Australian Musician Jack Howard Interview

A musicianship based interview with Jack Howard around the time of his “Let’s Fall In Love” album.

Author: Greg Phillips and Christie Eliezer, Australian Musician Magazine.

Date: Autumn 2005.

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If any Australian band knew how to incorporate brass into a rock context, it was Hunters and Collectors. Trumpet player Jack Howard, along with his mates Jeremy Smith (French horn) and Michael Waters (Trombone) helped to create many an unforgettable night for punters swept away by the band’s combination of sheer power and beautiful touch. Since the unfortunate demise of that band, Howard has kept his chops up, working away with his own band ‘The Long Lost Brothers’. They’ve just released a new album (Let There Be Love) full of Jack’s tasty signature brass licks. Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips asked Jack Howard about his approach to brass in contemporary music.

At what point in workshopping a Hunters’ song, was the brass considered?

It varied. ‘Talking to a Stranger’ was probably the first song that noticeably had brass on it. That song was well and truly written before the brass section was really a big part of the band. As time went on, Jeremy and I started to write music for the songs as well. The brass was always fairly integrated, but obviously it varied from song to song. With something like ‘Do You See What I See’ there’s a big brass line at the end to help it peak. With ‘Blind Eye’ it’s very interwoven.

Yes, you’d have the intricate brass arrangement of a song like ‘Blind Eye’, but then you’d have the power brass assault style of ‘Say Goodbye’, did you have a preference for playing either style live?

Probably ‘Blind Eye’. Those lines, Jeremy and I came up with more naturally. It’s more to my liking than the power brass. I’m not a power player. I don’t have a great high range and I can’t play all night. A lot of players can, but I have a particular style I would like to think. Mind you ‘Say Goodbye’ worked beautifully live.

Is brass difficult to record in a studio?

I think it has got a little easier. Theoretically not. If you’ve got a decent microphone and an engineer with a decent pair of ears, it’s not that hard. I’ve got a little set up at home and I have one good mike and one OK mike, but if stand at the right distance and have things at the right levels, it can sound good. A lot of people do some funny things with mixing. When they mix brass into a track they can make it sound very shrill and put a lot of reverb on it, and also the actual tone of the instrument can get lost.

The brass on some recordings has the soul sucked out of it, how do you prevent that?

I have always been blessed with working with good engineers and producers, but you know … you put your ten cents worth in. You have always got to be wary of that ‘I can’t hear enough of me’ kind of syndrome. You’d be hoping that the producer has something in mind about how he is gong to fit the brass into the mix. I mean, if they wanted to mess with the natural tone of the brass and it benefits the track, then you kind of leave it.

What happens with your trumpet parts when you’re singing?

Well … I do some very quick changes between singing and playing but I just have to sacrifice a few of the backing parts. Once or twice I have got another guy to come in and play trumpet and it’s actually great when I have done that, it adds to the song. I mean not having it in, the song still works fine.

The title track of our new album “Let’s Fall in Love’ and also the track “Lotus Blossom” have that Burt Bacharach era brass feel. Are you a big fan of that era?

Oh yes. The orchestrations in particular, the way instrumentation is put together. I do “The Look of Love” with a jazz trio as well. The original orchestration on that, just where the brass kicks in, where the strings kick in, it all fits together so beautifully. It’s also a chance to use lots of major 7th chords as well.

Favourite arrangers?

Gil Evans, all the stuff he did with Miles Davis in the 50’s. Again, they used unusual instruments for jazz back then … French horns, flute, and tuba. One I really like and he’s probably not thought of as a brass person, is Captain Beefheart. Beautiful brass arrangements, and he often used bass clarinet. I like those unusual lines. I have always shied away from using saxophone in the brass sections I have been involved with. No great prejudice against them, but I think the saxophone pulls things more into a conventional sounding brass section. Apologies to all saxophone players out there!

Have you come across any keyboard brass sounds that you can tolerate?

Nup! I mean I have some good sound modules and good software samplers at home but no. I mean probably … no, in fact … no! There is just so much in the start of the note and the end of the note. I mean they have really worked hard with samplers and I have to say I don’t own the latest samplers. It’s just the subtleties of the notes, they just never seem to catch those. Unless you’re a real maniac MIDI head where you can tailor the attack on a note and draw in the midi curve for the end of a note and draw in the vibrato. Unless you go to that extent , but even then, no. I find it very hard even working with those sounds.

How many instruments do you own?

Three trumpets. My original Olds recording trumpet which I played for ten years. Since 1987 I have been playing a Bach Stradavarius model 43 which is a pretty standard trumpet around the traps but it’s got a combination of power and warmth.

Hendrix and Clapton, players like that have their guitars auctioned for hundreds of thousands of dollars. What would be the brass equivalent?

A Miles Davis original trumpet might fetch the same. Because the trumpet is right on your face, it’s a very personal thing, so you tend to have one that you love playing all the time. If I leave my main one at school where I teach, I just don’t enjoy playing the others as much. It’s a pretty personal thing to play a brass instrument.

What’s the plan for the Long Lost Brothers? Another album?

Yeh, at some stage. I’ve written and demoed lots of songs at home, avoiding brass midi sounds! I want to spend a lot of time working this CD, trying to get on the festival circuit and get overseas.