Nick Fields is a Syracuse-area trumpeter and vocalist who has been playing professionally for over a decade. Initially a classical vocalist, he won or placed in numerous competitions, including but not limited to CNY AMT and NATS. He has maintained jobs as a tenor soloist, most recently at St. David’s Episcopal. Also, as a young actor, he won the Michael Harms award at the competition of the same name. After leaving SUNY Purchase, Nick spent a few years in business, culminating with being a marketing and sales manager at Statista GmbH, a Hamburg, Germany-based statistics firm.
When he came back, Melissa Gardiner [see article on Melissa Gardener] took him under her wing, hiring him for Second Line Syracuse and introducing him to the Ripcords, UAD, the Blacklites and Jess Novak, the latter of whom he plays with to this day. Since then, he has played with Jakiem Joyner, the Syracuse Stage, Brownskin, become a top-call trumpeter for the Silver Arrow Band and more, appeared on more than a dozen albums, been a two-time commissioned composer/writer for the Society for New Music and now leads his own groups all over CNY. He has appeared twice at Jazz Fest, played at the Northeast Jazz and Wine Festival, the Blues Festival, Juneteenth, the Binghamton Jazz Festival. One of the most rewarding things that he does is run the (soon to be back) Jazz Jam at Funk’n Waffles, as it allows him to pass on the gifts he has received from Melissa Gardiner and others.
During COVID-19’s difficult injection into our lives, Nick has taken the time to practice both trumpet and voice, specifically the finer points of both techniques as they apply to teaching, as well as taking up running and renewing his spiritual practice.
Learning with Nick Fields
Nick currently holds a thriving private studio, with students in trumpet, jazz studies and voice, specializing in the training of professional singers of popular genres who seek an easier approach to the sounds of their aesthetic. He uses “mind in matter” techniques of renewing and empowering yourself with breath, along with data from some of the finest minds in the country, to synthesize a method that works for all levels and is transferable from instrument to instrument. Nick hopes that his perspective on being a musician can inspire others to embrace a musical path.
Nick Fields Plays…
Nick plays Adams trumpets, JoRal mutes and Monette Mouthpieces.
The trumpet is an Adams A4 with a Shepherd’s Crook and a 6’ bell-much larger than a normal diameter, almost a flugel diameter.
Monette B6S1 Resonance
Interview with Nick fields
Chuck Schiele: You’re an accomplished trumpet player comfortable in the various traditions of the instrument. Please tell us about your approach.
Nick Fields: That’s kind of you to say, Chuck. There’s a long story involved in explaining the ‘why’ I do things the way I do them, but the short answer is that I power my technique with imagination and breath. I visualize the sound I want, what I want to play, all of the feelings that go along with accomplishing it, and ‘zap’ myself into the middle of it. Usually, it’s just on the other side of the ‘wall’ of uncomfortability, i.e.it feels like I’d have no control on the other side of this line, but that’s where the treasure is buried. That’s the imagination part. Literally ‘being’ my dreams in the moment.
The breath aspect changes depending on my mood, but I work a lot on filling from the pelvic diaphragm and toes. Sometimes I just focus on the breath power building until I explode. If anyone’s ever watched me on stage, they’ve seen me doing really odd things, especially in really high energy shows. I use the breath to ‘order my insides’ and move energy through my chakras….sometimes I feel like I’m transported to another way of being while I’m playing, and that’s certainly the height of sensation and creativity for me. So if you ever see me jumping up and down, breathing really hard in and out on the beat…this is all to manage and amplify the physically transcendent energies that are being thrown my way.
Of course, I do Clarke Studies, James Stamp, various tidbits I’ve picked up over the years, etc., but that is mostly to help lend ‘form’ to my ‘dreams’ that I power with ‘breath’. Sort of like tempering a blade. No matter how much ‘energy’ or ‘intention’ is behind the swing of the blade, it needs to be sharp enough to cut.
Chuck Schiele: What does life as a musician mean to you?
Nick Fields: Everything. I’ve had a lot of other jobs, like most of us. I did dishes (actually one of my favorite jobs), worked through the restaurant industry, bartending, etc. I did business work, including as a Marketing and Sales Manager for Statista overseas. Great money, and very empowering, but music was always the end of the line. I thought about music all of the time, played as much as I could, and everything that I did that wasn’t music felt like it was stealing my life force from me a bit. If it wasn’t music, it wasn’t going to work. Sometimes, that was a conscious decision, and sometimes the universe came in with a hard ‘NOPE!’ when I was putting my energy other places. More recently, I’ve been enjoying teaching music and mentoring younger players as much or more than playing. It’s a really joyful experience, and I wouldn’t trade a minute of the journey or the result. I guess the short answer is that being a musician is who I am. It might morph within itself, but it’s the one essential piece.
Chuck Schiele: Please talk about the state of jazz as you see it.
Nick Fields: Jazz has never been more diverse or cool, in my opinion. We have all of these young players…guys who are so, so good at a young age. Jacob Collier is an example. The man is literally reintroducing different scale temperament, something that’s more or less been a given in music for centuries. People are mixing old with new in really interesting ways. Robert Glasper has an album out where he samples old Miles Davis tracks and transforms them into something that is both philosophically unique and pays homage to Miles. Bill Evans said that jazz music is any music where one minute of creation equals one minute of music (as opposed to classical music, where days of creation can go into one minute of music). So as long as people are still doing that, and bringing in all of these influences available to us through YouTube, Spotify, SoundCloud, etc., jazz will continue to evolve into something cooler and cooler.
Chuck Schiele: What makes you interested in working with any particular artist or project?
Nick Fields: Well, I think it should be clear that I will work with nearly anybody who calls and has a check with my name on it, but as far as interest … I gravitate toward groups of people who aren’t dogmatic in their approach to making music. Rigidity is the enemy of creation, and since I don’t believe that something ‘has’ to be one way or another, I tend to fall away from the rigid types. Of course, quality always wins out. If I got to play in Stevie Wonder’s band, and he was a bit rigid about, you, his songs, I would give every ounce to get it right, because of the immense upliftment of being in such a good group. I’ve played with a national act once or twice when they’ve come through, and they’re so damn good I don’t care how many times they tell me to jump. As far as personal fulfillment, I like working with Melissa Gardiner, Jess Novak, folks like that. They really set up an environment where everyone can be creative. Because of that, their groups have much more breath available to them, as they represent a combination/magnification of everyone’s existing resources. I do this with my groups, too. The joy is in the combination.
Chuck Schiele: Please tell us a bit about your instruments, and the gear associated with them.
Nick Fields: I play an Adams A4 trumpet with a Shepherd’s crook and a 6′ bell. The sound on it is very dark and broad, though it turns into a cannon in the upper register. For a while, I was playing a Monette B6LD (Lead-Deep) to counteract the sheer size of my instrument, but since then I’ve embraced the sound of horn a bit more and have been playing on a Monette B6. Their 6 rim is like a Bach 3C rim. I also have a Lotus mouthpiece in mail, basically the same size rim and cup as the Monette, but their supposed to be a touch more efficient. I’ve picked these two brands because the harmonic series in the mouthpiece is in tune; you’d be amazed how rare that is. We’ve been lipping things up and down for so long that a lot of older heads have just internalized these extra tensions, and I see no reason to play that game.
Aside from the instrument and mouthpiece, I’ve been using a lot of electronics. Essential to most things I do now is the TC Helicon VoiceLive3 Extreme Pedal. It’s a top-of-the-line vocal processor, looper and harmonizer pedal. My latest project is to use the harmonizer function like a vocoder. In this way, I can add chords, backgrounds, etc., to my solos and singing/playing, even be a whole background vocalist section or whole horn section. It’s currently being repaired, but it’s worth every penny. They’re back-ordered until December, and you can’t even catch a sniff of a used one for under $500.
Chuck Schiele: Are there things that happen in your off-stage life that factor into your onstage world?
Nick Fields: Absolutely. This used to be a bit more tumultuous topic, but now I’m happily married and have a beautiful two year-old son. Brie and Declan allow me to tap into a higher frequency of love and service, and I daresay that my playing and singing have improved because of it. I even think of my son saying “blankets!” every time I take a breath (blankets is his favorite game. Basically, I just toss him around, tickle him and participate in various mini-games in our queen size.) When I was rapping, people would hear about my whole life explicitly, but now you’ve got to infer the meaning a little bit, and I like it that way. Also, I’m hugely spiritual, and see most things that way. If my practice improves, so does my playing. I take it all up to the stage every time.
Chuck Schiele: What is the number one thing on your mind as you take the stage?
Nick Fields: That depends. I try to keep things light up there if I’m with a large group. I’ll be cracking jokes and talking out of the side of my mouth; that’s mostly so I get comfortable quickly. Also, some folks get a bit too serious, and so I’m ‘mothering’ them in a way by loosening them up. Don’t worry, guys, I’ll never tell. A second part of that is that I start to absorb all the details of the room, quite literally opening myself to and then gathering the energy of the crowd. Sometimes I flow through it, sometimes I use the pelvic diaphragm to blow it up. I make my breath and body into shapes and then fill them with the energy of the room. This is getting unfocused, but I think you get the point. Immediately, and for the whole time thereafter, I gather and organize energy. That’s my primary job and goal.
Chuck Schiele: What is the number one thing on your mind as you practice?
Nick Fields: Again, this depends, but in general I try no to fight the exercise. When I first start to play, I just pick a range of exercises and don’t stop until I’m done. At least that’s the goal. With that focus, sinking into deeper and deeper layers of focus, usually some revelation or another happens. Ways I can better support the sound, tensions that I can release, different tongue placements, come to mind and usually the application of them is like a weight slipping off of my shoulders. Practice is where you work on your infrastructure, so it’s inherently more mental. You are programming your inner computer. Despite that, though, it’s crucial that it not become too mental. You can spend infinite amounts of time on one scale, picking everything apart and reassembling it until you’re too confused to keep going. Let your body tell you what it needs. That is of critical importance. Usually, that’s an option only readily available to the sufficiently skilled, but everybody can do it to one degree or another. Very often, the fingers, the breath, the tongue won’t move because the author is the obstacle. Do the exercises and get out of your own way. At least that’s what I tell myself.
Chuck Schiele: What would you say to a kid interested in picking up the trumpet and music in general?
Nick Fields: There is nothing that I know of that brings the same rewards as music. It can be infinitely pleasurable, it can make you better at everything you do. The first couple of years is the hardest time. Practice is the only thing that makes perfect. Get used to practicing every day, even if it’s the same thing for 15 minutes before you just rock out on the instrument. Make funny sounds, bend notes, play low, play high, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to work with it and play with it every day. Be patient with yourself. It’s hard to improve if you’re angry or frustrated.
Chuck Schiele: The importance and art of listening. Please discuss.
Nick Fields: Listening is perhaps the most important thing you can do as a musician. We must take the energy of the masters inside of ourselves before being masters ourselves. When you’re playing, especially as an improvising musician, all of your experience comes out of the horn. Everything you’ve ever heard. There are some side notes to this, though. There are at least two kinds of listening that I’d like to discuss. The one I just mentioned was sort of a combination of receptive listening and goal-oriented listening. Let’s start with the second.
Goal-oriented listening, as I would describe it, is listening to decode something or get specific information- say, your part on September. I’ve had to learn so many tunes, so fast, that I’ve gotten pretty good at doing it in the course of my day. I’ll put on a tune in the car or something, pull out a piano app, find the key center and start transcribing it in my head. I don’t stop until I can sing the whole horn line through, pitches in mind, with no hesitation. In this manner, I can learn what I need to play in 15 minutes on my way to the gig. I encourage all young musicians to try this. Time is of the essence, and speed is your friend. Get fast with learning what you need to learn and save yourself some stress.
Receptive listening is more along the line of what most people do. Put your feet up, relax, and throw on your headphones whenever you can. I remember being alone in Germany-living alone, hardly interacting with anyone in a deep level and working a job that at least half of me did not enjoy. Roy Hargrove was my best friend then, and music took on a new meaning to me. It was a reminder of all of the beauty that I’d seen. When you listen with no intention of “speaking”, you learn perhaps the greatest of all lessons: that the world, and everything in it, is utterly beautiful. Even if the voice of that beauty is still and small, you can hear it with open ears and an open heart.
Thanks for having me, Chuck. It’s been a privilege to engage with you and your readers.
Chuck Schiele: Thank you, Nick. It’s been our pleasure. Thank you for imparting your insights with us here at MakingMusicMag.