‘K’ – Kid Ory

kidory

It’s March already! February always goes so quickly… Time for the next entry in my Inspiration Alphabet, a chance to write about another great trombonist and perhaps learn something new along the way.

Something like, for example, the following little nugget of useless trivia: So, you know that typical New Orleans Dixieland trombone sound? All that sliding around (glissandos) in between short fills and bass lines underneath the trumpet and clarinet? The name given to this style is ‘tailgating‘, supposedly because the early Dixieland bands would be on a horse-drawn wagon during parades and processions, and the trombonist would be placed sitting over the rear tailgate in order to have plenty of room for their slide!

This would have been a fairly common sight in New Orleans in the early 1900s. Dixieland bands used to drive around and when they met another band there would commence a ‘cutting contest’, with each band trying to impress the gathering crowds. This music, which had developed from ragtime, blues and brass-band marches,  represented the early formation of jazz.

By 1912, the best Dixieland band in town was being led by trombonist Kid Ory. Born Edouard Ory in 1886, he had grown up on a plantation outside the city where he had taught himself banjo and trombone. He had a huge dirty sound and a fantastic ear for improvising, and upon moving to New Orleans aged 21, he found success with his band which included renowned musicians such as cornettist Joe ‘King’ Oliver, and clarinettist Sidney Bechet. His band even ‘discovered’ a young Louis Armstrong in and gave him his first big break when he joined the band around 1917.

That was the same year that the first jazz recordings were released, by white bands in New York and Chicago who were recreating the style from the South. Recordings from New Orleans in that decade don’t really exist, but Ory moved to Los Angeles in 1919 (apparently on doctor’s orders as the dryer weather would be good for his health) and formed a new band with musicians he’d brought with him. In 1922, they made the first jazz recordings by an African-American group, a landmark in the history of jazz. Here it is! Ory’s Creole Trombone:

While he wasn’t writing history, Ory learned how to read music during this period! After five years in California, Ory moved to Chicago, where his old pals King Oliver and Louis Armstrong were becoming prolific recording artists, along with Jelly Roll Morton. Ory played with them all. He’s on the following famous recording, Heebie Jeebies with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five, the one where Louis forgets the words (or drops his lyrics sheet, maybe) and so resorts to some great scat improvising instead.

After a difficult few years at the start of the Great Depression, Ory retired from the music business in 1931 and in one of the most extreme career changes I’ve ever heard of, became a chicken farmer with his brother.

That wasn’t the end of his story though! Luckily he came out of retirement in the late 30s to join the Dixieland Revival as interest in the traditional jazz style grew. He moved back to Los Angeles and with the Kid Ory Creole Orchestra he kept performing and recording until 1966. He also appeared in a few films, including New Orleans (1947), Crossfire (1947), and The Benny Goodman Story (1956). 

His legacy as the ‘King of Tailgate Trombone’ makes Kid Ory an essential figure in the last century of trombone history. Here he is in a televised show in 1959, playing his own tune Muskrat Ramble:

 

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‘J’ – John Kenny

John Kenny is one of those musicians who has the ability to endlessly surprise all those who hear him play. For four decades he has been exploring the possibilities of using the trombone in unconventional ways, establishing his place at the forefront of contemporary music, along with his involvement in the worlds of theatre, dance, jazz, early music and education. K05_John_Kenny

Born in England, Kenny embarked on his multi-dimensional career after studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London, then on an Arts Council bursary with James Fulkerson (a pioneer of contemporary music whose contributions to repertoire and technique have been especially important for the trombone). His interest in the theatrical nature of the trombone has even led him to become an accomplished actor, and narrator, working in actor/musician productions around the world. In 1984 he was involved in the founding of the TNT Music Theatre Company. Their highly dramatic, physical and musical style has brought worldwide success to this vibrant touring company, in partnership with producers ADG-Europe.

The list of John’s performing credits is long and varied, and has included countless solo performances, work with leading groups such as Ensemble Modern, symphony orchestras, festival appearances, CD recordings, even film-directing, plus of course collaborations with artists of every kind, often featuring his own commissions and compositions. It’s nigh-on impossible to keep track of where in the world he is or has recently come back from, with all the exciting projects he gets involved with! He also holds teaching positions at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, as well as being an elected Associate of the Royal Academy of Music. You can read his full biography here (and buy his CDs!), as this brief paragraph really does no justice at all to the breadth of work John has done with his creative skills.

Creative – that’s the keyword right there I guess. John’s natural creativity fizzes out of him, and his mind seems to reside far outside the box the majority of the time. It’s a wonderful thing to witness, as he brings a uniquely vivid hue to everything. Here he is playing Doolallynastics (A Brief Torture for Trombone), a fantastic piece written for him by Brian Lynn:

That recording is available on an excellent CD full of Brian Lynn’s compositions and arrangements being played by German quartet, Hohenlohe Brass Trombone Ensemble. John was there to narrate the arrangement of Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals and ended up playing this solo for the record as well! Incidentally, Brian Lynn was an accomplished trombonist himself, working in orchestras in Scotland and playing and composing for the group Taverner’s Trombones along with John and several other great players based in Scotland…maybe more about that another time.

John lives in Edinburgh, and makes regular appearances at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow as a teacher of both contemporary and early music. It may sound odd for his expertise to lay at these opposite ends of the musical timeline, however there are more similarities to be found than one might imagine, especially in the importance of the human voice as a model for these styles of trombone playing. John is a huge advocate of this, and of ideas for expressive colouring of sound.

This comes across clear as day in the next video, which I am very excited to present to you as an exclusive feature!! John very kindly took the time to record this ‘illustrated talk’ at RCS last week, and the result is an entirely improvised yet extremely informative (and impressive!) overview of some of the commonly used extended techniques for trombone. I’d recommend a listen to all trombonists, and also composers, who wish to learn more about these more unusual capabilities of the instrument. Beginning with an improvisation combining a number of these ideas, John goes on to explain the methods and reasons for his use of them, whilst also covering his own philosophies on contemporary music and his work. Have a listen, and don’t forget to share it with anyone else you think would be curious!

 

One more area of fascination for John Kenny is his connection with the Carnyx, a Celtic instrument of the Iron Age, 2000 years ago. Depicted in carvings and on coins, and described in Roman writings, this terrifying instrument with its boar’s head may have been used in battle to strike fear into the enemy on approach. Several archeological fragments exist around the continent, the most well-preserved one being found in a Scottish peat bog. Named the Deskford Carnyx, it was reconstructed in 1992 and John was the first to play it. His composition, Voice of the Carnyx, is a tremendous piece allowing the carnyx to use its sonic characteristics to their fullest:

Read more about the carnyx here: http://www.nms.ac.uk/explore/collections-stories/scottish-history-and-archaeology/deskford-carnyx and watch John’s lecture, The Carnyx: The Mouthpiece of the Gods here

John Kenny’s work is so varied and interesting, it’s safe to say I’ve barely even managed to scratch the surface here. It’s amazing that he decided to pursue a path less trodden, trombone in hand, and in doing so opened up a world of intrigue that has taken him to every corner of the world to perform, collaborate and teach. Perhaps his approach to life as a performer is best summed up by the man himself, in the preface to his piece Fanfare for Trombone:

Fanfare for Trombone

 

Visit John’s website at http://carnyx.org.uk/

His compositions are for sale at http://www.warwickmusic.com/Main-Catalogue/Composers/J—L/John-Kenny

Here you can find a recording of a live duo improvisation in memory of poet Eric Mottram, combining reeds and trombone: http://thankyouoneandall.co.uk/music/kenney_mottram.mp3

The above is from the webpages of John’s very dear friend, sound designer John Whiting: http://thankyouoneandall.co.uk/letters/kenny.htm

 

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‘I’ – Ian Bousfield

Sometimes a video speaks a thousand words…

 

 

 

 

 

Naw, I can’t leave it there. It would be great though… No! I should definitely write some actual words. But only a few this time.

Ian Bousfield’s incredible playing has been inspiring me since I was a youngster, when my teacher lent me one of Bousfield’s solo recordings. It was possibly the first trombone CD I had ever heard, and I remember feeling quite astounded. This feeling has been a recurring theme in all the years since then, it never seems to go away any time I hear him play. Sometimes it even makes me want to quit altogether. One of those…

Here’s his *unofficial* biography:
Coming from East Yorkshire, England, trombonist extraordinaire Ian Bousfield has been wowing audiences around the world for approximately 37 years. I have no idea if that’s an accurate figure but it sounds about right. His awe-inspiring abilities have seen him through a stunning career in two of the most renowned orchestras going (London Symphony Orchestra and Vienna Philharmonic), along with a constant demand for his talents as a virtuosic soloist. Throughout his career he has been a keen educator and now has a position as professor of trombone in Bern, Switzerland. However the most exciting highlight has got to be his appointment four years ago as International Arsehole of Brass (…his words not mine) at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. Here he has contributed a great deal to the musical journey of many students, and – in between offending them and constant bouts of showing off – his teaching, conducting and performances have been remarkable!

The following video from the RCS youtube channel is filled with gems as Bousfield gives ten tips to help us mere mortals improve our playing.

Another tip he often gives is to “Never practice; Always perform.”, meaning to give it your all every time the instrument is in your hands, so everything you play is done with full commitment and purpose. Bousfield’s technique is so exemplary that he can always remain in complete control of every aspect of his performance. He has an extraordinary dynamic range, and when watching him play live it is often his sensitive quiet playing that astonishes me the most. Also his sound, and its flow, is amazing. I wish I had got to see him play in an orchestra before he retired from that profession a few years ago, but there are plenty of great recordings. Here’s the Vienna Philharmonic with a superb performance of the epic Alpine Symphony by Strauss, live at the BBC Proms in 2012 with Haitink at the helm.

In recent times, Bousfield has also been developing his own range of mouthpieces, and a signature trombone by Getzen, both of which are excellent quality. Just waiting for some mutes next!!

Visit Ian’s website at http://www.ianbousfield.com/ for more info and recordings.

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Well, that was a few more than a few words. But a few less than normal, at least. By the way I won’t be posting next month, as the last day of December tends to be New Year’s Eve, so we all might have other plans! I plan to be enjoying the celebrations in India myself, funnily enough! So I’ll miss a month and the next post will appear at the end of January. Plenty of J’s to choose from anyway, I can think of 7 or 8 off the top of my head right now…

Season’s Greetings everyone!

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‘H’ – Hoyt’s Garage

Welcome to the October post of my Inspiration Alphabet! This is now a monthly fixture, since those lazy summer days are long gone, just a glowing speck on the horizon as I turn to look back across the effervescent sea of time. What a metaphor. Uh…anyway, I will aim to post on the last day of each month. Meaning, if my calculations are correct, this will be going on for the next year and a half. Excellent. Let’s move on!

I’d like to start by giving the Tutti’s Trombones another quick mention (at risk of sounding like a broken record, haa! Oh dear.) Tutti Camerata gathered ten trombonists in his state-of-the-art studio in the 60’s, gave them a bunch of his own superb arrangements to play, and the result is a masterpiece. It’s no wonder they did a good job of it; these weren’t just any old players…

Tenor Trombones: Joe Howard, Tommy Pederson, Dick Nash, Lloyd Ulyate, Frank Rosolino, Herbie Harper, Gil Falco, Hoyt Bohannon

Bass Trombones: Kenny Shroyer, Ernie Tack

These particular musicians were the creme de la creme for sure, but the pool of talent that they were chosen from was quite huge. There were plenty of trombonists working in the West Coast jazz and recording scene who had perfected their craft. So the question is, what did all these great players like to do after a long week playing in a movie orchestra, or in the backing band for a famous singer, or performing on a popular television show? Well, they would hang out with each other in Hoyt Bohannon’s garage and play some more of course!

Hoyt Bohannon’s prolific career took him from the Harry James Orchestra in the 40’s, to over a decade as the first trombonist in the Warner Brothers Orchestra, plus many more years as a prominent figure in the Hollywood trombone world (you can hear him take the third solo on the Tutti’s Trombone track above, at 2:32). He started a trombone group in 1946, the idea being that they could stay in shape by playing their own arrangements of popular tunes. It was only once he bought a new house five years later that the group had a permanent home and became known as Hoyt’s Garage! The personnel list was ever-changing over time and in this way the group continued to rehearse and perform for the next 50 years. As current leading light in the studios, Alan Kaplan, notes,

Hoyt’s group was a rite of passage for trombone players in Los Angeles.  It was an honor to be invited to play, and if you were invited back you knew you were an accepted member of the professional trombone community.

He also gives some insight into group’s approach to the music they played,

This group had a unique sound and style.  Hoyt called it “Studio Legit”. The players always used smaller bore tenor trombones and slide vibrato.

But what exactly did they play? Hoyt contributed many ambitious arrangements to the Garage’s library, including film music, songs and ballads, choral works and even whole movements of symphonies. Lloyd Ulyate said of these,

“The symphony adaptations were the most difficult to play as there was practically no consideration for [the performers’] range, tempo, or endurance. Hoyt’s concept was to try to expand the ability of every player by playing very difficult adaptations of symphonic material. He felt that if you could even half-way play these pieces, going to work in the studios would be much easier.

Here’s a gorgeous example of this, the third movement of Brahm’s 2nd Symphony, recorded by Alan Kaplan for his album Secrets of Hoyt’s Garage which sees Kaplan multitracking himself to perform a selection of Hoyt’s arrangements.

Left to right: Bill Booth, Tommy Pederson, Hoyt Bohannon, Charlie Loper, Barrett O'Hara, performing in Hoyt's Garage in the 70's

Left to right: Bill Booth, Tommy Pederson, Hoyt Bohannon, Charlie Loper, Barrett O’Hara, performing in Hoyt’s Garage in the 70’s. (Photo credit: Jim Boltinghouse)

Something odd about Hoyt Bohannon can be noticed in the photo there; he played his trombone left-handed… I wonder what that was like to sit next to, with his bell being on the opposite side to normal!

Also appearing in that photo is another important figure in the Garage’s story, Tommy Pederson. He was the extraordinary trombonist, composer and arranger whose influence has been felt by generations of players and cannot be underestimated, although that’s a story for another day…

For much more information about the sessions at Hoyt’s Garage, and the players involved, head to Alan Kaplan’s article at www.alankaplan.org/hoyts-garage

I’ll finish with the results of a quick Youtube search for Hoyt Bohannon, which brought up a number of famous cartoon theme tunes with the musicians helpfully credited. What a trombone section on these classics! And trumpets! And well, everyone I guess! Who’d have thought?

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‘G’ – George Chisholm

Lots of G's going around lately, have you noticed?

Lots of G’s going around lately, have you noticed?

The Gentlemanly Godfather of British jazz, from Glasgow, it’s George Chisholm!

The way I understand it, older readers are more likely to have heard of Chisholm before, especially if they used to tune in to such programmes as The Black and White Minstrel Show in the 60’s, where he would be seen performing short comedy routines between acts. Also various children’s shows and even a couple of small movie cameos. He had previously been working with The Goon Show on the radio, first as a musician and then having the occasional speaking character part in Spike Milligan’s nutty sketches – does Chisholm MacChisholm the Steaming Kilt ring any bells? A little before my time but I’m told it was very popular weekly listening!

George Chisholm evidently enjoyed the humourous side of life, so much so that he practically put his career in jazz on hold for it, for a number of years at least. The problem was, some members of the jazz community at the time thought it was a crying shame that he was ‘wasting’ his talents on the light entertainment circuit, and when you hear just how good he was when given a chorus or four on which to flex his chops, you can understand where they were coming from. But his own reasoning for following his own path does make sense – he had bills to pay, family to support, and “More people want to laugh than to listen.” 

In any case, it’s obvious that his sense of humour and his trombone playing were inextricably linked together. His witty style of playing was so distinctive that he is still recognised as a genius trombonist who helped shape the British jazz scene through the years.

Born in 1915, Chisholm grew up in one of the roughest areas of Glasgow, Bridgeton, right in the middle of the Old Firm (Rangers-Celtic FC) battleground. Both his parents were semi-pro musicians, so George soon found himself playing the piano, which was more thrilling to him than playing, or fighting, outside with the other youngsters. Before long he had become a good pianist and he joined a youth stage group at the local cinema, where he played comic songs and occasionally had to dance or sing. Or even dance, sing and play all at the same time. After this, still only fourteen years old, he worked in the same cinema playing music for the silent films. Add to that the gigs he was playing in a trio with his parents and it’s easy to understand how this all led him to becoming a full-time musician. He worked at two Glasgow ballrooms when he left school, and at some point got hold of a trombone, learned how to play it, and began his career in the dance bands, soon moving to London to make his name in the business.

And what a name he made for himself! Before long he was playing with the very best, and even catching the attention of some jazz royalty from the States, namely Fats Waller (who nicknamed him Brother Chisholm on the record they made at Abbey Road in 1938, Fats Waller and his Continental Rhythm, the track on the above video is from that session), Coleman Hawkins (who called him Little Teagarden, after the famously influential trombonist Jack Teagarden) and Benny Carter, who invited him for a few months work in the Netherlands.

When World War II broke out, Chisholm and several other prominent British jazz musicians joined the Royal Air Force and founded the Squadronaires, which became the most popular British military dance band and played an essential part in keeping up morale amongst the troops and their families back home.
I recently watched a fantastic documentary about the swing era and the importance of the big bands during the war, and I’m sure there was some archive footage shown of a Squadronaires performance, but Youtube doesn’t seem to have any to offer. I did find this short film (They’re stranded! Good thing they all know their parts from memory! Well, except for that trumpeter, but at least his wife is there to hold the music for him. “Might as well hold this trombone mute too while you’re at it, darling!”), but it’s from 1952, after Chisholm had left. Never mind, here’s a double whammy of two of their popular recordings. (Chisholm said in his auto-biography that he used to arrange some of their charts and write two-trombone unison solos; is that one at 4:38? It’s hard to tell but I think it is, and if so that’s extraordinary!)

After the war had ended, Chisholm stayed with the Squadronaires until 1950. Through the 50’s he played with the well-known group Kenny Baker’s Dozen, gigged with Louis Armstrong, and he also joined the BBC Show Band, who at one point did a radio broadcast with a highly impressed and complimentary Frank Sinatra. That was a relief for everyone as they knew Sinatra would call a spade a spade, and “it did emerge that he had harboured misgivings about the ability of a BBC house orchestra.”, in the words of Chisholm himself.
Working at the BBC led to his involvement with The Goons, which brings me a full circle in this very potted history of this very interesting chap. And it also leads well to my next point…

The first I heard of him was from a taxi driver in Glasgow. After wondering aloud what could be in those strange-looking guitar cases that my friend Joe and I had hauled into his cab, upon learning that they were trombones he began trying to recall the name of “that old trombone player from Glasgow, did stuff on the variety shows”. Variety shows? Sounds awful, we thought. “George Chisel, that’s him!” Of course we didn’t have a clue what he was on about, and just wished he would drive a bit faster as we were probably late for something. But later that day a bit of googling came up trumps and we were amazed by what we heard. Thank you oh wise taxi driver!

To me at least, the way George Chisholm plays the trombone sounds kind of different to anyone else. It’s a strange, fascinating thing, the way his wit shines through at every turn and nuance. It’s in his offbeat sense of phrasing and harmony, in the colours of his sound, his bouncing rhythmic energy, the slides between neighbouring tones (which became known as Chisholm intervals), and every now and again he throws a little surprise into the mix. – it feels like he’s telling funny stories all the time, and it’s simply wonderful.

He plays so well and with such a unique style that I like to think of him as the British answer to Frank Rosolino (read my previous post about him here). Bear with me, the comparison holds true in many ways! Army bands, followed by big bands and smaller groups, TV show bands, comedy, freelance studio work, plus sounding totally different to anyone else…the parallels are there. Chisholm was a great admirer of Rosolino, saying in an interview,

“my idols were people like Teagarden, Lou McGarity. And then, later, Frank Rosolino—who I think is a tremendous player. Absolutely a thing of his own; this is terribly important”

And the admiration was mutual, with Rosolino commenting in an interview about his visits to the UK,

“I liked George’s playing very much; he has a nice conception and feel, good soul, and he plays with an extremely good melodic sense.”

 

One British trombonist who did seem able to keep up was Roy Williams. Another brilliant highly-revered player, Roy joined George on several recordings in the 70’s, and their styles compliment each other so well. When the rhythm section drops out leaving the two of them alone to hop around each other’s lines it is amazing to listen to. The best example of this is their studio recording of It’s Alright With Me, where they do this for almost two minutes. If you happen to have Spotify I can recommend searching that one out!

When George Chisholm died in 1997, but not before being awarded an OBE and also bringing together a band of the some of the finest British jazz musicians he called the Gentlemen of Jazz, playing and touring with them until he was well into his 70s.

If there’s one thing musician’s love it’s a good anecdote. Chisholm’s autobiography is of course full of them. You can read it by following this link: http://georgechisholm.tripod.com/welcome.htm

 


It makes sense at this point to quickly mention the magnificent trombonist Gordon Campbell, not only because he is another inspiration whose name begins with G, but also because he himself was inspired by Chisholm (and he’s Scottish as well!). His solo CD, But Beautiful, is an album of Chisholm’s arrangements (with the same Jack Emblow of the Gentlemen of Jazz on accordion!) by way of tribute, and Campbell writes in the liner notes,

“I first heard George Chisholm play the trombone in The Black and White Minstrel Show in Edinburgh when I was 10 years old. He came on to the stage in his trademark stripy jumper and beret and played in his inimitable way. I thought he was great and he remains to this day one of the main reasons I became a trombone player.

The late great Shiela Tracy wrote in her article/interview of Campbell,

“I well recall a concert I presented with the BBC Big Band at Warwick University when George Chisholm was the guest star. Following the recorded part of proceedings, Gordon joined George out front and accomanied by the rhythm section, put on a display I will never forget. Here were two brilliant exponents of the trombone, with completely different styles, blending together perfectly.”

Gordon Campbell has been lead trombone of the BBC Big Band for the past 30 years, and is also lead trombone of the incredible world-renowned Hollywood-heyday band the John Wilson Orchestra, as well as being very busy in the studios and shows and many other areas including teaching at the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal Marines School of Music. His performances in every situation are always completely stunning. He is a modern master of the sweet ballad style and is certainly a ‘gentleman of jazz’ himself. He kindly gave me a copy of But Beautiful last year, telling me George was indeed “the Guv’nor!” (yet another G!)

Here’s his take on one of my favourite tunes, The Shadow of Your Smile:

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‘F’ – Frank Rosolino (+Tutti’s Trombones & Trombones Inc.)

Frank Rosolino (1926-1978, from Detroit) rose to greatness in the 1950’s to become one of the most distinctive voices ever heard on the trombone. His chops were so strong and fast he would light fires in every band he played with. His easily recognisable approach to solos has been a huge influence on jazz trombonists ever since the dawn of bebop, and yet his technique was so unique that it has proved just about impossible for anyone to truly imitate, or as the great Bill Watrous reportedly put it, “We have no idea what the **** he was doing!”

frankrosolino

It’s the way his solos flow, skip, flow again, then shoot up to a searing high register – incredible feats of flexibility and musical energy. Rosolino developed his style in New York after the war, sitting in at the jazz clubs with bebop pioneers such as Charlie Parker. This continued when he joined Gene Krupa’s big band in the late 40’s. Krupa was the most popular jazz drummer in the States, and being a progressive type he formed his band with some of the rising stars of bebop.

It was with the Stan Kenton band from ’52 to ’55 that Rosolino really made his name. Here’s his famed recording Frank Speaking, where his brilliant trademark solo fires in like a rocket and later he heats things up in double-time:

Frank Rosolino was known for his bubbling personality, his quick wit and humour always entertaining his fellow musicians and audiences. One aspect of his work that is particularly interesting is that he would regularly sing in his performances. And yes, he sings just like he plays! And he even scats. With a bit of yodelling thrown in. It can get pretty weird, but it’s all good fun. His vocals can be heard in recordings with the Gene Krupa band, with his sextet, on an album with trumpeter Conte Candoli, and most extensively on his 1961 solo album Turn Me Loose, as well as on plenty of live recordings. This video clip from Jazz Scene USA shows his singing and playing style on his own song Please Don’t Bug Me:

That whole episode is on Youtube too, and it’s well worth a watch… www.youtube.com/watch?v=RT5FrYz7RtI

And here’s something special. A live version of Lemon Drop – after 4 minutes of scatting like he’s been possessed by the Spirit of Jazz, Rosolino seamlessly transfers the bebop madness onto his horn:

After leaving the Kenton band in ’55, Rosolino moved to Hollywood to work at the Lighthouse Club, and also worked on studio sessions for tv and film.

Sadly Rosolino’s life ended in confusingly dark circumstances in 1978 when he shot both his sons, followed by himself. His friend Gene Lees wrote a tribute to his life and a detailed account of his last days, which you can read on the following link: www.trombone-usa.com/rosolino_frank.htm

Despite this awful tragedy, Frank Rosolino is still remembered as an undisputed genius and a true innovator who left behind a massive legacy in the trombone world. The last session he recorded before his death was with Bobby Knight’s Great American Trombone Company, Cream of the Crop live at Donte’s Jazz Club in Hollywood. Ever heard a buzz mute solo? Frank Rosolino on Rock Bottom, everyone. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHO-dEF_Ads

Finally, here’s a really nice 1973 interview: www.nationaljazzarchive.co.uk/stories?id=190


Trombones Inc. and Tutti’s Trombones

Aha, that was not really the end of this post!! Got you…

This just seems like a great time in my Inspiration Alphabet to mention these two records, both of which feature Frank Rosolino’s contributions alongside a stellar cast of legendary jazz trombonists.

Tutti’s Trombones is up there as one of the finest displays of collective trombone wizardry ever heard. The gold standard, as they say. Recorded in 1966 (date confirmed by Billboard magazine reports), the session involved ten of Hollywood’s finest trombonists and an expert rhythm section, playing the amazing arrangements of Salvador ‘Tutti’ Camarata – distinguished arranger, composer, record producer, and Sunset Sound studio-owner (and previously a celebrated trumpeter for the bands of Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman and both Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey). AMSC739Camarata had already explored this concept successfully with his Tutti’s Trumpets a decade earlier. The two records were re-released together on one CD in 2003 by the British label Avid, and thank goodness for that because I don’t have a tape cassette player in my car, or a record player for that matter. I really love this CD. It’s like musical perfection. Everything is perfect. The ensemble playing is flawless and the solos are incredible. These are some of the greatest trombonists that ever lived, the powerhouses of the West Coast recording scene. In many ways they are unsung heroes – they’re not exactly household names, but for sure everyone has heard a lot of their work.

It’s hard to choose a favourite track out of the eleven on Tutti’s but I can never get enough of this one: Just a Closer Walk With Me, a beautiful gospel arrangement with Gil Falco’s passionate jazz solo and some intense lead sound, probably from Tommy Pederson. Especially that climax just before 3 minutes! Joe Howard sings out for a heartfelt ending.

Tutti was not the first to record with a jazz trombone ensemble, oh no! There are other successful attempts from around the same time such as Urbie Green’s 21 Trombones, Jay & Kai +6, and Trombone Scene all of which came out of New York.

6a00e008dca1f0883401127964be0028a4-800wiHowever one of the most interesting concepts is found on Trombones Inc. (1958). This is East Coast vs West Coast… Subtitled They Met at the Continental Divide, the record features a New York set (with arrangements and compositions by J.J. Johnson) for the first five tracks, Neckbones to Tee-Jay, before moving to Los Angeles for the next six, Lassus to Heat Wave. There’s a rare release which included a twelfth track, from the East contingent. It’s a little complicated to explain who is playing on each track but rest assured these are top dogs again. The LA sessions actually share many of the same players as Tutti’s. You can find the full personnel info at this link: www.discogs.com/The-Trombones-Inc. It’s a pretty intriguing idea anyway, and the differences in composition and playing style from the two opposing ends of the country are clear to hear.

From the East Coast, J.J. Johnson’s Dues Blues:


There’s a more detailed article about the record here: www.jazzwax.com/2009/03/the-trombones-inc-1958

I think it makes sense to finish up with Frank Rosolino’s solo feature from this album, Polka Dots and Moonbeams. He was playing for the West Coast team by this time of course:

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‘E’ – English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble

It may be an unusual sound, but the pure beauty of a cornett and sackbut ensemble is often breathtaking.

Composers of Renaissance and Early Baroque music (we’re talking around 1500 – 1650) used these ancestors of the trumpet and trombone to wonderful effect, and as a result there is a great amount of repertoire for these instruments. Much of it sounds like a choir of angels singing from the heavens… it’s bloomin’ lovely music!

A diagram of Cornetts and Sackbuts, from Praetorius’ treatise Syntagma Musicum (1614-20)

The English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble is one of the leading period instrument groups in the world. Its members are some of the most accomplished early instrumentalists around, regularly performing with many of the other leading ensembles in Europe, around the globe, and even inside the Globe (as in, Shakepeare’s Theatre).

The ensemble formed in 1993 and has since then been touring and recording extensively. Here they are in the fabulous Snape Maltings hall near Aldeburgh, UK. I was fortunate enough to be in the audience for this excellent Easter concert which also included works by Schutz and the fantastic voices of the I Fagiolini ensemble.

These amazing musicians are experts in this difficult field of trombone-playing. It is a very different skill to play the sackbut as opposed to the modern trombone, and to play this music well takes a lot of study. Everything is done differently! The sound, articulation, phrasing, tuning, even the way the music is written on the page… It all comes together to make a stylistically accurate performance that simply sounds superb. So, I have huge respect for these guys, and all great performers of early music!

I’m looking forward to seeing another of their concerts in a few weeks, at Rye Arts Festival in Sussex, followed by a weekend in the Lake District playing with the ECSE Academy (25th-27th September 2015), as part of Cartmel’s Magna Carta 800 festival!

Visit their website www.ecse.co.uk for more information and concert dates.

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‘D’ – Dennis Rollins

I was probably 14 years old when I went see Dennis Rollins playing with his group Badbone & Co, in Leeds I think. He played with such energy on stage, the funk flowed freely and he even had his trombone wired into an electronics system which could make his sound wail, wave or wobble. I’m pretty sure I’d never heard anything like it before. Afterwards I got the opportunity to meet Dennis and he signed my flyer with these inspiring words,

'Richard - Keep blowin!'

‘Richard – Keep blowin!’

And so I did! Rollins definitely earned a place on my inspiration list for that. But of course he has earned plenty more exciting accolades in his life being one of the UK’s most unique and charismatic jazz stars.

Growing up in the north of England, with Jamaican roots, Rollins developed his style of jazz-infused funk in the Doncaster Youth Jazz Association and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, two of the UK’s best nurturing grounds for leading young jazz talents. He formed his own band, Dee Roe, in the 90’s, and then in 2000 formed his critically aclaimed group Badbone & Co. Their third album Big Night Out won the BBC Jazz Award for Best Band in 2006. His latest band is called Velocity Trio and they’re pretty sweet!

The energy of his live performance comes across quite well in the next video, where you can see he is using the electronics as well with a microphone wrapped onto his bell. He plays an awesome, huge spacey version of A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, before the band gets their funk on.

Here’s a transcription of his solo on Shake It Down, a track from Badbone & Co’s album Badbone. The transcription has been done by Youtube user Rob Egerton. In case you’re interested in finding good transcriptions of great trombone solos and didn’t know already, there are a whole ton of them on youtube – Rob Egerton and McKenzieBone are two of the most prolific to whom trombonists around the world are eternally grateful!

By the way, did anyone else notice something in that solo…

The Lick reigns supreme!

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‘C’ – Carol Jarvis

There’s so much to say about Carol Jarvis… she is a multi-storey source of inspiration. The thing is, she’s not only a versatile trombonist with a ton of experience, she also survived an intense decade-long battle with cancer against all the odds and has since focussed many of her efforts to fundraising and helping others. All whilst keeping her place as one of the UK’s leading freelance musicians.

In 2004, Jarvis was in her mid-20s and already enjoying success as a freelance trombonist. She was a founding member of the superb and renowned all-female quartet Bones Apart. See them in the video below playing Stars and Stripes. With her brilliant playing, Carol absolutely nails that tricky piccolo solo!

In October that year she found out she had Hodgkins Lymphoma, and embarked on a harrowing series of treatments that lasted nearly 10 years. Chemotherapies, drug trials, radiation therapy, and a stem-cell transplant – the tumours kept returning and her chances of survival looked slim. In 2011, a new drug finally put the cancer into remission, however she also needed a bone marrow transplant, a risky procedure with a 30% survival rate. In the midst of all this, Jarvis somehow found the energy to get back to doing what she loved the most – making music for a living. For two years she toured the world with Seal as trombonist, keyboards, and backing vocals. Every three weeks she had to return to The Christie Hospital in Manchester to recieve blood transfusions.

Carol Jarvis has played in West End shows, studio recordings, orchestras, TV gigs, the Brit Awards, backing world-famous bands such as Muse, and her works as an arranger and orchestrator have been nominated for the Mercury Prize, been in the top 5 of the UK Album Charts and US Billboard Chart, featured on The Oscars and also been recorded at Capitol Studios in Hollywood. On top of all that, she released her debut solo album ‘Smile’ in 2011.

It’s pretty amazing that she could keep the music playing at all through those years, let alone achieve so much at such a high level. But she, and her doctors, believe it was the music that kept her alive, that will to keep playing and keep performing. In the following video, recorded for the Lätzsch Trombone Festival 2014 at which she was a festival artist and tutor, she talks about the ordeal with festival manager Ben Cruiming, another great trombonist who won against cancer.


Now, in a very exciting Inspiration Alphabet special feature, I’m thrilled to let you know that the one and only Carol Jarvis kindly took the time to answer some questions of my own this week!

What do you find to be the best thing about being a freelance artist?

I think the best thing about being a freelance artist is, the world is my oyster. I work in all genres of music, and luckily have never struggled for work… all avenues are still open to me, and I’m enjoying a really varied career.

What is the most difficult/challenging thing about it?

I would say, the travelling can be very tiring at times. Sometimes there isn’t as much, but sometimes there’s a lot, if I’m away on a pop tour for instance, there can be some very busy patches. I remember covering 3 continents in 3 days once!

What would your best advice be for someone who is hoping to make it in this profession?

I think for any genre of music, you need to be well prepared, able to play anything that gets thrown at you (at sessions you won’t get the music in advance most of the time, so need to be on form), turn up on time, and get on with people. Simple rules, really, then hopefully the work will keep on coming.

Who would be your personal picks for inspiration?

Hmmm tricky one, as I can be inspired at every turn! Trombone-wise, Frank Rosolino, Joe Alessi. And Gordon Campbell, his playing is to die for!

Ok, so I may not exactly be Jeremy Paxman but I hope you will agree I gained a great bit of insight into her career and some excellent advice from her – Thanks Carol!

Carol and Richard at Lätzsch Trombone Festival 2014

Carol and Richard at Lätzsch Trombone Festival 2014


Along with all this, Jarvis is a past president of the British Trombone Society. I would just like to end this week’s post with a memory from a BTS event in 2013. She was given an award by legendary old trombone-jedi Jiggs Whigham, who was at the time the president of the International Trombone Association, and has been through his own share of bad health. He said, 

“To Carol Jarvis, a woman who will not accept the meaning of can’t or quit, for her courage, inspiration, and multifaceted contribution to the world of trombones.”

Carol had been caught by surprise and was quite speechless, but it was clear to see how much it meant as she held back the tears in this emotional moment.

See Carol’s website to find out more about her freelancing, her extensive charity work, and her fight for life. www.caroljarvis.com/about-carol-jarvis/

Buy a copy of ‘Smile’ here – great album showcasing Carol’s talent, and proceeds go to Macmillan Cancer Support!

And get yourself a pink pBone – raising money for The Christie Hospital

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‘B’ – Bob Hughes

“His sound was on fire, as though someone lit a gas burner under the section.”

This is how Simon Wills described the bass trombone playing of his London Symphony Orchestra section colleague, according to a post on tromboneforum.org. It is a perfect description of the sound Bob Hughes produced, this extraordinary musician who has been an inspiration to so many trombonists in the UK, and internationally.

No, he's not a hobbit, it's just a very big trombone.

No, he’s not a hobbit, it’s just a very big trombone

Revered by many as one of the greatest orchestral bass trombonists ever known, Robert Hughes spent almost 30 years in orchestras including the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Philharmonia and the London Symphony Orchestra, before sadly ceasing his professional playing career in 2006 due to focal dystonia of his embouchure. Undeterred by this unfortunate turn of events, he was able to turn his full concentration to teaching at the Royal Academy of Music, where he has been a professor since 1989. He’s still there!

He also became the president of the British Trombone Society, helping to raise their profile and the profile of the trombone itself in the UK during this time. I remember going to BTS Trombone Days as a young teenager and feeling so encouraged as Bob took a rehearsal with a smile (even while facing a wall of 50+ trombones) or offered tips for taking my trombone playing to the next level. Back then I didn’t exactly know who he was and I had never even heard him play but his kindness and enthusiasm left a clear impression on me and that’s one reason why I count him among my biggest personal inspirations.

During the 80’s the Royal Scottish National Orchestra recorded prolifically under the baton of Neeme Järvi, and many of these recordings have become benchmarks for their exciting blend of energy and musical quality. Their brass section has always been particularly celebrated for its vehement approach, exemplified below by Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet – Montagues and Capulets, recorded in 1985 with Bob Hughes driving the famous tune from his seat at the back of the orchestra (from 1:17). Brace yourself.

Read more about how musicians can be affected by focal dystonia here

http://www.dystonia.org.uk/index.php/about-dystonia/types-of-dystonia/focal-hand-dystonia/musicians-dystonia-musicians-cramp

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‘A’ – Al Grey (Day 1 of the Inspiration Alphabet)

Whilst lying in bed at 1pm on this Friday afternoon (ssshhhhh…) I decided it was time to do something a bit more useful. Preferably without getting out of bed. Luckily I had an idea for a little project – the Inspiration Alphabet.

Over the next 26 weeks months I aim to explore a small but varied selection of what’s out there in the trombone universe. So many great trombonists have gifted this world with their talents, and choosing only one to write about for each letter will be pretty damn hard. My choices will be based on my personal experiences of feeling wowed by these amazing players. Please feel free to comment on the posts, and also let me know your own choices for each letter! It’s interesting to hear who other people are listening to and learning from – it would be fantastic if we can get a forum for discussion and sharing going on here.

There is another challenge I will face – names beginnning with X, anyone?!

Anyway, it’s now 2pm. I write really slowly. But I do have other stuff to do today, like defrosting a readymeal, so without any further ado I’ll get on with it.


A is for… Al Grey

Born in 1925, Al Grey became a top-flight jazz trombonist in the late 40’s, and continued to charm audiences everywhere for the following five decades. He was well known for his characterful, bluesy expressive style and he’s particularly notable as a legendary master of the plunger mute technique. Here he is with the Count Basie band, playing Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, where he doo-wa’s his way through the whole tune like it’s the most natural thing in the world. And just look at that grin at the end… 😀

© John Abbott

© John Abbott

He was equally comfortable without the mute too. Listening to Al Grey’s recordings always gives me that boiling sugar feeling that you only get when things are swinging really hard. I don’t even know what I mean by that, but it’s real.

If you’re lovin’ that plunger sound, check out Tricky Sam Nanton and Tyree Glen of the Ellington band, two pioneers from the swing era, although they were using a different kind of technique to get more of those neat “yeah” and dirty growling sounds. A more recent plunger genius is Wycliffe Gordon and I will be doing a post about him (spoiler alert!) in about 22 weeks months(!)

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82 Bars Rest…

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#tromboneproblems

This blog is for all trombonists who are currently counting rests. Just don’t miss your entry.

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