Tag Archives: trumpet

Paul Merkelo: OSM Principal Trumpet and international Envoy

Buy this issuemerkeloTrumpet virtuoso Paul Merkelo of Local 406 (Montréal, PQ), soloist and principal for Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) since 1995, has been recognized for both his technique and virtuosity. The international performer has been a soloist and has taught master classes in North and South America, Europe, Russia, and Asia.

“When I travel to other countries to perform, it opens my eyes and ears to other styles of playing and interpretations. This has helped me grow as an artist, and I’m constantly inspired by great players I hear,” says Merkelo. He explains how he then draws on those influences for OSM.

Merkelo was appointed Canadian musical ambassador to China for the 1999 inauguration of Montreal Park in Shanghai and performed the Haydn trumpet concerto with the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra on national TV. He says that during international trips, language is not a barrier as he tells his musical story through his instrument, which affects the audience from an emotional standpoint.

“All musicians speak the same language—we all want to be moved by music. The more I travel, the more I realize how important what I am representing is,” he says.

Given his international presence, it’s not surprising that Merkelo was pleased to hear the International Federation of Musicians International Orchestra Conference (FIM IOC) would be held in Montréal. “It signifies that there’s a lot of cultural activity going on in Montréal. The audiences in Québec are very supportive of classical music, and the arts as a whole. I’m really proud that it’s going to be here,” he says.

But, Merkelo knows that the need for international organizations like FIM goes beyond the cultural aspect of sharing music. With continued growth in digital music, and the ease with which music can be shared globally, musicians need protection. “We need continued support of international federations to protect all artists who are trying to make a living through recorded music at a time when consumers are accustomed to receiving it for free,” he says. 

Local 406 (Montréal, PQ) member Paul Merkelo performs with Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, under the direction of Kent Nagano.

He says that orchestra musicians like himself are fortunate to have union contracts. “There is stability and protection in terms of work hours and restrictions on touring and recording. Our union protects us so we can play our best and not have to worry about excessive work conditions. If we have an injury, or need time off, we can take the time to heal properly,” he says. “Beyond that, I am proud to be first trumpet for the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal and I’m proud that we are supported by the AFM.’’

Merkelo says OSM is unique. “We are an integrated and diverse orchestra; there are many Québécois musicians, Canadian musicians, American musicians, and other international colleagues,” he says, which helps to create a distinctive sound. “You could say it sounds North American, but also European.”

“There’s definitely a virtuosic flare that makes the orchestra very agile, colorful. We are able to switch gears quickly, for example, between the French repertoire and the German repertoire,” he continues. “This is what I love about the Montréal symphony. My colleagues and I work very hard to get into the repertoire we are playing so we can be really flexible in our approach.”

It’s clear that Merkelo ended up in the right orchestra, though like many musicians, where he ended up was more a matter of happenstance. “When you are a struggling student you audition everywhere,” he says. “You can never predict where you are going to end up.”

“I love my life here in Montréal!” Merkelo says enthusiastically. However, he admits the first year after relocating was a struggle as he didn’t speak a word of French when he arrived. “I had to try to learn French, at the same time I was trying to get my tenure and learning all these big parts—some of them for the first time.”

For the next few years, Merkelo studied French in weekly private lessons and practiced with friends. “I was making a lot of grammatical mistakes. The process took years before I felt confident enough to do an interview in French or to be able to announce a program,” he says. “I still get very nervous. Sometimes I am more nervous about my introductions in French than about the parts I’m playing.”

Almost immediately after arriving in his adopted city, Merkelo became involved in the community, which includes work with OSM’s Manulife Competition for the past 17 years. “We have more than $100,000 in prizes that we give out every year to young Canadian musicians,” he explains.

Twelve years ago he started his own scholarship fund. “Initially I raised $10,000 to launch the foundation as part of the OSM competition, and they were very enthusiastic,” he says. With that original gift and additional fundraising, Merkelo gives away $2,500 annually to one talented young Canadian musician auditioning for the OSM Manulife Competition. “My stipulation is that they have to come from a place of little or no financial means and have the skill on their instrument.”

The scholarship is a way of giving back. While at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, Merkelo was awarded the Rudolf Speth Memorial Scholarship for Outstanding Orchestral Musician, which most likely saved his future career in music. “That was a real game-changer for me in terms of being able to finish my education, not only from a financial perspective, but also to know that other people believed in what I was doing on the instrument—that gave me an amazing push and sense of self-confidence at the point when I needed it most,” he says.

Merkelo also encourages the next generation of musicians through teaching. He is on the faculty at McGill University, and during the summer, at Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California. Plus he’s on the board of directors for the Youth Orchestra of the Americas (Canada). “Teaching, especially one-on-one, is more than just learning how to play the instrument—it’s a mentorship. A teacher needs to be a strong, positive role model; for me, helping to instill a sense of one’s self as an artist, and constant, committed discipline.”

Paul Merkelo Gear Guide
Instruments: “Almost all of my trumpets are Yamaha—my Bb, my C, my flugelhorn, my cornets. I also play a Schagerl rotary valve trumpet from Austria.”
Mouthpiece: “It’s pretty boring! Just a simple Bach 1C.”
Mutes: “I buy almost everything on the market because I like to try different things. I use a Denis Wick a lot; I use a Tom Crown piccolo mute; on my recording of the Tomasi concerto I used an old stonelined cup mute with some leaks and holes in it. It’s kind of a magical mute!”

Merkelo points to the long line of educators who helped him develop as a musician: his first trumpet teacher, Jerry Loyet; former University of Illinois professor Ray Sasaki; former Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal trumpet Adolf Herseth; and former New York Philharmonic principal trumpet Phil Smith of Local 802 (New York City); and Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL) members Charles Geyer and Barbara Butler, who were at Eastman School of Music.


“All of them are great players, but also great individuals, human beings, and role models. All of them changed my life and made me believe that it was possible to be successful on the instrument, but also successful as a person. They taught me to have self-confidence, humility, and work hard. This is what I try to instill in my students,” he explains.

Merkelo is constantly involved in multifarious projects aside from his work with OSM. Last year, Merkelo’s recording, French Trumpet Concertos, was nominated for a Juno Award for Best Classical Soloist with Large Ensemble. He says that the CD, featuring three French trumpet concertos—Tomasi, Désenclos, and Jolivet—was a dream come true. Merkelo funded the project mainly through Kickstarter.

“It was inspiring to record these concertos, under conductor Kent Nagano and with my colleagues at the OSM—arguably one of the best orchestras in the world in interpreting French repertoire,” he says. All of his royalties from the project go to his scholarship fund.

Coming up, Merkelo has a couple of world premieres planned. This summer at the Music Academy of the West, he will premiere “Martha Uncaged” by composer James Stephenson, a childhood friend. “It is a tribute to [dancer and choreographer] Martha Graham for solo trumpet and stage band, and dancers,” he explains.

The other premiere is a concerto for trumpet and full orchestra by John Estacio of Local 390 (Edmonton, AB)—a co-commission with 18 other orchestras all over Canada. Merkelo will perform with OSM for the Québec premiere in October.

“The goal for now is to get new works out there for trumpet that people really love and want to hear again and again,” says Markelo.

Dictionary for the Modern Trumpet Player

A Dictionary for the Modern Trumpet Player

DICTIONARY-FOR-MODERN-TRUMPET_CDesigned for both the novice and advanced musician, scholar and performer, Elisa Koehler has created a key reference that addresses all instruments in the high brass family. The book includes detailed illustrations, biographies of prominent performers, composers and instrument makers, and entries on historical instruments, like the cornetto, keyed bugle, and slide trumpet. Appendixes show a timeline of trumpet history, a survey of valve mechanisms, and a list of excerpts from orchestral and operatic repertoire.

A Dictionary for the Modern Trumpet Player, by Elisa Koehler, Rowman & Littlefield, www.rowman.com.

Johnny Cowell

Johnny Cowell: Toronto Trumpet Soloist Still Performing at 90 Years Old

Johnny Cowell

Johnny Cowell of Local 149 (Toronto, ON) is a recipient of the local’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Johnny Cowell, a 73-year member of Local 149 (Toronto, ON), is considered to be one of Canada’s most renowned trumpet soloists. Over the years, he’s worked with many of Canada’s symphony orchestras and concert bands.

Born in Tillsonbur, Ontario, Cowell played his first trumpet solo at age six. At 15, he became the youngest member and soloist of the Toronto Symphony Band, which presented weekly broadcasts on CBC radio. During wartime, Cowell was a soloist with the Royal Canadian Navy Band and Victory Symphony Orchestra. Upon discharge from the Navy Band he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto.

Cowell was a member of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for 40 years. After he retired from that orchestra in 1991, he became a principal trumpet with the Toronto Philharmonia for 10 years. He was also a featured soloist with the Hannaford Street Silver Band, which included some of Toronto’s finest brass and percussion players. He even had the opportunity to substitute for Doc Severinsen when Doc cancelled a solo performance with the Hamilton Philharmonic at the last minute.

Cowell is also an accomplished songwriter and composer who has had more than 100 of his songs recorded by musicians like Floyd Cramer and Al Hirt (“Strawberry Jam”). Two of them—“Walk Hand in Hand” (1956) and “Our Winter Love” (1963)—became number one hits. His credits also include a number of symphonic pops compositions. Two composing highlights came in 1984 when he was commissioned to compose both a special fanfare for Governor General Jeanne Sauve, as well as fanfare for Her Majesty the Queen at the opening of the Metro Convention Centre (Toronto).

Cowell was honoured by many Toronto professional musicians at his 90th birthday celebration this year and he has received Local 149’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Though semi-retired, he continues to perform occasionally. In February, he was a featured soloist with the Hannaford Youth Band.

Freddie Jones Believes in Trumpet

For Freddie Jones trumpet is everything. It has been a huge part of his life ever since he picked the instrument up at around age 12. Raised in Memphis, Tennessee, his mom had a beauty salon on the corner near Stax Records. The young musician was immersed in the local music scene. Brothers Willy Mitchell (trumpet) and James Mitchell (saxophone) who founded the Memphis Horns; Mickey Gregory who played with Isaac Hayes; and Ben Cauley—were among his heroes.

“They were neighborhood guys; it was very inspirational. You had all that music coming out of Memphis and we were playing it in high school and junior high,” he says. “I was probably in the 6th grade when the Bar-Kays came out with Soul Finger.


Freddie Jones of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX) founded the charity Trumpets4Kids, which provides children with quality trumpets and helps them succeed through music.

Jones began playing trumpet professionally as a teenager, first joining AFM Local 71 (Memphis, TN). “I’ve been in four different unions,” says the now Local 72-147 (Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX) member. “I think it’s important to have a consortium of people you can talk to.”

While still in high school, he was hired as part of an opening act for Bobby Womack, and was thrilled when he was invited by Ben Cauley himself to sit in with the main act. He says that experience was amazing. “Just to be in those places … but instead of hanging out I got to play.”

After graduating from high school, Jones began college at Memphis State, then attended Central State University in Ohio, though he admits he was out on the road gigging much of the time. He traveled through the Dallas/Fort Worth area several times with different bands and eventually transferred to the University of North Texas where he earned a degree in jazz studies.

Following college, Jones stayed in the area and slowly built a career. Aside from his many gigs in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, he has performed throughout the Southwest, and even overseas. His band, the Freddie Jones Jazz Group, has been together for almost 10 years. Jones has put out five CDs, including his most recent album, Your Last Move (2012), which he describes at a funky mixture of sounds that started out as a smooth jazz record.

Jones may be most well-known in the Dallas area as the trumpet player for the Dallas Cowboys, performing the National Anthem on solo trumpet before every home game since 2013. That gig, which has him routinely playing for 80,000 people at AT&T Stadium, was not something he ever thought he’d be doing.

Not a huge football fan, Jones says it was kind of ironic that he was asked to audition. He knew a couple former players. Emmitt Smith, Drew Pearson, and others would come see Jones play around Dallas. Coincidentally, the blue Martin Committee trumpet that he’s been playing since the 1980s is almost a perfect match for Cowboy blue.

Of all of Jones’ work, the one accomplishment he seems most proud of is the founding of the nonprofit Trumpets4Kids. The organization uses music as a tool to help children learn and shape their lives. “Music fosters the development of attention and listening skills; it assists in emotional development; and music involvement is known to enhance self-esteem and confidence,” explains the Trumpets4Kids.com website.

“The goal of the organization is to empower youth to create together and independently in order to have a future,” Jones says. “We donate trumpets to students who have a need. We give them a trumpet they can be proud of, and let that push them towards their goals.” The trumpets given out are all good quality instruments—sometimes former instruments of professional players. He says the trumpet community has been “amazingly” supportive of the program.

But Trumpets4Kids is about more than just donating instruments; it’s a whole program with built-in lessons in responsibility and playing opportunities. The students selected in about 9th grade are interviewed by Jones himself. Before handing over the trumpets, the kids are asked to sign a contract agreeing to practice one hour per day, maintain the trumpet, as well as teach, help, and perform for other kids.

One Trumpets4Kids event that has grown over the years is Trumpet Wars. This activity was inspired by Jones’ days as a teenager in Memphis when he’d meet up with other musicians on street corners to challenge each other. The next Trumpet War will be held at Texas Wesleyan University, Fort Worth, on March 7 and will include competitions between trumpet trios, quartets, and quintets from all over the area.

“You can’t play trumpet by yourself all the time,” says Jones. Participants in the program also attend Interlochen music programs, and play in the Fort Worth Youth Orchestra, as well as the Dallas Youth Orchestra.

Trumpets4Kids’ mission is to help children succeed, no matter what career they choose to follow. But Jones has some special advice for young people launching a career in music. You have to be very diligent and focused on music, and get an education. And finally, he concludes, “I believe we all need somebody to help us at some point.”

Allora Black Nickel Pocket Trumpet


This Allora Black Nickel Pocket Trumpet (Bb) is as functional as it is fun to play. Its sharp black nickel plate finish makes it the perfect trumpet for players who want a cool novelty instrument with a great sound. Its compact size makes the Allora 5801especially well-suited for travel. It features stainless steel valves, a third valve slide ring, and two water keys. It comes with a 7C trumpet mouthpiece and a lightweight nylon case.