Sam’s Resume

Trombonist, Lower Brass Player, Composer, Arranger, Educator

Education: Ithaca College, 1963-1965, majoring in tuba and composition.
Berklee School of Music, 1966-1968, trombone and composition major.
Moved in 1969 to New York, after short stints w/ Buddy Rich and Woody Herman, and has since been a busy freelance musician specializing in recording, jazz, and the musics of Latin America as a trombonist, bass trombonist, tubist, composer and arranger. He also studied with the renowned brass teacher Carmine Caruso for over 15 years.

Currently: Trombonist, soloist and composer/arranger w/the Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, a band that has been appearing every Sunday night for fourteen years at Birdland in New York City .

Lead trombonist and soloist w/The Mambo Legends, a 21 piece ensemble that is dedicated to playing, further developing and preserving the authentic New York City styles of latin music that were established by such great bands as the Tito Puente, Machito and Tito Rodriquez Orchestras.

Lead trombonist, soloist and arranger w/the Mike Longo New York City State Of The Art Big Band.

Trombonist and Transcriber/Arranger with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, directed by David Baker. Mr. Burtis has been a member of the orchestra since its inception in 1991 under the direction of both David Baker and Gunther Schuller. He plays bass trombone, valve trombone and tuba w/the orchestra as well as tenor trombone.

Work history: 1993-1995: The original Music Director (providing many of the arrangements and transcriptions and acting as conductor), lead trombonist and a featured soloist of the Charles Mingus Big Band.

1989-1996: Trombonist and arranger/composer for the Tito Puente Latin Jazz Ensemble and the Tito Puente Orchestra.

1975-1980: Bass trombone, tenor trombone, tuba and arranger/composer w/The Lee Konitz Nonet.

1973-1977: Lead trombone w/the Bill Watrous-led big band, Manhattan
Wildlife Refuge.

A partial list of other well-known artists with whom he has worked since coming to New York would include:

The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Band /Vanguard Orchestra
Eddie Palmieri
Charles Mingus
Dizzy Gillespie
Gil Evans
Quincy Jones
Dave Mathews
Jimmy Knepper
Dave Taylor
Roswell Rudd
The Duke Ellington Orchestra
Wynton Marsalis and The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra
Larry Harlow/Latin Legends
The Alegre All Stars
The Fania All Stars
Ruben Blades
The Spanish Harlem Orchestra
John Abercrombie
Carla Bley
Chuck Isreals
Willie Colon
Edy Martinez
David Sanborn
Randy Brecker
Michael Brecker
Eumir Deodato
Britt Woodman
John Faddis
The Count Basie Orchestra

He was also a featured soloist and member of the 36 piece orchestra that premiered Charles Mingus’s Epitaph at Lincoln Center and later toured Europe, Russia, and the United States under the direction of Gunther Schuller and was a first-call player during the busiest years of the commercial studio scene in NYC, including playing and soloing on literally hundreds of recordings for Fania Records during the booming salsa years.

Mr. Burtis has performed on innumerable commercials, records and in at least forty Broadway and off-Broadway shows during his time in New York, has been associated with both the New School and The Mannes School of Music in New York City, Prince Klaus Conservatory (Groningen, Holland), Lehigh University and the New Jersey Performance Arts Center/Jazz For Teens program as a brass and music theory/composition/American musical idioms teacher, has taught many private students both individually and in clinic situations, and has (most often under the web name of Sabutin) contributed hundreds of columns and posts on advanced techniques of playing the trombone to his own sites The Open Horn (a pan-brass discussion forum) and SamBurtis.Com, plus The Trombone Forum , The Online Trombone Journal and The British Trombone Society Forum. His first trombone method book, The American Trombone (published in 2002) was received with great enthusiasm by literally thousands of trombonists and his new book, Time, Balance And Connections-A Universal Theory Of Brass Relativity (Trombone Edition) which was published in 2009 can be ordered directly from him at his website. Further editions for valved instruments in treble and bass clefs will soon follow.

Sam plays S.E. Shires trombones exclusively, encouraged Steve Shires to start producing sub-.547 bore instruments, helped him when Steve started designing them and often appears at conventions and festivals at the Shires exhibit.

In view of his extraordinarily wide range of experience both as a performer and as a composer/arranger/music director in so many idioms, Mr. Burtis can teach trombone, lower brass, brass, Jazz and Latin ensembles, the history of Jazz and Latin music, theory, harmony, composition, studio and professional performance techniques and improvisation, as well as appearing with and writing for student ensembles in concert. For further information please call (718) 796-4413 or email him at

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BREAKTHROUGH!!! (I have finally broken the embouchure code, I think.)

OK…hot off the press, hot out of the practice room/laboratory on this matter. (8/6/09 + counting)

Those of you who have had lessons w/me or attended one of my clinics know that I deal with the idea of hearing, identifying, isolating and controlling “formants”…the overtones that are more (or less) emphasized above a brass player’s sound…as a way to practice long tones. I have been studying and practicing vocal techniques for isolating those formants above my voice for many years. Check out David Hykes and the Harmonic Choir for more on this idea. There are other approaches, other techniques that are used to do this vocally but I took a lesson w/Mr. Hykes 20+ years ago and have used his approach to do certain meditational exercises on a regular basis ever since that time.

However, this is a brass/trombone site, so I will limit my comments here to what I have found recently…over the last several weeks, actually…regarding the use of this idea coupled with freebuzzing to essentially “break the embouchure code”. I use that term advisedly, by the way. On the evidence of what has happening with my chop over the last few weeks I believe that I have indeed found the Rosetta Stone that unlocks the secret of relatively effortless brass playing through any and all reachable octaves.

Let me begin by saying this:

The use of vowels…as in “A E I O U”, as they have been taught by any number of brass teachers…is too unfocused and too artificial to be of much use to a brass player who wants to be able to play in a truly expressive manner.

When are you going to use a particular vowel sound?

Where does one vowel sound end and another begin? Long A? Short A? Which long or short A? French, German, English, Japanese, Fiji Island, North Carolina, Manchester England, Maine? Ridiculous on the face of it. On which note of which phrase of which melody or accompanying harmonic pad? If that’s the way you that are going to approach this idea…which is simplistic beyond belief, actually…then you are much, much better off with the Arnold Jacobs “Song and Wind” idea. If you are musically gifted, play the horn well and understand the idiom in which you are playing, then the proper vowel sounds will automatically happen as you play a given phrase of music. See the vid of this Clark Terry clinic for a fine illustration of how a real artist approaches this idea in a musical sense.

However on a purely physical level I have found that combining the study of my own vocal breaks…head, chest, mixed range etc. in the bel canto sense of the terms…with an experiential knowledge of:

1- How to isolate overtones vocally through about 16 partials using the David Hykes approach.
2- How to identify the overtones that make a given trombone or tuba sound “good” according to my own definitions of that word.
3- Freebuzzing techniques and the application of those techniques directly to
playing the horn without large or unacceptable compromises between the

has provided an unexpected breakthrough in my whole embouchure study.

Long story short? (Remember…I am only a couple of weeks into this idea.)

As a way to set up my own inner resonance system…chest, throat, back of tongue, soft palate, the rest of the tongue, jaw position, lips etc…so that when I freebuzz any given note the setting(s) for that note are the most efficient ones that are possible for me to achieve, all I have to do is to sing the note while my lips are in some sort of ready-to-buzz position and isolate the overtones which would be most desirable to me if I was playing the note on the trombone (The 5th and 6th partials, mostly. The 3rd and 5th of the “trombone” chord.), then w/out appreciable change of that system transfer said “buzz” from my vocal cords to my lips, then place the m’pce on my chops (again w/out serious compromises) and start playing.

The results have been truly amazing to me. Almost effortless playing and much-improved connections throughout ranges…up down and middle…where previously there had been required much more effort. Physical effort and/or attention effort.

I have been sneaking up on this idea for several years in terms of freebuzzing, but this seems to have capped it off. In the previous week or so, besides a great deal of practice I played a strenuous two set lead/solo gig w/the Chico O’Farrill Band, a three hour rehearsal followed by a two set gig with the Mike Longo Band on the same day (!!!) and a two rehearsals with an amplified rhythm section and three horns playing hard parts and long solos for a gig this week. (Mike Longo’s “Funk Band”. Dizzy Gillespie-style funk. Funk with deep harmonic changes. Beautiful stuff.) During all of that time I played my smallest equipment…a gold-plated Shires .500 bore w/a Minick 11C-ish m’pce…and I swear to you it now sounds and feels almost as big as my favorite .525 Shires/Clarke L setup only with about one quarter of the effort that I have had to make in the past on the same equipment. Double Bbs, good low range, singing mid-range, good connections (Until fatigue sets in, anyway. ..which has happened much later than has been usual for me.)…the works.

Now…please…I am not trying to blow my own horn or brag here. After 40 years of trying to learn how to play, it’s about damned time that I figured something out.

And there is much more to learn.

But there it is.

Use it if you can.

Expand upon it if you can…I would love to get some feedback.

You know that I’ll be on it like white on rice.

And…have fun.

I am.



P.S. For an ongoing discussion of this still-developing idea, Please go to this thread on my discussion site, The Open Horn. As I stated above, I would appreciate any and all feedback on this matter. Subscription to the site is easy, and there is a great deal of other information available there as well.

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“Shifts” Pt. I

I got into a discussion about “shifts” recently and some interesting stuff came out of it. Here is an edited version of some of my contributions to that discussion. Remember…this is not just about pedal tones. As above, so below. All of these concepts work in any direction on any brass instrument. Bet on it.-S.


Comment from savio: I did try yesterday to see what shift I have. I can play legato from low pedal F up to high Bb and also C and D and down again. Without moving the mouthpiece on my lips. The problem for me is the high where I press to much and yes I hate to say it but the very high Bb and above is maybe a bit smiley. I try to work on that and have problems playing a melody above F. Don’t have control there even I can play them.

When I get under pedal F my dynamic goes weaker. I try to do that shift Alan Raph do but I don’t get the same effect as him.

Sam: Once again…”Not moving the m’pce on the lips” is not the be-all or end-all of embouchure study, and one player’s effective shift motion is not necessarily going to work for someone else.

You say: “I can play legato from low pedal F up to high Bb and also C and D and down again. Without moving the mouthpiece on my lips.”

But then you also say: “The problem for me is the high where I press to much…”

“I hate to say it but the very high Bb and above is maybe a bit smiley.”


“I try to work on that and have problems playing a melody above F. Don’t have control there even I can play them.”

Your first statement is a bow to the “no shifting” idea…an idea that is suspect if only by the lack of understanding evinced by so many people who try to use it…and the following three statements prove that (as you are using it) that idea is not working. It is not working to your own satisfaction at the very least.

One at a time here:

#1-“I can play legato from low pedal F up to high Bb and also C and D and down again. Without moving the mouthpiece on my lips.”

What do you mean by “not moving the m’pce”, savio? Do you play with a totally dry embouchure? I do, and through most of my range I also try to not move the m’pce on my lips through my major range areas. But on the closest examination…and my exercises (the ones that I call Micro-Connection Exercises) allow for some really accurate observation of this phenomenon…there is indeed some minimal movement of the m’pce on my lips through certain areas of my range. This is especially noticeable if I am either a little out of shape or if I have been playing one size of equipment and I’m trying to get in balance on another size. If I play with a wet embouchure those tendencies become even worse. Short of applying Super Glue to the chops and m’pce, there will sometimes be motion of this sort. And further…this in not the only (or even the most common) kind of troublesome motion that occurs in embouchure systems. The most common kind of motion is motion of the m’pce and lips against the teeth in an upward or downward direction. The Reinhardt Pivot System is basically dedicated to understanding and categorizing that kind of motion so that the player can understand his natural tendencies in that regard and maximize the potential of his own physical system (a system that is largely dictated by his physical facial makeup) by using that understanding.

There are other motions as well…side-to-side, excessive pressure or not enough pressure which causes a bad air seal (both of which are essentially in-and-out motions although they are limited by the teeth in one direction and air seal necessities in the upother), twisting or torquing motions of the m’pce on the lips without moving its actual geographic position on them, motion of the m’pce and lips against the teeth in any direction through 360 degrees of possibilities, jaw motions which in themselves dictate m’pce motions, changes of m’pce angle through 360 dgrees…the list of possibilities is nearly endless. We are dealing with a three-dimensional system here, a system which is further complicated by the plasticity of the lips themselve. We have two totally immobile hard machines here…the m/pce rim and the teeth…interfacing with the soft machine of the lips and the movable machine (again through a three-dimensional range) of the jaw.

Hoo BOY!!!

No wonder we have problems figuring it all out.

So you can “play legato from low pedal F up to high Bb and also C and D and down again. Without moving the mouthpiece on [your] lips,” eh? Possibly, although I question the scale of your observation to some degree. But…what about all of those other motions?

And then comes the big question.

Do you really think…especially given the plain fact that you change physically from minute to minute (That’s what a warm-op is about, as are tired chops, endurance problems, etc.), day to day (“We’re only human.”-Carmine Caruso) and year to year…do you really believe that you can think about all of these aspects of embouchure and still play music?

I don’t.

Carmine Caruso taught all his students to tap their foot and mentally subdivide in sixteenth notes while doing his exercises. He claimed that rather than try to figure out which muscles and nerves to control (and precisely how to control them) among the thousands necessary to perform any action on the horn, the application of good time and repetition would allow those muscles and nerves to align themselves in the most efficient manner necessary to provide the desired results.

He used the story of the centipede and the ant to illustrate the idea of paralysis through analysis.

Once there were an ant and a centipede living in the same house, and the centipede was continually chasing the ant around, meaning to eat it for dinner. (Centipedes are quite vicious, you know. And fast, too.)

Up and down, back and forth, the chase went on, under the sofa, across the living room, behind the bed, around the garbage pail, day after day after day after day. One day the ant found himself looking down on the centipede from the safety of a high table.

And the ant had an inspiration.

“Hey! Yo! Up here, ya dummy! Yeah, right up above you!”

The centipede looked up.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you a question, but with all this running around, I never got a chance.”

“What?”, said the centipede.

“You’re real fast with all those legs and all, I know, but I often find myself wondering as I hide beneath the rug or under the bread basket….WHICH LEG DO YOU MOVE FIRST?”

And the centipede never moved again.

Paralysis by analysis was Carmine’s name for this tendency.


So…what to do, what to do…

And that brings us inevitably to:

#2-“The problem for me is the high where I press to much…”

“I hate to say it but the very high Bb and above is maybe a bit smiley.”


“I try to work on that and have problems playing a melody above F. Don’t have control there even I can play them.”

In Bel Canto terms (the 19th century Italian operatic teaching system that is still with us and in good repute to this day), it sounds to me like you are “hauling chest”. Bel Canto teaching deals with what they call chest voice, head voice and mixed voice. Chest voice equals the “normal” speaking voice of most humans, male and female; head voice equals the so-called falsetto voice (in which some number of women speak most of the time) and mixed voice is what happens when a studied singer extends both the head voice up and the chest voice down so that they effectively overlap. (This is a very simple overview of a quite complex process, of course.) For example, when you hear a straining operatic tenor almost shouting his high range…that is “hauling chest”. He is pulling his chest voice up too far.


Sound familiar, savio?

I think it might.

Now, short of being there in the same room with you I cannot tell you specifically how you should approach this problem, but the problem itself?

There it is, I am willing to bet.

It’s not just about “moving or not moving the m’pce on the lips”…as I have established above, there are so many more aspects of embouchure movement that such a concept begins to appear extremely simplistic…it’s about finding out how to play in that register (or any other register, for that matter) with the minimum of strain and then connecting it with your other, stronger (More “natural”?) registers.

And of course:

#3-“When I get under pedal F my dynamic goes weaker. I try to do that shift Alan Raph do but I don’t get the same effect as him.”

That downward interval exercise that I posted here recently?

Sevenths down
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That exercise can be played in any interval, starting in any range, in any key or scale, in any meter and starting on any subdivision. And it can be inverted. It can also be played with the intervals going in one direction but the overall progression of the exercise going in another.

Here are three examples of this idea, all headed towards finding a way to play the pedals and subpedals. They can be played on any trombone, from a bass right on through the smallest tenor equipment, and done right they can be incredibly effective. “Done right” is the kicker, of course. There are simply too many applicable and important variations and principles to sketch them all out here. The simplest and most important ones of all?

They should be done:

1-In good internal time while striving not to make large embouchure motions no matter how strange the initial notes may feel in extreme registers.

2-Stopping when a note doesn’t sound and then starting again at that interval and continuing until when you re-start once again the note does not sound at which point you have finished the exercise.


3-Beginning w/smaller intervals and progressing through to larger ones at least during the first few months.

And of course…not getting obsessive about the practice. Not overdoing it (maybe 5%-10% of your practice, maximum) plus always going back to the middle ranges and re-establishing the way you normally play after wandering around down there for a while.

Have fun…

Thirds up, going down
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Fourths up
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Fifths down, going up
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P.S. Remember…these are just examples. Find your own way in.

You be bettah off.

Bet on it.

(This in turn led to more discussion. Read “Shifts” Pt. II if you are further interested.)

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