James E. Pugh

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James Pugh
James Pugh, trombonist
Background information
Birth name James Edward Pugh
Born (1950-11-12) November 12, 1950 (age 67)
Camden, New Jersey, U.S.
Genres Jazz, classical, rock
Occupation(s) Musician, composer
Instruments Trombone
Associated acts Woody Herman, Return to Forever, Steely Dan, Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble

James Edward Pugh (born November 12, 1950) is a trombonist, composer, and educator. He is noted as the lead trombonist with Woody Herman's Thundering Herd (1972–1976) and Chick Corea's Return to Forever Band (1977–1978). For 25 years, he worked as a freelance trombonist in New York City. In recent years, he toured and recorded with the rock group Steely Dan, is a founding member of the Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble, and is on faculty as Distinguished Professor of Jazz Trombone at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Early years[edit]

Born in Camden, New Jersey and raised in Butler, Pennsylvania, Pugh began studying piano at age five and trombone at age ten. Before attending the Eastman School of Music, he studied trombone with Matty Shiner of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While at Eastman, Pugh studied with Emory Remington, Donald Knaub, Chuck Mangione, Ray Wright, and was awarded Eastman's coveted Performer's Certificate. After graduating from the Eastman School of Music, Pugh toured with the Woody Herman Band and with Chick Corea before settling to New York City, where he remained for 25 years.

Performing and recording[edit]

Since the 1980s, Pugh became New York's top-call freelance trombonist for film scores, records, and music for television and radio advertising. He can be heard on more than four thousand recording sessions.

His trombone is heard in collaboration with classical and popular artists and orchestras such as Yo-Yo Ma, Steely Dan, Eos, Concordia, St. Luke's Orchestra, André Previn, Paul Simon, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Pink Floyd, and Frank Sinatra.

Pugh added his sound to feature film soundtracks including A League of Their Own, When Harry Met Sally, and Meet Joe Black; and on hit Broadway cast recordings such as City of Angels, Fosse and Victor/Victoria.

In 2003, Pugh "re-premiered" the Nathaniel Shilkret Trombone Concerto at Carnegie Hall with Skitch Henderson and the New York Pops Orchestra. This mid-twentieth century work was written for Tommy Dorsey.


Pugh's original music and arrangements has been on National Public Radio, in film scores, on "jingles", and on record. Pugh wrote the theme music for Performance Today, the daily classical music program on public radio.

His composition, "Lunch with Schrödinger's Cat", received a Lincoln Center premier in 1989 by Marin Alsop and the Concordia Chamber Orchestra. Pugh premiered his "Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra" in May 1992 with the Williamsport Symphony. It received its New York premier in March 2000 with Joseph Alessi as soloist and Leonard Slatkin conducting the New York Philharmonic.

A founding member of the Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble, Pugh's compositions can be heard on a recent Signum CDs Scenes of Spirits and The Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble Plays the Music of James Pugh and Daniel Schnyder.


Pugh is on faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In the past, he taught at SUNY-Purchase College, the University of the Arts Philadelphia, and at New York University. In the summer, he has been on faculty at the Skidmore Summer Institute of Jazz at Skidmore College. He appears at schools as a guest artist and clinician.

Trombone development[edit]

Pugh has been involved with the development of the Edwards small bore tenor trombone and has worked with David Monette in the development of the Monette TS11 and TS 6 small shank tenor trombone mouthpiece. He plays and endorses Monette mouthpieces exclusively.

Awards and honors[edit]

At Eastman, Pugh won the Performer's Certificate. He is the only recipient of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Science's Virtuoso Award for tenor trombone, which was given to him after being voted Tenor Trombone MVP by the New York recording community for five years.

In 2008, NPR named his album X Over Trombone in their list of best classical CDs of 2008.

Pulitzer Prize winning composer Charles Wuorinen wrote his Ashberyana for Pugh, the Brentano String Quartet and pianist Sarah Rothenberg, premiered with the composer conducting and later performed with James Levine conducting.[1]



  • 1981: Crystal Eyes (Pewter)
  • 1984: The Pugh /Taylor Project (DMP)
  • 2001: Pugh Mosso
  • 2002: E'nJ "Legend and Lion" with Eijiro Nakagawa Japanese release
  • 2004: Echano
  • 2004: E2'nJ2 (TNC)
  • 2006: E'nJ Just Us
  • 2007: X Over Trombone (Albany)
  • 2007: Holly and the Ivy
  • 2012: The Devil's Hopyard (Jazzmaniac)
  • 2012: Pugh Taylor II (Pewter)

As sideman

Broadway Recordings

Motion picture soundtracks (featured soloist)

Classical (not as soloist)

  • Mass, Charles Wuorinen
  • Ponder Nothing, The Chamber Music of Ben Johnston, Music Amici
  • The Music of Irwin Bazelon
  • Collage – New York Trombone Quartet
  • Bright Sheng: Lacerations, 92nd St. Y Orchestra, Gerard Schwartz, conductor
  • EOS Orchestra
  • Concordia Orchestra
  • The Silk Road Project with YoYo Ma
  • The Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble Plays the Music of James Pugh and Daniel Schnyder, Graham Ashton Brass Ensemble


  1. ^ Allan Kozinn (2008-11-03). "The Cerebral Onstage, Not Without Wit". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-09. 


  • Dietrich, Kurt. Jazz 'Bones: The World of Jazz Trombone . Advance Music. 2005. ISBN 3-89221-069-1 pp. 344–7.
  • Feather, Leonard. Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Seventies ISBN 0-306-80290-2

External links[edit]