The Martin Committee, a trumpet with an unusual name, earned its name by being designed by a committee. It went on to dominate the jazz trumpet market from the late 1940s until the mid 1960s or so. Committees were played by Miles Davis throughout his career, as well as Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson, and even Al Hirt.
The committee was:
1. Renold Schilke (who always claimed the horn was designed by a committee of one, him)
2. Vincent Bach
3. Elden Benge (Schilke and Elden built the early Chicago Benge horns in Schilke’s garage, they were neighbors and Schilke had the machine tool experience)
4. Foster Reynolds (later he designed the Olds Mendez with Rafael)
5. A local player, presumably from the Chicago Symphony, since all these guys had strong ties to the symphony,
What follows is an accumulation of additional information from a wide and large variety of sources primarily concerning the Martin Committee trumpet. This is a rough draft which will continue to be enlarged, reedited, and reformatted until it is worth something. If you are interested in or know anything about this subject, please review this and let me know of any errors I’ve made or additional information you can provide.
According to Richard Dundas in his book, Twentieth Century Brass Musical Instruments in the United States,
The “Martin” label has always been associated with high quality and limited production, promoted by a devoted group of professional players honestly convinced that Martin instruments had characteristics unmatched by any other brand.
According to his great granddaughter, John Heinrich Martin was born on February 24, 1835 in Dresden Germany He learned to make instruments in Germany as an apprentice. In 1855 he emigrated to the United States, and, in 1865, he moved to Chicago. He founded the “The Martin Company” that same year.
In 1871 his factory was destroyed by a fire in Chicago, sources are in conflict about whether it was The Great Chicago Fire, or not. His great grandaughter, Jane Hunter Parker, believes it was. He then moved to Elkhart, Indiana in 1876 and became the 6th employee of C.G. Conn Company, where he worked until his health forced him to retire in 1902. A second company called “The Martin Band Instrument Company” was founded in 1904 (some sources claim 1906) by the John Heinrich (by now Henry) Martin and his five sons of John Martin. They opened a factory at 431-433 Baldwin Street in Elkhart. John Henry Martin died in 1910.
In 1912, Francis Compton became controlling partner by buying the company from the Martin family in 1912. From 1919 until 1931, O. P. Basset was the president of the company. Henry Charles Martin, John Henry’s oldest son, continued to work for the company until 1923.
In 1928, Martin acquired controlling interest in The Indiana Band Instrument Company, which operated as a separate company until 1942, when it moved under the flag of Martin to become the producer of student line instruments, a strong and growing market at that time.
The Company was led by Fred Holtz from 1931 until 1948. It was in the late 30s that the famous Martin Committee was designed. Concerning the role of Renold Schilke in the design of the Committee, Wallace Roney says:
I met Mr. Schilke through John Faddis. Mr. Schilke was going to fix my Martin Magna. He stopped me and said, “Let me see who made this horn.” Then he said “ah yes, these are mine, the ones I made, not the other guys,” (meaning Leblanc). He said, “Yes I will fix this horn.” He proceeded to show me step by step how he made the horn with a cornet leadpipe, tapered tuning slide, and a fast taper in the bell-tail to the flair. He also told me that he was the one who designed the Martin Committee in 1939, and proceeded with the horn, well into the 60’s, up the point when Schilke started making his own horns, which I believe he started in 1956. He also believed his Schilke horns had improvements on the Committee design. Although he made special horns for special people that had these same improvements under the Martin Committee and Magna name. And believe me, in 1981, he was still extremely proud of those horns (the Martins from 1940-65).
From 1948 to 1960 Robert Stahl was the Company president.
It is generally believed that the quality of Martin products eroded after 1956 — in an interview Chet Baker spoke about switching to a Connstellation at that time because a trip to the Martin factory did not yield a good horn.
In 1961, Paul Richards formed the Richards Music Corporation by purchasing and merging Martin, Blessing and Reynolds. During this period Martins carry an RMC marking, which officially stood for Roundtable of Musical Craftsmen, not Richards Music Corporation.
Dizzy Gillespie played Martins into the RMC era and it was in this period when a production model Dizzy style horn was available. The Smithsonian has a RMC Committee that Dizzy owned.
In 1963, Richards Music was dissolved and a year later, Wurlitzer, who apparently had financed RMC, ended up with the assets of Martin, including registered trademarks, copyrights, patents, engineering records and tooling and maintained production for a short time. At roughly that same time, the F.E. Olds & Son Co purchased the assets of Reynolds and moved manufacturing of those designs to Fullerton, California.
In 1971 Leblanc (the French woodwind company that had recently merged with Holton) took over the Martin assets, moving them to Kenosha, Wisconsin. After Leblanc bought the company, the Committee trumpet was discontinued for a time, however the company specially made Miles Davis, loyal throughout his life to the Committee, a supply of one -off Committees during this time..
During their early ownership LeBlanc primarily used the the Martin name to sell Yanigasawa Japanese built saxes. Subsequently the Committee trumpet was redesigned and introduced and medium large and large bore models were produced. They were available in silver plate, clear lacquer, and in various colored lacquers (blue, black, and red) with gold-plated slides, trim and deluxe engraving.
In October 2004, LeBlanc/Holton was purchased by Conn-Selmer, Inc., the musical conglomerate owned by Steinway, that now includes Bach, Selmer USA, King, Conn, Benge, LeBlanc, Holton and Martin. In 2008, Conn-Selmer discontinued the Martin name and the product line. Martin is no more.
The earliest model I’ve been able to find is the Superlative Dansant, courtesy of Bill Adam in Dallas, with a serial manufacturing date of around 1912, He described his horn as follows
the most unusual feature of the horn is the tuning, which is by means of a flugelhorn-style tuning bit. This allows 2 9/16″ tuning adjustment, minus 1/2″ for the slot, which allows the tuning to be locked by means of a split collar and thumb screw device, like a typical flugelhorn or piccolo trumpet. The slide at the end of the leadpipe (the conventional tuning slide position) is actually the Quick-change to A, and uses a threaded split ring on the lower tubing as the stop. The threaded part of the ring is only 3/16″, so that’s all you have to tune the ‘A’. Another cute feature is an adjustable pinkie ring for the right hand. It is a ring affixed to a movable split collar around the leadpipe, secured by another thumb screw. It moves thru about a half inch. You can’t get it off due to bracing. The horn has an inside diameter at the 2d valve slide of .413″. It is satin silver with gold inside the bell, and other than wear at contact points, it is otherwise in good shape. It plays well, a bit bright, as was the style for trumpets in that day.
The Dansant was a popular model of the 1920s. With a medium bore, it has some playing characteristics of the later Martin models but has a little too much cylindrical tubing for modern taste. Some models had a rotary valve, common in the era, for Bb/A adjustment (for a photo of such a model, go here). There were also horns designed for playing in C/Bb/A but they require a separate set of crooks or hash marks (crooks set for C and pull out for Bb/A). In the 1920s Bunny Berrigan played a Martin Dansant before switching to Conn.
The Troubadour was a model of the 1930s. A “pea-shooter” model, common for it’s time, it has a smaller bore and a long narrow design. The valves were bottom sprung and has lots of great art-deco type design details. For some great pictures, go here.
I have also heard of pre-Committee models with names like Superlative Handcraft (from the 20s) and New Symphony (1932), but have no other information. If you do, please let me know.
The Martin Handcraft Imperial was the top of the line until 1939. Upon the introduction of the Handcraft Committee at that time, the Imperial became a student grade horn.
There was also a Martin Standard model which coexisted with the Committee until 1945, when it was discontinued. For pictures, go here. Notice the similarities to the Committee.
In 1939, the Committee Handcraft, a company trade name at that time, was Introduced and became the top of the line. It was made with standard type water keys. These horns are identical to the later models except for the water keys, and play well, but are not as desirable because they lack the look of the more popular later horns. For pictures of Ted Carson’s beautiful 1940 Handcraft Committee, go here.
Here is picture of the slightly later Committee, with the famous water keys (along with the rare first valve trigger).
From the 1938 Martin catalog, introducing the Handcraft Committee:
Designed and built for YOU–to enhance YOUR playing and permit YOU to do the fullest justice to your ability and talent. The Committee–composed of player artists of symphony, radio and recording studio orchestras, dance bands, military and concert bands–who in collaboration with Martin craftsmen designed this trumpet, thought of everything and overlooked nothing in order to insure perfection of the instrument. To appreciate it, you must actually play it in regular routine.
Don’t look for “gadgets” because there are none. You will, however, find the traditional Martin craftsmanship incorporated in a trumpet of startling beauty. Listen for a tone of true trumpet character; resonant and bold (Ren Schilke with Chicago Symphony playing AIDA, etc.) Experience the flexibility which permits from this same instrument a quality as tender as a caress (Rafael Mendez playing DARK EYES, etc.) Listen to faultless intonation throughout all registers (Charlie Spivak, Kurt Schmeisser, Dana Garrett, Fred Berman, etc.) Test the response; the slightest attack produces tone but yet, you can give it all you’ve got and it will “take it” (Bunny Berigan, Charlie Teagarden, etc.) Actually, everything you could possibly want is built right into the Committee Martin. Mechanically, it’s equally satisfying; the valve action is the finest ever–light, positive, fast and dependable. Listen to Rafael Mendez play “Flight of the Bumblebee”; no action but the very finest could keep pace with his technique. Pumps are made of a new alloy which will never discolor or corrode if a high grade oil is used as recommended.
Martin built by the most skilled artist craftsmen in the band instrument industry! Designed to the specifications of top-notch players! Tested and retested during actual performances on the concert stage, in rehearsal halls, radio and recording studios, ballrooms, hotels and cafes! It’s a trumpet built for sincere trumpet players who possess the ability to recognize and appreciate true musical and mechanical excellence.
The Committee came in the following bores:
- a small bore, #1 (0.445)
- medium bore #2 (0.451), sometimes designated with a star above the serial number
- extra large bore #3 (0.468).
The most popular horns were the medium bore and the extra large bore. It is rumored that a medium large bore (0.460) horn was made, but they are very scarce, if they exist at all.
The Committee had solid nickel valves with hard nickel plating.
Instruments with serial numbers between 140,000 and 210,000 are apparently the most valued but good horns were produced later and earlier than those dates.
The bell engraving was very stylish.
A Dizzy Gillespie version with the upturned bell was also made and are currently worth double the standard bell configuration. For pictures of this, go here. Dizzy played Committees before he bent the bell. For pictures of one that might have been his (it has his named engraved on it), go here. I’ve never seen a trumpet as heaviliy engraved as that one.
A Deluxe version of the Committee was also made with nickel silver slides and parts. Some Committees also have extensive artistic engraving. For pictures of Bill Faust’s beautiful gold plated 1949 Committee with amazingly ornate engraving, go here.
The Committee dominated the post war jazz world. Committees were played, at least at some point in their careers, by: Chet Baker (large bore, early in his career), Bill Chase, Miles Davis (whose loyalty to the horn is almost magical), Clifford Brown, Conte Candoli, Art Farmer, Maynard Ferguson (the MF Horn by Holton is thought to be based on the #3 bore Committee), Dizzy Gillespie, Al Hirt, Blue Mitchell, Lee Morgan, Red Rodney, and Clark Terry. The popularity of these older horns remain. Currently, light jazz player and Sting collaborator Chris Botti plays a 1939 large bore Handcraft Committee (his own website misidentifies the model) and Wallace Roney , as he explains below, plays both classic Committees and the modern versions.
Perry D´Andrea describes the features of the classic Committee and attempts to understand its popularity.
The old Committee has a warm-dark-amber-glow to the sound that no other horn can come close to duplicating. There’s no other horn out there, new or old, that plays quite like a Committee. Some of the brand new pro horns of various makes have a “fatter” sound, that new, fat, spread-out, big-bottom sound with a biting, projecting edge that bounces off the back wall, that almost ALL new pro horns have. It almost has a cliched commercial quality to it, it’s become so rampant now. And it has less density. That sound is nothing like the much denser yet still rounded warm, pancakes on the griddle in the back room sound of the Committee.
As I understand it, the unique feature of the older Committees that was so much dug by the vintage jazz players was the fact that the Committees did NOT slot well. Rather than bite into a pitch, the Committees easily slid up and down on a pitch. I feel that about my 1949 Committee and use it for that effect. Players, like Miles, who loved to manipulate individual pitches, naturally gravitated to the Committee. Of course, that’s the same feature that others describe as difficult intonation.
Wallace Roney describes a couple of Committees from Miles Davis’ collection:
I have two of Miles Davis’s horns of these vintages. One is an all copper Committee, black and copper color with a medium bore that progresses to a large bore. I also have a blue one that is a RMC Martin. It starts at . 342 in the leadpipe, at the end of the leadpipe, is . 453, the tuning slide, tapers to 460. The end of the tuning tube, is 462, and through the valves, it’s 468 and the bell-tail is . 474. This is an amazing horn–it’s all brass, but the inner slides are all nickel/silver. I’ve been trying to find another horn like that all my life, but can’t seem to find one, because I do not take this horn out, although I’ve used it on some of my best recordings. Although both horns play magnificently, I’ve been trying to find one just like this particular Martin Committee. I’ve also seen a photo of Dizzy Gillespie playing this same vintage only with a solid silver bell, and no it wasn’t his King trumpet.
Although primarily thought of as a jazz trumpet, there were a number of orchestral players and recitalists, including Armando Ghitalla, who also played the Committee, especially prior to the Bach C trumpet dominance of recent times.
The Martin Committees made by Holton/LeBlanc:
Dave Miller, who loves and knows as much about Committees as anybody, has this to say about the last version of the Committee:
The main difference is the leadpipe/crook configuration, particularly its bore. With the older Martin, the bore expands as it makes the curve of the main tuning slide. Now I see Callet and others using this design. With the new Martin, the bore remains the same. Leadpipe-to-bell bracing is pretty much the same. However, the brace within the two receivers of the #1 slide are gone. The back bell bow on the new Martin is not as round as the original Martin. The newer Martin bell is slightly larger too.
The location of the water key nipple is now located where most manufacturers position theirs. The original Martin’s were more to the side (and higher), and resulted in a “spitty” sound quicker than most horns, since the moisture could not collect in the nipple. You’ll hear Miles “get wet” quite often in his older recordings. By installing Amado water keys on my horn, I guess it comes closer to the original, at least as far as spittiness in sound is concerned.
And of course, the pistons are different. I prefer the monel of the new, but here’s what gets me about Holton-made products–the blasted valve stems. The valve stems of the new Martin (as well as most Holtons) are nickel plated brass. The action would be so much quicker if Holton would tool some anodized aluminum valve stems for some of their products besides their student horns. Unfortunately, those particular stems will not fit on the Martin or MF horns. Bach stems will not fit either. The lighter weight of the aluminum stems could really make this horn take off, in my opinion. As it is now, valve action is “weighty”. This is one thing I am still trying to get right on my newer Martin.
The real question should be “How does the sound compare to the original?”. In my case, I really love the sound, and believe it or not, on some classical things, like the Charlier. The new Martin has several characteristics of the old. One is the slight distortion on the lower end. You can really hear this when slurring from low C to D. The vibrations set up in the horn interfere with the tone. This is a classic feature however. Listen to some Miles and you’ll hear what I am talking about. I am of the belief that it is the light bracing of the bell that causes this distortion. It is also this light bracing that caused one famous trumpet player to end up playing an upswept bell Committee after someone tripped over his horn. Martin produced several of these horns for Dizzy and his band after the accident.
The pure tone of the new Martin is quite nice. Response is a bit different than the old ones, but in my opinion, it is more even.
The two things that I think would improve the newer Martin would be:
- Go back to the original design and configuration of the leadpipe and tuning slide.
- Give me a quicker valve action. Throw away all those tooled brass stems and go aluminum.
Renold Schilke, towards the end of his life, also noticed the differences in the then newly released Holton/LeBlanc version. As Wallace Roney tells the story,
Mr. Schilke met Larry Ramirez [the designer of the new Committee] at [Schilke’s] last Brass Conference before he died [in 1982], and in his usual gruff way strolled over to the Martin booth, and said “let me see what you all did with my trumpets! ” He looked at it, felt the outside of the horn and it’s tubing, looked at Larry and said, “Boy, you all really messed up my horn, you all don’t know what you are doing over there.” Larry humbly said to him, “Master Schilke, I humbly respect you, can you please tell me what I’m doing wrong?” Mr. Schilke smiled, and put his arm around him, took him in the back, and told him everything for hours.
The next day, Mr. Schilke would visit Larry’s booth, and he stated “you’re going to be all right kid.” He told Larry that he also used to work for Holton, but the Martin Committee was his pride and joy until he started making his own horns.
LeBlanc/Holton announced in 2004 that they had recently measured the trumpet of “smooth” jazzer Chris Botti, a vintage Committee, and they planned to introduce into production a copy of that early Martin Committee model. Perhaps the deficiencies of the current LeBlanc Committee model would have been the rectified. However, the disappearance of Martin from the Conn-Selmer product line in 2008 ends those hopes.
And finally, custom trumpet maker Roy Lawler has historically had a model based on the Committee in his catalog. He now has yet a new version called the Lawler Committee (model C7), which is certainly worth investigating if you are looking for a modern interpretation of the classic trumpet.
Interestingly, the Committee was also made in the key of C, though I can’t imagine that there are many of them around. As few as there may be, however, here are pictures of one. I’ve been told that Amando Ghittala played one.
There were also Committee cornets (pictures here) and a Committee flugelhorn, a truly weird design, but not so weird that Miles Davis didn’t play one on the classic big band recordings made with Gil Evans (pictures here).
The Magna was introduced in 1955 and shared top of the line honors with the Committee. There is little apparent difference between the Magna and the Committee except the Magna had a copper bell, a brace on the tuning slide, Bach-like third valve slide stop rod, and conventional water keys, like the Handcraft Committee above. In contrast, the Committee had those “hip,” in Wallace Roney’s words, S-braces, and the trombone like water keys.
Kenny Dorham played a Magna from 1958 through 62. Mic Gillette of Tower of Power fame also played a Magna. Carl Dershem tells me that the Magna that Mic Gillette played was somewhere between the Committee and Magna. They made 48, of which 42 had a .470 bore, and the other 6 were .484. All had a 6″ bell,and the brace between the tuning slide and bell was removed.
There was even, at least towards the end, a Magna C trumpet which was designed to be played in orchestras. it featured a rose brass bell and a first valve trigger.
Martin Mouthpieces: Martin also made a few unique mouthpieces. For pictures, go here.
Serial Number Lists
There seems to be some controversy about this, mostly because the most common list, found at Lars Kirsmer’s Music Trader, seems to be so wrong.
The list found at Edwin van Druten’s Martin sax site seems to be much much closer based on everything I’ve seen.
The quick and dirty way, according to Dave Johnson, is to divide the serial number by 4000 and add that number to 1906 to get an approximate date of manufacture. It is pretty close.
There is also another list, provided me by Jon Lisbeth, assembled earlier by a group of Committee owners, that is apparently the state of the art, as far as it goes. This pretty much agrees with the Dutch sax guy’s list.
- 1919: 17200 (This is the earliest that can be verified according to LeBlanc)
- 1921: 34100 – 40609
- 1922: 40610 – 47118
- 1923: 47119 – 53627
- 1924: 53628 – 60136
- 1925: 60137 – 66645
- 1926: 66646 – 73154
- 1927: 73155 – 79663
- 1928: 79664 – 86172
- 1929: 86173 – 92681
- 1930: 92682 – 99190
- 1931: 99191 – 105700 Calculated average: 1921 – 1931: 6509 horns/year
- 1932: 105701 – 108724
- 1933: 108725 – 111747
- 1934: 111748 – 114770
- 1935: 114771 – 117793
- 1936: 117794 – 120816
- 1937: 120817 – 123839
- 1938: 123840 – 126862
- 1939: 126863 – 129885
- 1940: 129886 – 132908
- 1941: 132909 – 135931
- 1942: 135932 – 138954
- 1943: 138955 – 141977
- 1944: 141978 – 145000 calculated total: 1932 – 1944 = 3023 horns/year
There’s another list from Rob Stewart in Arcadia, CA that’s pretty close and adds about 19 years.
- 1919 17221
- 1920 19482
- 1921 19933-23781
- 1922 29942
- 1923 34838
- 1924 40644
- 1925 48489-54853
- 1926 62852-72051
- 1927 79204
- 1928 86687
- 1929 92536
- 1930 98324
- 1931 101622
- 1932 105096
- 1933 106546
- 1934 108301
- 1935 111253
- 1936 116551
- 1937 118038
- 1938 126998
- 1939 132070
- 1940 136040
- 1941 140199
- 1942 144455
- 1943 145322
- 1944 000000
- 1945 145352
- 1946 154289
- 1947 161520
- 1948 165326
- 1949 170395
- 1950 172215
- 1951 175140
- 1952 179317
- 1953 183125
- 1954 187614
- 1955 193747
- 1956 194213
- 1957 201809
- 1958 203917
- 1959 205377
- 1960 209089
- 1961 211675
- 1962 213999
- 1963 218855
- 1964 700000
I’m indebted to the following for their contributions and I’m exceedingly grateful for them: Bill Adam, David Brewer, Ted Carson, Carl Dershem, Jeff Helgeson, Douglas Kerr, Jon Lisbeth, Richard Mason, David Miller, Rich Moore, Jane Hunter Parker, Bob Pucci, Wallace Roney, Marek Skwarczynskii, Anna Smith, and Toby Wolpe.
© 2003 – 2008 by James F. Donaldson
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