’s flagship trumpet, a modern Martin Committee with the enthusiastic endorsement of Wallace Roney. If I should ever order one for myself, I’d want to replicate the 2016 ITG horn, with the plain Martin style valve set and the tapered tuning slide. A tinted lacquer is a real option I’d consider, but the standard clear finish gives any 1603 the feel of the vintage legend we so admire. Bravo, Kanstul!
_________________ Brian A. Douglas
Flip Oakes Wild Thing Bb Trumpet in copper
Flip Oakes Wild Thing Flugelhorn in copper
There is one reason that I practice: to be ready at the downbeat when the final trumpet sounds.
Joined: 03 Mar 2003 Posts: 730 Location: Jacksonville, FL
Posted: Tue Mar 13, 2018 11:24 am Post subject:
Brian thanks so much for posting this beautiful article on Wallace and the Kanstul 1603. I'm so glad to see a company not only getting the actual horn right but also giving Wallace the props and respect that an elder statesman of our music deserves. Wallace was the first world class trumpeter I heard live as a kid growing up in Chicago and I'm blessed to be able to call him a great friend and mentor. Wallace knows the trumpet inside and out and I know that when he puts his name behind a horn, you better believe that it's a truly exceptional instrument! _________________ Ray Callender
Last edited by intrepidpooch on Wed Mar 14, 2018 6:04 am; edited 1 time in total
Thank you, Gents, for your kind words. I had a great time researching and playing the 1603+. Wallace is a treasure of a man, as well as a wonderful Jazz musician. He's a sort of repository for Black Jazz Artist history! That was the best part of this project for me.
It's not often that I get an invitation to step into a segment of our culture that is mostly separate from the middle-class white circles where I have lived most of my life. I felt like an honored guest. Wallace has a way of doing that. _________________ Brian A. Douglas
Flip Oakes Wild Thing Bb Trumpet in copper
Flip Oakes Wild Thing Flugelhorn in copper
There is one reason that I practice: to be ready at the downbeat when the final trumpet sounds.
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