John Wilbraham FRAM 1944–1998

This site has been established to pay tribute to the legendary trumpeter John Wilbraham (1944–1998).

John was affectionately known by his friends and colleagues as ‘Jumbo’, though he hated others to assume such familiarity. He was a larger than life character, who liked to tell stories and about whom many tales are still told today by brass players and other musicians alike.

He has a loyal band of former students, who often regarded him as a guru or mentor figure and who still continue to pass on his trumpet technique and philosophies to this day.  A Wilbraham pupil was prepared not just for blowing the instrument, but for living the life of a jobbing musician.

It is with this background as an inspirational teacher, player and friend that this site has been established, in order for people to share their memories of the big man and to continue his enduring legacy.

The site has a growing number of photographs, stories and quotes, so if you have any to share it would be really great to hear from you.

Wilbraham Cartoon

A Short Biography

John Wilbraham was born in Bournemouth on 15 April 1944. From 1962 to 1965 he studied at the Royal Academy of Music, where he was awarded the Silver Medal of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. Subsequently, he also studied with the legendary French player Maurice Andre. His career began in 1966, with the New Philharmonia Orchestra. He made his first solo recording the following year. Thereafter, he was Principal Trumpet of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and in the late 1980s, Co-Principal of the Philharmonia.

As performer and recording artist, John was particularly associated with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and with the English Chamber Orchestra. He also played for Karl Richter’s Munich Bach Orchestra, and for five year was a member of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. A brilliant player of baroque music on the piccolo trumpet, he was no less accomplished in the twentieth-century repertoire. His playing inspired a number of contemporary composers to write for him.

Wilbraham was both a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music and Professor or Trumpet. He also taught at the Birmingham School of Music, the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, the National Youth Orchestra and Wells Cathedral School. He was a member of the board of examiners of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and the Paris Conservatoire.

When John died in April 1998 obituaries appeared in The Telegraph and Guardian Newspapers.

New: Here is a video we put together containing photos of John as a teenager, along with a rare recording of him at the age of 15 playing the trumpet and singing in a jazz band:

[Site designed and maintained by Antony Kearns]

15 thoughts on “Home

  1. Great to see this site ! After suffering a major embouchure set back from a cycling accident I received one of the best bits of advice from John when I was a student … To move my mouthpiece higher on my face ….
    Wonderful man … Great player and teacher …. Thanks John

  2. I was learning the trumpet, as ya do, just started the Haydn at 14, then my teacher (Bill Flood, Liverpool, yes I’m a scoucer) played me a recording of the Hummel ( so there’s 2 pieces then I thought), must get it & the music. I took at least 2 weeks pocket money & via the Liverpool Music library I went into Rushworths to find a recording. Then for the first time my eyes fell on a very large close up of Jumbo in a thoughtful pose over a strange looking miniature trumpet with four valves (thinking 3 fingers was hard enough to cope with I kinda hoped that the Hummel didn’t need 4 fingers!), the Hummel was on it so I bought it at 17/6d!
    I got home dashed it on the HMV slapped the music on the stand, made a cup of tea during the intro, counted down, 1,2,3 crash, ouch, wallop I was in semi-tones to the record! Christ mate I thought WTF are you doing this in D, it’s in Eb just like the Haydn init (apart from the fact we didn’t say init in those days).
    11 years later I was called for a 10am call with the Royal Opera Coventry Garden on Die Meistersingers as one of the tower trumpeters, & there standing before me was he, the man who recorded the Hummel in the wrong f****** key & cost me 17/6d for a non-play-along beer mat! As I had the advantage I said, Mr. Wilbraham I presume, he answered me in a very smooth low key enthusiastic tone, “yes young man” he replied, “you owe me 17/6d” he laughed while still hold of my hand & I told him the painful story! That night he took me out personally & showed me every fab pub in Coventry Garden (as I’d only been in London for 3 months) & shared with me the history of his playing life & love of the trumpet & his constant strive to do better & work out new ways of thinking round it! We played several times at the Garden together before he took a sabbatical at Kneller. I never saw him again, but like 300 others I attended his funeral. A real mensch of the trumpet. God bless.

  3. I remember studying (tuba) at the Welsh College of Music and Drama (it wasn’t Royal in those days) in the late 1980s and he was one of our external examiners for brass. After my first year he never examined me again but I entered the college’s ’20th Century Brass Prize’ in my final year and he was the judge for that.

    Before announcing the prizes, he told one of his customary tales. He was illustrating the difference between technical excellence and musical performance. He used a wonderful phrase, which I still sometimes use with young musicians I’m working with: ‘If you want exciting music, you have to allow for the occasional exciting mistake!’

    I was stunned to find I’d won the prize (my performnce had a few exciting moments) – and this has stuck with me ever since. Music is about communication, not just perfection. he had a great way of reminding me what I already knew and bringing it back into my consiousness.

  4. Only had the pleasure of meeting John a few times. Remember doing a Verdi Requiem gig with him at St. Davids Cathedral. Lots of fun and he could tell a few stories with his own sense of fun. Also remember talking to him about one of my teachers at Birmingham Conservatoire another trumpet legend Alan Whithead ( ex Principal Trumpet CBSO). Pleasure to have played with him. Great Musician.

  5. I remember John talking to me about my chops problems during a lesson for a while. He had me doing some exercises etc. and took the problem apart then put me back together again etc. At the end of it he told me ‘My biggest problem James is getting the bloody VAT worked out’.

  6. On a NYO course at Repton School approx. 1985, the brass rehearsal rooms were burgled one afternoon whilst we were all in full orchestra rehearsal. I had my wallet stolen which contained a small amount of cash, and a condom. Anyway, Jumbo realised what was happening, and unbeknown to anyone else, he stood in the doorway of the rehearsal room where the thieves were and blocked their escape. No-one in their right mind would try to get through a doorway being blocked by John they did not. The embarassing thing was me at the age of 16 having to include in my statement of loss to the police that I had contraceptive sheaths in my wallet. I was scared out of my wits about what Miss Dickson would have to say about that. Jumbo and John Fletcher and the rest of the brass managed to help me adjust my attitude to the situation though, and it all turned out very well 😀

  7. I used to get the train to London once a month from Bridlington in YorkshIre for my lessons with John. Nine times out of ten the trains were OK and I was on business in Phil Parker’s Basement by 11am for my lesson start time. My younger brother Mike used to come down with me and he loved the attention he got from Jumbo and Phil Parker. Phil showed him the ‘Woodchopper’s Ball’ characature on his studio wall which was hilarious. Jumbo told Mike that ‘All James needs now is a brain’ and indeed yes he was of course correct again!

  8. What an excellent idea: a site to pay tribute to John. He and I first met through mutual friends in 1983. I am not a musician, but I did enjoy his playing and I did benefit from some timely words of help from him at a particularly difficult time. We would meet from time to time over the years and I enjoyed some of his stories, particularly those associated with gigs away from the classical platform. For example, there’s a nice visual joke in the 1984 version of the film of ”A Christmas Carol”, the one with George C Scott as Scrooge, in which the huge figure of JW playing a tiny piccolo trumpet and his friend (I seem to recall the name Alfie) with his tiny frame almost hidden by some huge brass instrument, playing Christmas music. John’s death at the absurdly early age of 53 came as a great shock, but at least we have his recordings and the memories, such as those here, of those who knew him. I understand, also, that his ashes were, very appropriately, scattered in ‘Elgar country’.

  9. I have the BAROQUE TRUMPET CONCERTOS record that John Wilbraham recorded some time ago. It was one of my early “small trumpet” recording purchases and served/serves as an example of that kind of playing to strive for. CHARLES BRANDEBURY/Principal Trumpet/ Roswell (NM) Symphony Orchestra

  10. Really nice to see this website. I had about five lessons with John when I was going through a major chops change back in the late 1980’s. Apart from telling me the things I needed to do to establish my new embouchure, in a very direct and simple to understand way, he made me feel that everything was going to work out OK, which it did. I thank him a lot for that. He also completely changed my approach to playing the trumpet, as I know he did for many. It’s a great shame that John’s not still with us.

  11. I was coming towards the end of my 1st year at the Birmingham School of Music. The year had gone well with good exam results and awards and prizes. I was informed that in my 2nd year I would be studying with John Wilbraham and that he would like to see me before the Summer break. I dutifully fixed up a lesson time and John listened and watched me play for 2 mins before patiently and clearly explaining that I needed to change my embouchure. He detailed the changes and how I should make them. I listened carefully and when he had finished said, “OK, I”ll give that a go over the Summer holidays and if it doesn’t work I suppose I can always go back to what I’m doing now”. He looked me in the eye and replied- “if it doesn’t work don’t f**king come back”.

    It worked- and I didn’t look back. I had complete faith in his advice for 4 years and followed it to the letter. The biggest influence on my trumpet playing by far.

  12. I’m grateful to Wayne Morley for pointing me in the direction of this website. I knew and worked with John from the late 60s up until his death. He was simply a unique musician, a fabulous trumpet sound quality with the ability to turn a phrase in a way that didn’t sound as though he came from a cornet playing traditional. I will never forget his Mahler 8 from the Proms in the 1970s. Nothing quite like it.

  13. I couldn’t agree more with Peter Bassano about John’s Mahler 8 performance at the Proms in the late 70s. It was, I think, one of his last shows as principal trumpet of the BBCSO and it was simply electrifying.

    My fondest memory of though, is not musical. When I was very new in the BBCSO, I used to ride a Honda 90 motorbike. One morning on the way to the Royal Festival Hall, I was knocked off the thing going around the Elephant and Castle. I was hurt, but got back on the bike (damaged) and made it to work. Well the first person I saw was John. ‘Christ’ he said ‘what happened to you?’ I told him. He ordered me to sit down, which I did of course, as you never argue with the principal trumpet, and then administered a small glass of ‘medicine’ (made in Scotland), which helped calm my shaking nerves.

  14. I never knew John but my mother and his mother, now 94, are best friends. I showed her all the content on the site and can say that she was extremely moved by all the lovely things said, touched by the generosity of people’s comments and very lifted to see what others thought of him. She was completely shocked that there is such a nice legacy and testimony to his life and has asked me to thank everybody for all their kind words.

  15. I collect old LP Records and i was buying on a jumble sale in Delft Netherlands a record of John Wilbraham 6 trompet concerto s with the Academy of st.Martin-in-the-Field s on EMI .And now I look up some information on the internet.
    I like it this is beautiful what can that man play. . Gerard Lagendijk- Netherlands