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Wayne Bergeron Interview – Part 2

Wayne Bergeron, LA studio trumpet virtuoso, discusses the trumpet and how to have success in both music and life, with Dan Gosling, The ChopSaver Guy.

Ever felt like giving up? In Part 2, Wayne talks about teeth and embouchure challenges that almost ended his career. You won’t want to miss this brutally honest journey and how he came back even stronger.

Wayne Bergeron:         I took some lessons, a couple of lessons with Bobby Shew later. And then as I got into some chop trouble and stuff I studied with Boyd Hood from the LA Philharmonic, I took some lessons. I went through some chop deals and some teeth things back during that time. And even those experiences that were bad … I had learned to play on this chip on my tooth. I learned to play on it. And I had it fixed once, just temporarily, and I couldn’t play.

Dan Gosling:                 It felt that different?

Wayne Bergeron:         Well I couldn’t make a sound. And so I said, “Well, grind it off”, so they’d start grinding a little bit off and then I’d play and then a note would come out. And he’d take a little bit more off and my range it’s going up and it’s going up. I’m going, “Take it out. Just take the thing out, man.” Let’s get rid of the teeth, they’re in the way, apparently. We had trumpet players line up around the block waiting to get their teeth fixed.

So but I went through this thing.

Dan Gosling:                 So what-

Wayne Bergeron:         And what happened-

Dan Gosling:                 The time frame here, how old were you at this-

Wayne Bergeron:         I’m young. I’m early 20’s.

Dan Gosling:                 Okay.

Wayne Bergeron:         And so I go through this thing. So anyway, we had to reconstruct this tooth kind of because it was had a decay in it and so they had to grind it down and they bonded it. But we never really got the shape exactly right because I went to my previous dentist who had the mold of my teeth because this dentist said, “If we have a mold of your teeth that would be very helpful.”

To back up a little bit, the first dentist wanted to give me a root canal and put a crown on and I go, “No, no, no, no. We’re not doing that.” So I went to this other dentist, cosmetic dentist, to do this other thing. So I went to the first dentist to get my mold on my teeth and while the dental assistant was bringing it over to me she dropped it. And it’s plaster, so she smashes it. And the bottoms didn’t break. Of course, the top, the front teeth all broke. I’m like, “Perfect.”

So now, I don’t have a mold of my teeth. So I go back to the original. And now you have to understand, at this point it’s not feeling right.

Dan Gosling:                 I’m sorry to laugh. I mean-

Wayne Bergeron:         No, it’s funny now, when I was at Disneyland-

Dan Gosling:                 I’m just picturing this poor nurse just like-

Wayne Bergeron:         I was at Disneyland with a rat tail file, and if you don’t know what a rat tail file is, it’s a round file, filing my this stuff off trying to put it where it was. And it wasn’t helping because now all the muscles are adjusting to this new feel. And so I finally go back to this dentist, I go, “We have to put this back the way it was.” And so I got some pictures of me and we blew them up so we could get some perspective. And we made it as close as we could. And then … but I was struggling. I’d go to hit a high C and this was giving way.

Dan Gosling:                 Right.

Wayne Bergeron:         And I actually threw a trumpet into the wall. I was trying to practice and I was so frustrated I threw a trumpet into the wall, a Schilke trumpet, and it stuck. It hit the drywall and the bell stuck into the drywall and it hung there. And I was just going to frame it and leave it up as art and just call it a day, go “I’m done as a trumpet player.” Because I really thought I was done.

So at Disneyland, everybody’s covering me. I’m playing fourth trumpet and I’m not playing. I’m just doing the best I can do, you know?

So I go and I take some lessons with Boyd Hood, who played third trumpet in the LA Philharmonic for many years. He’s retired now, really great man. And he didn’t know me from Adam really, but I knew a lot of people studied with him. So I go in there and he keeps hearing me say, “Oh the feel, the feel.” And he finally said, he goes, “Wayne, you keep telling me it doesn’t feel right.” He goes, “You need to forget about how this feels because it’s different. It’s never going to feel the same again.”

Dan Gosling:                 Right.

Wayne Bergeron:         “You need to get your head out of that. That spot is not there anymore. You need to let this settle down and you need to follow the sound. And I want you to do these exercises.” And it was buzzing the mouthpiece and doing all this stuff. “And just do this, put it up there, and just play even if it feels uncomfortable. Go for the best sound.”

So I was at Disneyland. On all my breaks I’d go into the stairwell and then I’d practice. So I started doing this little buzzing routine and I’d go [vocalizing] with piano if I had one. Then I would do [vocalizing].

Dan Gosling:                 So this was-

Wayne Bergeron:         All the Adam’s stuff. He added little scales [vocalizing]. So I would do that and I would just go for sound. I’d kind of play soft, he’d tell me to play soft. And in about a week, all of a sudden I’d notice I’d go [vocalizing], high C, [vocalizing] Now it was coming out. And I’d go [vocalizing].

Dan Gosling:                 Right. Right.

Wayne Bergeron:         This was giving, all of a sudden everything’s back on the mouthpiece and I go [vocalizing]. And I hit a high F. I don’t know if I’m singing high F. I don’t have perfect pitch. Let’s just pretend that’s a high F. And I said well man I’m on my way back. So man I started going at this you know, I started getting stronger and stronger and then I came back stronger.

But the moral of my story with this is I got into trouble and now if I get into trouble I kind of know how to put myself back together, but I know how to keep my head out of the game and just, you know, if something’s wrong here you have to let things settle down because we start twisting and turning and we start trying to play different mouthpieces and we start changing the variables and that makes it worse. Because you figure, its very simple. There’s a reed, and air passing through the reed into a mouthpiece and so you start changing all the variables, so what’s wrong?

Dan Gosling:                 Right.

Wayne Bergeron:         You know. It’s really a simple thing I should be able to find it pretty easily but I think we got our head in the game and we … if it feels uncomfortable we start fighting it instead of just relaxing and going with it, so, fast forward to now I got onto trouble, well several years ago I had a cyst on my lip and I, that’s a long story, but I had to stop playing for six weeks. The cyst came from weight loss. I was-

Dan Gosling:                 Because you’ve recently lost weight?

Wayne Bergeron:         Well that, well yeah recently lost, but back then I was heavier than I was before. I was going, I was in the middle of some personal stuff in my life, you know pretty tragic, and I lost a bunch of weight really fast. Now I didn’t think about this, but my chops were feeling weak, and I was like running out of air fast, and I just seemed to be playing really hard, and I went “Oh man, I’ve got to practice.” My chops, they’re faltering and what was happening was I was skinny, and my face was skinny, and my lips were thinner-

Dan Gosling:                 Wow!

Wayne Bergeron:         And I didn’t have as much mass. So now, believe it or not, that fat works in your favor. That mass that you’re used to using is part of you. You know, it’s not muscle but it’s part of how you do things physically and including the trumpet, so I would … I was going to play, and I was pushing harder than I usually do, and I was playing a Marcinkiewicz mouthpiece with a pretty sharp edged rim and I started doing a lot of trauma to my lip and then a cyst came in and anyway. It’s a long story, but-

Dan Gosling:                 A lot of things…

Wayne Bergeron:         A lot of things went wrong and I was very frustrated and now I’m in the middle of all of this personal turmoil and now I can’t work.

Dan Gosling:                 Well now you’re “Wayne Bergeron,” right? I mean, this was recent enough that-

Wayne Bergeron:         Yeah, this is within the last 10 years, you know.

Dan Gosling:                 Yeah and the impact that would have had on your career was much more when you’re young…

Wayne Bergeron:         Oh yes, its cost me thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars of work. I mean, you know, turning down the- I was in the middle of trying to play the show at the Pantages Theater, always a hard show and I got into trouble on the show and so when this thing was first coming in so I’d take a few days off and I’d come back and try play it again and I would aggravate it again. And I should have just stopped playing at that point and everybody was telling me, Andy Martin my buddy’s telling me, why don’t I just stop playing? But I got to make money.

I’m trying to do guest artist things, I’m faltering now, my chops aren’t … it finally got to the point where I was on a tour in Washington D.C. and I had played with the Army Blues, I then kind of scuffled through the gig, I even borrowed a mouthpiece because my mouthpiece was hurting so badly that I borrowed a mouthpiece one of the guys that’s here at the conference we’re at. Brian MacDonald, he gave me this really flat rimmed mouthpiece and it was a lot smaller than I was used to playing but instead of feeling like a fingernail on my lip it felt like this. So it was better. So I played the gig on that.

I wasn’t making the sound I wanted to make or it wasn’t me, and I played this duet with this guy Mark Wood, this great trumpet player, who kind of kicked my butt. He’s a great player too, so I didn’t have my A-game and he’s always got his A-game, and so I had my tail between my legs after that. And the next night I was supposed to play and I took my horn out and I couldn’t make a sound.

So now I’m freaking out, I’ve got this thing on my lip and I’m thinking “Okay I’m done”. My career is over. I ended up, I went to see several doctors, I got cortisone shots. It finally got to the point – when they do a cortisone shot it would go down, and then I’d start playing again, and then it would flare up again. So that happened several times. It finally got to the point where doctors said “You need to stop. Cause we’re doing a lot of trauma to the lip with the cortisone,” which weakens the muscle. So when you get an injury they keep shooting it with cortisone, eventually the muscle is ruined. So we’re going to ruin this.

So I stopped playing for about 6 weeks, and I said okay, well I stopped for 6 weeks and I scuffled financially and-

Dan Gosling:                 Well you didn’t know what was going to happen at the end of those 6 weeks

Wayne Bergeron:         No. I came back very – well I went away completely and I realized – I take like 3 or 4 showers a day. I just like the shower massager to beat the crap out of my lip because it felt good. Try to get that visual out of your head – sorry. I was fully clothed in the shower.

No no, but I’d let that thing – cause it felt like it was going down every time I did that. And I had an aloe plant. Bobby Shew and I talked on the phone several times he goes “Get an aloe plant and cut the finger and get the meat out of there and all of that gooey stuff and put that on your chops”. So I was doing that. I did a shaman thing, a healer, I did acupuncture, I went to regular doctors. I tried everything, because my career is over.

And I’m living in this apartment with a very good friend of mine that gave me a room to use there. They had another house, so I was staying there by myself, so I’m very lonely and I’m sitting there and going through all this horrible stuff. Anyway, when I finally got to play again I came back and I practiced with our friend Larry Hall, one of my favorite trumpet players I’ve ever played with in my career. Good friend and sweet guy, great, great player. He always made me look good. So we got together and started practicing together and he made me play really soft and we’d just play really slow long tones and Clarke studies [vocalizing]. And just like no pressure and just trying to – and I felt horrible of course, my chops felt awful and we did that several days in a row, cause we had a show coming up in a couple of weeks. We were playing How the Grinch Stole Christmastogether.

Dan Gosling:                 And you’re hoping still at this point-

Wayne Bergeron:         Yeah I’m hoping that I’ll be able to play the show. Because here’s a couple of months of work. So anyway I kind of get it back together and I play the show, but I gave Larry, I go “Hey Larry, you play the harder stuff. Why don’t you play the piccolo trumpet stuff and I’ll play what I can play, then as my chops get stronger I’ll take some charts back from you.” By a couple of weeks in I’m feeling pretty good. There are a couple of high Fs and I’m making them every night. I feel like I’m back, so we leave the books split up half and half and we split the money up, you know, because first trumpet pays more so I just, let’s do it like this, we’ll just split it up and do it like this. It’s easier for both of us. So anyway that’s kind of how I came back from this.

Now I got into trouble again, so right after that. Now I haven’t played anything really hard, I’ve only played the show. My next gig after that is going to Tokyo with Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band and we’re going to play five nights at the Blue Note in Tokyo, two shows a night.

Dan Gosling:                 Oh wow.

Wayne Bergeron:         Hard book as you know, hardest trumpet book I’ve ever played. On many levels, not just the high notes, it’s a brain, it’s a hard book. Hard music. We get there, and it’s a dead room. It’s a hard room to play in, so we start playing, and we’re sound checking on a couple of charts. And I feel a little weak but I go “Oh this’ll be a good week for me”, this’ll really get me firing on all cylinders again. I’ll just play smart.” So we start playing, we get to the first set that night and we’re like four tunes in and all of a sudden my lip’s hurting. And I’m going “Oh no”. And we got five other tunes to do on another set and my lip’s hurting. And now, I can still play but the mouthpiece is feeling smaller and smaller, my lip’s swelling, and by the end of the first set I got to the point where I couldn’t make a sound hardly. So I’m freaking out. And so we take a break and I go get some ice and I put-

Dan Gosling:                 Cause you’re not home, you’re in Japan

Wayne Bergeron:         Yeah, I took a bunch of aspiring I put ice on my lip the whole 20 minute or half-hour break or whatever it was, and I’m icing down and you know … doing a lot of that. And I picked up again and I could play again for a minute kinda, we got one tune into the set and I’m struggling for high D’s and I can’t play. Nothing. And it feels like a razor on my lip. I mean it just feels like I’m putting the sharpest thing ever up there.

So I tell the trumpet player next to me who was subbing on the band for this tour. He goes “What does it feel like?” and I gave him that description that it feels like a razor on my – and he goes “You know what, I have this mouthpiece, I don’t really like it a student gave it to me but it’s got a really cushy comfortable rim,” like a real flat rim and I didn’t know what it meant but it was a GR mouthpiece, and I didn’t know Gary (Radtke) at the time. I play his mouthpiece and this is how it came to be. So I got this mouthpiece, and it’s bigger, it’s a bigger diameter, it’s deeper than the one I’m playing, it’s bigger in every aspect.

So I pick it up and I put it up and immediately I notice “Oh God” that’s just like that flat one the guy loaned me. It’s a lot more comfortable. I go [vocalizing] and all of a sudden I got sound. And I go [vocalizing] and I hit a high C [vocalizing] and I go “Man I could play again”.

I played the third trumpet part

Dan Gosling:                 Okay, so that’s why we all keep changing mouthpieces, because we think something like that’s going to happen

Wayne Bergeron:         I’m never the one to blame or give credit to the mouthpiece, but-

Dan Gosling:                 But in that case –

Wayne Bergeron:         But this variable needed to be changed. Because now I have this new scar tissue, so things have changed for me, so that – GR explained to me later why this happened. So I play this mouthpiece and I play a third trumpet part on it and it had a couple high C’s in it and I felt fine. So I played an easier lead chart – one of the easy lead charts – he had in there. I played that, went up to a high E or something, man I was like “Man this mouthpiece feels good!” We played Rhapsody in Blue and I played this big solo [vocalizing] and it goes up to a high F and a big lyrical thing –

Dan Gosling:                 And you’ve-

Wayne Bergeron:         And Gordon is looking back at me, he’s going “Dude, you were just done, and that’s the best I’ve ever heard you play that”. By the end of that set I was playing stronger than I’d ever played in my career.

Dan Gosling:                 Wow

Wayne Bergeron:         Now, it wasn’t without its problems. I had some centering issues on some notes and the mouthpiece wasn’t perfect for me yet, but the high notes and the meat and potatoes notes were great. The mouthpiece felt like a five lane highway that was wide open with no traffic. Up to high F, and then you get to high F and it was like one lane was blocked. Then the F sharp was like – and then the G was like you had to scrape the wall, but then after that it opened up again.

So it had this weird – It’s a great mouthpiece it was just hitting me that way. And it turns out it had a really big backbore too, so anyway. So I’m playing and I’m like I don’t care I’ll clam some F sharps man, I’m hitting these A’s like gangbusters you know, and we played a double high D on the end of that set, on the end of that…

Dan Gosling:                 And you just that same night couldn’t play?

Wayne Bergeron:         Yeah, at the beginning of that set I couldn’t play. So I call Gary, who I had met once before. I don’t really know him. I call him from Japan. It’s the middle of the night for me but it’s daytime there. And I tell him this story, and he goes “Oh what’s happening?”, you know he said that “You’ve got scar tissue now and the metal mouthpiece is impeding the vibration” and you know he had all these technical terms that I can’t repeat because I don’t know what they mean. “So what mouthpiece is that that you’re playing?” I go, “I don’t know it doesn’t have any numbers on it.”

And he goes “Does it have writing on it? I go “Yeah, it’s got writing on it” he goes “Well what’s the first letter?” I go “It looks like C”. And he says, “Does it say Carl Fischer?” I go “Yeah” Carl, I know Carl he’s my buddy!” You know, great trumpet player. He goes, “That’s his mouthpiece. Does it say lead or jazz?” and I go, “It says jazz.” He goes “You’re playing lead on that? Because that’s the biggest backbore I make”. You know and I go, “Well, I don’t know. But I think you just saved my career!” And then I told him about the woes.

I go here’s the problem’s I had with it. And so when I got home, so I got through the week on that, and when I got home I had mouthpieces waiting for me. And he said “Warm up on this one” and “Play this one” and he goes “Did that solve the problem?” I go “Yeah those notes are better now.” I said but that opened us in the upper register, and he goes “Oh okay I’m gonna bring that back”.

Anyway we went through a bunch of versions, and what we ended up with, we never really came up with one that does above high G, like that original one did, but the other notes didn’t exist. So but he goes “Something’s gotta give in the mechanism”, you can’t have it both ways.” So what he did was he made the mouthpiece play even from top to bottom which is what we really want anyway, you know and so now and I can play those notes more open now, I just make the adjustment in here.

So now I have a mouthpiece that plays all the notes, which you need all the notes I found out, you need all the notes on the scale-

Dan Gosling:                 It does help yeah

Wayne Bergeron:         You need more than do re mi, apparently, you know. So anyway we took that and so we designed the mouthpiece I play now, the Wayne Bergeron Studio was designed from that. Now we changed the rim, he put a slight bit more bite on my rim, and changed the angle of it a little bit so it’s got a different backbore, it’s got a different cup shape. But the premise of it is the same. And I truly believe it saved me. Because if I wouldn’t’ve stumbled onto that mouthpiece and kept trying to play that, I don’t know what I would’ve done. Cause I’m not, like I said I’m not one to give the mouthpiece credit, but in this case, I’m giving the mouthpiece credit.

That mouthpiece saved my – even the guy that gave me the mouthpiece at the end of the set he’s got “Give me that thing back!” You know, and so, that’s how my partnership with GR, so now we’ve got several different versions of the mouthpiece. A classical mouthpiece, the piccolo mouthpiece, and all with the same rim. And so I have a side business. We’ve sold you know, 1500 mouthpieces.

Dan Gosling:                 Wow, wow.

Wayne Bergeron:         You know that’s not many people can say that, so it’s a big deal man, to sell 1500 mouthpieces. And so it’s a very popular – and it doesn’t work for everybody I think some people maybe buy it and the rim doesn’t work for them. But the moral of my story is as trumpet players are brass players we’re quick to disregard something that doesn’t feel, or something that feels different to us, whether it’s a horn or a mouthpiece. Now if would’ve given me that mouthpiece 15 years ago when I was firing on all cylinders and let me I would’ve gone… “Oh please, I can’t play this”, but I had to play it. And it was better. So the moral of the story is, different is better.

So if you’re looking for something different – if you want something that plays exactly what you’ve got, then play what you’ve got, you know, people are looking for the magic mouthpiece and they go “This doesn’t feel like mine.” “Well, you’ve got that already, aren’t you looking for something better?” And sometimes we stumble onto it. So I was very lucky that way. Stumbling onto this.

And then with the help from Yamaha and then with the horns and Bob Malone helping me tweak my equipment a little to compensate for – and then we came up with and you know we have this horn, this great horn that match up very well.