THE DOZENS: TREMENDOUS TROMBONES by Alex W. Rodriguez

trombone

According to modern jazz great Slide Hampton, “we trombonists are problem solvers.” Although they have been an integral part of jazz bands throughout the music’s history, great jazz trombonists are often overlooked by jazz fans and historians. This omission, however, is not due to the lack of amazing music made on the lanky brass instrument. Despite being burdened by an awkward instrument, trombonists have applied virtually every jazz style to the instrument—from Al Grey’s bluesy inflection to Albert Mangelsdorff’s multiphonic free improvisation. Since jazz pioneers such as Kid Ory and Jimmy Harrison began recording in the 1920s, trombonists have been making their mark on the jazz tradition.

I have selected twelve of my favorite examples of trombone excellence; they span the entire course of recorded jazz and reflect a variety of approaches. From the 1920s through the 2000s, each decade is represented by at least one recording. As you will see, there is not one linear progression of jazz trombone evolution; instead, each musician uses the instrument to express his own musical personality. Styles range from Jimmy Harrison’s rambunctious swing to J.J. Johnson’s virtuosic bebop to Fred Wesley’s impeccable funk. Each has been emulated by trombonists since—and as they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery.


Fletcher Henderson: Fidgety Feet

Track

Fidgety Feet

Group

Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra

CD

The Chronological Fletcher Henderson 1927 (Classics 580)

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Musicians:

Fletcher Henderson (piano, arranger), Joe Smith (trumpet), Tommy Ladnier (trumpet), Russell Smith (trumpet), Jimmy Harrison (trombone), Benny Morton (trombone), Buster Bailey (clarinet, alto sax), Don Redman (alto sax), Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax), Charlie Dixon (banjo, guitar), June Cole (tuba), Kaiser Marshall (drums).

Composed by Larry Shields

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Recorded: New York, March 19, 1927

Fletcher_henderson--1927

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

Fletcher Henderson's pioneering jazz band relied heavily on the talents of his sidemen, and his arrangement of “Fidgety Feet” calls for many of the vast solo resources of the band. While several other band members solo, the star of this track is trombonist Jimmy Harrison, whose aggressive breaks and virtuosic solo set the stage for the band's trademark swing feeling.

The arrangement uses Harrison as the spark plug to jump-start the first strain's driving two-feel. He has a solo break early in the chart which showcases his enormous, round sound and overpowering swing feeling. Later, other instruments get a chance at the breaks, but none convey the power of Harrison's trombone. Harrison gets his full solo about halfway through the tune. Here, he shows why he was considered -- alongside Coleman Hawkins and Louis Armstrong -- to be the most sophisticated improvisers of his day. Rhythmically, his ideas fit right into the pocket, and melodically he incorporates wide leaps, expressive rips and even some chromaticism -- a difficult feat on his awkward instrument. The range he employs is also impressive; he pops out high notes as cleanly as he executes in the lower register.

Even during the cacophonous ending, Harrison's resonant sound rumbles underneath the rest of the band and supports the final hit, ending the song with the same booming exuberance with which he started it off.

Reviewer: Alex W. Rodriguez


Jimmie Lunceford (featuring Trummy Young): Margie

Track

Margie

Group

Jimmie Lunceford & His Orchestra

CD

Jumpin' With The Big Swing Bands (Savoy 17182)

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Musicians:

Jimmie Lunceford (alto sax, bandleader), Trummy Young (trombone, vocals),

Eddie Tompkins, Paul Webster, Sy Oliver (trumpets), Elmer Crumbley, Russell Bowles (trombones), Willie Smith, Earl Carruthers, Dan Grissom, Ted Buckner (reeds); Edwin Wilcox (piano); Al Norris (guitar); Moses Allen (bass); Jimmy Crawford (drums)

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Composed by Con Conrad & J. Russell Robinson. Arranged by Sy Oliver

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Recorded: New York, January 6, 1938

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Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Although he is best-known for his work with Louis Armstrong in the 1950s and 1960s, trombonist Trummy Young made his name with Jimmie Lunceford in the 1930s. “Margie”was his most prominent feature as well as one of the band's biggest hits. Young both sings and plays on this swinging arrangement by Sy Oliver. Young's singing style is breathy and joking, his high-pitched tenor a perfect match for the light, jaunty feel of the piece. However, what really stands out is his trombone work. Young plays with unrivaled control of his instrument, staying mostly in the upper register, where he produces a smooth, bright tone. His breaks feature large leaps in pitch, which are very difficult to execute. To top it off, he ends the tune on a high F#, near the absolute top of the instrument's range. The overall effect is one of infectious, danceable swing as well as musical virtuosity. Young was a perfect fit with the Lunceford band and his exposure there helped him launch a long and successful career in jazz.

Reviewer: Alex W. Rodriguez


Duke Ellington (featuring Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton): It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing

Track

It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing

Group

Duke Ellington & His Orchestra

CD

The Duke Ellington Carnegie Hall Concerts, December 1944 (Prestige 24073)

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Musicians:

Duke Ellington (piano, composer), Shelton Hemphill (trumpet), Rex Stewart (cornet), Taft Jordan (trumpet), Cat Anderson (trumpet), Ray Nance (trumpet, violin, vocal), Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton (trombone), Claude Jones (trombone), Lawrence Brown (trombone), Johnny Hodges (alto sax), Otto Hardwick (alto sax), Jimmy Hamilton (clarinet, tenor sax), Al Sears (tenor sax), Harry Carney (baritone sax), Fred Guy (guitar), Junior Raglin (bass), Hillard Brown (drums).

Composed by Duke Ellington & Irving Mills

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Recorded: Carnegie Hall, New York, December 19, 1944

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Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

This rendition of "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing" from the band's 1944 Carnegie Hall concert, is an updated version of the original 1932 recording. Despite the differences--Ray Nance taking the vocal chorus out front, the high-energy tenor solo from Al Sears and subsequent shout chorus-- the plunger mute work of trombonist Tricky Sam Nanton is what makes this track soar. His signature sound is the "ya ya" effect, but here he shows his musical growth beyond that plunger trick. He alternates between high-pitched, closed-plunger riffs and "ya ya" phrases as if having a musical conversation with himself. He also demonstrates a prodigious command of his upper register, which he uses for melodic contrast. Few musicians have been able to achieve the range of timbre in a single solo that Nanton does here. Sears starts his solo with a sense of understatement that provides excellent contrast before building it up into the climactic final shout section.

Reviewer: Alex W. Rodriguez


Kid Ory: Muskrat Ramble

Track

Muskrat Ramble

Artist

Kid Ory (trombone)

CD

The Chronological Kid Ory 1922-1945 (Classics 1069)

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Musicians:

Kid Ory (trombone),

Mutt Carey (trumpet), Joe Darensbourg (clarinet), Buster Wilson (piano), Bud Scott (banjo), Ed Garland (bass), Minor Hall (drums)

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Composed by Edward Kid Ory

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Recorded: Los Angeles, March 21, 1945

Albumcoverkidory-1922-1945

Rating: 91/100 (learn more)

Kid Ory is best known as the original proponent of the New Orleans tailgate trombone style, but he is often overlooked as one of the important composers of early jazz. "Muskrat Ramble" was his biggest hit, made famous during his tenure with Louis Armstrong.

This version, recorded almost 20 years later, has the hallmarks of the Dixieland revival style that Ory helped launch in the late 1930s: clean ensemble interaction, exposed sections for various soloists, and a more polished feel than the original recordings. Ory's trombone style had changed little; however, what he lacks in virtuosity and innovation, he compensates with a bright, exuberant tone, impeccable rhythmic sensibility and emotive growls and effects.

Although Ory never takes a solo per se, he gets many moments to shine, often shouting and growling through the trombone during breaks and belting out counterpoint underneath each melodic strain. His triumphant arpeggio after the final chorus gives him the last word, followed only by the final hit that ends the tune.

Reviewer: Alex W. Rodriguez


Jack Teagarden (with Louis Armstrong): Stars Fell On Alabama

Track

Stars Fell On Alabama

Group

Louis Armstrong & His All-Stars

CD

Satchmo At Symphony Hall (Decca/GRP 661)

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Musicians:

Louis Armstrong (trumpet), Jack Teagarden (trombone, vocals), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Dick Cary (piano), Arvell Shaw (bass), Sid Catlett (drums).

Composed by Frank Perkins and Mitchell Parish.

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Recorded: Symphony Hall, Boston, MA, November 30, 1947

Satchmo_at_symphony_hall

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

By 1946, when Jack Teagarden resurrected his career with Louis Armstrong and His All-Stars, “Stars Fell On Alabama” had long been entrenched in the trombonist's repertoire. It was one of many features for Teagarden during his tenure in the Armstrong group.

The tune begins with his highly decorated trombone style, skillfully implying the melody while showing off his virtuosic technique. Teagarden weaves lines together with note values that aren't quite eighths, triplets or sixteenths, creating rhythmic tension which he resolves precisely at the end of each phrase. In the next chorus, he sings the melody in his deep, relaxed baritone. Teagarden's understated vocal style is a stark contrast to his adroit trombone playing. His intonation is excellent, and his reading conveys the restrained, nostalgic joy of the song's lyrics.

Also of note on this recording is Armstrong's work as Teagarden's temporary sideman. Even though it's his gig, Armstrong keeps the audience focused on Jack for the whole song, only complimenting him with well-placed interjections. He even lets Teagarden lead the brief, energetic buildup into his last chorus of trombone melody. Armstrong's only big moment comes at the very end of the song, when he leads the charge out of Teagarden's vocal into the last chord, which Teagarden smoothly punctuates with one last arpeggio.

Reviewer: Alex W. Rodriguez


J.J. Johnson/ Kai Winding Trombone Octet: A Night In Tunisia

Track

A Night In Tunisia

Group

J.J. Johnson/Kai Winding Trombone Octet

CD

Jay & Kai + 6 (Collectables 5677)

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Musicians:

J.J. Johnson (trombone), Kai Winding (trombone), Urbie Green (trombone), Eddie Bert (trombone), Jimmy Cleveland (trombone), Hank Jones (piano), Ray Brown (bass), Osie Johnson (drums), Candido Camero (congas),

Bob Alexander (trombone), Bart Varsalona (bass trombone), Tom Mitchell (bass trombone)

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Composed by Dizzy Gillespie & Frank Paparelli

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Recorded: New York, April 6, 1956

J___k___6

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

In April 1956, eight of New York's top trombonists joined an all-star rhythm section to record Jay & Kai + 6, an album that has become a must-have for any trombone lover's music library. The historic recording was an expansion of the immensely successful Jay & Kai recordings featuring J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding. Like the quintet recordings, Johnson and Winding take turns as featured soloists with the ensemble. Johnson is up first with his arrangement of the bebop classic "A Night In Tunisia", and he sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

Candido Camero's congas set up a trombone groove anchored by Varsalona and Mitchell's beefy bass trombones. Johnson enters a few bars later, gliding smoothly over the others with his pure, dark tone. At the bridge, Urbie Green's screaming lead precedes Johnson's recapitulation of the melody. Johnson's solo soars over his tight, hard-swinging arrangement which builds up to his final cadenza. A bright, dissonant chord caps off the exciting finish, and Johnson leaves one last improvised flourish to remind us of his status as the top dog among the bebop trombonists.

Reviewer: Alex W. Rodriguez


Count Basie & His Orchestra (featuring Al Grey): Makin' Whoopee

Track

Makin' Whoopee

Group

Count Basie & His Orchestra

CD

Sinatra at the Sands (Reprise 46947)

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Musicians:

Count Basie (piano), Al Grey (trombone),

Harry “Sweets” Edison, Al Aarons, Sonny Cohn, Wallace Davenport, Phil Guilbeau (trumpets), Henderson Chambers, Grover Mitchell, Bill Hughes (trombones), Marshal Royal, Bobby Plater, Eric Dixon, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Charlie Fowlkes (reeds), Freddie Green (guitar), Norman Keenan (bass), Sonny Payne (drums)

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Composed by Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson; arranged by Thad Jones.

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Recorded: Sands Hotel, Las Vegas, NV, January 26, 1966

Albumcoverfranksinatra-countbasie-sinatraatthesands

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Frank Sinatra's 1966 live album Sinatra At The Sands with Count Basie is remembered as one of his finest. Highlights from Basie's opening set (sans Frank) were issued on a Telarc CD a few years back, but this performance was issued on the original Sinatra double LP. Thad Jones’ arrangement of "Makin' Whoopee" was written to feature Al Grey, one of the most prominent soloists in the Basie band of that time. Jones’ brilliant underscoring adroitly sets off Grey’s unsurpassed ability with the plunger mute. The band gets its moment to shine too, during the hard-swinging shout chorus.

But it's Grey's wailing plunger work on the out-chorus that steals the show. He lays so far back into the groove that it's impossible to tell where he's feeling the beat; nonetheless, his unmistakable roar cuts through. His virtuosic flourishes are capped by a brief cadenza where—perhaps just to show that he could—he pops out a high F. Wow. The breathtaking finish serves as a reminder of Grey's virtuosity and his importance to the fabric of the 1960s Count Basie sound.

Reviewer: Alex W. Rodriguez


Frank Rosolino: I Love You

Track

I Love You

Artist

Frank Rosolino (trombone)

CD

Fond Memories of Frank Rosolino (Double-Time 113)

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Musicians:

Frank Rosolino (trombone),

Louis van Dyke (piano), Jacques Schols (bass), John Engels (drums)

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Composed by Cole Porter

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Recorded: Hilversum, The Netherlands, June 13, 1973

Fond_memories_of_frank_rosolino

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

Frank Rosolino could burn through a jazz standard in a way that few other trombonists could. "I Love You", recorded in the Netherlands with a Dutch rhythm section five years before his death, stands as one of the most stunning documentations of Rosolino's prodigious talent.

Rosolino pulls no punches from the opening solo trombone intro; however, we soon discover that he's just getting started. His presentation of the melody sits perfectly within the tempo laid down by the rhythm section. Rosolino launches into a five-minute solo, implying the melody while engaging in nonstop trombone acrobatics. He spends most of the time in the upper register of the horn, creating an exciting effect that he sustains throughout the entire solo.

But it doesn't stop there: Rosolino takes the head out after short solos by van Dyke, Schols and Engels, but instead of stopping at the end of the form, he keeps blowing for another minute, just in case anyone thought he might be getting tired. As the track fades out to Rosolino's continuous burn, we're left wondering just how long he might have kept going were it not for the recording engineer's fade-out!

Reviewer: Alex W. Rodriguez


Albert Mangelsdorff: Ant Stepped On An Elephant's Toe

Track

Ant Stepped On An Elephant's Toe

Artist

Albert Mangelsdorff (trombone)

CD

Trilogue - Live! (MPS 68175)

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Musicians:

Albert Mangelsdorff (trombone), Jaco Pastorius (electric bass), Alphonse Mouzon (drums).

Composed by Albert Mangelsdorff

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Recorded: Berlin, November 6, 1976

Albert_manglesdorff--trilogue_live

Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

Albert Mangelsdorff's unique approach to the trombone is abundantly displayed in this trio performance. His aggressive use of advanced multiphonic techniques is featured from his rubato solo introduction through his wild and unrestrained improvisation. Mouzon follows his cues excellently, complementing Mangelsdorff's flourishes with perfectly-placed rhythmic responses. The tune relaxes into a funky groove as Pastorius takes center stage with his own solo. Mangelsdorff comes back in and blows behind him before the group transitions back into the head, this time noticably faster than the introduction. Rather than end there though, the melody unravels slowly. The track ends humorously with Mangelsdorff playing a figure across the entire range of his instrument, before a single unison note ends the song.

Reviewer: Alex W. Rodriguez


Carl Fontana: I Thought About You

Track

I Thought About You

Artist

Carl Fontana (trombone)

CD

The Great Fontana (Uptown 27.28)

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Musicians:

Carl Fontana (trombone), Al Cohn (tenor sax), Richard Wyands (piano), Ray Drummond (bass), Akira Tana (drums).

Composed by Johnny Mercer and Jimmy Van Heusen

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 5, 1985

Carl_fontana--the_great_fontana

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

Carl Fontana's unique post-bop personality is on full display on this track, one of the signature songs of his career. His performance of “I Thought About You” demonstrates a deeply personal and innovative approach to improvisation. His relaxed, playful trombone voice is apparent from the first presentation of the melody. He ducks out of the spotlight, however, in the second "A" of the melody, delicately improvising a countermelody behind Al Cohn's soft tenor saxophone. Fontana lets Cohn take the first solo, then comes in with his own personal approach for his choruses--always in the pocket and fully in control. He slowly works in a few impeccable double-time inflections, fitting them into the restrained tone of the solo. After a brief chorus by pianist Richard Wyands, Cohn and Fontana trade eights before sliding into a loose and interactive final presentation of the tune.

Reviewer: Alex W. Rodriguez


Maceo Parker: Pass The Peas

Track

Pass The Peas

Artist

Maceo Parker (alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, vocals)

CD

Life On Planet Groove (Minor Music 801023 )

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Musicians:

Maceo Parker (alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, vocals), Fred Wesley (trombone), Larry Goldings (organ), Rodney Jones (guitar),

Pee Wee Ellis (tenor saxophone), Kenwood Dennard (drums)

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Composed by James Brown, John Starks & Charles Bobbit

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Recorded: Cologne, Gernany, March 5, 1992

Maceo_parker--life_on_planet_groove

Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

This live cut of the James Brown classic “Pass the Peas” features his longtime horn section -- Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley -- at their absolute best. The group, a collection of James Brown alumni and other top-notch funk musicians, is much looser and improvisatory than the Brown band, and it's clear that each of the horn players relishes their musical freedom.

Fred Wesley kicks things off with the first solo, staking his claim as the funkiest trombonist of all time. Melodically, he rarely strays from the blues scale, but he builds a powerful and exciting solo by using short, rhythmically precise phrases and juxtaposing his ideas as if having a conversation with himself. By the time Maceo gets the crowd chanting "Fred! Fred!" his dark, juicy tone is sailing expertly over the groove.

Maceo adds his two cents afterward, and the group continues for nearly 12 minutes without losing that essential rhythmic feel. Guitarist Rodney Jones leads the way, and the crowd obviously eats it up. They finally build into a massive chordal explosion, giving the crowd a chance to cheer before moving on with the rest of their uncompromisingly funky show.

Reviewer: Alex W. Rodriguez


Conrad Herwig: Hieroglyphica

Track

Hieroglyphica

Artist

Conrad Herwig (trombone)

CD

Hieroglyphica (Criss Cross 1207)

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Musicians:

Conrad Herwig (trombone),

Bill Charlap (piano), James Genus (bass), Gene Jackson (drums)

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Composed by Conrad Herwig

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Recorded: Brooklyn, NY, January 11, 2001

Conrad_herwig--hieroglyphica

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

For those who know Conrad Herwig through his work with the Latin Side recordings, Hieroglyphica shows the hip, hard-swinging jazz side of the virtuosic trombonist. This cat can hang in a way few trombonists can. From the very start of his quartet's epic 10-minute journey in and out of tonality and meter, he shows that he can do absolutely whatever he wants with his instrument. Whether it's the low multiphonic roars that begin the tune, the extreme upper-register rips or the interactive improvisation with the full rhythm section, Herwig demonstrates complete control.

The composition layers each member of the quartet in and out of the texture: Herwig spends the first minute all by himself before drummer Gene Jackson sneaks in with out-of-time cymbal rolls and tom hits. Bill Charlap and James Genus don't join the action until three minutes into the tune, but their timing is impeccable as it starts a long, burning run of Herwig's trombone. Charlap and Jackson follow with equally impressive solos before the quartet finally presents the melody--right before the tune draws to a dramatic, cacophonous close.

Reviewer: Alex W. Rodriguez


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