The Uptown Horns in interview

Uptown Horns Interviewed

The Uptown Horns were interviewed by Mike Thorne at the Stereo Society,
New York City on September 8, 1999

New York City' s Uptown Horns have been revered as one of the most respected horn sections in the world. Members Crispin Cioe, Arno Hecht, Bob Funk, and Larry Etkin are horn wielding hit-men whose riffs can be heard on chart toppers including Grammy-award winning James Brown's Living in America, the B-52's Love Shack, Buster Poindexter's Hot Hot Hot, Joe Cocker's Unchain My Heart, Tom Waits' Rain Dogs LP, and Billy Joel's River of Dreams LP, among numerous others.


The Uptown Horns were gracious enough to spend some time with producer Mike Thorne talking about their horn section philosophy, their thoughts on technology, and their approach to recording and producing music.

Streaming audio of the Uptown Horns' answers can be heard by clicking on the player after each question. For help in playing music, see our Playing Audio page in the Big Help Desk.

What makes you a horn section rather than just a bunch of guys who play instruments?

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ARNO:
Well, we’ve been together for nineteen years. We’re sort of used to listening and communicating with each other in a way that four strangers wouldn’t necessarily. We can anticipate each other’s moves and make suggestions to each other that protocol might sort of inhibit if it were guys we didn’t know. That’s got a lot to do with our ‘magic chemistry’.

What sort of reactions did you guys developed from the many years spent together?

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ARNO:
For example, if one of us has an idea in phrasing a line a certain way. Normally, if I was on a date with three other horn players, I would be loath to tell some heavyweight trumpet player, "I think maybe you should play it this way." Then he’d be thinking, "Who the hell is this sax player to be telling me anything when I’m the heavy guy."
CRISPIN:
You’d probably being going "Dutch," anyway.
LARRY:
You have no right to talk to any trumpet players.
ARNO:
Well, that’s Larry’s opinion, but the point is that I can turn to any one of us and say, "Well, maybe we ought to try playing it this way." It’s certainly not a major violation of the rules.
LARRY:
And, because we’ve known each other for such a long time, I, personally, don’t feel bad about saying get the fuck out of here.
ARNO:
Well, there you go! That’s an example!
LARRY:
After many years of playing and being together, we have this general feeling of how things are phrased. It’s like our own language; our own way of doing things.
CRISPIN:
There’s another aspect to it that’s just not even psychological or arranging--that’s just sound.
BOB:
That’s what I was going to say.
CRISPIN:
Any four horn players can play together even after the first six months, or the first year we were together. You just have this certain sound another group of four wouldn’t have. That gets sort of emblazoned into a continuing thing--the sound.
ARNO:
The whole is the sum of its parts!
BOB:
We’ve been asked that question over the twenty-year period, and I always like the analysis where we actually look at what each member contributes, sound-wise. Larry and I are classically trained and a large part of one’s sound focuses on big, full tones.
LARRY:
And, articulation.
BOB:
Yes, articulation. Arno has a very different viewpoint as far as tone because he has a very edgy, multi-timbral, saxophone sound. Crispin is a combination of the two. The two saxophone players play very differently and somehow their range--the upper range, the mid-range and the growl--kind of combine into a very unique sound. You could take four other horn players that play the same instruments and you wouldn’t get the same sound.
CRISPIN:
However, being New York based all these years, we couldn’t just sound one way. I mean we had to render.
LARRY:
That’s true.
CRISPIN:
If you look at other horn sections that have been together a long time and are well known, The Memphis Horns, for instance, you’ll see that they have a signature sound born out of experience playing on great soul records with Otis Redding in the Sixties and going on from there. In our case, what we’ve had to do in New York to survive, to get better, was to be able to do our versions of a lot of different things.
BOB:
With that type of approach to sound, we can adapt stylistically to a lot of different environments.
CRISPIN:
Right!
ARNO:
It is always our sound applied to whatever we’re approaching.
CRISPIN:
Bob might also be talking about our characteristic Rock and Roll sound. It’s something I feel other people don’t have.
BOB:
Yes, it’s kind of our signature.
CRISPIN:
But, we also do other things, is what I mean.
LARRY:
We have to be flexible and adapt to many different musical situations from day-to-day.

What’s the boundary between flexibility and character? It’s a moving division, isn’t it?
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CRISPIN:
The bottom line if we’re doing a session: "Do they like it?"
BOB:
But, character-wise, it’s very different when we do our own projects.
CRISPIN:
In a session, we have to please the people that hired us. It’s a good thing they already have an idea of what we sound like.
BOB:
Crispin’s hinting at what people consider as ‘our sound,’ which is also evident on our own projects.
CRISPIN:
Right.
BOB:
As a section, our sound is really nailed down on material we put out under our own name. The Uptown Horns, for example.

Do you ever find yourself being pushed into a place because of an artist’s or producer’s requirement where it takes you away from the sound you think you should be playing?
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CRISPIN:
Not really. People usually want us to play our version of this or that. If we can’t execute certain parts, because it’s technically beyond us, it would be a problem.
LARRY:
I think they are hiring our sensibility. I’ve never really consciously thought of playing a different way. I can take direction but, generally, I go on my own instincts and hear the music. The basis of our success is that we like different kinds of music; therefore, it’s not a big deal for us to adapt to certain situations. We know what is appropriate, while still keeping our identity.
BOB:
When a big producer hires any great sideman, he knows what he’s getting.
LARRY:
Yes.
BOB:
A producer knows whether or not it’s within the parameters of what he wants to begin with.
ARNO:
Over the years, we’ve developed a sort of ‘collective knowledge’ of different styles and types of music. If you were to say, specifically, "tell me what are the elements that distinguish this from that," I’d probably get tongue-tied. But, if somebody says this is a ‘New Orleans’ thing as opposed to a ‘Motown’ thing, the four of us might look at each other and sort of have a fair idea of what the guy’s talking about. And, if any one of us suggested, "what do you think of this lick" or "that’s not really ‘New Orleans’ enough," we go through our process and arrive at a common ground. Once again, if you got any one of us together with three other guys, and the producer says, ‘New Orleans,’ there is no guarantee that everybody there would know what the guy was talking about. Even if they did, one guy’s sense of ‘New Orleans’ might be completely different from what another guy thinks a particular style is about. Then you would have to argue about it and waste all kinds of time.
CRISPIN:
Conversely, it might be a group of horn players who are total experts on playing the ‘New Orleans’ style, and maybe not other things. Within ourselves, we’ve developed a range of being able to grab on to a lot of different styles.
ARNO:
For example, when we did the Living in America album with James Brown. Dan Hartman, the producer said, "Well, this should evoke classic James Brown, but it should also sound modern." Right away, the four of us knew a million James Brown licks right off the bat, but we also had a sense of what was ‘modern’ because we had done stuff for Bronski Beat with producer Mike Thorne.
CRISPIN:
That was in 1986. ‘Modern’ in 1986.
ARNO:
Well, modern is a relative term, you understand.

Remember the Motown Revue which is something you’ve done yourselves, and usually goes down very well as records? Do you think that has a possibility today?

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CRISPIN:
It’s a little rough today.
BOB:
Economically, it’s rough. Artistically, it gets over.
CRISPIN:
Well, there’s a possibility in the Blues and traditional Rhythm and Blues niche but, in terms of mainstream culture, I would say, unless The Backstreet Boys decide to get a horn section in a large band…
BOB:
If they covered a Motown song and introduced it to a new generation, I don’t think that would be much of a stretch, really. My daughter loves the Backstreet Boys, but she also loves Motown.
CRISPIN:
My daughter, too.
BOB:
She’s nine-years old and loves Motown. You can put on early Michael Jackson, The Supremes or Four Tops, any of those records. What Becomes of the Broken Hearted came on the radio the other day, and she loved it.
CRISPIN:
Since we started in 1980, people have told us that horns were finished in pop music. Really. Literally. Right?
LARRY:
Uh-huh!
BOB:
It’s true!
CRISPIN:
At that point, New Wave music was The Backstreet Boys of that era. The truth is, there were areas of music where people liked hearing horns--sometimes less, sometimes more. In fact, horns would come up in Pop music, itself.
ARNO:
In our opinion, having horns [in Pop music] shows intelligence and good taste on the listener's part.
CRISPIN:
We did a session less than a month ago which was a remake. What’s it called? 25 or 6 to 4?
ARNO:
No, not that. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
CRISPIN:
Yes, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? by Chicago. Flavor Flav from Public Enemy even brought in Robert Lamm, from the group Chicago, to play and supervise the session. It was done at Avatar Studios, which used to be called The Power Station, and we did a whole version of the song. But, there were indications that our parts were going to be loaded into Pro Tools and sliced and diced. That’s how it is today.
LARRY:
For that matter, we worked with the Fugees many times at this point.
BOB:
That’s what they do, too!
LARRY:
They take our horns and do whatever they need to do in order to get the sound they’re looking for.
CRISPIN:
They like our horns, and try to find a place for it, even if it means chopping it up in a Cuisinart (referring to the Pro Tools system).
LARRY:
Chopping it up!
ARNO:
It’s like when you did the cross-section of Why with Bronski Beat. You took over our lines and it worked!

What do you think the next step might be since we talked about slicing and dicing with the Fugees? Do you think an entire musical section might evolve into a different way of playing just to interact with technology?
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CRISPIN:
I think it’s possible. As we all know, in the last few years, Swing music has sort of become a sub-culture that is popular with a lot of horns. It’s been on the charts with groups like Cherry-Poppin Daddies, and who would have thought that would happen.
LARRY:
And, a lot of the Ska influence.
CRISPIN:
Right.
LARRY:
The Ska influence is present in a lot of the young bands today.
CRISPIN:
For example, groups like No doubt and...
LARRY:
They Might Be Giants.
CRISPIN:
Horns is something that is never going to go away. It just comes back in different ways. At the same time, there may be ways that it will evolve.
ARNO:
We’re like cockroaches.
BOB:
I have some thoughts on that because I’ve been working with loops lately. I think horn loops are just like any other loops. This whole idea of using loops to make mosaics of music is almost limitless. I think it’s a really good new art form in itself, in a way, because there is no stylistic limit to it. You can combine anything: industrial noise to gamelan music to whatever. I think the only thing limiting it is what the market will bear. In little niche markets there’s all kinds of possibilities. I’m sure the horn sound is always going to be around in some form, but it might get really warped out like everything else.

Do you have any reservations about people taking a loop with parts that you've played and then working it into their own composition?
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BOB:
Ten years ago we really resented it.
LARRY:
Exactly.
BOB:
It is so far gone now that I don’t think there is any way you can control it, really.
CRISPIN:
There are legal and financial issues.
BOB:
Definitely.
ARNO:
And, you want to be acknowledged as the guys who played a particular line.
CRISPIN:
I want to be paid!
ARNO:
Well, that too!
CRISPIN:
I mean from the standpoint of a writer who writes a song and owns, say, a master of that song, and it is sampled. Obviously, the writer is going to be paid publishing royalties on that song, and it’s not always clear if the musicians who worked on that song are included in some kind of a raw deal.
BOB:
It happens all the time. How many sessions have we played and were asked to contribute an original line? Next thing you know, it ends up on the song and we don’t get a writing credit.
CRISPIN:
Right. In fact, we’ve written some instrumentals that’s been licensed over the years and made a little money on, but we owned the masters on some of the stuff. So, we can see it both ways. But, I don’t think we would mind the idea of us being sampled, if that’s what works.
BOB:
We’ve also done sampling sessions. You can buy a sample of us, but, technically and theoretically, we should get a piece of that transaction. Question is whether you would or not.

There is such a move right now away from people who actually make the sound themselves and towards people who recycle the sound. What are your thoughts on this issue?
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CRISPIN:
That’s what I meant about swing music. All of a sudden it came out of nowhere. . That became the little genre that’s popular with a fair amount of people.
LARRY:
It’s hard to say where it’s going to go. If you go to the clubs now, you will see plenty of young bands with horns in them. And, whether the DJ’s say, no we won’t play anything with horns, or not, I’ve witnessed the thrill of kids looking up on stage and seeing real horns and they say, "Wow!" I mean it’s like a new experience because they have never seen it before. So, there are plenty of young groups out there with a trombone and a trumpet--a saxophone. Who knows what will happen?
CRISPIN:
Then, someone like Eric Clapton does a blues album a couple of years ago and to this day is still No. 1 on the Billboard Blues Chart. Being one who wanted to be authentic, Clapton had a horn section on that record, and look, it’s still a successful album. Those things exist and co-exist with what you are talking about.
ARNO:
Plus, everyone in this room can agree that this sense of what is happening now, it’s one thing if you go out and go to clubs and see what people actually like listening to, and it’s another thing if you talk to some record industry executive and ask him what he thinks. It’s amazing how far apart the two can be.
CRISPIN:
Well, there is one trend with kids which is, to me, a really big general trend: DJs and turntables. In general, It’s really exciting to kids, whether they hear horns coming through speakers or not. In some ways, people might say that DJs are much more popular than live music acts. At the same time, what Arno and Larry are saying is true, too. If that were completely true, you wouldn’t see people in clubs like we do--young kids liking live music.

There’s always been an association between horns and a good party. Why is this?
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ARNO:
Because horn players like to party! It’s a natural association.
BOB:
Yeah, it’s an energy level.
CRISPIN:
It may go back to things in the past, too, like marching bands and John Philip Sousa.
LARRY:
A parade. It’s an instant parade.
CRISPIN:
Parades and bands were used a long time ago to send people to war. It gets people up. Somehow that vibration gets people.
ARNO:
Also, horns carry a certain volume and bombast. It’s one thing if you have the piano player in the corner providing background music, but another as soon as you add four horns. Then, it’s not background music anymore.
LARRY:
It’s stepping up a notch.
ARNO:
Yes, it takes it up to eleven, as it were.

Do you think there are more demands with a horn section? Is the ‘walking the tightrope element important here?’
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BOB:
I think as kids become more and more used to these fantastic sound systems and DJ remixes that are done in studios like Avatar, you have to play extremely well and the whole overall sound system of a live band has to be great. There should be some spontaneity and energy there that the DJ’s can’t get. Somehow it’s going to have to take some left turns and become less predictable. A DJ is predictable, in a way, even though he might do some spontaneous mixing, but a live band can take a left turn and go someplace new especially if there’s some interaction with the audience.
CRISPIN:
Were you talking about recording, too?

No, I was talking about the thrill of seeing people lock on stage--like the thrill of seeing a group really click.

ARNO:
There is such a thing. Ultimately, the rules apply for every instrument but, obviously, with today’s electronics and stuff, you can have an inexperienced guitar player use an electronic tuner to tune a guitar, then use all sorts of effects boxes and, even though the guy’s only been playing a few years, can get on stage and get a sound. For horns, to have a sound that even sounds halfway appropriate in most Rock and Roll or R&B or any kind of modern Pop music, you are talking about years of long tones just to develop a sound that sounds good and to be able to play in tune. It takes years of experience and practice. For example, when the trumpet player steps up to the mike, if he cracks, everybody’s going to know it as opposed to the guitar missing a string.
LARRY:
That’s why we get paid more.
ARNO:
Is that it?
LARRY:
I don’t know if you know that.
ARNO:
He keeps pushing this rap.
CRISPIN:
That’s interesting. In fact, I’ve seen a couple of instances playing with these kinds of swing bands, which are generally young. I like some of these bands, but one general thing they have in common is a rhythm section that’s coming out of a Punk background.
ARNO:
Rockabilly.
CRISPIN:
Rockabilly. But, the horn players consistently have to be trained and have a certain level of good sound, as Arno was saying, on their instruments. That’s true with these bands where nobody is over thirty. Nobody’s over twenty-five in a couple. So, yeah, there’s a demand, a level, a standard, that has to be there. Even today.
BOB:
So, the answer is yes.

There is an interesting theory about the way a recorded piece of music, especially with horns and voices, fighting for the same spot. Does this raise the bar for whoever is arranging, including you?

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CRISPIN:
Well, I don’t think we ever looked at it like competition.

I'm talking abut competition for the acoustic space. In other words, the horns have to be arranged much more carefully than a rhythm guitar, for example.

CRISPIN:
Right, and I think we have always looked at it as the most important thing in a lot of records is the vocal and the lyrics. So our job to really surround that with just the right environment, you know, to support it.
ARNO:
We do a lot of arranging where we sort of make them up on the spot as either head charts or even if we work it out before. One of the key considerations is that our parts not step on the vocal in any way or in any way mess with the lyric. We consider it our job to stay out of the way of whatever the vocal is doing and, yet, to compliment it.
BOB:
It is very liberating to play on instrumentals where there is no vocal.

How often do you walk into a session and the arranger’s got all the parts together and all the voicings done perfectly?

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BOB:
It’s happened a fair amount--twenty--thirty percent.
CRISPIN:
Certainly, especially on things like jingles, commercials, or movie scores.
ARNO:
Soundtracks.
CRISPIN:
That’s the case.
LARRY:
That’s usually a lot more formalized because time is of the essence.
CRISPIN:
But, on those kind of dates if they hire The Uptown Horns, a certain kind of arranger with a good amount of experience knows exactly what our sound is and knows we are going to get it fast.
ARNO:
I came home one day reflecting: sometimes the music we play is actually only sixty seconds worth of music. It’s not all that complicated, but, what they want, because it’s got to be synced exactly to what’s on screen, they’ll say, "When you go 'Bop,' can you make the 'Bop' just a little shorter? Can you make it like a bop as opposed to BOP?" The point is we understand what they are talking about, and that’s one of the reasons we are there.

Do you guys hanker off to the other extreme and continue the record making process which you’ve enjoyed from time-to-time?
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CRISPIN:
Well, we did this album called The Uptown Horns Revue which was songs we wrote mostly and produced and arranged together for this group which is still intact. The personel for the Uptown Horns Revue consists of an eleven or twelve-piece rhythm and blues revue with three singers, The Uptown Horns, and a rhythm section. We also write for our own projects and, occasionally, those projects will involve all of us. I recently produced a soundtrack for a movie called Burnzy’s Last Call that featured The Uptown Horns. So, we’ll do different things in different ways that involve us on our own.
ARNO:
We hire each other too.
CRISPIN:
Yeah.

You don’t feel the need to take the initiative, obviously. Do you enjoy it when other people take the initiative or do you just like a balance of the two?
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ARNO:
Balance of the two is nice.
LARRY:
It’s nice to feel that you can have some input in any kind of creative process and you kind of have to feel out the situation sometimes. You know, depending on who you are dealing with and how concrete their ideas are and if they really want your ideas. You might be flooded with ideas, and yet they don’t want to hear it. The best situation is when people are open and are willing to take your input.
CRISPIN:
It’s also great in that respect when the best ones for us is when we are working for other people
and those people really want us.
LARRY:
And, often times, they do want our input. They are hiring us for that reason.
CRISPIN:
Yeah, if they really like what we do, and then hire us, it is then the best situation because they want our input, as Larry said.

How long do you think it took before you had this identity where you could second guess each other's moves? At what point did that sensibility arrive?
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LARRY:
We don’t always have the same idea at the same time. We go through plenty of arguments over what to do at certain times.
CRISPIN:
I believe one thing we have developed over the years is that we can allow each other to express our ideas or even try them out. Then we come to a consensus pretty easily where, it’s like, that works--whatever that is. It’s a great thing because being able to shuffle through a bunch of ideas on the spot in a recording session is like a cool ‘checks and balances’ system.
ARNO:
It took us probably a good year or so to really first get to that point and then the next few to develop it.
CRISPIN:
I’d say more. But, ultimately, we did get pretty good at covering a lot of ground and being able to draw on it. It’s almost like a well of information that we can draw on which is the best thing about us, really.
BOB:
The most intensive period was that eighteen months when we played almost every week down at the old Tramps on Fifteenth Street. We put together these shows that would go on for hours and we would put them together in a day.
CRISPIN:
In the afternoon.
BOB:
We would be in that club from two or three in the afternoon until three, four or five in the morning. Most of the time playing and putting together the music.
CRISPIN:
We took this job when we first started for almost no money.
BOB:
We would go home with cab fare and that was about it.
CRISPIN:
The deal was that this club, Tramps, would put our name in the paper every week because we’d just started playing as a group.
ARNO:
It pays to advertise.
BOB:
They put us out there and it forced us to get our collective thing together.
CRISPIN:
As a result, we learned how to throw arrangements together really fast.
ARNO:
We used to call them "insta-charts."
CRISPIN:
Elvis Costello, Dr. John, Iggi-Pop, The Neville Brothers, all came by the club. That’s how the group met David Johanson. Really, we knew him individually.
ARNO:
In fact, Buster Poindexter sort of evolved out of that because he was on the road doing his David Johanson solo stuff, which was sort of hard rock, and he’d be off the road by at 2:30 in the morning and be plastered. Then decides to get up on the stage and say give me a pig foot and a bottle of beer and Mack the Knife!
BOB:
We had to spontaneously evolve in front of an audience, especially those situations where people would come and sit in and somebody would call a tune. We really learned to listen to each other and pay attention to what was going on there. Back to your earlier question. I kind of want you to define what you meant by taking the initiative whether you meant as an artistic project or taking the initiative in a relationship with another artist that we are working a sideman for.

Would you be the person who starts an idea which ends in a piece of music or into a record. Or would you be following something else?
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BOB:
It works both ways.
CRISPIN:
A lot of people have said to us, "Okay, here’s where I want you to play; what have you got?"
BOB:
Which goes back to my thing about coming up with original lines for other peoples’ projects that would actually be considered part of the composition, as it were.
ARNO:
And, we’ve got their phone numbers.
BOB:
Yes. Someday in the karmic ledger there will be payoffs or paybacks. Yeah, taking initiative where it’s appropriate. I mean, if Keith Richards is telling you to play this part; then you play that part. But, if he says, "What have you got?" "What do you hear here?" Then you throw something out.
ARNO:
Or, ideally, you have the kind of relationship with somebody where even if they are sort of saying this is what I want you to do, and you say, "How about if we lost this little piece at the end here and added this harmony here," one would hope usually that they are willing.
LARRY:
Be receptive.
ARNO:
Yeah, be receptive enough to listen.
CRISPIN:
Ultimately, the bottom line is we can never have too much invested in an idea because in those situations it’s for somebody else. If it’s for our own record, we can argue for years about it.
BOB:
Anything!
CRISPIN:
When it is for somebody else, we can’t argue too much –it has happened--certainly there have been times in the course of nineteen years when somebody might really have felt strongly that’s a really great idea. But really, somebody else is the artist, or the producer and the writer. And the truth is, it’s their music.
BOB:
Sometimes there’s this sublime moment after you’ve finished the recording session and you actually get to go in and listen to the play back and they’ll turn the horns up enough so you can actually hear them, and it sounds really great. Then you hear the finished product out in the market later on, and you go, "We played on this record. We really did!" But, you can’t hear it.
LARRY:
That’s like 80 percent of the time.
BOB:
I don’t know the percentage.
ARNO:
I don’t know if it’s that much.
LARRY:
So many times you hear it in the studio and it sounds great and you say, "That’s why I picked up the horn!" You know, it’s also the way they mix our parts. It takes a really good person to make a horn section sound good in a production.
CRISPIN:
It also depends on the style of music.
LARRY:
Yes. And of course, we are a little weighted towards the horn because we want to hear it.
CRISPIN:
We did a record not that long ago for a blues singer, a young woman named Shemikia Copeland, who’s the daughter of the late, great Johnny Copeland, for Alligator Records, which is the big, Blues label. Obviously they don’t receive airplay on Z-100, but the horns are kicking! You know, they sound great and that’s rewarding.
LARRY:
It has to fit the genre.
CRISPIN:
Yeah, it depends on the genre.

If the horn is fighting with the voice, is the voice going to lose out? Sounds to me like the arrangement has to be pretty immaculate before the horns can be up front.

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CRISPIN:
That’s true. But, also, I would say, getting back to what you said a little while ago about music today, there’s a huge swat of Pop music on the charts where no producer would want to get within a hundred miles of a horn section, in general. Or, would want to get within a hundred miles of anything outside of pro-tools, you know. And, that’s just reality.

Oftentimes producers prefer to relate to a machine rather than the irregularities of people who are liable to do all sorts of odd things. Do you think there is an element in that?
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BOB:
There’s an element of truth there, sure.
LARRY:
Would we relate better to machines, at this point?
CRISPIN:
We’ve witnessed that, but I think, also, it’s the reality of what’s popular and what sounds are popular, and what oral palate is happening at the moment.
BOB:
There’s also an economic factor driving that attitude. The major labels really want to push what the kids are exposed to a lot. If there’s a certain level of quality there, the kids are going to respond to it. That means fewer players or no players and the producer sits there with ten thousand great sounding loops of the best musicians in the world, royalty free, license free. He can put together whatever he wants and then just brings in one beautiful singer to sell to the public as a commodity.
CRISPIN:
That’s true, but what’s also true is that Hip Hop turned out to be really popular with a lot of people.
BOB:
Sure!
CRISPIN:
But, Hip Hop has its own rules.
BOB:
It does.
CRISPIN:
Whether it’s like straight-ahead Rap or whether it is Hip Hop with pretty vocals on top, it’s got its own sound and its own rules. In regards to a live performance of the music, it doesn’t apparently fit in that scheme except for the vocal.
LARRY:
Unless it’s processed to sound like a loop.
ARNO:
Look at the record companies, for example. Their instinct is to always total control. If there is anything that takes that control away from them it puts them uptight. I mean, obviously, they enjoy the profit, but they’d rather not have another Beatles. They’d rather have something that sells far less units, while still having control of how to reproduce it and how to make it happen, than have this unpredictable element of four guys where they can just recreate the sound automatically.

When we toured with The Rolling Stones, Keith Richards chuckled about the early days of the British Invasion. He mentioned that one of the great things for them was the freedom to basically do whatever they wanted. Why? The music Biz people didn’t now how to make a certain sound happen. So, they had to let the musicians do it.
LARRY:
I don’t know.
BOB:
I would agree.
CRISPIN:
That’s politicizing it a little bit. For instance, Rap music when it started was not at all embraced by major labels.
ARNO:
No!
CRISPIN:
They didn’t pick up on it.
ARNO:
No! I’m not implying that to Rap.
CRISPIN:
Well, that’s what Hip Hop came out of.
ARNO:
Right.
CRISPIN:
What I’m saying is Hip Hop’s presence today started from an audience who responded to it in the very beginning, out of the underground. In other words, out of the streets before hitting the mainstream. I don’t think record companies have the brains to predict what would happen. Instead, they responded to the trend and eventually picked up on it.
LARRY:
It’s always twenty/twenty hindsight with the music Biz people. From my own perspective, record labels aren’t doing enough in terms of creativity and experimentation. Instead, they go along with the status quo; with what has been successful.
BOB:
That’s their job.
LARRY:
Next, the labels come out with a ‘No More Horns!’ policy. But if one group scores a hit with horns, then they’ll all follow!

Arno, what’s that story about your friend, Carl, right now?

ARNO:
I have a friend in LA who writes music for one of the cop shows on TV. Shows like NYPD Blue, but not necessarily that one. Every week he writes the music for the following week’s show and assembles a group of five or six musicians to read down his charts. One day, he gets a memo from the show’s financial person saying there isn’t enough money in the music budget to hire musicians. That example sort of says it all as far as the economic side of things.
CRISPIN:
I definitely think that’s true in terms of TV and film. TV especially. That’s where production companies are at. If you are talking about Pop music that’s on the charts, these companies spend a lot of money on a Backstreet Boys album. I think the traditional sounds which might include horns are not popular with kids today. Honestly, it might come back in new ways. That’s possible.

Suddenly, there’s such a huge sound in these tracks and it draws questions of the integrity of the arrangement.

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ARNO:
Most of the time when somebody calls us in and says they horns on a particular song, they’ve already adjusted in their minds what exact part they want played.
LARRY:
Certainly, if the horns detract from the overall gestalt of the song, obviously, the horns are not being used correctly. Using unnecessary background vocals also detracts from the main lyric or vocalist.
CRISPIN:
It really depends on the producer.
LARRY:
You have to produce and arrange a song correctly so that, hopefully, the whole thing gives a good impact.
CRISPIN:
We’ve also done stuff for Wyclef Jean, from the Fugees. Basically, he had an idea in mind where we’d just play a couple of riffs. We didn’t have to read down any charts at all. I’m pretty sure he’ll manipulate our parts in Pro Tools or whatever. But, Wyclef certainly knew what he was looking for.
BOB:
It comes down to an editing question, too.
CRISPIN:
Right.
BOB:
Not just with Wyclef. This goes for any producer. We’ll throw out a lot of ideas or play down a lot of tracks and we have to expect to get edited.
LARRY:
The art of arranging is editing, too.
BOB:
True.
LARRY:
Whether you do it in Pro Tools or you do it out of your head with a pen and staff paper.
ARNO:
To some degree it comes down to the artist and the producer, as well. I mean, if you’ve got what amounts to a Blues Shuffle and you bring in a guitar player and you say, "now give me John McLaughlin doing Inner Mountain Flame."
LARRY:
Yeah. It detracts.
ARNO:
It might detract from the vocal, and you know in situations like that we sort of say, "Well, gee, something a little sparser might work better there." But, obviously, if the artist and the producers insist, "No, no, this is what I want," you just can’t butt heads and say, "We’re not going to give it to you."
LARRY:
A horn section, just like any other instrument, can add dynamics you never knew would be possible. On the other hand, it can be detractive if used incorrectly.
BOB:
Then you compress the shit out of it, and it turns out all right.
LARRY:
It could be good or horrible.

Earlier, you mentioned a situation where a producer would say they hear John McLaughlin playing this sort of way. Do you like being told something as vague as that?
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ARNO:
Sure.
CRISPIN:
That’s where our memory bank thing helps out, because the more ideas we can come up with, then they’ll go, "That’s it!" Then we can zero in.
ARNO:
It’s fun to be creative, too.
CRISPIN:
As long as we’re not too married to any one direction, we can adjust.
LARRY:
We can accept the challenge.
CRISPIN:
Right!

Crispin, it’s almost as if you are a superstructure of a group, which tends to rests on the more traditional form of a group.

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CRISPIN:
Well, you know, we’re a four-headed creature.
ARNO:
Sometimes.
CRISPIN:
We’re like one person with four heads. That’s what we’re called on to be. We sort of have to function the same way a single person would, but be four people in that kind of sense where it isn’t charts in front of us reading the notes.
LARRY:
Right.
CRISPIN:
I suppose there are groups where it’s like one person has the ideas and tells the other guys what to play. That’s not us.
ARNO:
We’re an anarchist, collectively, we always say.
BOB:
Yeah.
CRISPIN:
I am sure a lot of people have perceived our process as…
LARRY:
Comical?
CRISPIN:
Well, probably on a scale from comical to like psycho.
LARRY:
Horrible. Brutal.
CRISPIN:
But the truth is, unless we were set up in a different way, where it was one person dictating, that’s what they are going to get.

Somehow, you've all achieved a balance of terror.
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LARRY:
Yes.
ARNO:
Yeah. A lot of times when there’s some creative process involved, what comes out is genuinely the collective effort of the four of us. I mean it’s usually not one person’s, as Crispin said, it’s not one person saying do this and do that, there’s a lot of banter or arguing, if you want to call it that.
LARRY:
Yeah. We don’t always agree.
CRISPIN:
Where one person might be inspired that day or it might be in a style that somebody had been immersing themselves in and might come with some ideas, we are capable of going in different directions with the moment.
BOB:
The ideal would be like the old Quincy Jones saying, "Check your ego at the door and come in."
LARRY:
Which is not easy all the time.
BOB:
It is very idealistic and not very often the case.
CRISPIN:
A studio musician, whether it’s four-headed or one-headed, is a strange sort of creative breed. Probably people outside of that world never really witness. The whole idea is they don’t know what they want you to play and you don’t know what you are going to play. But you got to come up with stuff, until they go, "Yup, that’s it." Then you’ve got to zero in and make it perfect. The difference with us is we do it as a four-piece together rather than one person.
LARRY:
We might individually give our own ideas and hope that the producer picks up on one of them.
CRISPIN:
Like I said before, some producers don’t even give us a chart to read down. We really sit there and come with ideas and see what happens.
ARNO:
It’s like an improvisational comedy theater group, where they just sit on stage and take props like a coat hanger or a belt and somebody suggests a theme. They then proceed to improvise and develop this whole bit or series of bits off the single prop or idea. I feel we do the musical equivalent.
CRISPIN:
If there is a budgetary or time consideration, we may come in with prepared arrangements if they give us a tape beforehand. We usually divide the songs up between the group and sketch out arrangements and some ideas.
LARRY:
That’s right. Crispin might take one and Bob might take one.
CRISPIN:
We’ll do that. Those notes on paper become the jumping off place.
LARRY:
Right.
CRISPIN:
And, if they like exactly what we’ve written down…
LARRY:
Great!
CRISPIN:
We’ll say fine, that’s it. But, they might say that one riff I like, but I don’t like the rest of it. So then we’ll start going back. We try and set up situations that will key a free flow of ideas so that the person we are working with is going to have some material scrolling in front of him when he can go, yes; no and that kind of thing. Sometimes we get the occasional remarks…
LARRY:
Eh!
CRISPIN:
You call yourselves professionals? How long have you been playing those things?
ARNO:
I can get some kids from Juilliard here tomorrow!
CRISPIN:
I can get a Brooklyn horn section in here!

The Uptown Horns at the Stereo Society (selected links):
To Uptown Horns' home at the Stereo Society (all links)
To Uptown Horns' Biography
To 'On the Road'
To Uptown Horns' albums

To Uptown Horns' interview with Mike Thorne

To Bob Funk (trombone)
To Crispin Cioe (alto sax)
To Larry Etkin (trumpet and flugelorn
To Arno Hecht (tenor sax)

To external Uptown Horns sites:
To www.Crispinmusic.com
To Burnzy's Last Call soundtrack
To www.Phunque.com

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