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Charles Vernon and The Color Purple

I once saw a clinic that was given by the great Charles Vernon, bass trombonist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Charlie is a good friend who I have known for years, and simply one of the finest brass virtuosos on the planet. He also has a keen sense of analogy and metaphor when it comes to expressing and explaining that marvelous Voodoo that Heedoo (AKA his approach to brass playing and musicality in general) In this particular presentation, Charlie was talking about his concept of sound. The analogy that he used was thinking of sound as a color. As he visualized the perfect texture and tone quality on the horn, he imagined the deepest shade of purple possible–the analogy being that rich and pure purple hue equals the optimum full sound on his trombone. What a marvelous way to think of tone! And, as an aside, this is exactly how I "hear" sounds...with an accompanying color! So, this clinic really spoke to me.

As Charlie continued, he described how he would imagine a computer program-style "drop down menu" that he could check periodically throughout a performance that would display the shade of purple he was currently producing. If the shade was too light, he could then mentally access a sub-menu with an analysis:

  • faulty air stream

  • insufficient air speed

  • incorrect mouthpiece placement

  • too much pressure

  • not enough air

  • bad posture

  • etc

In this way, he could quickly and efficiently make sure that his tone was at its absolute best consistently throughout the entire performance. In essence, a fun way to remain aware of one's sound. A good head space to be in as–after all–WE are the ones playing our horn. Pretty slick, eh?

I have applied Charlie's analogy in my own playing and in my teaching ever since. In fact, I have adapted it in regards to air efficiency and minimizing pressure in lead playing as well, and I HIGHLY recommend it to everyone.

Here's what I do:

After a full warm up session earlier in the day (hopefully followed by some shed time) I keep aware of how much I am in the "Relaxed Zone of Efficient Air" as I play in a performance of any type, but especially if it is lead trombone. I operate under the overall umbrella of letting air come in fully, followed by an instant letting of air out through the horn and beyond. (Notice how I highlight the word "let." If you have my book Leadology (Volume 1) you are VERY familiar with why I do that! are a most excellent human being ...but I digress...) I do this at the beginning of every piece and hopefully at the beginning of every phrase. As an aside, watch Charlie's intake of air before he plays anything. PERFECT!

As the performance goes on, I mentally activate the first "drop down menu." Here's what I imagine being on it:

  • Are you feeling relaxed?

  • Do your chops feel flexible?

  • Is your upper register happening?

  • Can you access all the notes that you need to?

  • Are you handling all of the longer phrases easily?

  • Are you feeling any chop fatigue?

All of these menu items have their own nested menus ( mind is a hot mess and a glass cage of emotions) Without listing all of these sub menus, here are the basic solutions that show up if anything on the main menu indicates a problem:

  • Let more air come in before you play

  • Relax FULLY at the end of all phrases before the air intake

  • Take the mouthpiece off of your face as you inhale fully

  • Let the air flow through your horn like a lightning bolt and do all of the work for you

  • Let the air be constant! Not so much a bolt, but a constant phaser beam!

  • Listen for your sound out in the room, let it project

(I told you that I dig colors! :)

So, the long and short of it is that using this fun Vernonian method of visualization, I am staying aware of the principles of good air efficiency and keeping myself relaxed, away from undue pressure, and super-fueled by air. Therefore, I really am getting stronger as the gig goes on. Such a deal!

Here's some more Good King Charlie. Whole lotta PURPLE goin' on here, Folks!

168 views6 comments


Mar 23

(Is this piece somewhat modal in nature at times?)

This music seems quite Avant Garde! I like it :)

When listening, I imagine an intense story

being told using music as poetry.

A musical poetry that transports listeners out of

their current reality, into a sort of fantasy land,

where everything is new and different, yet completely

accepted and believable. Sorta like Alice in Wonderland!

In a word, Fantastic!

Beautiful Bass Trombone

Don Muller

Steve Wiest
Steve Wiest
Mar 24
Replying to

Nice description Don! Yeah, I felt it was quite programmatic as well and very well written indeed. Of course all of that Vernonian Purple all up in there really lit it up too!


Alex Taylor
Alex Taylor
Mar 21

is the colour idea for you metaphorical or perhaps related to synaesthesia? …or both?

The drop down menu approach is a great concept!

Steve Wiest
Steve Wiest
Mar 21
Replying to

I’m not sure if I have full-blown synaesthesia or not (I think it would be WAY cool if I did🤠) but for every sound I hear-be it music or otherwise-I also perceive imagery and color. Pretty entertaining actually! This is probably why I’ve been obsessed with all aspects of color as long as I can remember.

Not sure if it means anything profound, but I sure dig it!


Mar 21

Charlie is a beast!

Steve Wiest
Steve Wiest
Mar 21
Replying to

I agree 100%🤠

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