Very few “name” players are identified with pocket cornets. Certainly the best known would be the late “free jazz” player Don Cherry, who played a 1930’s vintage Besson MEHA pocket cornet (almost always identified as a “pocket trumpet”). I’ve read that he first played a Pakistani pocket cornet – the first photo shows him playing something other than his Besson. You can see several videos of Chery playing his Besson at the website Youtube.
Maynard Ferguson was a Holton artist for many years, and was presented with a C150 pocket in the 70’s. I’m told he came out on stage one night with it hanging around his neck on a silver chain, like those oversized medallions he was fond of wearing. The audience evidently thought it was jewelry – until he played it! It was soon stolen, but returned some years later. This horn survives in the Ferguson estate, which has just been donated to the University of North Texas. Maynard’s C150’s serial number is only a 8 earlier than my own 1971 C150 – they are exactly alike.
Some great videos recently came to light on Youtube with Sidney DeParis playing what certainly appears to be a Besson pocket cornet. He uses a wah-wah mute on most of the solos to very good advantage. Best of all, his style of jazz is much more to my liking than the “free jazz” stylings of Cherry! If I had to guess, it would be a turn of the century Besson, which had pinky hooks (unlike the later MEHA pocket) -- I say this because it would be pretty hard to play with the mute the way he does, absent a pinky hook.
Famed Ringling Brothers Circus bandleader Merle Evans played a Holton pocket, dubbed “The Mighty Midget” which survives in a Wisconsin Circus Museum. Recently discovered information, including the serial number, reveal that the cornet was made in 1941. The detail enlargement shows the cornet to be very much like my 1971 C-150. But it appears that the Midget’s valve cluster is taller, and may have utilized top spring towers.
My personal idol Bobby Hackett is known to have presented an AMATI pocket cornet to a close friend, circa 1970. The specially engraved instrument (it was originally engraved for presentation to Hackett) remains with the recipient’s family. I’ve finally found out which pocket trumpet Hackett endorsed in ads – the Imperial Creations “Tiny Pocket Trumpet” which sold via mail order for $159.00. I hope to have scans of the ad soon.
In his excellent biography of Roy Eldridge, author John Chilton states that Roy experimented with a pocket trumpet given to him by trombonist Jack Teagarden, however the timeframe causes me to think it was actually a cornet. The 1949 Metronome magazine cover shows Roy with this pocket. The photo was taken by famous swing-era writer George Simon. I can’t tell for sure what the horn is from this angle. I hope another photo will turn up some day, preferably from the right side of the cornet.
Actor Peter Weller actually played a pocket trumpet in his 1984 film “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.” He attended the University of North Texas’ well-known jazz program. From the screen captures shown, it appears to be a Benge (although there’s a chance it could be a Calicchio). The only shame is that the pocket trumpet scene is maybe 15 seconds long.
Finally, you have a picture of me, Nick DeCarlis, playing an LA Sax pocket trumpet (with cornet mouthpiece and adapter), which is actually a Hozon Gakki (Taiwan) pocket. While not my primary gig horn, I have found it to be excellent in certain acoustical situations – especially in noisy venues with little “return” of my sound. I can hear myself better with the bell being closer to my ears. I have also played my ‘71 Holton C150, as well as my Besson MEHA, Conn Vocabell, and Olds Standard conversions on gigs. It’s a great novelty as listeners are amazed that the tiny horns are every bit as powerful as a full-sized instrument.