|Glen Newton plays a piccolo trumpet while, in the background, Roseville Big Band trumpeters Harvey Skow and Dan Menken play standard B-flat trumpets.|
The piccolo trumpet (often simply called "the picc" by trumpeters) is the highest-pitched member of the trumpet family. Although piccolo trumpets are built in several different pitches, the most common (such as the one Glen Newton is playing in the picture above) is pitched in B-flat, an octave above the standard mezzo-soprano trumpet used in bands.
Many piccolo trumpets have four valves. The first three serve the same purpose as the three valves of a standard mezzo-soprano trumpet. The fourth valve lowers the pitch a perfect fourth, so it is roughly equivalent to the combination of the first and third valves. (It is usually not exactly equivalent because generally the combination of first and third valves is sharp, whereas the player tunes the fourth valve to give an in-tune perfect fourth.)
In the picture above, the fourth valve slide and water key are easily seen under the instrument's bell.
Contrary to popular belief, playing a piccolo trumpet does not automatically extend the performer's high range. It does, however, reduce the number of possible notes that can be played with any given fingering, thus potentially transforming blatently wrong high notes into merely cracked or out-of-tune notes. This in itself would not account for the instrument's popularity. Rather, the piccolo trumpet is valued for the tone it produces, which is a result of its shorter tubing, smaller bell, proportionally narrower tubing, and the somewhat shallower mouthpiece cup and different mouthpiece backbore often employed by its players.
More common in other musical venues, such as baroque chamber music and brass ensembles, the piccolo trumpet nevertheless has a role in jazz and big band music. For example, trumpeter Clyde McCoy (whose hit recording of "Sugar Blues" was performed on a standard B-flat trumpet) sometimes played piccolo trumpet with his big band.
In the picture above, Glen Newton plays a piccolo trumpet solo in the Roseville Big Band's rendition of "Sing, Sing, Sing" on the March 22, 1994, concert at Edinborough Park. He has also played piccolo trumpet, both open and with a straight mute, on other concerts, particularly favoring its light sound over the standard trumpet's richer tone for solos on some of the band's Latin selections.
Click here to see a piccolo trumpet alongside a cornet, trumpet, and flugelhorn.