Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Mossman, Michael Philip

Trumpeter Michael Philip Mossman has earned a reputation as one of New York’s most versatile musician-educators through his work at Rutgers and Queens College and as an instrumentalist and arranger in the bands of Latin giants such as Mario Bauzá and Machito.

Born October 12, 1959, Mossman grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. His parents did not have an extensive record collection, although his father was an amateur organist and an enthusiast of the Theremin, an early electronic instrument.

Instead of listening to records, as a boy Mossman scanned the radio for music that caught his ear. In fact, he describes his earliest auditory memory at age three as being fixated on trumpeter Maynard Ferguson’s big band performance of “Frame for the Blues” by trombonist Slide Hampton, a musician alongside whom he would later work.

Mossman began playing the trumpet at age eight, and taught himself to play whatever he could find on the radio. Since he didn’t know how to read music, he became adept at learning to play by ear, and even created his own notation system involving the names of notes and arrows signifying in which octaves they were to be played.

It wasn’t until high school that he learned to read music and began his formal study of jazz. He attended jazz workshops around Philadelphia, and grew musically alongside classmate and now renowned keyboardist and composer Jim Beard. At this time, Mossman began to listen to jazz records, including those of Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane.

After graduating high school as a National Merit Scholar, Mossman attended Oberlin College with the intention of studying pre-law. He received degrees in sociology and orchestral trumpet. He credits his time at Oberlin for exposing him to a wide range of ideas and people from a variety of cultural backgrounds.

Upon graduating from Oberlin cum laude, he realized his strongest interest lay in music, and he decided to move to Chicago to pursue his studies in orchestral trumpet. There he took lessons with Vincent Cichowicz of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and played in the Chicago Civic Orchestra. He also attended jam sessions all over the city, carrying his trumpet in a plastic bag so that it wouldn’t get stolen in the rougher parts of town.

Two months of playing jam sessions led to his first paying gigs, one of which was in a salsa band, where he learned to play the music of Eddie Palmieri and other Latin bandleaders. This was Mossman’s first serious exposure to Latin music, a genre in which he would later find a niche as an arranger for some of the genre’s best bands.

Mossman soon found lots of work in Chicago, playing jazz, classical, and Broadway show gigs, and also recording for rock groups such as Styx. At one point he was introduced to Bill Fielder, another student of Cichowicz who taught trumpet at Rutgers University. After taking one lesson with Fielder, Mossman was offered a scholarship to Rutgers, where he earned a Master’s degree, and studied arranging, orchestration and film scoring with Don Sebesky.

In 1983, he attended a performance given by the Machito Orchestra. The band played a style of Latin jazz that Machito and his brother-in-law Mario Bauzá helped create in the forties, which was the result of Puerto Rican and Cuban music melding with the jazz played in New York at the time. Mossman was so enthralled by the music that he approached Machito, and his enthusiasm and desire to play with the bandleader was so great that he landed a spot in the orchestra.

Without realizing it, this gained him access into New York's tight network of Latin Jazz musicians, and soon he had opportunities to play with Tito Puente, Bauzá, Ray Barreto, and dozens of other masters of the genre.

In 1985, he auditioned for and received a spot in Blue Note’s young artist group, Out of the Blue. He recorded four albums with the group, which included Ralph Bowen, Kenny Garrett, and James Genus at different times. Out of the Blue gave Mossman an opportunity to cut his teeth as a writer for small groups. He also developed a name for himself as a versatile musician who could thrive in any sort of musical situation. He wrote jingles, played Broadway shows, and performed in orchestral and chamber music settings. In addition to his work with Machito, he was also featured as a soloist with Toshiko Akiyoshi and the Lionel Hampton Orchestra.

Despite these accomplishments, Mossman felt unsatisfied with his trumpet playing. He describes his way of playing at the time as unstable. After being blown away by a performance by Freddie Hubbard, he resolved to completely change his approach to the trumpet. He started over, trying to find a way to play in a relaxed way that allowed his air to flow freely through the instrument. This involved being acutely aware of the mechanics of his embouchure and breathing in relation to the trumpet.

He continued to perform and record, but his feeling of instability persisted, marking a confused and somewhat dark time in his playing career, and a period of intense self-reflection. However, he found stability in composing, and he cites this period as a time of great development as a writer.

After three years of struggle, by 1988 he began to feel his hard work to retool his trumpet technique had paid off. He gained confidence with his new approach, and returned to the scene with newfound enthusiasm. Between 1988 and 1990, he performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, and Michel Camilo.

In 1990, Mossman left Out of the Blue so he could tour with Horace Silver, and began teaching at Rutgers, where he was hired to revive the school’s jazz ensemble. At the time, there were no arrangements for the band’s unusual instrumentation, so Mossman wrote his own charts. He remained active as a performer, with the band of Mario Bauzá and others.

One day Bauzá happened to see him writing a bass part for a chart he was working on for the Rutgers ensemble, and appointed him as the arranger for his own band. Before long, Mossman became a sought-after arranger, and was getting calls from people ranging from Tito Puente to Slide Hampton to write for their groups. He wrote for the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, the Slide Hampton Orchestra, various European big bands, and later the Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. He also scored the film “Bossa Nova,” and appears as a performer in the Fernando Trueba films “Two Much” and “Calle 54.”

Mossman is currently the director of jazz studies at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, and his teaching, which covers trumpet, composing, arranging, and the music business, is a broad and experience-driven approach.

Mossman says the many music masters with whom he has played are the inspiration for his teaching method, and his goal is to give his students the kind of experiences and inspiration that he was given as a young musician. When not teaching, Mossman remains active as a performer and composer.

Discography As Leader/Co-leader

Michael Philip Mossman/Metaphysical Mambos The Orisha Suite Pimienta

Michael Philip Mossman Mama Soho TCB

Michael Philip Mossman Springdance Claves Jazz

Sedajazz Latin Ensemble Este Tambien Fresh Sound

Sedajazz Latin Ensemble Envenenado Sedajazz

Michael Philip Mossman/Perico Sambeat Uptown Dance EGT

Michael Mossman/Daniel Schnyder Granulat Red

Out of the Blue OTB Blue Note

Out of the Blue Inside Track Blue Note

Out of the Blue Live at Mt. Fuji Blue Note

Out of the Blue Spiral Staircase Blue Note

Contributor: Jacob Teichroew