By Nancy Kranzberg
I was inspired by two art exhibitions at The Sheldon Art Galleries in Grand Center Arts District. The first was titled “Amazing Horns: Bridging Continents, Bridging Time.” The works were instruments from The Hartenberger Collection of Musical Instruments now owned by The Sheldon. Dr. Aurelia Hartenberger has been researching and collecting musical instruments and artifacts amassing more than 3,000 items. Ninety-four horns from the collection were on display in this exhibition.
Wikipedia describes horns as any of a family of musical instruments made of a tube, usually made of metal and often curved in various ways, with one narrow end which the musician blows, and a wide end from which the sound emerges. In jazz and popular-music contexts, the word may be used loosely to refer to any wind instrument, and a section of brass or woodwind instruments, or a mixture of the two, is called a horn section.
As the name indicates, people originally used to blow on the actual horns of animals before starting to emulate them in metal or other materials. The original usage survives in the shofar (Hebrew), a ram’s horn, which plays an important role in the Jewish religious rituals. The genus of animal-horn instruments to which the shofar belongs is called Keren in Hebrew, Qarnu in Akkadian, and Keras in Greek.
The Wikipedia article on horns describes every horn imaginable from finger horns, marching horns, and saxhorns to horns used all around the globe.
Then I remembered another exhibition at The Sheldon Art Galleries, “The City of Gabriels: The History of Jazz in St. Louis, 1895-1973,” and the wonderful book written about it by Dennis Owsley, jazz scholar, St. Louis Public Radio jazz host and photographer.
Gabriel, of course, refers to the biblical character who blew his horn to announce the judgment day. The trumpet had more references in Owsley’s book than any other instrument.
The definition of a trumpet says it is a brass instrument commonly used in classical and jazz ensembles. The trumpet group contains the instruments (such as the piccolo trumpet) with the highest register in the brass family. Trumpet-like instruments have historically been used as signaling devices in battle or hunting, with examples dating back to at least 1500 BC. They began to be used as musical instruments only in the late 14th or early 15th century. Trumpets are used in art, music styles, for instance in orchestras, concert bands, and jazz ensembles, as well as in popular music.
Adam Corre wrote an article titled “10 Of The Most Famous Trumpet Players of All Time,” and of course Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis, and our own Miles Davis were all on the list. But we forget just how famous St. Louis is for its trumpet players in general. The late Clark Terry in the forward to Owsley’s “City of Gabriel’s” says, “I am not certain of the exact reasons why my hometown of St. Louis has had such a great jazz trumpet tradition. It could have been the Midwestern atmosphere or the other great musical traditions of the city, but I know that the origins of that tradition come straight from the great Mississippi River.”
Owsley says, “Trumpet players have shaped the sound and direction of St. Louis from the beginning. The sound of a St. Louis trumpet player is unmistakable, whether the trumpeter is Charles Creath, Dewey Jackson, Miles Davis, Clark Terry, Floyd LeFlore or Lester Bowie. The unique sound is described as a clear, singing tone, with many bent notes reminiscent of the human voice.”
There are many more notable horn players that have and continue to blow their horns in our city, but I’d like to end this commentary by paying tribute to David Hines (1942-1991) whose life was cut short in a motorcycle accident. By 1963, Hines was touring on trumpet with Albert King, T. Bone Walker, and Little Milton and in 1968, Hines was the jazz soloist with Woody Herman and held the same position with Ray Charles in 1970. Hines also played in theatre orchestra throughout the St. Louis area. He was the leader in halting discriminatory practices in the hiring of musicians for theater work by requiring auditions to be held behind curtains. He taught in various school situations and led the University City Jazz Band in the late 1980s. Hines toured Europe with Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy in the winter of 1986.
We can all toot our horns for St. Louis’ rich history of music where it shines in all its guises.