Stephanie Richards Speaks

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Trumpeter Stephanie Richards‘ WATERcolor performs at 9:15 on June 7th at the Abron’s Art Center.  Richards talks about her approach to sound, including the use of water as a part of the instrument. Stephanie Richards’ WATERcolor with Stephanie Richards (tpt), Qasim Naqvi and Andrew Munsey (drums), Kelly Rossum (tpt), Sam Minaie (bass).

FONT: When you look at the total history of the trumpet, from its beginnings as a signaling device, to the incredible diversity of approaches in the world now, what parts of the trumpet’s character is attractive to you? What keeps you interested in playing the instrument?

Stephanie Richards: The trumpet conforms to each player individually and irreplaceably. Your physiology, right down to how much sleep you had last night can contribute to your sound at that moment, and I love the vulnerability and sensitivity that fact presents.  Brass instruments have such vocalistic qualities—being the only instrument family besides voice itself to use human tissue to create sound, the trumpet lends itself to generating a personal individual voice for each and every player.  I also love the chameleonic tonal capabilities that the trumpet presents–we have the ability to change color so dramatically and have an unending supply of mutes and surfaces still left to be explored.  From its humble utilitarian origins, the trumpet has developed into a highly expressive vessel of music, and, I believe, with much of its story left to be told.

FONT: Your music tends towards very personal, unique sounds, some that wouldn’t conventionally be thought of as “musical” sounds. How do you make music with these sounds? How did you develop this approach?

SR: For myself, tone color, texture and “unique sounds” (growls, double buzzes etc.) as you put it, can be every bit as musical as harmonic expression can be, and ultimately I hope to meld together hand and hand.  I find micro-tonality to add unique colors that may not be found on a western harmonic “painters palette”, and of course, trumpet players have the golden gift of mutes to continuously explore means to express sound.  I believe that my background studying  orchestral music really brought a consciousness for timbre and texture to the forefront of my considerations as a composer and performer.  As I began to explore jazz traditions, I found a world of harmonic contemplation that I am continuously inspired by, but find that color and texture are naturally my first place to begin the musical process of composing, performing and improvising.

FONT: Where did the idea for your band “WATERcolor” come from?

SR: WATERcolor began as an experiment.  In the practice room (in the middle of a Clark study) my trumpet became filled with “condensation” and instead of emptying it, I began to improvise with it.  It turns out a trumpet filled with water can be quite beautiful, unpredictable and even a little bit sad sounding.  From there, I began to explore using water as a “mute”; playing with different resonances on the surface of water and varying depths and shapes of pots and pans.  Beyond exploring the sounds of water, the instrumentation for WATERcolor is two drumsets and bass so naturally, rhythm is the center-point of our ensemble.

Interview by Douglas Detrick.