Chuck Findley was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, raised in Cleveland, Ohio and was immersed into the world of music from birth. The son of a musician, he began playing trumpet at the age of 4 and the trombone by age 11. Upon graduation from high school, he won a scholarship to the Cleveland Institute of Music, studying with Bernard Adelstein, among others. He then went on the road with the Jimmy Dorsey Big Band led by Lee Castle. While on the road, he studied with Carmine Caruso in New York. Later he joined the Buddy Rich Band touring the Orient, Europe, and then the United States. Finally locating in Los Angeles in 1969, he began his successful recording career.
Chuck was formerly the lead trumpet player for Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" led by Doc Severinson in 1989. He later played with Branford Marsalis on the emmy award winning "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno from May 1994 through June 2001. Besides his studio work in Los Angeles, he travels abroad periodically to do featured solo work, jazz festivals, albums, clinics, television specials, and concert tours.
Chuck recently visited the Tulsa Factory and is now playing the CF-1s/2 Custom.
Interview with Chuck Findley
Calicchio: I just wanted to say thanks for coming out, we sure appreciate your visit! I wanted to get your impressions on Tulsa, Duda, the horns and all that kind of good stuff.
Chuck: Well, you're very welcome for having me. I think it's wonderful. I think the company's fantastic. John made me a marvelous horn. It's like one in a hundred that Domenick would make. John's so consistent, each one of them comes out like that. He's a marvelous craftsman! Also the fact that you are there to play the horns, it's so important to have someone in the company back there playing the horns that knows what he's talking about saying, "Is there something about this that doesn't feel right?", because John is not the player, but he's got the ears and he's got the knowledge and he picks up the difference in a minute.
Actually, I think Tulsa is a much better place for the company. L.A. was just becoming too swamped. I think you get too distracted. So many people coming in all the time just kind of wanting to hang and play the horns. Chris told me that he just couldn't handle both sides of that. You can't handle all the people that come in all the time and also sit down and try to make horns, as well. I think he got swamped and kind of burned out a little bit, even though he was so proud to be in his grandfather's business. You really have to hand it to him, though, he really put in a lot of years. He kept it alive and now John, Bart, and the company are here and it's marvelous. It's going to be something to see - the response is going to be so positive.
As long as I could remember, everybody always said, "Wow, Chuck, your horn is fantastic, I wish I could have one like that!" Well, now you've got it, now it's made, it's a done deal. They're going to be consistent. Consistency was a problem. The other problem was that there was always a problem, like there was something wrong with the valves, like the third valve sticks or something like that. The Schilke was very well crafted, the valves always worked real good on the Schilke, the slides, everything worked beautiful, but I didn't like the sound of the Schilke. Bach was kind of the same way. For what it's worth, some of the manufactured horns were actually put together better, but none of them had the sound of the Calicchio, they never did. The first time I played a Calicchio, I fell in love with it, there's nothing like it and that's the way it is. It's true to this day. Even more so, now - it's never been like this, it's so consistent. So, to have that beauty that Domenick had on occasion, I mean every horn he made was beautiful in its own way, but few of them were like mine. Mine, for instance, was a jewel and then there were other ones. Different cats in town would get horns. I remember when Gary Grant got his, he loved the horn, but I don't know how many times he went to him (Domenick). He told me this is the sixth one and he finally found one that he liked. That was the way it was with the old man. All I had to do was play about four bars on this horn that Domenick made me and I knew that's the one. So it's been kind of a legacy of the inconsistency of the horns of whether you get a good one or whether you get one that has a sticky valve. For what it's worth, even with mine, when I take it on tour, sometimes I'll have a valve that will be a little gummy. It's very sensitive. Plus, the horn is getting old. I got it in '68, so I'd like to let it take a nap every now and again! (Laughs) Especially with what this horn's been through. But getting back to your shop and getting back to John, I've got to hand it to him. He's keeping the name alive and the horn alive. It's been around for so long, it would be a tragedy for it to fold. That's where John's heart is into it so big, yours as well. Bart, everybody there, everybody I met there, they're wonderful. You've got a great bunch of guys there. It's marvelous, I can't say enough about it.
Calicchio: John's heart is also in education and we're really looking forward to doing the Lionel Hampton Festival. There hasn't been much press on it yet, but you'll be presenting a Chuck Findley model Calicchio to the brightest young rising lead trumpet star in the High School category at the Festival. Your thoughts on education.
Chuck: Thoughts on education. First of all, these days, there are always going to be acoustic players, marvelous players, but when you do a master class, they always ask you, "What do I need to do to make it in the studios in Los Angeles or New York or Nashville, or wherever?" It's changed so much that it's hard to really answer that question because you don't want to be negative and tell them something that's going to bring them down, but on the other hand, they need to know the truth. The truth is that the machines have started taking over. It's all about greed. It's taken over so much that it's the process of elimination. There isn't the amount of recording that there used to be years ago. Everything goes in a circle and it comes around, so hopefully it will be there again. I always tell them, there's always room for an outstanding player, an outstanding artist. If they want to follow their dreams, it can happen, it comes true. If they want it they can have it. There's not as much room for as many, but it's still there.
The Lionel Hampton Camp is going to be marvelous. I know it will enlighten the young man or young woman that gets the horn. Who knows, years down the line, you might be saying, "Have you heard so-and-so play?" The name's going to be all over the world. "They're playing a Calicchio from Tulsa." I think it's a fantastic idea! I know that you guys are doing it for the kids, for music. It'll be nice to get the horn out there with the young players, because they buy what they have in the stores and it's supply and demand. With the small company that you have (and it's going to stay that way), you'll have fine-tuned instruments. They're tooled beautifully and the craftsmanship is fantastic and that's the beauty of the horn. That's been the beauty of the horn from the beginning. But then again, now, they're right on the money. There wasn't one I played that I didn't like at all. Every one of them had the scale, craftsmanship was fantastic.
Calicchio: It's a thrill to be able to honor the lead players. There's always been an award for Jazz players or legit players, a trumpet somewhere they could win. Finally, a lead player gets his props.
Chuck: And they're going to know about it, too. All these kids are going to know. That camp's wonderful! And you know whoever wins this horn, everyone in that band, if he or she's a nice enough person, they'll let them play the horn, just don't drop it! They're going to hear it and know what a difference it'll make, it will be so much easier. I'm sure there probably will be a few Calicchios there at the Festival, probably handed down to them by their father, mother or grandparent. I'm sure there will be, there's going to be thousands of kids, so there's got to be a few there. This is going to really enlighten these kids and it's going to open doors for you guys after the last year of getting the company back and really getting it moving forward. Now, it's the classic dream come true, it's all here now.
Calicchio: You came up in Cleveland and Pennsylvania and studied with some fine teachers.
Chuck: Yeah, I did. I sure did. Of course, my brother helped me out all the time and then I studied with Bernie Adelstein (principle trumpet - Cleveland Orchestra 1960-1988). It was wonderful, because he was just a marvelous teacher. Then Carmine (Caruso). I went to New York and I studied with Carmine. I studied the clinical studies of the horn and the physics of how it worked. I had started when I was 12 and my brother was 20. My brother cut his chops when he was on this show. Five days a week he did this daytime show, kind of like the Mike Douglas Show, it was called the Joe Howard Show. My brother did that five days a week and then he was working in the supper club at night. He was playing wrong and he cut his chops. He heard about Carmine, so he would fly in on his day off on Sunday morning. Carmine would come in and give him a lesson and he'd fly back Sunday evening. It was the process of playing right - he couldn't do it immediately because he was using too much pressure. Anyhow, every time he'd come back, my brother would give me the lesson and I was 12, so I never really got into a thing where I was playing wrong, because I was taught, at a very young age, Carmine's theory and approach to playing the horn. I was very fortunate that I never cut my chops. I've only clipped them trimming with the razor, but I've never cut them by playing! So, like I said, I was very lucky.
Carmine was the guru, everybody went to see him. Anybody who had a problem would go see Carmine and he would straighten them right out. It was beautiful! He was a saxophone player, a marvelous man, very intelligent. He just knew how it was all done, so I was just very fortunate to have the right people around me. When I studied with Bernie Adelstein, I wanted to have that classical background. He'd tell me the approaches, like how to approach a piece. I learned from him that there's an artistic way to play an etude or you can just play it.
Calicchio: You came off the road to study with Bernie.
Chuck: Yeah, I did. He didn't want me to, he said I should go back on the road. We worked together in the studios in Cleveland. We did some jingles and commercials together. He'd be playing third trumpet and he had that sound - he was the principal (Cleveland Orchestra). He blended so beautifully in the section. He actually could swing, which was saying something for a classical player, at least from my viewpoint of a classical player back in those days. Some classical players were so stiff, but Bernie was a very rounded player and he was very versatile. It was very nice to have a teacher like that.
Calicchio: Bobby's (Findley) book has a lot of distillation of Carmine's ideas?
Chuck: When my brother introduced Herb (Alpert) to Carmine, Herb fell in love with him and really exposed Carmine to the world. Herb's a wonderful man. He's really is very generous and giving. I always told Bob that you need to write a book because everywhere I go, they have Carmine's book and they don't really understand it. They do the six notes, they do the harmonic series, they do the seconds and thirds, but Carmine was personal. Everybody's different, so everybody might need a different exercise or a different approach for whatever problem they had. I told my brother to write a book about it and he said, "I've been thinking about that for years" and he did it. It's really a wonderful book. Basically, it explains what Carmine was saying in his book, but it also explains what my brother went through. It helps people understand where he's (Carmine) coming from, because he laid it out in a way that more trumpet players can relate to, from a trumpet player's point of view rather than Carmine's knowledge of how it worked physically. Not being around, Carmine couldn't do it. You'd just have to be very schooled and knowledged to actually take in his book and understand it, or at least you would have had to study with him. It would have made a lot more if he showed you what he meant by it.
Calicchio: I think that really brings up the need for a good private teacher, because a good teacher can show you how this particular Schlossberg study applies, how this particular Irons study applies, how this Clarke is what you need.
Calicchio: Schlossberg, in particular, is just a collection of things that he, I believe, gave to one particular student. Schlossberg was a great teacher, but when you put a series of generic etudes in a book, you don't have Schlossberg explaining how and why this etude is what you need right now. It seems that's why Bobby's book is so accessible.
Chuck: Yeah, that's it. When I do these master classes and clinics, Carmine's book would come up and that's what we'd talk about. For instance, I don't think it says in the book, but you play the six notes first until they feel comfortable, until your chops are vibrating. Then you go on to the harmonic series, but you don't do that during the six notes until you're buzzing and your chops are responding. Then you can go on to the harmonic series. After you're comfortable with those, you go on to the seconds. That's what Carmine said to me. He may have said something different to other people, but I know for a fact that the six notes were always what he started with, just to get the air flowing, to get all the motors in your body working. Every motor. There's a lot more involved. Everybody blames their chops. Well, it's a lot more than just your chops. It's every motor inside your body, everything that's involved with playing the horn.
Calicchio: So when are you going to come out with a book?
Chuck: I always wanted to do a book on the artists and what has happened to them, what a shame it is about what they have done and how political it has gotten for them to try to scrape together a gig just to survive. The shame of the whole thing is that there is a budget and there is money there, but these people are keeping all the money and just eliminating the artists. When an artist builds a computer, for instance, when there's a problem with that computer, they have to get an artist to fix it. What happens when there aren't any more artists left? What happens when there are no artists to fix anything? You're in trouble! And there are artists in all fields, I'm not just talking about horn players, John Duda is an artist, you're an artist. Artists do computer graphics, etc. I'm just talking about what they've done. Anyhow, you'll get more of me later, I shall sign off now!
Calicchio: Thanks for everything!
Cory hails from the culturally rich city of New Or (more)