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.

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!

“Bone Masters” with Paul the Trombonist

Trombonist Paul Nowell seems to exist in the weird intersection of trombone playing, education, clowning, employing a large stuffed banana as a sidekick, and constantly repeating a joke about tuna fish, tuning, or something like that.

Possibly the most edifying of Nowell’s various forays on the internet is his recurring YouTube show called Bone Masters, in which he plays host to the trombone-famous. Through the magic of green screen, Bone Masters is often set against a pleasant tropical or nature scene, the pleasantness of which is possibly destroyed by all the tromboning (of course, that’s a matter of opinion). While the guests relate important playing techniques and insights, Paul asks the pertinent questions. Below is a sampling of some of the episodes. You can see them all at Paul’s YouTube channel.

With Bill Watrous:

With Bob McChesney:

With Alan Kaplan:

April & Jazz Appreciation Month

Well, it’s been a while since there have been any posts here. To make matters worse, your’s truly has allowed most of Jazz Appreciation Month to pass without any jazz appreciation represented here. Thankfully, though, there’s still time. There’s always time. I think Albert Einstein said that.

For some (really) belated jazz appreciation, let’s go back to nearly the beginning of the previous century to a little thing called Livery Stable Blues, recorded by The Original Dixieland Jass Band for Victor in 1917. In these early days of “jass,” this sort of music was supposed to be somewhat comedic. The nascent recording industry used this idea of fun, novelty, and “jass” to “get over” with a popular market. In the case of Livery Stable Blues, this also meant — in part — a barnyard tie-in featuring musicians imitating animal sounds. Arguably, this constituted a disservice to both the animals and the humans. Other ODJB titles: Barnyard Blues, Ostrich Walk, Bow Wow Blues, and Skeleton Jangle.

Similarly constructed bands of this time played a music that musicians mostly identified as “ragtime,” and which didn’t need to be “funny.” The non-comic musical influence was coming from musicians like Joe “King” Oliver, whose band wouldn’t record for another six years.

Etude Magazine, April 1955: Two Centuries of Trombones

bobjones

No posts since December? Er, Happy New Year? To get things rolling again, a trombone article from the April, 1955 issue of ETUDE magazine is discussed below. The history of The ETUDE magazine is recounted here. This particular issue featured the ad pictured in the inset on the back. Click for a larger version.

The April, 1955 issue of ETUDE music magazine featured the article, “Two Centuries of Trombones.” The title was a little deceptive: instead of covering everything about trombones over the course of two centuries, the piece focussed on how trombone playing was historically significant to the town of Bethlehem, PA. Specifically, the town trombone choir’s performances were used to mark events that were solemn, lighthearted, or . . . anything. Below are excerpts from this article that frustrated readers of this website — yearning for new content — may find edifying:

Etude Magazine

“Why trombones? It has been suggested that the somber tones of these slide instruments were in keeping with the idea of playing chorales to announce a death as well as providing music at a funeral. Add to that an all-weather instrument for outdoor playing (although the slides of the trombone will freeze in very severe winter cold), and you have a practical as well as an aesthetic reason for the use of the trombones.”

Remember, though, these trombonists were not buskers. In fact, in stark contrast to buskers, the trombonists could be mobilized immediately as defenders of the town, particularly around Christmastime.

Bethlehem trombonists focus sound energy safely inward

Bethlehem trombonists focus sound energy safely inward

“A legend has grown up around the Christmas tromboning of that year [1755]. The story has long been accepted by many people that late Christmas Eve a war party of Indians camped across team Monacacy Creek, planning to attack the settlement as the sun rose. However, the trombonists from their rooftop position greeted the day before the Indians. The redmen, hearing sounds they could not understand, thought that it was the voice of the Great Spirit telling them to leave Bethlehem in peace.”

It’s likely that some sort of qualifier was needed there, like “may have thought it was the voice of the Great Spirit.” Or, a complete revision: “The native americans, hearing sounds they quickly identified as trombones, felt a little sorry for the pale-skins and decided that any sort of attack was simply not worth it.” Anyway, back to Christmas:

“Of course, at Christmas the trombone is not neglected. The Christmas eve love feast is opened with the playing of Hail Thou Wondrous Infant Stranger, and later the vigil services begin with the notes of Hark a Voice from Yonder Manger. These are old chorales. Either one or both may have been used in 1755. At that time it was the custom for the trombonists to announce Christmas day at dawn.”

etudeapr55trb2

The majestic sounds of the trombone are both festive and appropriate for Christmastime, and likely met with the approval of the townsfolk (provided the intonation was halfway decent). The possible downside? It seems the musical encouragement meant the trombonists were always up and playing at the crack of dawn regardless of the time of year or holiday. Easter is next, and naturally that involves waking everybody up, too. But how? With a large F-Bass trombone with a handle that allows the player to reach the longer slide positions.

“Long before the congregation assembles in the church, from whence they proceed to the cemetery, trombonists pass through the community awakening the sleepers with the chorales announcing that The Lord has risen.”

By the time 4th of July rolled around, the town had the good sense to put the kibosh on the “up-early and always playing the trombone” thing:

“In the past it was even customary to herald the Fourth of July at daybreak, but this custom has been given up, either because folk living near the church liked to sleep on a holiday morning and objected to being disturbed at sunrise, or the trombonists themselves preferred Morpheus to Polyhymnia.”

Importantly, there can be no ETUDE trombone article without a funny little anecdote that involves the total disruption of a beleaguered trombonist’s embouchure. Here goes nothing:

“Stories are still told of how one player’s false teeth fell from the steeple to be shattered on the roof of Simon Rau’s drug store far below, but there is no record of a trombone ever having fallen to the same doom, although from time to time someone’s hat becomes a casualty.”

To conclude this ETUDE article, there’s a quote from Rufus A. Greider, who, 80 years previous to 1955, had written about the unwavering dedication of the Bethlehem trombonists.

“It requires not a little self-denial to serve as a performer of the trombone choir. He is required to attend all services when they are used. He is obliged to assist in announcing every death which occurs in the congregation, to play at the funerals, to play on every festival, morning and afternoon, to perform before the celebration of the Lord’s supper. He is duty-bound to go to the graveyard or climb in the church belfry at all seasons and in every kind of weather; cold or rain must not be heeded, he goes through it all.”

In other words, these guys should have unionized.

Next:

“THE END”

That’s one way you know an ETUDE article is over. There’s a big “THE END” at the article’s conclusion.

THE END