Every Single Gig Is an Audition: An Interview with Trumpeter Kirk Garrison

As a busy working musician, how did you begin and develop your freelance career?

Kirk Garrison: The funny thing is when I was trying to establish my freelance career, I had no plan besides always being prepared to play as many styles as possible. Not only do you have to be a great player, you have to be aware of the musicians around you and what you have to do in preparation for the gig. You have to know what you have to wear, what style you have to play in, when to arrive, etc. I also made sure I had a list of standards available to me that I can play whenever needed, especially during cocktail or dinner hour sets. A reputation is everything, for a freelance career, you really can’t advertise. Your advertising comes from when you show up and play, and then by word of mouth, somebody recommends you for another gig. I don’t advertise and I never really have, everything else is based on playing ability and reputation. Every single gig is an audition, no matter what you think of the gig because you never know who is listening or you will be playing with.     

You’re known for having a solid upper register; did you practice any particular exercises that helped develop your range?

KG: I use a lot of different exercises but there are two that come to mind. The first is where I play chromatic studies from the Arbans book, basically doing a two octave chromatic scale from low G to high G and keeping a consistent tone. The idea of this is to connect the registers and try to minimize any change between switching between these two registers. It’s all about being relaxed and using your air effectively. These scales help you to not over think the upper register and focus on your middle register more. In my opinion, if you can’t play properly in the middle register, you won’t be able to play well in the upper register. The second is another scale exercise. I will play a major scale to the top note and hold it. Then I will go up by half steps until I can’t produce a sound. I pay close to attention to my tone and if I hear any difference when I get to the top note, I know I am doing something wrong. I really want my tone to remain the same in all my registers.    

What do you do before a show to make yourself “Performance Ready?”

KG: I do some physical exercise every morning to prepare myself. Even when I’m on the road, I try to run 2 miles every day. In terms of trumpet exercises, I do some long tones, arpeggios, and scales at mezzo forte for a little bit before the gig. However, it depends on the gig; if I’m playing a Latin gig and I know I will be playing in the upper register, I will focus on my middle and high range more. I try to cater my warm up to whatever gig I am about to play.    

What is your current practice routine?

KG: The first thing I do in the morning is play some long tones and lip slurs. After this, I’ll do two octave chromatics. And then from there, I will either do etudes or whatever solo I may need to prepare. After this, I try to work with some jazz play-alongs from Hal Leonard or Jamey Aebersold. To help with endurance, I might play with an Aebersold CD all the way through. If I have a lead gig coming up that night, I will try to work some arpeggios to build into the upper register. I then practice some tunes and work on some patterns from books for maintaining my technique. I then have some jazz etude books I like to work out of if I want to work on reading eighth note lines with a lot of accidentals. If I need to work on my different articulations, I will usually work out of the Clarke book, specifically the 2nd exercise. I still try to cater my practice around fundamentals and to whatever gig I have coming up.


Any advice for younger trumpet players trying to become a professional musician?

KG: Yes, PRACTICE! Really in today’s world, as a working musician, the days of just being a trumpet player where you go on the road and play for a living are gone. In a practical way, you have to make yourself economically viable. In addition to playing, you should be teaching or doing something else to help pay the rent while you try to get your playing career going. It’s a means but by no means an end. You have to make yourself as versatile as you possibly can!

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