L.A. Studio Legends: Malcolm McNab

Legendary trumpet player talks his unparalleled career as studio musician in Hollywood and his journey with composer John Williams as principal trumpet on 40+ films between 1973 and 2011, including Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Jurassic Park and the Indiana Jones films

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Among the musicians who performed for John Williams in Los Angeles, trumpet legend Malcolm McNab has certainly a place of honour. This incredibly talented musician started to perform for the composer in 1973, playing lovely lyrical solos in the score for the film The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (directed by Richard C. Sarafian, starring Burt Reynolds and Sarah Miles). His exquisite playing immediately became a benchmark and, from that moment onward, McNab became principal trumpet for virtually all John Williams’s recordings in Los Angeles from 1973 until 2011, becoming one of the longest-serving members (if not the single longest) in his pick-up orchestra: a grand total of 46 film scores, including some of the Maestro’s most iconic works like Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, The Witches of Eastwick, Home Alone, Hook, Far and Away, Minority Report, plus several television projects (including Amazing Stories, Great Performances and the theme for the NBC Nightly News programs) and other special projects such as the live-to-picture performance of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial for the film’s 20th anniversary in March 2002. He also had lovely lyrical solos in Stanley & Iris (1990).

Malcolm McNab and John Williams in a picture from 1992 (photo from the private archive of Malcolm McNab, used under permission)

Malcolm McNab’s career highlights don’t stop however just at his many successful collaborations with John Williams—he has also been the first-call principal trumpet for many other great Hollywood composers including Jerry Goldsmith, Alex North, James Horner, Randy Newman, James Newton Howard, Bruce Broughton, Michael Kamen, with many of them writing beautiful solo parts especially for him. McNab’s truly impressive list of credits includes many of Hollywood’s most famous movies of the last 45 years. His impeccable playing graced hundreds of memorable soundtracks, including the Rocky series, several Star Trek movies, Pretty Woman, The Karate Kid, Spider-Man 1 and 2, The Sixth Sense, Silverado, Edward Scissorhands, Independence Day, the Lethal Weapon films, Pirates of the Caribbean, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Pixar’s Toy Story 1, 2 and 3, Cars and Monsters, Inc., and many, many others. He can be heard as featured soloist in John Barry’s Dances With Wolves, Randy Newman’s Avalon, Jerry Goldsmith’s L.A. Confidential and The Last Castle, James Horner’s Glory, just to name a few.

“The Victor” from the motion picture L.A. Confidential (1997), music by Jerry Goldsmith; solo trumpet: Malcolm McNab
“Main Title / Looks Like a Suicide” from the motion picture Dances With Wolves (1990), music by John Barry; solo trumpet: Malcolm McNab

He also performed in many classic Walt Disney animated films like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In addition to his work for films, McNab also performed on countless television shows and made-for-TV films, including all-time classics like Hawaii Five-O, Dallas, Dynasty, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, The Simpsons, just to name a very few. He can be heard playing the solo in David Rose’s theme for Highway to Heaven and Dennis McCarthy’s majestic title theme for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Malcolm McNab during the recording sessions of Jurassic World (2015)

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 25th 1943, Malcolm Boyd McNab was raised in California, in the San Gabriel Valley. He began studying the trumpet at the age of nine, with his father Boyd McNab as his first teacher. Later, he studied with Pasadena trumpet teacher Walter Laursen, and performed with the Pasadena Symphony at the age of fourteen. In 1958, Malcolm began playing with the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra under conductors Dr. Miklós Rózsa, Lawrence Foster, Gerhard Samuel and Henry Lewis. He soon became the Principal Trumpet and librarian for the Pasadena Symphony. It was at that time that Malcolm began his studies with James Stamp, leading him to a most valuable path which he has followed for the past 55 years. After touring with the San Francisco Ballet and service in the U.S. Army, playing with the West Point Band, he studied privately with John Ware and William Vacchiano of the New York Philharmonic.

On returning to Southern California, McNab began working as a session musician as well as playing live solo performances with various regional orchestras. Since 1970, he has recorded classical music with such organizations as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and the New York City Opera. As a member of the California Chamber Symphony, Malcolm appeared as a soloist with Aaron Copland performing Quiet City. McNab also performed in many pop and rock recordings with artists such as Dionne Warwick, Peggy Lee, Chicago, and the Carpenters. He has also toured with and recorded albums with Frank Zappa including Joe’s Domage, Studio Tan, Grand Wazoo-Live in Boston and Imaginary Diseases.

A young Malcolm McNab in a picture from the early 1970s (courtesy of Malcolm McNab)

But it is the soundtracks of popular films and television shows which have made Malcolm McNab’s playing familiar to hundreds of millions of people who have never heard his name. He joined the lively Hollywood studio scene playing together with legendary trumpeteers such as Uan Rasey, who became of his closest friends in the business, and brought forward the great tradition of Hollywood’s brass playing, pushing it to new levels of excellence and high musicianship. His brilliant, versatile playing in literally countless film and television scores remains an absolute benchmark for all the subsequent session musicians in Hollywood.

Malcolm McNab playing in the trumpet section during a recording session in Los Angeles

In 2006, Malcolm McNab released his first solo album titled Exquisite: The Artistry of Malcolm McNab, a self-produced studio recording featuring a virtuosic and particularly challenging transcription for solo trumpet of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, plus a transcription of Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins and String Orchestra and an original work by Bruce Broughton. His second solo album The Infinite Trumpet was released in 2010, featuring new virtuoso transcriptions for trumpet and piano of classical works by Wieniawski, Saint-Saens, Paganini, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Chopin and Kreisler.

Malcolm McNab studying the score of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, which he adapted for trumpet and recorded in his debut solo album “Exquisite: The Artistry of Malcolm McNab” in 2006

In addition to his performing career, McNab also devoted his time to teach trumpet at places such as UCLA, Pomona College, Claremont College and branches of the California State University. He also held several summer trumpet workshops called Camp McNab and appeared around the world in seminars and masterclasses, teaching and mentoring brilliant young players who then went into successful careers.

A legend also among his peers and colleagues, McNab was presented the Young Musicians Foundation’s Magic Baton award in February 2015 at the YMF 60th Anniversary Gala, with Randy Newman presenting him the award. Malcolm has twice been the recipient of the Most Valuable Player Award of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

In this rich, in-depth conversation, Malcolm talks about his career as studio musician legend, performing for virtually every great composer in Hollywood and performing both exquisite solos and virtuosic trumpet parts in many film scores. He talks at length about his many years performing for John Williams, from the first gig in 1973 to the success of scores like Jaws, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Jurassic Park, reflecting on the evolution of the trumpet section in Williams’s scores and the challenges of performing very difficult parts on many occasions, but also the fun and the joy of recording source music for Jaws and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. McNab also recollects his experiences with rock legend Frank Zappa, his friendship with Uan Rasey and his many collaborations with Jerry Goldsmith.

A warm thank you to Malcolm McNab for his kindness and generosity. Visit his website https://malcolmmcnab.com/ for more information about his career and his many trumpet solos in film and television scores.

Special thanks to Del Lyren (DGL Artists) for the help and support

List of musical excerpts featured in the episode:

. John Williams, “Finale and End Credits”, from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
. John Williams, “Jay and Catherine”, from The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973)
. John Williams, “The Falling Car”, from Jurassic Park (1993)
. John Barry, “Preparations”, from Dances with Wolves (1990)
. Jerry Goldsmith, “The Victor”, from L.A. Confidential (1997)
. John Williams, “The Bicycle”, from Stanley and Iris (1990)
. John Williams, “Searching for E.T.”, from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
. Frank Zappa, “Be-Bop Tango (Of The Old Jazzmen’s Church)”
. Jerry Goldsmith, “Love Theme”, from Chinatown (1970) – Uan Rasey, trumpet
. John Williams, “Moving”, from The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973)
. John Williams, “Out to Sea”, from Jaws (1975)
. G.P. Telemann (arr. John Williams), “Concerto in D Major”, from The Paper Chase (1973)
. John Williams, “Letters”, from Stanley and Iris (1990)
. John Williams, “Swing, Swing, Swing”, from 1941 (1979)
. John Williams, “Promenade (Tourists On The Menu)”, from Jaws (1975)
. John Williams, “Brody Misunderstood”, from Jaws 2 (1978)
. John Williams, “The Shuttle”, from SpaceCamp (1986)
. John Williams, “Short Round Helps”, from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
. John Williams, “Journey to the Island”, from Jurassic Park (1993)
. John Williams, “The Explosion”, from Black Sunday (1977)
. John Williams, “The Land Race”, from Far and Away (1992)
. John Williams, “The Ultimate War”, from Hook (1991)
. John Williams, “Epilogue”, from War of the Worlds (2005)
. John Barry, “Main Title / Looks Like a Suicide”, from Dances with Wolves (1990)
. John Williams, “The Canyon of the Crescent Moon”, from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
. Jerry Goldsmith, “Bloody Christmas”, from L.A. Confidential (1997)
. Jerry Goldsmith, “September 11, 2001”, from The Last Castle (2002)
. Jerry Goldsmith, “Bronco Bustin'”, from Wild Rovers (1971)
. Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Violin Concerto, Movement I, transcribed for trumpet by Malcolm McNab / from the album “Exquisite”
. John Williams, Theme from “Great Performances” (2009)
. John Williams, “End Credits”, from Stanley and Iris (1990)
. John Williams, “End Credits”, from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)