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

Tielman Susato: trombonist and music publisher

You can’t find very many trombonists in basic music history textbooks, but some like Gustav Holst and Tielman Susato (ca.1510-after 1570) belong there for their other achievements. As a member of the town band in the Flemish city of Antwerp, Susato played a variety of instruments. He was also a composer of some merit, but his reputation rests on the publishing company he founded and ran for 18 years. It used to be thought that he died about the time his publishing company ceased operations, but as it turns out, he moved to Sweden and, among other things, dabbled in … Continue reading

Carl Traugott Queisser: Being a musician in the first half of the nineteenth century

Trombonists know the name Carl Traugott Queisser (1800-1846) as one of the first internationally famous trombone soloists. A Concertino for Trombone by Ferdinand David that probably every trombone major in college plays at one time or another was composed for Queisser. A famous virtuoso is certainly not a typical musician, but in many ways Queisser is representative of how many different roles a professional musician of his time had to perform in order to make a living. Like most German instrumentalists, Queisser received his first musical training as a Stadtpfeifer, or town musician. He began his apprenticeship at age 11 … Continue reading

Willie Colón and salsa music

According to Gerald Sloan, Willie Colón “has done more than anyone since Tommy Dorsey to keep [the] trombone before the public eye.” Yet in comparison to jazz trombonists he seems little known in this country. He has been closely associated with a style of Latin music known as salsa. Some Latinos object to the term salsa, which means “sauce,” applied to a musical style. Colón embraces it. After all, it had plenty of idiomatic meanings before it was applied to music. Different Latin music traditions developed in various Latin American countries. They have certain things in common including a Spanish … Continue reading

Classical music at a bar?

According to a story on NPR’s Weekend Edition, “Beethoven and Beer at the Happy Dog,” members of the Cleveland Orchestra have been playing classical chamber music since June 2010 at the Happy Dog, a neighborhood bar on the near-west side of town, under the name Orchestral Manoeuvres at the Dog. People love it, and the bar is packed every time they play. It gives customers who would never go to Severance Hall a chance to hear classical music and gives the bar customers who would not otherwise come. It also gives the musicians a chance to make music more spontaneously. … Continue reading

Another musical reason to love New Orleans

Probably every big city has some kind of street music. I lived in the Chicago area for more than 20 years and heard quite a variety. Off hand, though, I only remember  one or two times that I encountered more than two musicians playing at once. I I’ve only been to New Orleans twice, and don’t particularly recall hearing larger groups there, either, but thanks to YouTube, I have come across some amazing things. Here’s a group playing “Summertime” by George Gershwin. The video opens and closes with a singer, who is not well recorded. In between, there is an … Continue reading

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

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

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

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