Keeping the slide slick and slipping




Trombonists are the only instrumentalists who have to push a pair of tubes as much as two feet along a pair of narrower tubes inside. They have a wide variety of choices for lubricating the slide–a variety of oils, creams, silicon. And they discuss slide lubrication so much that sometimes they even bore each other. Oh no! Not another discussion of Slide-o-Mix™ vs Superslick™! (No need to panic now. That’s not where this is going!) A recent discussion on Trombone-L, a popular email list, proved worthy of the attention to a wider audience both for its historical erudition and the … Continue reading

A pocket-sized trombone with a full-sized sound!




I love the trombone, but it does have its disadvantages. It can be very heavy. I confess I didn’t like the trombone too much when I had to carry it to school. In junior high, I wasn’t on a school-bus route, but it was too far to walk. My dad put some kind of carrier on the front fender of my bike, and that’s how I got the trombone back and forth. Another problem: The slide makes the trombone one of the longest instruments in a band or orchestra even in first position. Granted, bassoons, baritone saxophones, double basses, etc. … Continue reading

Update on my next book–and this blog




My next book, A History of the Trombone, is due out from Scarecrow Press in June. That means I have lots of work to do this month. I just got the page proofs and have about three weeks to proofread the whole thing and prepare the index. I’m so excited! I have been working on this project for about 14 years now. Of course, I can’t expect anyone to be as excited as I am, but I hope a lot of trombonists will be excited when it becomes available. Of course, the time to do this final bit of work … Continue reading

How old is that trombone joke? Really?




When I was in fifth grade, just learning trombone, one of my friends, who was learning clarinet, asked me how I could play trombone. Doesn’t it go up into my mouth? I had to take the slide apart to show him how it looked. Some time after that, I started to hear jokes about some hayseed who watched a trombonist intently, and then declared to one and all, “He don’t really swaller that thing.” Since I actually knew someone who thought I did, I guess it should be no surprise how long the confusion has been around. For those who … 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

An experimental brass band in 1832




At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the only possible all-brass ensemble was the cavalry band, which could only play military signals. Once keyed bugles and valved trumpets and horns became available, massed brass could play real music. The movie Brassed Off provides a glimpse of the British brass band tradition. The band in that movie, where all the members worked for a coal mining company, reflects the working class origins of that institution. No one can identify the first British brass band with certainty, but several existed before the end of the 1830s. I found an interesting article in … Continue reading

Le saquebute




Readers may recognize the title of this post, and of the article reproduced above, as the French cognate for the old English word “sackbut,” or trombone. And of course it is. For anyone who doesn’t read French, however, the article is actually about a French trombone sextet founded in 1909. It played nothing but music written for trombone. Surely that means transcribed. Hardly any original trombone ensemble music existed then, and I doubt if any exists even now for the group’s instrumentation. It used six different sizes of trombone, one each of piccolo (!), soprano, alto, tenor, bass, and contrabass. … Continue reading

Girls and trombone: odder than I first thought?




I had just begun seventh grade the first time I met a girl trombonist, who was also in seventh grade. It didn’t take long to realize that she was better than any other trombonist in the band, and there were lots of them. When we got to ninth grade (freshman year of high school), she played better than any of the seniors. Her older sisters, recent graduates, had been just as outstanding on  horn and tuba. The best trumpet player was a girl, as were all of the hornists, and a euphonium player. It never occurred to me that there … Continue reading

Gate crashers: trombones in Handel’s Messiah




Merry Christmas! Although Messiah is, strictly speaking, not Christmas music, having been composed for Lenten performances, today we most often hear it at Christmas. Handel used trombones to great effect in two of his oratorios, Saul and Israel in Egypt, both first performed in 1738. Apparently he did not have access to trombones in any later year; he considered adding trombones to two later oratorios, not including Messiah, but soon abandoned the effort. Unlike most other music of his time and earlier, Handel’s did not suffer posthumous neglect. The Concert of Ancient Music, founded in 1776, actually had a rule … Continue reading

Did Sax invent the saxhorn?




(Saxhorns are the top row of instruments in this 1872 advertisement) In1845, French military music reached the bottom of a long decline. The war ministry, desiring to reorganize it completely, arranged for a contest among bands with various instrumentation. The band led by Adolphe Sax won. The Belgian-born Sax had only moved to Paris and set up shop three years earlier. His quick success (largely due to the superior craftsmanship of his instruments but also to notable supporters such as Hector Berlioz) annoyed established French makers. That this upstart should win the right to reorganized French military music added insult … Continue reading