Women trombonists of the late Renaissance

Professional women musicians in the Renaissance were usually singers, not instrumentalists. Usually. Women who learned to play instruments—especially aristocratic woman—usually didn’t take up trombone. Not usually. Here and there, fascinating exceptions turn up. Including perhaps the Queen of England? The illustration, by the way, is a detail from a 19th-century engraving made from an embroidered tablecloth, which was made in the 1560s. Portraits of a German count and his wife occupy the center of the tablecloth (no longer extant, but a photograph exists). This woman is among 9 very aristocratic-looking men and women depicted with various instruments encircling the count … Continue reading

Moritz Nabich and the second generation of 19th-century trombone soloists

In 1861, Dwight’s Journal of Music reprinted a notice from an unnamed English journal: Moritz Nabich was moving to Paris. His long-suffering English neighbors would no longer have to listen to him practicing that musical menace, the trombone. Parisians would suffer instead. Who was Nabich, and why would a Boston-based magazine print this notice? The well-traveled and world famous Moritz Nabich was the foremost trombone soloist of his day. His name and reputation would have been familiar even in musical cities that he never visited. He carried on the work of his illustrious predecessors Friedrich August Belcke and Carl Traugott … Continue reading

Antoine Dieppo, French trombone virtuoso and teacher

Antoine Dieppo’s name is familiar as the first professor of trombone at the Paris Conservatory upon the trombone class’ official formation in 1836. He deserves to be known as more than a name on a list, however. As it turns out, he obtained that position, and also that of principal trombonist of Paris’ principal orchestra by displacing established incumbents. He wrote a method book, which was the required text for his students. It has not maintained its place in the modern teaching literature, however. Thompson and Lemke note only a volume of nine etudes still readily available. I have a … 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

Kid Ory and the tailgate style of playing trombone

Born Edouard Ory on Christmas day 1886 near New Orleans, the future jazz great Kid Ory would have been classified “octaroon” before the Civil War. His father was white, of French ancestry. That explains the French spelling of his name on his baptismal certificate. His mother was the daughter of a Hispanic and an African American, so he had one black grandparent. Under racial segregation, however, he was simply regarded as black and educated in the local black school through fifth grade Kid Ory’s early career Kid Ory was born and raised on Woodland Plantation in LaPlace, Louisiana and began his … Continue reading

The enraged neighbor, or, trombones don’t get no respect

“The downstairs neighbors must have had quite a party last night. It almost sounded like someone was pounding on the ceiling until two o’click in the morning.” “That must have made it hard to sleep.” “It sure would have. Fortunately I was still practicing my trombone” I know I’ve had trouble finding apartments where I could practice, And I’m never up that late. I told prospective landlords that I would do my practicing mostly in the early evening and never practice late at night or early in the morning. Little did I realize that trombonists had had similar troubles for … Continue reading

Adolphe Sax’s marketing campaign for new brass instruments

If people know only one thing about Adolphe Sax, it’s that he invented a lot of new instruments in the nineteenth century. Today, the saxophone is the most successful. That basically amounts to an ophicleide (a forerunner of the tuba with keys instead of valves) fitted with a clarinet reed. His redesign of the trombone with six independent valves, first introduced in 1852, was much more radical than any of the new instruments he invented. I’d like to look at at least part of his marketing campaign for that instrument as an illustration of his business methods. The important journal … Continue reading

Two British composers as trombonists: Holst and Elgar

Gustav Holst made his living for a while as a trombonist. Edward Elgar, for some reason, decided to learn to play trombone when he was 43. Holst, therefore, was a trombonist who later became a well-known composer. History has known several trombonist composers. If we include jazz trombonists who become noted arrangers, the number becomes legion. Elgar, on the other hand is an example of a well-known composer who later became a trombonist–of sorts. He is probably not unique, but there can’t be very many others. When Holst was a music student at the Royal College of Music, he was … Continue reading

Five trombone soloists we hardly remember

The idea of the trombone as a solo instrument seems to appeal mostly to trombonists. Trombone soloists who tour or record extensively can develop quite a following. Nowadays, many can be found on You Tube, where people can not only hear, but watch performances. As long as they remain freely on line, people will be able to find them and enjoy them indefinitely. It’s easy for us to forget earlier generations of trombone soloists. A trombonist’s reputation does not necessarily vanish after his or her death or retirement simply for lack of recordings. It is easy to find information about … Continue reading

The glissando: from bad trombone technique to a common performance idiom

Perhaps no technique more perfectly characterizes the idiom of the slide trombone as the glissando. Its first deliberate use in performance is fairly recent in the long history of the trombone, and its acceptance as a legitimate technique came somewhat later. Nowadays, we tend to think of glissando and portamento as synonyms. They are, indeed, played exactly the same way, so it seems odd that the portamento enjoyed early approval and that all manner of musicians, including trombonists, strongly disapproved of the glissando within living memory. Daniel Speer provides the earliest reference to the glissando I have found (1687), when … Continue reading