Origin of the Stevens-Costello Embouchure Studios for Brass Players

by Alan Geller, D.D.S (student of Roy Stevens)

In the late 1920's- 30's, Bill (William N.) Costello was a prominent trumpeter and soloist in many musical organizations, such as the Philadelphia Orchestra and New York Paramount Theatre. He did recordings and radio dates common at the time for professional musicians. By the late 1930's, because of certain problems and inadequacies he faced as a player( cut and bruised lips from excess pressure), he sought answers to help himself and other players likewise. A more correct embouchure setup was needed for trumpet playing that some of the better players had already. Jazz and big band was emerging and placed greater demands on the trumpeter in range and endurance. Bill found that the best players had in common these three things:(1) a forward jaw position, (2) weight of the mouthpiece on the bottom lip, (3) mouthpiece placement with lips closed to receive the air. He incorporated these factors in his playing and created teaching exercises to create an ideal setup for unlimited range. As a result, the Costello Studios on West 49th Street in New York City was created, and Bill was now busy teaching this new system of brass playing until he passed it over to his son John.

John Costello understood jazz and big band style as opposed to Bill, who was classically oriented. Both Bill and John had excellent high ranges up to double high "C" with no effort.Because of ill health, John retired to the southwest and taught Roy Stevens, also a big band jazz musician who later took over the Costello Studio on 113 West 48th Street in the mid 1950's (Years later, he moved the studio to 1576 Broadway) Roy renamed it the "Stevens-Costello Embouchure Clinic" and refined the embouchure technique that Bill Costello taught, but maintained the basic principles of the early Costello technique.

Roy Stevens had an excellent analytical mind in embouchure for brass players, and rewrote the original Costello book with the help of Bill Moriarity (former President of Local 802, good friend and student of Roy for 10 years) in 1971. The book was re-named the "Stevens-Costello Embouchure Technique" a for all brass players (This book was later condensed and re-edited by Bill Moriarity in 2007, after being out of publication for a number of years.It included "Embouchure Trouble Self Analysis." In 2008 Dr. Geller produced a DVD in conjunction with the book to teach students this method. He was an accomplished student of this method and presently teaches in Florida and New York). Trumpeters from all levels of playing came to Stevens-Costello Studio on West 48th Street and later the studio on West Broadway to learn this technique but often in the presence of other students in one room. One could learn from another and hear the successes of those that achieved 4-5 octaves ranges. It also was quite impressive for a brass musician walking down West 48th Street hearing "altissimo range" coming from the studio top floor window, not heard anywhere else. Roy in his early ears played with Dorsey, Berigan and Goodman orchestras. In later years, he performed at the Roseland Ballroom and also played in small combos. Roy was also an associate instructor at Columbia University Teachers College, an addition to his private teaching. Because of ill health in the '80's, the studio was permanently closed and Roy passed away in 1988. It should be noted he had an incredible amount of patience for each student to overcome their difficulties in playing the trumpet and adapting to the new embouchure change. He was positive that anybody could be taught this method despite bad habits and physical handicaps of any nature. Roy was interested in the physics of sound production on the trumpet, what worked and what did not. He imparted this information from his research to the students so they would have better understanding what to do and to achieve an ideal embouchure with unlimited range.

Two exercises credited with the Stevens-Costello method are: The "pencil exercise" and "statics". The pencil exercise trained the individual to keep the jaw forward, maintain a tooth aperture opening at one quarter inch for lips to receive air in a closed position bracing the pencil. It trained the top and bottom teeth to be in line, edge to edge without touching. Use of a hand mirror was helpful to check this new setup It would also train the corner muscles for correct playing. The second exercise was the hand-palm exercise. This trained the lips to resist air compression, reduce hand arm pressure and produce "static" precursors to real notes. Corners of lip and facial muscles are trained in harmony from the bottom register to extreme highs. Mastering this enables the student eventually to go to the regular hold of the trumpet without the "destructive right arm pressure" which puts a ceiling or limit to the range of the instrument(which the average trumpet player is faced with because of bad habits and natural playing formations).

Notable students who achieved exemplary results are:
Lloyd Michaels (studio, big band lead 1960's-1980's)
Don Ellis (recording artist, band leader, soloist)
Paul Bogosian (lead Don Ellis, shows, orchestras)
Roy Roman (lead player, orchestras, teacher)
Vince Panzarella (N.Y. Philharmoic and N.Y. Met)
Alan Geller (club dates, orchestras, teacher)
Larry Meregillano (big bands, lead player on West coast)

Special Credit to: Theodore Kasckow, age 91, student of Bill Costello whose incredible live rememberences of him are noted in an e-mail to me July 2013. It reads: " Dr. Geller, I studied with Bill Costello back in the '30's. He was a fine teacher and taught the Costello embouchure at the time. I had success with the embouchure. I also bought and used a Costello Mouthpiece, the one with the ridges.

Mr. Costello believed that the high note embouchure should receive priority in development. A rather radical concept. Most teachers like Schlossberg built the embouchure from the lower range. Big bands were in and all students were opting for jazz and not a classical background. Screaming high notes were beginning to replace sensible style and playing. That is where John Costello came in". "Many memories of my lessons with Bill Costello are still with me. He did make an impression on me that was long lasting. I can even recall my first lesson with him. I do remember the day when I was in the studio and in walked Cootie Williams. He was there for music reading lessons with Bill Costello, however what transpired in the studio was interesting. We could hear Bill Costello challenging Cootie by his climb up the scale to a double high C. That did not stop Cootie. He climbed up to the stratosphere and matched the double high C. Soon after that they got down to work on Arban exercise from the scale section on. I don't think that Cootie had much trouble. Bill was an excellent teacher."