This post is in response to 2 things, a review by my friend Chris Robinson on David Gibson's latest CD (read here) and the resulting discussion on tromboneforum.org, read here
An open letter to Chris Robinson:
You got some names going on that forum man. When Doug Elliott chimes in, you know things got real. Man, i was gonna buy a Doug Elliott mouthpiece...
Anyway, I couldn't agree more. Like i said before, one of my grump points is trombone players attempting to sound like J.J. Johnson. Smooth beyond all smooth, thin and bright tone. part of it is the instrument itself. straight horns tend to be a bit brighter, and it's easy to get a laser tone when trying to play out on them. on my horn, when i play loudly, it has a huge amount of edge to it (actually, mine is too far the opposite direction. anything above about a mf starts getting nasty...a little TOO soon. lol). On straight horns played in the higher registers, it just bets bright and thin to the point of being like a wailing baby. That's one of the biggest problems with the instrument- in a solo situation trying to play over everyone, we'll push it and
we've killed 7 people in the crowd with a laser shooting from our horn.
It's one reason i have recently shied away from using my straight horn. i HAVE a jazz straight horn. It sits in the corner, comes out at least once a year, gets cleaned, then put back. I HATE my orchestral horn for various reasons, but one thing i like about it, is i can't get a laser tone out of it. Even in the high registers, it leans towards nasty and gritty. I might keep it around just to play jazz, just because of that nasty quality...and i can pump out mid to mid-low and make it sound like a bass trombones tone when they're really pumping the low stuff.
The best compliment i've gotten on my playing actually happened yesterday. I was just trying to play some high stuff while everyone was chatting, and Stanton Kessler stopped and said "what was that?" and i turned and said "me." his answer "that sounded like a French Horn." that, to me, is a great compliment. It means I was able to, in the high range where on all instruments it can get a little thin, keep a nice full, round, dark tone...the sort of tone that when you push it gets that brassy edge a French Horn has, not a baby killing laser beam.
I also completely agree with Doug Elliott when he says "What "we" are missing is quality, in a lot of ways. I'll probably get flamed for this, but as I see it, trombonists in general have accepted mediocrity as the norm."
couldn't agree more. We're a lazy bunch. Seriously. I am NO exception, either. My practice habits this summer went to 2-3 hours daily to an hour daily to an hour every few days. and that's me concentrating on practicing! i dunno how many trombone friends i've had who would rather get drunk, sit at a piano, and sing Billy Joel than practice trombone. and we've accepted it.
We've got this complex. We'll listen to (for classical) Alessi, Christian Lindberg, Mark Lawrence and say "eh, i'll never play like that. why bother?" We'll hear those classic jazz solos, J.J., Curtis Fuller, Slide Hampton, Jiggs Wigham, and Kai Winding and say "we'll never solo like that, why bother." I'll admit that i don't spend my time learning changes or practicing my soloing like i spend my time learning avant-garde modern trombone solos...and that means it gets little to no time.
It's a double-edged sword. i complain, as a trombone player, that there isn't much good music being written for the trombone. the parts are lame, the solos are few and far between (in classical lit and jazz improv), and no one is even asking if i would like a piece written for me these days...why?
We don't put ourselves out there. I think partly the greats got overshadowed- J.J.'s biggest years of success were in the Bop era, and then into the Time of Miles (as i like to call it...). even though he was playing actively, put out records, and had great press...We all remember Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, we remember Miles and Trane...the giants lived on, and the ogres just got overshadowed (same reason we remember Wagner over Meyerbeer...even though Meyerbeer had much more play time during his lifetime.).
The only answer is to get out there and change the perception. So, yeah, I agree with you in a million ways. And believe, as Doug Elliott inferred, the stigma is our own creation. Somehow, as trombone players, we get lazy. We reach a certain level of proficiency and call it good. we get a gig and call it a day. there are obvious exceptions, Ryan Heinlein and myself are both at least trying to break the mold a bit, i'd say...he's more active than me in the Jazz scene, but i'm trying to do the same type of thing in the classical scene (where the same problems exist...). Maybe our generation will fix it. maybe, maybe not. Who knows, but it is a problem that needs addressed. And, maybe, now that I'm older, i can do my part to break the cycle, rather than perpetuate it.