Happy Birthday, J.J. Johnson!

It’s the birthday of one of the great voices of jazz music, J.J. Johnson. Of the slide instrument, J.J. — often referred to as the father of modern jazz trombone — once quipped, “It’s a horrible, beastly to play, especially to play jazz on.” Well? You could never really tell that when J.J. played. His handling of the trombone always projected a relaxed calm, and the musical results speak for themselves.

In 1960, for Jazz at the Philharmonic, here’s J.J. playing with Stan Getz and band: Victor Feldman piano, Sam Jones, bass, Louis Hayes, drums. The location is the Salle Pleyel in Paris, France. The musical vehicle is Sweet Georgia Brown, a tune whose changes J.J. was evidently fond of improvising on. He recorded it more than once as a harmonic basis for tunes he composed like Sweet Georgia Gillespie and Tea Pot. Speaking of composing, the fact that J.J. was an inventive composer showed in all of his musical expressions.

Love Themes For The Underground, The Establishment & Other Sub Cultures Not Yet Known

Trombonist and proprietor of Hip Bone Music Michael Davis has been running his excellent Bone-to-Pick interview series for a while now. A little over a year ago, Davis featured the incomparable trombonist Bill Watrous. Watrous, who is full of stories, observations, and the occasional joke*, is a natural for this sort of thing, and that makes the interview fun to watch.

Cover Art

Sound Clip

How Long Has This Been Going On?

*The Carl Fontana Joke

Watch the entire interview if you haven’t already, but for the joke as told by Carl Fontana to Watrous, check out 32 minutes 13 seconds.

When recalling his earliest — and fairly obscure — LP solo recordings, Bill mentions one whose title seems to be a 60s zeitgeist send-up: Love Themes For The Underground, The Establishment & Other Sub Cultures Not Yet Known. Watrous remembers the arranger Walter Raim talked him into the project when he was in New York City doing other recording work. Love Themes For The Underground, The Establishment & Other Sub Cultures Not Yet Known had interesting instrumentation in addition to Watrous’s trombone, consisting of string quartet, vibes, guitar, bass, and drums, plus voices. “I still have a copy of this. You can’t get these anywhere,” says Watrous.

Well, over at my favorite used record store, Hymies, I did find a copy of, you know, Love Themes For The Underground, The Establishment & Other Sub Cultures Not Yet Known. It was recorded in 1969 for MTA Records in New York (not to be confused with the current label of that name). Despite the high concept title, the recording is a standards outing with Aquarius (from the 1967 musical Hair) added in. (Also, did Aquarius ever really become a standard?) To be sure, it’s easy listening, but as the liner notes mention, using a string quartet — as opposed to a huge string section — changes up the usual “easy listening” texture. The arrangements are interesting — the tracks on this LP could have easily been used for Mad Men music cues.

Sounds of the Time Capsule

The Jazz Trombone Time Capsule has been hanging around here for awhile, surviving several versions of this website. When it was first published, it used “dot mov” files for the sound clips. While it was an OK solution for the time, it required QuickTime to be installed on the computer (nothing wrong with that, necessarily), and the audio codecs I used have since become outmoded. Yep, the sound clips could have sounded better. Well, now I’m pleased to announce that, in addition to improving the way the sound clips are delivered, I’ve updated them all to higher bit-rate mp3. Better late than never, huh?

Larry McCabe’s Irish American (Full Album!)

Larry McCabe

Larry McCabe

A while back, I wrote about Larry McCabe’s EP, Irish American. I am pleased to say it’s now a full length album, and it is — as we say in the trades — completely bad-ass. As I write this, I’m quite certain that Larry would say that this recording project — in addition to being an education — has been a labor of love. (Of course, all recording projects are an education when the artist is truly involved, but I’m digressing.) To the point, love shows in the music, which ranges from hard rocking — O’Diddley, for example — to dance-worthy, to serene and beautiful. A little excerpt of what Larry says about it:

I was born in the heartland of America. My great great grandfather came here from Ireland. I grew up listening to all kinds of music and was fortunate enough to play with some very talented and soulful musicians right out of high school. It was a time when you could go on the road, play music and make a living. I played with everyone from Brenda Lee to Maynard Ferguson and had a ball. A few years back I started listening to Irish music and it it literally struck a chord with my ancestral roots. I love pure traditional music.

Over the years, and no doubt through the musical experiences he mentions above, Larry’s been able to match his musical sensibilities to the slide instrument, with the result that today his musicality and trombone playing are easily in a class by themselves.

One of my personal favorites from Irish American is a marvelous, arranged-on-the-fly, trombone choir: Annie McMahon. Clan McCabe is nothing short of a trombone power ballad. (The euphonium is used here to great effect, too.) Is some of this music shades of Trombone Shorty? You bet! So, check out Larry McCabe’s Irish American — as in right now!