PDX Jazz Volunteer & Trumpet Builder – Heather Sessler

If you have come to a PDX Jazz event recently, you have probably seen or met Heather Sessler. A dependable and welcome presence as a volunteer, she is, as our Marketing and Development Manager Keith Imper describes her, “capable of helping us anywhere we ask.”

Her employer, Northeast Portland’s world renowned trumpet manufacturer Monette Trumpets, must feel the same way, because in a short period of time, Heather has become an employee whose duties are essential to the company’s success.

Founded by David Monette thirty-two years ago, Monette assembles the world’s finest trumpets and mouthpieces. While Wynton Marsalis is their most famous client (shop foreman Dean Willoughby estimates they have made at least 20 trumpets for him), their clientele also includes jazz artists Terence Blanchard, Ron Miles, and countless trumpeters performing in some of the world’s finest classical ensembles.

A trombonist who at one time played trumpet in pit orchestras as well as in a funk band, Heather was introduced to the Monette factory by Canadian born, New York-based trumpeter and personal friend Ingrid Jenson, who asked Heather to babysit her daughter at Monette while Ingrid performed. Heather liked what she saw, and soon began attending live concerts at the shop. Since she used to do brass and woodwind repair, when a job opened up she applied for it and was offered an opportunity to try it for a month and see if it was a good fit.

“Ingrid takes credit for being the reason I work at Monette,” Heather said of the trumpeter whose resume includes working in Maria Schneider’s orchestra, and who plays a Monette trumpet (she has played Art’s flumpet at the shop, but doesn’t own one personally) – a combination trumpet/flugelhorn that Dave Monette invented for Art Farmer. “I send her a picture of whenever I finish an unusual horn.”

Heather and shop foreman Dean Willoughby like working at a unique shop that places such incredible value on quality and performance. “The quality of our trumpet’s sound, design and manufacturing is unlike anything else in our industry,” Dean said. As a trumpet player himself (the shop is filled with trumpeters), Dean says that the Monette trumpet’s intonation, the ease of playing, and its projection are unmatched.

Beginning as a tube or flat piece of brass or nickel, the instrument moves from work station to work station over hundreds hours of assembly time, finally landing in Heather’s office space for its final adjustments. Her primary job is to fit the pistons to the casing. “They must fit to a tolerance of 6/10,000’s of an inch, which is all the space that is around the piston.” And, because 200 hours have already been put into the build time of the instrument, by the time it gets to her work station she can’t mess up or it could cost the company a great deal of money. “For a piston to fit that tight, everything must be perfect. If it isn’t done right, the horn will leak and the air isn’t being used efficiently.”

It is work that requires a great deal of patience. “Everything is meticulous and things tend to take longer than they should, but there is no way around it – we just have to do it right.” Since Dave Monette gives final approval for each trumpet before it gets shipped to their client, getting it right is essential to her job.

A Portland native who has lived in Wisconsin (where she went to school as a Trombone Performance major), Idaho, Arizona, and, after meeting her husband Paul Angelo, with him in Kentucky. They returned to Portland in 2010, which she especially enjoys now because of her job at Monette. “I like working here because I am proud of what I do, and feeling that what I do is important.” She is also enjoying Portland because the quality of the music and cultural scene has improved, and she points to the work of PDX Jazz as an example. “I like that PDX Jazz is bringing more nationally known jazz artists into Portland throughout the year, which until recently was severely lacking here.”

Like Heather, PDX Jazz takes pride in our work, and are especially proud to have her and so many volunteers like her be an integral part of our mission to inspire, educate and develop future jazz audiences for generations to come. Thanks, Heather!