About a year ago — around Christmastime — a friend on Facebook sent me a message. The message was from Greg, a fellow trombonist from my undergraduate school days, and, previous to the Facebook friending, I hadn’t heard from him in something like 20 years. Greg is a good guy. At the University of Tennessee, we were in the trombone choir together. The trombone choir was probably one of the best and most fun ensembles I played in while at UT. Other ensembles weren’t so fun until I got out of them; then they were pretty funny in retrospect. In trombone choir, we played arrangements of jazz and classical music, and performed in and around Knoxville, as far away as Oak Ridge. It’s a good memory, and so I was happy when Greg popped up on Facebook. Anyway, I’m digressing. On to Greg’s message. It reads as follows:
chris, My mom paints gourds , she has ducks, geese ,turtles , and santa clause , if interrested let me know . No kidding ! greg
I read the message a few times. I kept reading it. In a way, it seemed like a poem. I read the message for other people. I experimented with different voices and inflections. Like any written work you consider a poem, there’s not one “correct” way to read it, but I’m going to share with you what I feel is a solid interpretation. An mp3 file is here below:
One year ago, the Ella Fitzgerald box set Twelve Nights in Hollywood was in short supply. Part of the reason was an article in the New York Times discussing its release. Soon, the box set was backordered everywhere.
The newly discovered recordings were taken from Ella’s 1961 (and ‘62) stint at the Crescendo, a small jazz club in Los Angeles. These joyful, lovely, and intimate performances languished in Verve’s recording vaults for years, mostly because Ella’s producer Norman Granz was focussing on other projects the singer was doing at the time. Which projects? Well, two were the Rodgers & Hart and Cole Porter songbook albums, which featured Ella in front of large studio orchestras. In contrast, on Twelve Nights in Hollywood Ella sings with her touring rhythm section, consisting of Lou Levy, piano, Herb Ellis, guitar, Wilfred Middlebrooks bass, and Gus Johnson on drums.
It won’t surprise anyone to hear that Ella is in fantastic form. On these recordings, she lines each tune up and knocks it out without seeming to try, with just a short and appreciative “I thank you” between each number. Ella covers her kaleidoscopic range: there are touching ballads, scatted swing numbers, and even the blues she wasn’t known for. Also, there’s a glimpse of Ella the entertainer, taking audience requests and being a little coy about whether or not she really knows the song, or whether there are in fact any lyrics to sing:
Someone, someone asked for Perdido …
Don’t know how the lyrics go
to this tune called Per-deeedo …
Well, it’s December 1, and you might wonder what The Commander has been doing. Well, suffice it to say, it’s a difficult charge to command all those trombones. Think about herding cats. Now, think about herding cats who are trying to play brass tubes. Think of these same cats riding horses. Think about The Cats who play with Count Basie. Actually, forget that. Commander Trombone is merely a nome de plume or pen name. Actually, no pens or cats are involved, only this web site.
Speaking of this web site, it’s been somewhat redesigned. It’s an ongoing project, so you may notice a few weird things here and there.
J.J. Johnson’s Exercises and Etudes for the Jazz Instrumentalist is probably not as celebrated an etude book as it should be. On the cover, the publisher Hal Leonard promotes it as “Easy to advanced,” and “Great for sight reading.” Certainly true, but J.J., after dedicating the book to Fred Beckett inside, makes this better explanation:
This method book is based primarily on my own personal experiences and career as a jazz trombonist, and therefore has very little to do with dogma or tenets…In my opinion, if jazz improvisation is the heart and soul of jazz music, then a clear and basic understanding of jazz syntax (or the language of jazz) is the necessary heart and soul of jazz improvisation. With this book I am committed to helping you get a basic and clear understanding of jazz syntax.
Naturally, it won’t be a surprise to see Johnson drawing on the blues as a musical form. He also sometimes uses the be-bopper’s idea of “contrafact,” or writing a new melody over an existing chord progression. You’ll have to guess — or hear — which tunes are used as underpinning, though. No chord progressions are given.
J.J. sneaks in good advice, too. Over one etude, a reminder:
“How do you feel? Don’t overdue it. When your body is trying to tell you something, LISTEN !!! AND OBEY !!!
To sum up quickly, this is a fun, worthwhile, and thoroughly modern take on the traditional etude book. It’s available for all instruments, and is highly recommended.
Today, August 20, is Jack Teagarden’s birthday. In honor of that anniversary, I’m reposting a bullet-point version of Jack Tegarden’s career. I wrote this some time ago, although I’ve revised it since. Sure, there’s a wikipedia article, but why read that when you can get the information directly from one of the world’s foremost authorities on the subject?
Originally named Weldon Leo, Jack Teagarden was born in Vernon, Texas, on August 20, 1905.
Teagarden began studying music early in life. First came piano, then peckhorn. (The peckhorn looks like a small baritone horn, pitched in Eb rather than Bb.) Jack took up the trombone at the age of eight, and was reportedly proficient by the time he was eleven.
The Teagarden family household was a musical one, mostly because of the influence of Jack’s mother, although Jack’s father did play (apparently weak) cornet in the town band. As the family grew, each of Jack’s new siblings took up a different instrument: Younger brother Charlie played trumpet, sister Norma became a pianist, and the youngest brother, “Cubby,” played the drums.
Jack had perfect pitch and could, as sister Norma remembered, “Call off the overtones in a thunderclap.”
Jack discovered his own way of playing trombone, making use of a flexible embouchure and alternate positions to get around the inherent clumsiness of the trombone slide. This general way of “getting around the horn” influenced many contemporaries of Jack, as well as future jazz trombonists such as Carl Fontana. The trombone sound Jack began to develop has often been described as a “jug tone,” slightly nasal and hoarse.
While still a teenager, Jack began gigging around the Southwest with “barnstorming” bands, including Doc Ross’s “Jazz Bandits” and a band run by the famous but reclusive pianist Peck Kelley. Still unrecorded, Jack arrived in New York in 1927 with Doc Ross.
While with Kelley, Jack created a way of playing the slide alone with a water glass in place of the bell. The technique, which changed all the usual slide positions, created a muted and earthy sound that Teagarden used expressively on a variety of tunes, especially the blues. One of the best examples of this amazing slide-with-glass playing is St. James Infirmary, from a 1947 concert recorded at New York City’s Town Hall.
Jack became known as a masterful blues trombonist, and by his own account he became familiar with the sound of “blue notes” by listening to the African American holy-roller-tent-revival meetings that took place near his childhood home in Vernon.
Louis Armstrong became a musical hero early on when Jack discovered the trumpeter’s records. Supposedly, Jack and trumpeter Wingy Manone buried a copy of Armstrong’s Oriental Strut in the Southwestern desert, hoping the record would become petrified for the benefit of future generations. Later, Teagarden would go on to perform with Armstrong many times.
Jack first recorded with Louis Armstrong in 1929 — one of the earliest racially mixed sessions. The tune was a blues, Knockin’ a Jug.
Jack’s singing was just as beguiling as his trombone playing to many. Like his trombone sound, his voice had a distinctive timbre, “Between croon and moan,” as critic Nat Hentoff described it.
Teagarden enjoyed tinkering with mechanical things. He designed mutes and mouthpieces, occasionally taking a lathe on the road with him. He owned and worked on two Stanley Steamers during his life, although one was stolen when he let a prospective buyer take it for a test drive.
Teagarden supposedly originated the use of Ponds cold cream as a lubricant on trombone slides.
During his career, Teagarden recorded prolifically, and today you’ll find many compilations featuring “Big Tea.” If you’re looking for a good cross-section of Jack’s entire discography, this boxed set is a good one. The Complete Fifties Studio Recordings, with Bobby Hackett, are also not to be missed. For downloadable music, Jack Teagarden Greatest Hits is a great value.