A Conversation With Bobby Shew and Wayne Bergeron
Two musical icons share their affinity for the newest Yamaha custom flugelhorns.
When you talk to famed trumpeters Bobby Shew and Wayne Bergeron about their lives, you quickly realize that making music is central to who they are. The quest for them is more than just being able to play difficult music and make it sound easy; it’s about expressing their voice and looking to deepen their connection to music. And while their iconic careers stem largely from playing the trumpet, their Yamaha flugelhorns hold very special places in their hearts.
Bobby Shew’s professional career started when he was just 13, playing local dances and events in his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico. By the time he turned 15 he was leading his own band at a local dinner club. These early years paved the way to a long recording and performing career, including work with Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Della Reese, Buddy Rich and many other major artists. At the same time, he continued to lead his own band and today is in constant demand as an educator and clinician, helping musicians of all ages and levels improve their skills and grow their love of music.
Shew’s connection to Yamaha started in 1974 during a tour in Japan. Bobby was approached by instrument designers Kenzo Kawasaki and Hiroo Okabe, who invited him to visit the local Yamaha Atelier to try some trumpets they had been working on. “There were 18 trumpets lined up on a couple of tables,” Shew remembers. “They were all different from each other, and different from what I was used [to] playing at the time. That first time, we didn’t find anything that worked for me, but I was in and out of Japan a couple of times a year and each time I went over there, they approached me to come to the Atelier, and I did. It was a great honor for me because of all the trumpet players on the planet that they could have come to, they came to me.”
After four years of testing new designs, Shew made the decision to switch to Yamaha trumpets exclusively. But his move to Yamaha was about more than just looking for something new. “All of a sudden, I was playing with half the effort and making better music, and this was a bit of a revelation [about] how to play a horn,” he says. “I started learning new ways to approach the trumpet and this only made me want to experiment and play more.”
Bobby has also been a development partner with Yamaha for all of the Custom Z trumpets and Custom Z flugelhorns, including the most recent YFH-8310ZII model. And while most people think of Shew as a trumpeter, for him the flugelhorn hits closer to the heart. “My favorite instrument for playing deep into my heart and soul is the flugelhorn because it feels a little more emotional to me,” he says.
He isn’t shy about what this latest instrument has to offer, either. “I can control it,” he says, simply. “I don’t have to wrap my legs around the chair I’m sitting on to get upper notes on the horn. And I’m able to play it in tune! But it all comes back to the sound and the new Z flugel has what I’m looking for. If it’s easy for me to get my sound, then it’s easier for me to make the music come to life … and if I can do that, then I think it’ll be easier for whoever is listening to feel the music.”
Wayne Bergeron has had an equally stellar career. He originally started on French horn but switched to trumpet in seventh grade where he found a natural upper register ability. Wayne first came to national prominence when he landed the lead trumpet chair with Maynard Ferguson’s band in 1986. As a sideman, Bergeron’s list of recording credits reads like a “who’s who” in contemporary jazz and pop, running the stylistic gamut from Ray Charles to Green Day.
But of all of his accomplishments, recording music for film and television stands out and puts Bergeron’s playing in front of millions of people every day … whether they know it or not. This type of work requires not only extreme accuracy and versatility but the ability to use sheer musicianship to support the story being told on the screen. The music varies and the pace in the studio is fast, requiring Wayne to be present, laser focused, and quickly connected to the music. On top of that there’s all the nuance that goes into playing an instrument, including blending with the other musicians and, of course, playing in tune!
All these things, Bergeron says, are made easier on his new Yamaha YFH-8315IIGS Custom Flugelhorn. “I have a couple of regular TV shows I do: American Dad, which is a lot of flugelhorn, and Family Guy, which is almost all flugelhorn. We have to be fast and there are a lot of cues and no time for a lot of takes, so you have to get it right and nothing can be out of tune. The new 8315II in particular has this nimbleness to how it plays. I feel like the horn just goes with me even on the hardest stuff. If I need to come in very soft and hold that note for 12 beats, I can do it. If I want to put some edge on the sound to say something specific or complement something else that’s happening, I can do it. I can make it sound exactly the way I hear the music in my head, and I love it. There’s no better way to get an audience connected with the music than to have that. It gives me access to all the musical tools in my toolbelt.”
Bergeron looks back on his first connection with Yamaha as an exciting and humbling honor. “Back in 2001, when I first met with them, I never thought I’d be designing a trumpet, especially for a successful, huge company like Yamaha,” he says. “I mean, the horns are already great! But it’s amazing how they keep working to improve the instruments, and when we try something new it’s exciting and creates kind of a spark to go play. I’m like a kid again and can’t wait to get to the gig with the new horn or just grab some piece of music from my file cabinet that I think, ‘Oh man, that would sound amazing on this horn.’”
A Spark That’s Still Burning
Beyond their skills as horn players, Bobby Shew and Wayne Bergeron have a lot in common. For one thing, they have enjoyed long, sustainable careers … which can make it hard to remember that they were both beginners at some point. Like all musicians, they had influential teachers and a vision for the kind of life in music they wanted to create. But for both it started with a “spark” — that first connection to making music. And, for both, the fires lit by that spark are still burning. For them, it’s not just about trumpets and flugelhorns; it’s about staying connected, playing music, teaching music, collaborating with other musicians and finding ways to express themselves through their instruments. “Sometimes I pinch myself that I have the best job in the world,” Wayne says.