Jay Friedman is without question one of the greatest orchestral trombone players of all time and he is still going strong after 56 years! I recently had the distinct pleasure of talking to Jay about his amazing career. In the course of an hour, we covered everything from his early start in (he is Music Director of The Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest) music, his job as a leader of the world renowned Chicago Symphony Brass Section, his love of conducting , and the secrets to his longevity. You won’t want to miss a single word, so take some time and savor the words of a living master.
Listen to the interview:
Dan Gosling: Hi everyone. This is Dan Gosling, The ChopSaver Guy, and today I’m talking with one of the legends of the brass world, Jay Friedman. Hey, Jay. Thanks for joining me today.
Jay Friedman: No problem. Glad to help.
Dan Gosling: Oh. Our pleasure. So glad we could finally work this out. Thanks for being flexible. Jay has been Principal Trombone of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Jay, is it 1964 or 1962?
Jay Friedman: ’62 I joined the orchestra.
Dan Gosling: And were you principal at that time?
Jay Friedman: No. I came in as assistant and I got the principal job in the spring of … was ’65.
Dan Gosling: Oh okay.
Jay Friedman: So it was my third season.
Dan Gosling: All right. We’ll talk a little bit more about that as we go along here. As I often do with my interviews, I asked some of our followers on social media to provide some of the questions. A few of them did have to do with playing related issues, but Jay, I understand that you have just completed or are completing a new project that will address some of those things, so tell me about that first.
Jay Friedman: Well, Noah Gladstone of Brass Ark fame came up with the idea that we do a video about my philosophy of playing and teaching. So we did it out in Southern California. We did it at the MGM scoring stage where John Williams does his thing. Somehow Noah was able to get that, and we made a video of me working with several trombone players. And we just finished it. It was just released.
Dan Gosling: How cool is that? So when you say “released,” how can people find it? Where do they access this?
Jay Friedman: They should go on the Brass Ark website of Noah Gladstone.
Dan Gosling: Brass Ark. And that’s Brass …
Jay Friedman: Yeah, it’s one word, brassark. B-R-A-S-S-A-R-K. And he’s handing it right now.
Dan Gosling: How cool. So you were actually working with someone in these videos? It wasn’t just you on camera expounding on technique and things like that?
Jay Friedman: No. Noah interviewed me, and then I also worked with several trombone players and just kind of did a video masterclass.
Dan Gosling: And how long is it? Is it in segments or is it in one long …
Jay Friedman: No, it’s interspersed with interviews. So it’s not one long lesson. Yeah, Noah edited it and he made it very interesting.
Dan Gosling: Very cool. And for those who don’t know, tell us who Noah is. A little more about Noah.
Jay Friedman: Noah Gladstone is a very interesting guy that runs the website Brass Ark where he handles, he collects and sells vintage instruments. I’m sorry, that’s Alexa. I’ve got this thing. I might have to turn this off. Hold on a minute.
Dan Gosling: All right. No problem.
Dan Gosling: That would be Jay’s Alexa in the background.
Jay Friedman: I’m sorry about this.
Dan Gosling: No, no, no. That’s the wonders of modern technology.
Jay Friedman: Right. Somebody gave us this as a birthday present for my wife. Now it’s listening. Okay. Noah, he’s a contractor out in California. He has his own orchestra that he contracts out for just about everything. I mean, movies, videos. They do a lot of video games, things like that. And as a hobby, he does this Brass Ark thing where he collects and sells the instruments. And he’s got some great instruments that he finds all over the world.
Dan Gosling: Wow.
Jay Friedman: Yeah. It’s a great site. And he does it as a hobby.
Dan Gosling: Well, what a cool hobby.
Jay Friedman: Yeah. He’s a good player himself. But mainly he’s a contractor, but he does the Brass Ark, the collecting and the buying and selling of mostly trombones, but occasionally other brass instruments. Yeah. And he finds some really nice stuff. Very valuable, old instruments.
Dan Gosling: Okay. Well, our people listening to this, I urge you to check that out. So they can find your masterclasses. They’re already up and downloadable or viewable?
Jay Friedman: Yes. Yeah.
Dan Gosling: Great, great, great.
Jay Friedman: It was just released about, yeah, a month or so ago.
Dan Gosling: Okay. All right. Fantastic. Yeah, so for those that were wanting trombone technique, how to play triple tonguing, sound, we’re going to refer everybody to the Brass Ark website, and you can get it straight from Jay as he works with other trombone players. So we can kind of cross that off the list of things that people wanted to ask you about. I’m sure they’ll find a lot [00:05:00] there.
But I really want to just talk about your amazing career, the start of it. Did you come from a musical family? Why trombone? Was an orchestral career your boyhood dream? Or were there some twists and turns along the way?
Jay Friedman: Yeah. Well, one side of my family was in the arts and the other side wasn’t. Yeah, my father’s side of the family were in the various arts. Not in classical music so much. My father was a dancer when he was young. His family, they were in the arts in different ways.
But I had a late start in music, because my father died when I was nine years old, and I went to a military school, because my mother, she had to work all the time. So luckily I started music there, and the reason why I ended up with the trombone was the band director at the school needed somebody to play euphonium and he said, “You’re it.” And I played euphonium for eight years, all the way through high school. And since music was really the only thing that I knew at that time, I decided to become a musician not knowing what that entailed or anything.
And my high school band director, God bless his heart, arranged for me to take some lessons in my senior year of high school with Vincent Cichowicz who was fourth trumpet in the CSO at that time. And if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t … yeah, wouldn’t have a career today.
Dan Gosling: Really? So-
Jay Friedman: So I studied with him on euphonium my senior year in high school, and then he switched me to trombone, too, because he said, “They don’t use euphonium in orchestras.” I didn’t know. I thought I’d end up being a trumpet player, but he said, “No. It’s more important that the embouchure is the same one you switch.” So I switched to trombone. And I studied with him. And I studied with John Swallow who was in the Chicago Symphony at that time.
And then I studied with Robert Lambert who was the principal when I came in the CSO. And I played in the Civic Orchestra for four years before that. And I also played in the Florida Symphony in Orlando, which doesn’t exist anymore. So I was in the Civic for four years, and then in the wintertime I played in the Florida Symphony in Orlando, which was only a 15 week season. And then I came back and I played in Civic. Yeah. And then somehow, you know …
Dan Gosling: So you grew up in the Chicago area?
Jay Friedman: Yes. Yes. I’m local.
Dan Gosling: And what suburb? Or were you actually in Chicago?
Jay Friedman: Yeah. In Chicago.
Dan Gosling: What side of town were you in?
Jay Friedman: In the city.
Dan Gosling: Oh, in the City.
Jay Friedman: I grew up on the south side. Yeah, and this military school that I went to was on the same block where Obama lived. In fact, it’s possible he might live in the house where some of the buildings of the military school was. I tried to go there and see it and, of course, a couple of years ago, and they had it all blocked off with, well, barriers, because obviously it was his house and they didn’t want anybody driving by it or anything. But it’s in the block where he lives.
Dan Gosling: That’s fascinating. Well, that’s very cool. I did my Master’s at Northwestern 30 years ago and Vince was my teacher. So that’s-
Jay Friedman: Really? Oh. What a great guy.
Dan Gosling: Yeah. Oh my gosh. So many, so many people he touched and …
Jay Friedman: Oh yeah. Right.
Dan Gosling: … who wouldn’t have a career without him.
Jay Friedman: Yeah. And at that time, he was teaching at something called the Chicago School of Music, and in those days, you’re not going to believe this, a half-hour lesson cost four dollars!
Dan Gosling: Oh my. Wow.
Jay Friedman: He got two in the school got two.
Dan Gosling: My goodness.
Jay Friedman: That was in 1956, ’57. Four dollars for a half-hour lesson was
Dan Gosling: So was he your first real teacher on a brass instrument? Or were you kind of self-taught up to that point?
Jay Friedman: Yes. Yeah. I played in the band. I didn’t even know you practiced.
Dan Gosling: Oh my gosh. That’s fantastic.
Jay Friedman: Yeah, that was my first real private study, other than when I first started. But yeah.
Dan Gosling: But somebody had the vision, or whatever you would call it, to say, “This man plays the trumpet, but he should be your teacher anyway.”
Jay Friedman: Right. Yeah, my high school band director, Walter Dubyk, bless his heart, saw something in me and he says, “I’m going to arrange for you to take some lessons.” I didn’t know who Vincent Cichowicz was, and I didn’t know what the Chicago Symphony was. Yeah, and I’ll tell you, yeah. My first symphony concert ever, ever was in April of 1957. I went to the Chicago Symphony and they were doing the Mahler First Symphony with Bruno Walter conducting, and it was the day that Toscanini died.
Dan Gosling: Oh man.
Jay Friedman: I didn’t know who Bruno Walter was, and I didn’t know who Mahler was.
Dan Gosling: Or Toscanini for that matter.
Jay Friedman: Absolutely knocked me out. My goodness.
Dan Gosling: Wow. You’re coming up on a major anniversary there, too.
Jay Friedman: Yes.
Dan Gosling: Well, let me ask you. How long was the Chicago Symphony season in the early ’60s?
Jay Friedman: Yeah. It was probably about 28 weeks, something like that. Yeah. And if you didn’t play Ravinia, which in those days, the assistants didn’t get to play Ravinia. So my first year in the orchestra, I played in Grant Park, because luckily there was an opening. Yeah, in Grant Park. Yeah. Even if you played the summer season, you had like 12 weeks off with no pay. That was tough in those days. You had to get whatever work you could. I used to play band concerts. You know, those union band concerts.
Dan Gosling: Yep.
Jay Friedman: Yeah. It was a different situation in those days.
Dan Gosling: Did you play in the studios or theater work or any casual things like that? Or were those things even available?
Jay Friedman: No. It’s funny. Yeah, I always wanted to play in one of the theaters, and just when I got in the orchestra, somebody asked me to play at the Shubert Theatre, to sub. I’d been waiting for, I mean, not that long. I was basically a student. So I got in the orchestra, but as soon as I got in the symphony, I got a call to sub at the Shubert, but I couldn’t do it because I got in the orchestra. But before that, I never had any work at all.
Well, I was so young. And I started late. Like I say, I didn’t start trombone until I graduated from high school. So yeah, I was very late.
Dan Gosling: Wow. That’s really incredible.
Jay Friedman: Yeah. So five years later, I was in the CSO.
Dan Gosling: So where did you go to college, then?
Jay Friedman: I went to Roosevelt, but I never finished. I went for three years.
Dan Gosling: Okay. Roosevelt.
Jay Friedman: Yeah. I teach there, now.
Dan Gosling: Is it possible the late start actually helped you in that you didn’t develop maybe the bad habits that beginners sometimes do when they’re so young?
Jay Friedman: Yeah. It’s possible. I mean, I was a very mediocre euphonium player. I mean, I was better than the average kid my age, ’cause I had been playing since I was in fifth grade, but when I hear people come out of high school today, I mean, yeah. I was pretty mediocre. Well, ’cause I never studied with anybody when I was in high school. I just played the horn.
Dan Gosling: Right.
Jay Friedman: Yeah so luckily, there were only two trombone players at Roosevelt when I was there, and I didn’t know how behind I was. And I just thought, “Well, I’m as good as anybody.” You know, in those days, you had to make your own excerpt books, because there wasn’t any publications out except those old Stoneberg books. So I used to write a lot of my orchestral stuff. I used to go to the library and just copy out scores and things like that. Listen to records, things like that.
Yeah, it was a different era. You didn’t have the information available that the people have now.
Dan Gosling: Oh my goodness, no. Yeah.
Jay Friedman: Yeah. I mean, you can get anything now.
Dan Gosling: I’m assuming you were a pretty hard worker, though? I mean, once you realized, “Hey, I kind of enjoy this.”
Jay Friedman: Yeah, once I realized that I had to find a vocation, yeah. I really buckled down. In fact, they used to tell me at school, “You’re practicing too much. You’ve got to spend more time reading your books and studying.” Yeah, but I didn’t listen. I just practiced all the time.
And interestingly enough, we used to get together, two other guys and a tuba player, and we used to play excerpts and ensembles. Well, brass ensembles. We used to do it five nights a week, and we did that for [00:16:00] four years.
Dan Gosling: Oh my goodness.
Jay Friedman: Yeah. We did it at DePaul, because they had a library there that we could get into and get music out, and we could practice there. Yeah, five nights a week for about four years we did that.
Dan Gosling: That is incredible. Now, did the other gentlemen go on to careers as well? I mean, what a training ground.
Jay Friedman: Marty was bass trombone player, he wound up at Lyric. He went in the Lyric Orchestra.
Dan Gosling: Who was that?
Jay Friedman: Marty Fako.
Dan Gosling: Oh, Marty Fako. Okay.
Jay Friedman: Yeah, he wound up in Lyric in Chicago. And Bob Tucci went to Europe with the Munich [inaudible 00:16:40] Orchestra.
Dan Gosling: Of course.
Jay Friedman: And John Tafoya was a tenor trombone player. He was in Civic with me, also. But he wound up as the librarian in the St. Louis Symphony. Yeah, he ended up being the librarian for years and years.
Dan Gosling: Oh wow. That’s incredible.
Jay Friedman: Yeah. So that’s really where I learned how to play ensemble and the literature and everything. Yeah, I mean that was really the thing that made me catch up to the rest of the musical world.
Dan Gosling: Yeah, and did you guys just do this on your own? Did you have any coaching?
Jay Friedman: No. We used to do it on our own. Yeah, we’d get together every night. Every night during the week. Five nights a week. We’d play excerpts and spend like two or three hours every night. I mean, every weeknight. That was really great. And then we played in Civic also.
Dan Gosling: Right. Right. So you were clearly being groomed or grooming yourself for the kind of career that you had. But, I mean, we can talk about the longevity, and I do want to talk about that, but … So when you get in the CSO, you’re how old?
Jay Friedman: 23.
Dan Gosling: 23. And then you became principal when you were 25, 26?
Jay Friedman: Yes. 25.
Dan Gosling: When those two things happened, did you feel ready for them or was there a big learning curve once you got in?
Jay Friedman: I was a cocky kid then. “I could play. Yeah, I can play.” If I had been at a school where there were 50 trombone players like a lot of these places, I probably wouldn’t been as cocky, because there would have been [00:18:30] people much better than myself. It was lucky that I didn’t have a lot of competition or a lot of other people that were better. So I thought I was great. Looking back at it, I was very green. Very green, yeah.
Dan Gosling: So a little naiveté went a long way, probably.
Jay Friedman: Yeah. Right. I think it worked in my favor at that time.
Dan Gosling: So that’s mid ’60s. By the ’70s and, clearly, by the ’80s, which is only … only, I say, 15, 20 years later, the Chicago Symphony has become this legendary orchestra, legendary brass section. Did you just wake up one day and say, “Wow. This is an incredible collection of people?” Was it intentional? Was there a lot of discussion about what was happening then? Or did you just kinda realize you were very fortunate in the personnel and those kinds of things?
Jay Friedman: Yeah. Boy. Well, Herseth and his career and sitting next to him, luckily … And I have to say, when I was filling in really over almost a two year period I filled in, he was so supportive [00:20:00] of me as a young kid. He was just amazingly … He was always very supportive of me. He was so nice to me. I was new. I just tried to fit in. I mean, it was a very strong brass section at that time. Herseth and Crisafulli, Mr. Kleinhammer, Mr. Jacobs, they were all established. So it was just up to me to …
Dan Gosling: Fit in.
Jay Friedman: Go in there and fit in. Yeah, as good as I can, because the style was already established.
Dan Gosling: Because Mr. Herseth got in the orchestra, what? Ten years before you? I should know this, but I …
Jay Friedman: No. ’48.
Dan Gosling: ’48. That’s right. It was ’48.
Jay Friedman: Almost 20 years before. Yeah, a good 15 years before I did.
Dan Gosling: Right. Right. Okay, well …
Jay Friedman: He’s older than I am.
Dan Gosling: Yeah, yeah. Okay, that …
Jay Friedman: He was born in 1921.
Dan Gosling: Right. That puts it in perspective. And Mr. Jacobs got into the orchestra when?
Jay Friedman: ’46.
Dan Gosling: Okay. So there was, clearly, a …
Jay Friedman: Yeah, they were separate. It was two guys.
Dan Gosling: Yeah, the one guy in the bottom and one guy in the top kind of.
Jay Friedman: That’s right. Yeah, and everybody fits in the middle.
Dan Gosling: Right.
Jay Friedman: Yeah. I mean, as far as the trumpets and trombones were concerned. The horns were in a transition, because Farkas had just left when I got in.
Dan Gosling: Oh okay.
Jay Friedman: So I never played with Farkas.
Dan Gosling: Oh you didn’t? Okay.
Jay Friedman: No, he left. So my first year was Frank Brouk and Dave Krehbiel. They split the books on principal horn. Krehbiel went to San Francisco. He just retired a few years ago.
Dan Gosling: Right, right. And so I guess one of the questions that I had was the Chicago sound, is that something that you would talk about, or is that something that we on the outside use to just sort of conjure up, to sort of describe this phenomenal thing that was happening? Was it intentional or was it-
Jay Friedman: It was never discussed. I don’t think it was ever discussed at that time. I mean, Herseth played the way he played. Yeah, it’s funny. I’ll tell you a little story.
Dan Gosling: Please do.
Jay Friedman: A little story. We were in London in 19 … Well, actually, we were in England. We were in Edinburgh. Yeah, Edinburgh, at the Edinburgh Festival, 1971, which is the first European tour that we did with Solti. And like I say, we spent a week in Edinburgh at the festival, and the London Symphony happened to be there. And Denis Wick was there. And I had corresponded with him since the ’60s, ’cause he was kind of my hero. I mean, one of my heroes at that time.
And he was there. And he said … so we were doing Mahler Five, which we’d probably played about 200 times, and every time we’d go on tour, everybody would ask for Mahler 5, you got sick of it. Every wanted us to do Mahler 5. So we did Mahler 5 in Edinburgh, and actually, the trombone section at that time was me, Crisafulli, and Mr. Kleinhammer. We had totally different sounds. Yeah, I mean, I had kind of a dark sound. Crisafulli had a very bright sound, even though it was a big sound. And Kleinhammer was just a super clear and alive. They were kind of three different sounds.
Well, when Denis Wick heard us player Mahler 5, he said, “I don’t understand how you do it. You guys have three different sounds, and yet when you play, it sounds like one giant trombone. It’s an amazing sound.”
So yeah, that was it. Somehow it came together. There was a famous disagreement between Mr. Kleinhammer and Mr. Crisafulli and they had a falling out in the early ’50s, and they never spoke to each other after [00:25:00] that. There was such a professional atmosphere then that they really didn’t need to discuss things. I mean, everybody was so conscientious that they played their own part and they had their own standards. And there was a standard there that just never went below a certain level. There was a certain kind of stability, a crazy stability there. Yeah, even though they didn’t get along, they had such high standards that they didn’t need to talk about it. So yeah, it was very strange.
Dan Gosling: That’s just incredible when you think about it.
Jay Friedman: Yeah. Yeah. That there was an iron will there that was just … Everybody played their best, and it didn’t matter whether the conductor was bad or good or what the situation was. There was a standard that they upheld, and they didn’t need somebody else’s assurance or to be friendly with somebody else. They did their part, and that was it.
Dan Gosling: Wow. That is amazing.
Jay Friedman: Mr. Herseth was kind of like that. He had this saying, which I’ve never forgotten. He said, “If you have to say something, it’s already too late.” And I’ve never forgotten that. You know, I always kind of remember that. So, to this day, I don’t order my section around or tell them how to play or something. I expect them to do their job, just like we did our job [00:27:00] in those days playing. Those guys did their job. There wasn’t a lot of talk about how to play. You know?
Dan Gosling: That is fascinating.
Jay Friedman: Yeah, pretty professional.
Dan Gosling: Yep. Yep. So you were hired by …
Jay Friedman: Reiner.
Dan Gosling: Reiner.
Jay Friedman: Actually, my audition for him was in front of the whole orchestra.
Dan Gosling: Oh, really?
Jay Friedman: Yeah. Yeah. And it was on bass trumpet.
Dan Gosling: Well, the euphonium lessons really worked out for you, then.
Jay Friedman: No. No, although I used to do all the valve work in those days.
Dan Gosling: Right. Yeah. Exactly.
Jay Friedman: Nobody else in the section played the euphonium, but I used to do it. Now I let Michael Mulcahy do it, because, I mean, he’s a great valve player. Although, I do play bass trumpet occasionally. I like that instrument.
Dan Gosling: So what was the repertoire? What were you … for Reiner?
Jay Friedman: It was an old Wagner concert, which actually never came off, because he got sick. Yeah, and we never saw him again. It was the end of the season. And we had our rehearsal and I was playing bass trumpet and he made me play all of my excerpts in front of the orchestra just to check me out.
Dan Gosling: Oh, my goodness.
Jay Friedman: Yeah, if I was okay. Oh, because assistant first in that orchestra was the most, with Reiner, it was the most dangerous position in the orchestra, because he had fired several people. You know, and it was probably on doubling instruments.
Dan Gosling: Right. So would you say that you’ve played under, is it five music directors now or six? If you don’t count Reiner.
Jay Friedman: Well, Reiner. Yeah, Reiner. Martinon is the one that gave me the principal job. Yeah, bless his heart. I mean, I was just a kid. And then Solti, Barenboim, and Muti. Mr. Kleinhammer used to say, “The Chicago Symphony has had six music directors, and I’ve been here for five of them.” That’s because he never played with Theodore Thomas, but Frederick Stock was there from about 1919 to 19 … what was it? ’50? Yeah, ’49 or …
Dan Gosling: And along with the different music directors, the hall has changed several times as well?
Jay Friedman: Oh yeah. Yeah, they wrecked the hall in 1966 when they did the first renovation. Well, yeah. It used to be a good recording hall, and recording companies used to want to record there. And then they hired Leo Beranek who ruined Lincoln Center hall. Yeah, and it’s never been the same.
Dan Gosling: Oh, that’s tragic. So with the different music directors, the hall renovations, what would you say, if anything, that you’ve had to do or the orchestra’s had to do to compensate? Or have things changed much since the ’70s and the way things were being done as the way they’re being done now?
Jay Friedman: Yeah. I mean, yeah. We play a different style now. I mean, it’s a much mellower sound. We’ve lost some excitement, but it’s been replaced, hopefully, by a more blended sound. Yeah, a more chamber [music type of sound. But definitely it’s not as exciting as it used to be.
Dan Gosling: And do you think that’s because of the music director? Just changes in personnel? Or the hall? Or a combination of those things?
Jay Friedman: Yeah. Well, every conductor gets his own sound. Yeah. So, I mean, we can’t change with every conductor. I mean, they may ask us to do something, but they’re not around long enough to change our basic way of playing. So the personnel changes, yeah, and that’s going to change it. I’m playing much bigger equipment than I ever start with, because I’ve realized that the hall needs a very mellow sound, because there’s very little reverberation in the hall. I mean compared to others, a good hall. Yeah, it’s a dead place to play. It’s very hard to play. So you have to kind of create your own resonance, your own reverberation time.
So that’s why we’re kind of playing the instruments that we are. They’re a larger bore than we ever played in those days. Yeah, we have to make up for the hall. I mean, if you played in the Concertgebouw or you played in Carnegie Hall, you could almost play anything and sound great, but not in our hall. We have to make a very mellow, round sound, because the hall’s not gonna help you that way.
Dan Gosling: Interesting. That’s interesting. I’d love to talk about orchestra stuff. That’s fascinating, and I’m sure people listening to this would love to hear more, but I do want to talk, really, more about you and the secret to your longevity I think is something that people would love to know about. I assume that when you were in your 20s and 30s, you didn’t set out to keep playing as long as you have? Or did you? Was that kind of a goal of yours? Or you just said …
Jay Friedman: No. No. And it’s not a goal of mine right now. Haven’t tried to set any records or anything. Yeah. As long as I enjoy playing and I can keep a certain level, I’m enjoying this, so why should I … I mean, I get excited when we have a really good conductor and a good program. It’s fun to play. I mean, I’m enjoying it as much as I ever did appreciate it more now.
Dan Gosling: You appreciate it more? That’s really cool.
Jay Friedman: Sure. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I’m not tired of music or tired of playing or anything. Yeah, I enjoy teaching. I mean, I wish I was as good a teacher … I mean, I’m not saying I’m a great teacher now, but I wish I knew the stuff that I know now way back then so I could have imparted it to a lot of people through the years that came with me for instruction.
I remember Emory Remington. Emory Remington, probably the most famous trombone teacher that ever lived, he told one of his students, he said, “You should come and study with me now, because I’m a much better teacher than I was when you studied.” That’s an amazing statement from somebody who was already the most famous teacher of all time, at least on our instrument. I mean, that’s amazing! Yeah, well I have the same feeling now. You’re basically saying the same thing, but you’re narrowing … you’re getting rid of all the stuff that you don’t need as you get older. “Oh yeah, that was pretty nice. Why don’t you try this?” Or say, “Yep. This is what you need to do, because this will work for you.” That kind of thing.
Dan Gosling: So clearly, one of the secrets to the longevity is that you are still great at what you do and you love what you’re doing, so why stop? You talked a little bit about equipment changes to accommodate for the hall and those kinds of things. Have you done any things intentional, just in terms of taking care of yourself, taking care of your body, that have also helped?
Jay Friedman: Let me think about that. Well …
Dan Gosling: I mean, we want to hear that you have this incredible yoga routine and you run ten miles a day and that you have a vegan diet and all that, right?
Jay Friedman: Yeah. No. I don’t do that. And I’m very active. I do a lot of conducting. I have an orchestra, an orchestra that I conduct here. In fact, we’re just about to do a big concert at the Symphony Center. We’re gonna do Carmina Burana at Symphony Center with about 200 singers and this orchestra. Yeah, and I’m doing a lot with Civic, because Muti, he wants me to work. [00:37:00] I mean, I’ve been working with Civic this year doing a lot of things like that.
Yeah, I’m pretty busy with teaching, my orchestra, and the CSO. Those three things keep me very busy.
Dan Gosling: I’m sure they do. I’m sure they do. But nothing unusual in terms of an exercise regimen or anything like that?
Jay Friedman: No. Yeah, I’m just too busy to do that kind of stuff. Yeah. We get exercise just playing and teaching and conducting.
Dan Gosling: Briefly, tell me a little bit more about the conducting. When did you start conducting, and …
Jay Friedman: In the early ’90s. I was telling Mr. Muti about that, how I started conducting. I said, “For the first 25 years I was in the orchestra, all I did was study scores, because I was interested in what made one orchestra sound different from another.” And I said, “In all those years, I never thought of being a conductor.” Yeah, I was interested in orchestral style, and especially European orchestras, too, because they had qualities that American orchestras just didn’t have. Yeah, completely different, just different emphasis on musicality and style.
So I said in the late ’80s, I started conducting little chamber groups and people started asking me to conduct, it just turned into that, but originally I just studied scores, because I just wanted to see what made orchestras sound different from each other, and that’s how I got into it.
Dan Gosling: That’s interesting. That’s really fascinating. So it wasn’t this like, “I want to start conducting”? You just wanted to learn more about your craft?
Jay Friedman: Yeah. I never had a thought in my head, the first 25 years I was in the orchestra, to start conducting. It just kind of evolved into that.
Dan Gosling: So would you say conducting has made you more or less empathetic to other people on the podium?
Jay Friedman: Yeah, it’s made me realize that you need to cherish the really good ones and wonder why the other ones aren’t better. My theory about conducting is it’s the easiest thing to do physically, but because of that, almost anybody can do it, it’s really difficult to be exceptional. Anybody can wave a stick. Yeah, Toscanini put it the best, and I just had this conversation with Muti. Toscanini said, “Any jackass can conduct, but to make music is difficult.” That’s exactly right. It’s exactly right. Yeah, it’s all about bringing the score to life, not just beating time, but realizing what the composer had in mind and bringing it from the page into sound. Yeah, that’s really what it is. It’s difficult. Yeah, very difficult.
Because orchestras are not against the conductor, but orchestras are unintentionally trying to talk a conductor out of the vision that he’s trying to bring from the composer to the audience. Not even to the audience, to realization. Yeah, the audience is just a bystander. But orchestras, they are unintentionally trying to talk a conductor out of his vision, and they don’t mean to do it, it’s just too much trouble to play great all the time. Too much trouble, I’m sorry. It’s too much trouble to play pianissimo when you don’t have to.
Dan Gosling: I’ve never quite heard it put that way. That is a fascinating but spot-on take on what is actually happening when you have …
Jay Friedman: Right. You don’t mean to do it. It’s just that there’s 100 people that have their own vision or something, non vision. They don’t have any vision and they’re not interested in your vision, and they don’t even know what it is do it, but yeah.
Dan Gosling: You’ve got the composer and then the people playing it and the guy conducting it. There’s three …
Jay Friedman: Yeah, there’s three things that it needs to …
Dan Gosling: … crazy variables there.
Jay Friedman: Yeah, and the greatest interpreters are a vessel through which the music flows out to who’s ever listening. That’s what makes the piece.
Dan Gosling: Well, with someone of your perspective of over 50 years, what do you think orchestras will be like, say, 50 years from now, at least in this country?
Jay Friedman: Yeah. Well, there’ll be less of them.
Dan Gosling: You think so?
Jay Friedman: I don’t think the big orchestras will go away, but the smaller ones are having more and more trouble. Yeah. I mean, I’m not one of these people … I’m stuck in the 19th century just some other people. That’s my treasure trove. The younger people do the modern music, and not all modern music is great. It needs to be very [00:43:30] selective. And for conductors, just to do a modern piece and not really find composers that are really original and do their music, really different, not just to play modern music just because it’s modern. Well, it’s like I say, not all of it is worthy. But really seek out the people that have the imagination. I mean, I know orchestras try to do that, generally speaking, but they need to be more selective.
And I don’t think dumbing down programs is the answer, or playing more pops-y stuff. You know, because when you think about it, there’s a huge treasure trove of Romantic and the Classical music that’s never played. It’s never played. Daniel Barenboim’s idea of playing Czech music was the New World Symphony, but that’s not Czech music. Yeah, there’s a huge treasure trove of music from the 19th century that nobody ever plays. I just did a concert with the Civic Orchestra last season, I did the Glière Symphony #3, Ilya Muromets. That’s the greatest Russian symphony, I mean late-Romantic symphony. Nobody knows it. Not even the Russians play it anymore. That is an absolute masterpiece.
Dan Gosling: It’s funny you would mention that piece. I had a college roommate who, and he was a euphonium player, actually, he loved that piece. I never would have heard of that piece …
Jay Friedman: Oh it is, yeah.
Dan Gosling: … if he hadn’t turned me onto it. And I never hear it. I’ve never performed it. Never heard … yeah.
Jay Friedman: That’s got some of the greatest orchestral writing and the greatest counterpoint ever. Ever. I mean, it’s a concerto for orchestra. That’s what it is. If a composer wanted to learn how to orchestrate, all they need to do is to study that score, because it’s all in there.
Dan Gosling: And for people that don’t know what we’re talking about, say it again. The piece and the composer.
Jay Friedman: The Reinhold Glière, Symphony #3, subtitled “Ilya Muromets.” He’s a Russian hero from the middle ages. That is a masterpiece. I think it’s the greatest Russian late-Romantic symphony.
Dan Gosling: You know, you have been very gracious here with your time. I’ve just got a couple more questions. The trombone players listening to this would be really upset if I didn’t ask some just basic trombone geek questions. Your equipment, what you’re using right now, what other instruments that you end up playing throughout a season, that kind of stuff.
Jay Friedman: Right. Okay. Well, do you want brand names?
Dan Gosling: Yeah. What do you play 80% of the time? And then what are you playing for special purposes? Things like that.
Jay Friedman: Right, sure. Okay. Well, I’ve always been a Bach guy. I’ve been playing Bach since … yeah. The Bach instrument, I play a Mt Vernon 42 bell, and a bass trump. Yeah, and a lightweight bass trombone slide, a 50 slide. I only use the bass trombone slide, not because I want to sound like a bass trombone, but because I want it very free blowing. I don’t want any stuffiness. So I play a lightweight bass trombone slide on a 42 bell. I have a latch F-attachment bell, which is a German bell. We’re coming out with a Friedman model that’s gonna have a lightweight … it’s a thin bell, like the old Bach bells. If you’re a trumpet player you know about the Mt Vernon. They were very thin and very responsive, and that’s what I like.
So we’re coming out with a new Friedman model, which has a red- brass thin bell and a new bell from Germany from the Meinlschmidt company, so that will be out soon. But that’s basically what I play. And the mouthpiece, I use a Karl Hammond. It’s like a Bach 3G, but it has a little, a 5G throat in it. I mean, it’s way too big for what I should be playing, but [00:48:30] if I keep in shape, I can usually make it sound good.
Dan Gosling: Well, I’ve heard you make it sound good many times. And you’ve been playing-
Jay Friedman: I also use different instruments. I have a Bach 8, which is a small bore trombone that I use for French stuff. Like this coming week, we’re doing the Daphnis and Chloe ballet. So I’m going to use [00:49:00] my Bach 8, which is a smaller bore horn and it fits with French music.
And I also play alto trombone on just about all the stuff that calls for alto. Brahms, Beethoven, Dvorak, Mozart. I mean, all the things that are alto parts. I usually play alto. And I play a German alto. And I just got a Shires alto the other day that I’m gonna start using on certain things.
Dan Gosling: So when the trumpets are using …
Jay Friedman: Rotary?
Dan Gosling: … rotaries, are you changing equipment?
Jay Friedman: Yes. When I need to play a tenor trombone, like on a Bruckner symphony, we usually change the German horns. I have a, it’s about 1905 or 1910, I have a Kruspe, that I play. It’s a very large, hard to play instrument. I’m really into the old German horns. And our guys, Michael Mulcahy and Charlie Vernon, they play copies of older German horns, too. And we use that for Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven. So we like to play the German horns and those type of horns. But mine is an original one from about 1910.
Dan Gosling: Wow. That’s very cool.
Jay Friedman: Yeah. Very hard to play, but you can’t duplicate that sound on an American instrument. You just can’t do it. And I wish more people would do that, but I don’t see it happening. In fact, I don’t see European orchestras playing alto like on Schubert and Schuman. Yeah, I see people playing tenor all the time. I wish they’d play alto, and I wish they’d play German-style horns. I mean the old German horns. Not the new ones, which are just copies of our American instruments. I mean, they need to be copies or original or 19th century, because you can’t duplicate that sound on a modern instrument
Dan Gosling: Right. So let me ask you that. Rather than just say, “Who’s your favorite composer?” I want to ask you this way. If you could dream, or if you could program your final concert with the Chicago Symphony, you’re the conductor, you’re the music director, but you’re still going to play in the section, what would it be?
Jay Friedman: Oh my goodness.
Dan Gosling: Or maybe just composers.
Jay Friedman: Oh my goodness. That’s tough.
Dan Gosling: Or maybe two concerts. Maybe we’re doing a Jay Friedman retrospective, and you get to program two concerts.
Jay Friedman: Yeah. Oh boy. Well, I’ve always been a Wagner nut, and I love Mahler, too. Yeah. I like the German stuff. Our favorite stuff in our section to play, we just did a Schubert Mass last week. That was about as good as it gets. We have choral music, where you’re playing with a chorus from Schubert, Schuman, that era. I mean, that’s probably the stuff that’s the most rewarding to play.
As a conductor, boy, yeah. Boy. I’ve done a lot of Wagner opera stuff. I like working with singers. I’m trying to think if I have only one concert, boy.
Dan Gosling: Maybe I’ll let you think on that one. You can email me your answer and we’ll make an addendum to this.
Jay Friedman: Yeah, that’s a tough one. big repertoire, but it’s basically in the Romantic era. I’m an old fuddy-duddy.
Dan Gosling: So the Mahler symphonies, you’d be partial to the ones that do have chorus and vocal?
Jay Friedman: Yeah. Well I think the Mahler Eighth, you’re not gonna believe this, I did the Mahler 8 in Orchestra Hall with my own orchestra back in 2010. Although, all right, I’ll tell you. Yeah, I just told the Civic this the other day, ’cause we’ve been doing readings, I think the Schubert Ninth Symphony is the greatest symphony ever written.
Dan Gosling: Really?
Jay Friedman: Yes. I do. And it’s not usually thought of in that context, because people think, well, the Beethoven 9th is the greatest, or the Beethoven 3rd, or the Mozart 41 or the 40th. Yeah, I mean, I’m not saying absolutely, but I think the Schubert 9th Symphony, the Great C Major should absolutely be in contention, because when you think of when it was written, Beethoven was still alive, 1825 to 1826. It is absolutely amazing, because it’s not Classic and it’s not Romantic, it’s in its own sphere, which is somewhere out in space.
And the length of that thing, if you do all the repeats, it’s over an hour. I mean, for that time, I think that couldn’t … You could make an argument for that being the greatest symphony of all time.
Dan Gosling: Yeah. I would agree. Yeah.
Jay Friedman: Yeah. It’s just amazing. And that’s my favorite. Other than the masses and things like that that I mentioned, that’s my favorite piece to play. That’s my favorite symphony to play, by far. It’s not even close.
Dan Gosling: Really? That’s fascinating.
Jay Friedman: Yeah.
Dan Gosling: Well, why don’t we just end with some fun stories, because I bet you have more stories than anybody, just because of the people you’ve worked with, the era that you’ve worked in, and again, the longevity. Maybe reflect on your most moving or formative experience in the Chicago Symphony. Or whether it was on a tour or early in the career or more recently.
Jay Friedman: Yeah. Well, let’s see. Yeah, I’m trying to think of my favorite concerts of all time. Yeah. I think my number one would be when Rafael Kubelík did Má Vlast with the CSO in 1980. I think that’s my all-time favorite concert. Oh my God. It was just amazing. Because he got fired from the CSO in 1954, well 3, actually. Yeah, 1950-53. Well, he was young. He was like me in. Yeah, luckily I didn’t get fired. He was young. But boy, when he came back … Him and Muti are my favorite conductors.
And we are so lucky to have Muti as our music director. Boy, I’ll tell you. That guy is amazing. And he loves the low brass. We just did a concerto, I don’t know if you heard about that. We just did a concerto that was written for us, and he put it on the tour that we just came back from on the East coast. We did it seven times. It was amazing. Jennifer Higdon
Dan Gosling: Right, right, right.
Jay Friedman: Yeah, they commissioned. So, I mean, yeah. Muti is one of my absolutely favorite conductors.
Dan Gosling: What was it about the Má Vlast that was so incredible?
Jay Friedman: Like I said before, the greatest music making is when the conductor becomes, and the orchestra becomes, a vessel for which the score passes, and that’s how I would characterize that concert. He was just the transmission vehicle from the score to the orchestra. He didn’t conduct the orchestra, he just … yeah. It just passed through the orchestra, though him out to the audience. Just amazing.
I’ve had concerts with Muti like that. Like we just, last year, or the season before last, we did the Tchaikovsky Manfred Symphony. Yeah. That was one of the greatest concert experiences I’ve ever had.
Dan Gosling: I think that’s fascinating you’re mentioning pieces that people wouldn’t assume or … you’re not mentioning Mahler 5 in London or Mahler Five … or the Wagner Cycle that you did. You said Má Vlast.
Jay Friedman: Yeah. Well, it was mostly about the interpretation.
Dan Gosling: Right. Right. Right. The actual music making. Yeah. That’s fascinating.
Jay Friedman: Right. I mean, we did some great Mahler Fives with Solti, especially when he first came. Yeah, when he first came to the orchestra, he was a dynamo. If it was his music that he really did well, well nobody did it better. I mean, that’s for sure. He was amazing, too.
Dan Gosling: Any funny or crazy, outlandish, just never-seen-that-happen-before things come to mind?
Jay Friedman: Oh boy. There’s probably a lot of them. I mean, there’s probably a lot of them. I’d have to think pretty carefully.
Dan Gosling: Well, and maybe some that you don’t actually want to put on record.
Jay Friedman: Well well here’s a funny story.
Dan Gosling: Go ahead.
Jay Friedman: I mean, it goes way back, but it’s not so much in the orchestra. Yeah, I was asking Cichowicz, because he had suffered from ulcers, he had gotten an ulcer, and I asked him, I said, “Well, when you have an attack from your ulcer, when you have the bad thing from the ulcer, did you have to go to a doctor and get a test?” And he said, “No. I double over in pain.” I thought that was very funny. A long time ago, before he ever left the orchestra.
Dan Gosling: Yeah, just rub some dirt on it and get back out there. Yeah.
Jay Friedman: Right. Yeah. He actually fainted during a concert one time.
Dan Gosling: Did he?
Jay Friedman: Yep.
Dan Gosling: Because of the ulcer?
Jay Friedman: It was only for a few seconds. I don’t know. Might have been the ulcer, might have been … who knows. Yeah, but he fainted. He slumped over in his chair and then he woke up really quick, and they said, “You’ve got to go off.” And he said, “No. I’ll be all right.” He didn’t even leave the stage.
Dan Gosling: Oh my gosh.
Jay Friedman: I know. Yeah. It happened. But, I mean, it’s amazing how few things happen in orchestras. You’d think somebody would have to get up. One time I had to leave in the middle of Beethoven 9, because I used to have gout attacks. I used to get gout, and I’d take this medicine for it that made me so sick. I thought I was gonna throw up. It was during the slow movement of the Beethoven 9, which the trombones don’t play, and so I got up and left. And I came back for the last movement, which, of course we play in. It was the only time I’ve ever left the stage, but I thought I was going to throw up, ’cause this medicine just makes you so sick.
But luckily, I take this new stuff they have for gout, and it just stops it. You never get attacks.
Dan Gosling: That’s a pretty good one. I think we’ll end the stories there. In fact, let me ask this one final question, just for people that are … We talked about the state of orchestras in the country and where it might be, but obviously you know there are great young players always coming up and wanting to have a career in music. What are you telling your current students? Or what separates your students from the ones that make it and the ones that don’t?
Jay Friedman: Right. Well, I say if nobody can talk you out of trying to have a career in music, then you’re probably going to do it. If somebody can talk you out of it, then maybe you shouldn’t do it. I mean, that’s a rather meat axe approach to it, but I mean, when I was a young man, nobody could talk me out of it. People told me, “Oh, I thought I was going to be in the Chicago Symphony.” And this and that. I didn’t listen to anybody. I mean, I never thought I’d get in the Chicago Symphony, but I thought maybe I could get a job somewhere. Somewhere in some small orchestra or something.
So yeah, if you are bound and determined and you’re willing to do the work and you persist long enough, you’re probably going to do it. Yeah, and not everybody has that drive, and they shouldn’t. Yeah. Not everybody will have that. Only the ones that are absolutely driven … well, should do it and will have a good chance of making it.
Dan Gosling: Right. Well, Jay, this has been just a treat for me personally. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time. This has gone probably longer than either one of us thought it would. I’m flattered and honored.
Jay Friedman: Yeah. This was fun. I mean, it makes me use my mind and calling up old memories and stuff like that, which I need to do. A lot of people have told me, “You need to write a book.”
Dan Gosling: Well, that is certainly true. That is absolutely true. I actually had the good fortune of spending some time with another living legend, Doc Severinsen a couple weeks ago.
Jay Friedman: Oh really?
Dan Gosling: Yeah. And that was a fascinating afternoon for sure. And just between talking to him and then talking to someone like you, I’m just honored and just fascinated to get that kind of perspective. And I just so thank you for taking the time. And maybe we’ll do this again sometime. This was a lot of fun. I do appreciate it.
Jay Friedman: Sure. Yeah.
Dan Gosling: All right, Jay.
Jay Friedman: Yeah, no problem.
Dan Gosling: Thanks so much. I’ll be talking to you soon.
Jay Friedman: Okay. All right.
Dan Gosling: All right. Bye, bye.
Jay Friedman: Bye. Bye.