Selecting a Low Brass Mouthpiece, with Marc Bolin

Mary Galime

How did you go about teaching yourself the transition from Trombone to Tuba?

MB: That’s actually an interesting story. Studying with bass trombonist Betty Glover, while I was playing tenor trombone the whole time, it was her sound I always had in my ear, and always loved that sound. I loved the bass trombone, and I guess I gravitated lower as life went on. I keep getting attracted to lower sounds. I was playing trombone in a free (like free jazz) group in San Francisco called the United Brass Workers Front. It was scored for 2 tpts, 2 tbns, and tuba, but we did not have a tuba player. We tried several people and it never worked out and one day I was looking at it (the tuba) and thought, how hard could this be? Let me try this! I found out it was quite difficult, but really fell in love with it, and I guess the rest is history. We recorded 2 albums and I just kept on going.

Down the road I took my group, Paradigm Brass, to Canada where I met Jens Lindemann, and it was through that experience that I was provided an opportunity to study at UCLA. I was living in San Francisco at the time, and Jens said, “How can I get you down here?” I wasn’t planning on moving, but did some research and realized that Patrick Sheridan was teaching there and he had everything that I wanted to personify musically and as a person and teacher. So I talked to my wife about it – she is really supportive and was ok with the move – and now here I am in LA and really enjoying it.

After you tried out a variety of Denis Wick mouthpieces, how did you go about finding the right mouthpieces that would support all your needs?

MB: As for a process, I picked mouthpieces that were similar in diameter to what I’m used to playing, but what really piqued my interest at the NAMM show last year was the 2.5CC Heritage. I usually don’t change mouthpieces – I just made them work. A friend took me over to your booth and I tried the 2.5CC for the first time. I really liked the sound and response, and was interested to try the rest of the line.

A lot of people will play the same diameter for all their trombones or all their tubas, but when I’ve tried this I never match the sound that I have in my head, so there’s never been just one mouthpiece that fits all for me. I play a different mouthpiece for every scenario. On my sousaphone I play the 2.5CC all the time. It gives me great presence, it projects well, and sounds really good in all registers… it’s amazing. I play the 1L on my big horn, 2SL (Patrick Sheridan helped DW develop this one) on my Eb, and I ended up choosing the 4AL on my big tenor, 9BL on little tenor, and 00AL on Bass Trombone.

The mouthpiece is a tool, developed by skilled technicians/musicians, that can help facilitate what it is that you do. - Marc Bolin

As students/players try out all the mouthpiece options on the market, what would be your best advice to them about finding the correct mouthpiece(s) to support their playing?

MB: I certainly wouldn’t rely on the mouthpiece to do something for you that you can’t already imagine in your head. I think that is the biggest thing with students, that they expect a mouthpiece to do a certain thing for them. The mouthpiece is a tool, developed by skilled technicians/musicians, that can help facilitate what it is that you do. That doesn’t mean that it does or creates that thing. Pat Sheridan always taught me to hear it first, and musically I think that is the single most important thing to do. Hearing first coupled with a good breathing routine, like Pat Sheridan’s  Breathing Gym, is a must for low brass students. If you can get your air linked up to the sound in your head, you are ready to find a mouthpiece to help facilitate that sound, and for me the Denis Wick Heritage mouthpieces have really done that.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

MB: This is just a good axiom to live by: when you’re early, you’re on time, when you’re on time your late, when you’re late you’ve missed an opportunity. Woody Allen says showing up is half the gig, and it’s true!

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