Exercises and Etudes for the Jazz Instrumentalist

Exercises and Etudes for the Jazz Instrumentalist

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.

Happy Birthday, Big Tea

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?

Jack Teagarden

  • 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.
  • In 1944, Jack, with the help of his band, provided the soundtrack for two Walter Lantz Universal Cartoons: The Pied Piper of Basin Street and the Sliphorn King of Polaroo.
  • Jack eventually recorded and performed with most of the major jazz musicians of his time, which kept him on the road throughout his life.
  • Jack played with the following groups, among numerous others:
  1. Ben Pollack, 1928-1932.
  2. Paul Whiteman, 1933-1938.
  3. Various editions of his own — sadly, mostly mis-managed and perpetually in-debt — big band, 1939-1946.
  4. The Louis Armstrong All-Stars, 1947-1951.
  5. His own small quasi-dixieland groups, one of which did a tour for the U.S. State Department in 1958.
  • 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.

Teagarden Recordings

cover art for Jack Teagarden's Greatest Hits

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.

Three Great Blue Note CDs Featuring J.J. Johnson as Sideman

During his career as a jazz musician, the late J.J. Johnson recorded many times as a leader. His well known musical vision and skills as a writer and arranger — not to mention his virtuosic translation of modern jazz to the trombone — meant the leader role fit him well. That same reputation, too, meant he was in demand as a sideman. In these instances, J.J.’s playing always adds something special to the musical proceedings, and, while freed from the responsibilities of a leader, he might sound a little more relaxed than usual. Below are three Blue Note CDs you may not have heard yet: all feature J.J. as a sideman. Check them out. The titles and cover art will link to the music at Amazon.

Afro-Cuban

Kenny Dorham: Afro Cuban

Leader: Kenny Dorham, Recording date: March 28, 1955

  1. Afrodisia
  2. Basheer’s Dream
  3. Lotus Flower
  4. Minor’s Holiday
  • J.J. Johnson, trombone
  • Kenny Dorham, trumpet
  • Hank Mobley, tenor saxophone
  • Cecil Payne, bass sax
  • Horace Silver, piano
  • Oscar Pettiford, bass
  • Art Blakey, drums
  • Carlos Valdez, percussion

Volume 2

Sonny Rollins: Vol. 2

Leader: Sonny Rollins, Recording date: April 14, 1957

Page for this recording at Wikipedia

  1. Why Don’t I?
  2. Wail March
  3. You Stepped Out of a Dream
  4. Poor Butterfly
  5. Misterioso
  • J.J. Johnson, trombone
  • Sonny Rollins, Tenor saxophone
  • Horace Silver, piano
  • Paul Chambers, bass
  • Art Blakey, drums

Cape Verdean Blues

Horce Silver: Cape Verdean Blues

Leader: Horace Silver, Recording date: October 22, 1965

Page for this recording at Wikipedia

  1. Nutville
  2. Bonita
  3. Mo’ Joe
  • J.J. Johnson, trombone
  • Horace Silver, piano
  • Woody Shaw, trumpet
  • Joe Henderson, tenor saxophone
  • Bob Cranshaw, bass
  • Roger Humphries, drums

The Republicans from Central Casting

Republican actors?

The Cast?

Commander Trombone has a simple inquiry to put out there into the internets today, and it goes like this: are Republicans in the U.S. Congress actually representatives, or do they now only represent what representatives are supposed to look like?

Sorry to get all Glenn Beck on you, but I’m just asking the tough questions that no one else will ask. Lets peal back the layers of the onion. I’m crying because of all this, not because of the onion, but because I love my country so much. OK, it’s a figurative onion. I’m still sobbing.

In the preceding months that lead-up to the final passage of health care reform—really, it’s health insurance reform—here in the United States, Republicans have been saying all kinds of crazy, untrue, things. Here’s something that may scare the pants right off you: in many cases, these Republicans were told to say these things. Below are some examples of things they were told to say. Please excuse the excessive use of exclamation points; they are needed to convey hysteria.

  • This reform will set up “Death Panels”*

    *No, not that fake wood paneling from the 70s. A government “panel” will decide if your grandma lives or dies. It’ll be like the DMV. She’ll be asked to take a number and sit down. When her number comes up, she’ll be herded into a room with other senior citizens. The Death Panel will take their seats and activate television monitors. You know what’s next: Golden Girls and Matlock re-runs! Eventually, the inevitable will happen.

  • This reform is a government takeover*

    *You know how your government screws up everything right? We mean, well, we Republicans work in government, but forget about all that. Government will screw it up. Only the magic of the private sector can provide health care. Imagine if the The Government ran a fast-food restaurant. You’d pay $40 for a milkshake that would plant a computer chip in your brain! It’s a computer chip that causes you to buy more milkshakes and eventually causes you to develop type 2 diabetes, thus making you totally dependent on U.S. Government for the rest of your life! (Does this seem over-the-top crazy? This particular crazy thing was specially written for Michele Bachmann.)

  • This reform will explode the federal deficit!*

    *Please forget what the Congressional Budget Office says about this bill, and please try to forget that our party already exploded the deficit. We really are the party of fiscal responsibility, except when we don’t hold 2 branches of the Federal Government (Really, 3 branches).

You may wonder who’s behind these lies, and who compelled these Republicans to say these things. Is it a shadow government controlled by a foreign power? Is it the Shriners, with their crazy fez symbology?

Friends, I have something awesome to reveal to you today. These are not real Republicans, these are actors. These people come from Central Casting. Yes, Hollywood is behind this, the silver screen on to which all this utter ridiculousness is projected.

“But,” I hear you saying, “The Republicans always rail against Hollywood. How could they be working for Hollywood?” Well, Follow the money. What drives ticket sales? Controversy. There’s only so many Crazy Lohans Hollywood can put out there. Hollywood needs crazy like it needs the air, and Hollywood needs the “Republicans” to criticize them. Ever since 1938, when Orson Welles convinced all those uncomplicated rubes that martians were invading, the media and Hollywood has known people could be made to do their bidding. What better bidding than to buy movie tickets?

How do we know all this? It’s simple: we know because of smart movie critics like Roger Ebert. He told us that the “Conservative Republican” writing is bad, the narrative is flawed, and the performances are not even passable. Further, we know Hollywood puts its weakest performers on Fox News. Behind the media curtain, the Bad Fox Actors frantically work the levers of their machine, trying to deceive the already spelling challenged. But that deception ends here, today. Now you know the rest of the story. Commander Trombone—Good Day.

Commander Banjo?

No, well, he wouldn’t go for that name, and that’s probably a good idea, but musician Danny Barnes runs an interesting website.

danny barnes, musician

Not surprisingly, many of the articles/entries are about music, including this particularly good one how to make a living playing music. Barnes, however, will often venture onto any topic that interests him. For example, here’s an entry about getting started with shortwave radio.

I discovered this website, like so many other things on the internet, through a succession of links: ElementsOfJazz: oneworkingmusician dot com: Danny Barnes.