May 14 is the birthday of Sidney Bechet, one of the bedrock performers in jazz. Great player, but whenever I hear Bechet blow, I want him to take about 35% off his vibrato. On the other hand, you could drive a charette through Louis Armstrong's vibrato, but it connects with me while Bechet's doesn't.
My emotional responses not withstanding, Bechet and Armstrong both fall in the category of "hot" players and, in general, the degree to which a player utilizes vibrato marks him as either "hot" or "cool."
It's the most straightforwardly emotional part of the arsenal that horn players, especially trumpet players, can call on, some of which I mentioned in my Lee Morgan post: half-valve, smears, shakes, rips, growls, flutter-tonguing, double and triple tonguing, false fingering and vibrato.
Vibrato is hard to hear in short notes, so it's mostly about held tones: quarter, half or whole notes. It can be applied either through the player's lips or through his hands moving the horn at whatever rate he wants the vibrato to be (more violent hand movements become "shakes").
Vibrato as exemplar of hot and cool goes back pretty far into jazz history. It's been personified by the difference between Louis Armstrong and Bix Biederbecke, or Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. Miles Davis brought the cool approach pretty much as far as it would go, but while the notion of "cool" became bundled with less vibrato. everyone, even MIles, has some vibrato in their playing. Hot or cool is less a question of whether it's there, but how "heavy" or "wide" it is; how subtle or overt.
Vibrato has been one way that improvisers-and, of course, musicians in general-have tried to communicate emotion to an audience. That kind of exposure to overt (unhip) emotion seems to have become less acceptable and/or less effective, in the jazz environment. Do improvisers still want to connect emotionally with an audience? Of course, but as I've said a few times here at Brilliant Corners, a lot of that emotional connection appears to be missing and seems to a large extent to reside more in the vocalist's domain.
[All the above links go to musical examples, so I hope you check them out].
Next time: Vocalists and Vibrato.