Tricky Sam Nanton and the jungle trombone




The trombone was once regarded as the voice of God and long considered grand and noble, but the early 20th century saw development of different, more raucous trombone sounds. Duke Ellington and his first great trombonist Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton developed the “jungle sound.” In Nanton’s hands, the trombone learned to growl with a plunger and mute. Ellington’s band had the reputation of having the “dirtiest” sound of any jazz band. Although many pioneers of jazz knew and loved “high class” music like opera, the early jazz audiences probably didn’t. While more “refined” audiences may have found the jungle sound … Continue reading

Kid Ory, Trombonist, Businessman




Music history has no shortage of musicians with no business sense. In jazz, Jack Teagarden never led a successful band; he drank too much, was too generous with friends, and had no idea how to make contracts. Fletcher Henderson failed so miserably financially that he had to sell all of his arrangements to Benny Goodman just to get money. In contrast, Kid Ory, the legendary tailgate trombonist, displayed his business sense at the age of 8, the same time he started performing music. … Continue reading

The versatility of Lawrence Brown, Ellington’s lead trombonist




The self-deprecating Lawrence Brown is best known as one the great players in Duke Ellington’s trombone section. In fact, when Brown joined, the Ellington band became the first jazz band to have three trombones. He is, of course, more than just a number. He became the band’s lead trombonist and a very versatile soloist. How versatile? In addition to his incredible displays of virtuosity, he is probably the first of the great jazz ballad trombonists. But I described him as self-deprecating. He frequently spoke poorly of his own ability. It must have been an attempt to appear humble. If he … Continue reading

Juan Tizol, Ellington’s valve trombonist




Of all the people who populated the trombone sections of professional big bands in the swing era, not many played valve trombone. Not many became famous, either, unless they became known as soloists or band leaders. Puerto Rican Juan Tizol was one of the few in both categories. Most municipalities in Puerto Rico offered musical instruction, and produced many excellent musicians in the process. Jazz bands and theater bands that catered primarily to African American audiences began to recruit them in large numbers beginning before World War I. Tizol first arrived in New York in 1917, but returned home, overwhelmed … Continue reading

10 quotations by jazz masters




No particular music makes me feel nostalgic. If it’s great, it just keeps me in the present moment. That level of music is like a classic story, like the Iliad–something so perfect it can never be old. ~ Wynton Marsalis You can study orchestration, you can study harmony and theory and everything else, but melodies come straight from God. ~ Quincy Jones We all do “do, re, mi,” but you have to find the other notes yourself. ~ Louis Armstrong Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of … Continue reading

Portrait of J. J. Johnson




n 1948, band leader Stan Kenton contemplated replacing all the slide trombones in his band with valve trombones. Under the influence of the new bebop style, all of the instruments had to play much faster than they had just a decade earlier. Kenton thought the slide trombone had become a jazz has-been that could never keep up. He was probably unaware that a young trombonist named J. J. Johnson had already begun to demonstrate that the slide trombone could indeed keep up. James Louis Johnson learned trombone as a school student in Indianapolis and played with such big bands as … Continue reading

Concert bands and big bands




I used to play summers with the Wheaton Municipal Band in Wheaton, Illinois. The last concert of the season is always “big band” music, which means that most of the 90 members are finished and only 17 people play that concert. It has always struck me as funny that after a season of full band concerts, the one called the big band concert involves only about a fifth as many players. The difference in names turns out to be a matter of history and tradition. During the French Revolution, Bernard Sarrette took charge of training military musicians and assembled a … Continue reading

Creole Band




The first jazz band to tour the vaudeville circuit, and therefore gain recognition outside of New Orleans, was the Creole Band (James Palao, violin; Fred Keppard, cornet; George Baquet, clarinet; Eddie Vincent, trombone; Ollie”Dink” Johnson, drums; Norwood Williams, guitar; and Bill Johnson, bass). They declined an offer to make commercial recordings, therefore giving the prestige and fame of making the first recorded jazz to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, a white band. The Creole Band virtually disappeared from jazz history until Lawrence Gushee published  his Pioneers of Jazz: The Story of the Creole Band in 2005. … Continue reading