Davis Shuman: neglected pioneer trombone soloist

In 1994, Michael Meckna issued the collective biography Twentieth-Century Brass Soloists. To my surprise, it didn’t include Davis Shuman. The careers of some of the people in the book would not have been conceivable without Shuman’s example. As I performed the research for my most recent book on the trombone, I found him absent from most of the rest of the literature. Davis Shuman biography Davis Shuman was born in the Ukraine in 1912. Pograms in conjunction with the Russian Revolution forced many Jewish families to leave. Shuman’s father relocated to Lawrence, Massachusetts in the late 1910s. The rest of … Continue reading

Victor Cornette and his trombone method

For most of a century, advanced trombone students have worked from a combination of the trombone method by Victor Cornette (1795-1868) and the Melodious Etudes compiled from Marco Bordogni’s vocalises by Johannes Rochut. Cornette published the first edition of his method in 1831. The Paris Conservatory taught trombone when it opened in 1795, but soon abandoned it. It didn’t offer trombone again until after Cornette published his method, … Continue reading

Fake histories of the trombone, or, where was Snopes?

Widely copied misinformation did not begin with the Internet. Reliable historical writings about the trombone in English begin with a 1906 article by Francis Galpin, for example. Before that? Fake histories abounded. In fact, likely as not, they appeared in encyclopedia articles. They frequently name sources, but except for the Bible, not with enough precision that interested readers could actually find them. Or else they name current secondary sources that refer only to bibliographic fog. … Continue reading

Don Drummond, a great, but underappreciated trombonist

I came across the name “Don Drummond” on the Trombone Forum in connection with something called “ska.” I mentioned Drummond and ska trombone in A History of the Trombone, but didn’t investigate. Then I thought of him when trying to decide what to write about here and listened to some videos. Wow! … Continue reading

10 odd facts about trombonists you’d never guess

Trombonists, who have been mostly human, have always had lives. Some of them have commanded great personal and professional respect, but not others. The trombone itself has had its ups and downs. In fact, the high points in the reputations of the trombone and trombonists have not necessarily coincided. Sometimes playing trombone has been their principal profession, more often, though, not. In fact, most musicians throughout history have had to earn money from something besides music in order to survive. … Continue reading

9 odd wind instruments you have probably never seen

Over the last couple of centuries, inventors have brought out a remarkable number of odd wind instruments that somehow never became successful. Or if they did, their success didn’t last. In some cases, pieces in the standard orchestral repertoire call for one or more. There is a growing interest in restoring them for performance of this music. Ophicleide At the beginning of the 19th century, as the orchestra began to expand, only two instruments existed that could serve as bass of the brass choir: the bass trombone and the serpent. Neither was satisfactory. The serpent, a cornett-like bass instrument invented … Continue reading

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

How the Trombone Cheated Death

At the beginning of the 1600s, courts, towns, churches, and individual members of the nobility all over Western Europe sponsored musical organizations that included trombone. These ensembles participated in music making from dance music to public concerts to participation in Christian worship. By the end of the century, they had practically disappeared, and the trombone along with it. If no one had used it anywhere, the trombone would have become like the krummhorn and other obsolete instruments that early music enthusiasts resurrected in the mid 20th century. No one else would know or care anything about it. Instead, it lay … Continue reading

When the trombone was almost cool

There have been two periods in history where solo trombone captured the popular imagination. Most recently, jazz made stars of Kid Ory, Jack Teagarden, Leonard Brown, Tommy Dorsey, J. J. Johnson and too many others to mention. Jazz no longer defines popular music in America. No living trombonist has the same standing in public esteem. The other period began in Germany early in the 19th century and quickly spread worldwide, even to the US, then struggling to establish its own musical life. English musical life included many trombone soloists, all but one of them human. France also produced very successful … Continue reading