A few years ago, our friend, paleontologist and cornet collector Niles Eldredge, planted the bug in my ear to make the ultimate Monette cornet. He suggested building my vision of what the next step in the evolution of the modern Bb cornet would be. This proposition made me think about what a cornet could be that it had never been before!
I drew the rough layout up quickly on a piece of cardboard at 100% scale, then played with small adjustments in the bell straightaway and leadpipe lengths to get the proportions as elegant as possible while making the overall length correct for the key of modern Bb.
My goals in physical layout were to make an instrument with the bell even closer to the player than a conventional cornet, and to have the turns of the instrument opened way up to provide a much larger sweet spot on each note - still retaining but expanding on the look and feel of a cornet make in the late 1800's. In all this I wanted to make a lightweight instrument - not heavy - and really go to town with our unique approach to taper design, bracing and layout improvements. In sound I wanted to help the player produce an even broader and more homogeneous sound than possible when playing old fashioned small radius bend/small bell diameter conventional cornets - while expanding on the positive qualities in sound we have come to know from vintage instruments and mouthpieces.
I graduated from simple drawings to physical 3D rough layout using copper tubing and a valve section mock-up - with all this spread all over our break room table for several months. Dean our shop foreman would ask me from time to time when we would be building the new cornet, and for quite a while I delayed answering… knowing that the mouthpiece could be a huge obstacle to realizing the improvements in response, intonation and overall flexibility that would make this new design worthwhile. And as it turned out, the development of our new flugelhorn and flugelhorn mouthpieces - and piccolo and piccolo mouthpieces -gave me confirmation of what I needed to do to make the new cornet really sing.
Making the bends in the branch and bell of the new instrument by hand with no bending jig was challenging to say the least! Once we figured out the bends that left the bottom of the casing open for honing and still got us the shapes in airflow we wanted, the last step in the physical construction of the CORNETTE proved to be just as critical. This is when Dean asked me what we would do for a mouthpiece receiver and leadpipe configuration to finish up once he had the rest of the instrument completed.
I knew that conventional cornet mouthpieces - and even Monette cornet mouthpieces made for use on non-Monette cornets - would never work on this new instrument; that a complete redesign of the mouthpiece was needed to realize the potential of the new instrument design.
So the light clicked on when Dean asked me that mouthpiece question. My concerns about making the mouthpiece too unconventional went completely out the window and I set the mouthpiece shank size on the spot, figuring the Cornette already had so many other unusual features that I might as well jump off the cliff completely and make the mouthpiece as unusual as the rest of the instrument if it would take the horn to the next level!
The results were extremely impressive even from the first notes! We missed on the mouthpiece length by only one thousandth of an inch (too short!). And the more homogeneous quality of sound the new configuration provided was exactly what I wanted!
But the most shocking quality right from the first few notes was secure and locked in the instrument felt with every note slotting just exactly where it should be. The intonation and response was just stunning. The feeling is almost like the CORNETTE plays like a piano. Each note so well defined… but the sound is even more “cornet-y” than we thought was possible!
Jeff Work, Principal Trumpet of the Oregon Symphony, came in and immediately just played the braces off the horn for us. Jeff said it was indeed easier to play and sounded better than any of the historical cornets from the turn of the century he owns. We even did an A/B direct comparison with his favorite 1904 Lyon and Healy, and we were very pleased with the results. At this time the mouthpiece blank design was at 100%, but the cup design was still a work in progress. Since the Jeff Work Cornette video was made we have fine-tuned the cup design using elements of the cornet rim and cup design I developed for Ron Miles a few years ago, and we are extremely satisfied with the results!
Check out Jeff Work playing in a few videos posted to our Facebook page:
As soon as we posted the video of Jeff playing the new prototype, Ron Miles started calling to see when he could come up and try it out. That happened about a week later, and we brought in bassist Tim Gilson for Ron to play with so we could hear the sound and blend of new prototype in a performance situation. Ron loved it… we loved it!
Just a few weeks later, Ron used the Cornette exclusively for his new Ron Miles Trio CD, recorded with Bill Frisell and Brian Blade. I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Denver for their performance at DAZZLE the night before they started recording, and spent the next few days in the studio with the guys to hear the how they sounded as they put down the new tracks!
Since then, Ron has been touring all over the US and some in Europe with various groups, including a week at the Jazz Standard in New York with Joshua Redmond, Brian Blade and Scott Colly. Ron just sounds better and better every time we hear him, and he tells us he is thrilled with this new instrument.
We have now made two more of these unique new instruments for clients as part of our regular custom instrument production, and of course they consistently play and sound just like Ron’s. Both Dan and Daniel say their instruments have exceeded their expectations. We are thrilled, and look forward to making more as the orders come in!
Thanks to Niles Eldredge for the huge inspiration in coming up with this new instrument, and to Ron Miles for having the fearless musical vision to appreciate all its unique qualities!