The trombone is a musical instrument from the brass instrument family. Trombone's first premiere in jazz was with Dixieland Jazz as a supporting role within the Dixie Group. This role later grew into the spotlight as players such as J.J. Johnson and Jack Teagarden began to experiment more with the instrument, finding that it can fill in roles along with the saxophone and trumpet in Bebop Jazz. The trombone has since grown to be featured in standard big band group setups with 3 to 4 trombones depending on the arrangement. Even today the trombone is still growing in popularity with groups and in music with different techniques being attempted and brought up. The trombone is not easy to play for left handed people, although well known trombone player Slide Hampton was a professional player that used a left-handed grip and style. A person who plays the trombone is called a trombone player or a trombonist.
History of trombone in jazz
Trombone first saw use in the jazz world with its entrance into Dixieland Jazz where it played along with the chord changes, mimicking or following a string bass or a tuba, allowing the other musicians of the group to improvise along with it. In a standard dixie group, the players marched through the streets or were hauled around, playing in an open trailer. The trombone having a slide instead of valves or strings or holes for playing had difficult positioning themselves, and tended to sit in the back of the trailer, gaining the name "Tailgate Trombone". This style of playing included many trombone specific techniques such as growling, scoops, falls, and slides. These factors provided dixie music with its well known, almost "dirty" feel. Even though the trombone was finally featured in jazz at this point, it was not until the swing era of jazz that the trombone actually stepped into the spotlight.
Swing era trombone
The swing era of jazz reached its peak in the 1930s, where the trombone was then popular. In a standard swing band there were 5 saxophones, 4 trumpets, 3 or 4 trombones and a rhythm section. This is when trombone started to stand out as a solo instrument, as many trombone players such as Jack Teagarden began to form their own swing bands, and allowed themselves to show off their instrument that had before been hidden behind the rest of the horns. When this happened, the standard style of playing switched away from the "tailgate trombone" style, and moved towards a lyrical and smooth form of playing, almost that of a trumpet. This revolutionized jazz trombone in a way that no player had thought possible before. This helped move trombone into the spotlight, as it became an instrument of lyrical, smooth, soft playing that people enjoyed listening to.
Bebop jazz trombone
As the era of swing jazz ended, the new style of bebop jazz emerged in the early 1940s. Bebop was a faster form of swing that was played for its own sake, as opposed to swing jazz, which was played for dancing to. In this era, the trombone was less often played as a solo instrument, as many of the passages in the music were too technically fast for the playing style that had developed during the swing era, as that style was held back by the slide more so. This problem was solved by switching over to the valve trombone, which is a brass instrument following the standard shape of a trombone, but uses valves instead of a slide. The leading trombonists at the time also worked on adapting and creating a new style to follow the fast paced bebop. The driving force of this stylistic movement was J.J. Johnson, who is considered by some to be one of the most important figures in jazz trombone history. He followed the influences of bebop jazz innovators Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie while adding his own, smooth, slower form of playing over the fast tracks of bebop.
Jazz techniques and equipment
Typically when playing jazz music, it is preferred to be played on a standard small or medium bore tenor trombone with no extra attachments, as it will give the brightest sound and is more comfortable to play for longer periods of time in the extreme ranges of the instrument that you tend to hit playing jazz music. There are certain techniques that trombone players will prominently find in jazz music, or jazz inspired music, such as growling, scooping, falling, flutter tongue, use of mutes, multiphonics, and even recently with some players, distortion effects. Also, when working on techniques many musicians use specific scales to help apply techniques, and also to practice scales to use while soloing:
- Major Pentatonic
- Minor Pentatonic
- Dominant or Mixolydian
- Dorian (majority of jazz musicians use this to solo in minor)
Use of mutes
The trombone, like most other brass instruments uses mutes from time to time in music in order to get a certain sound. There are many different types of mutes for different situations or desired sounds to be put out.
- Plunger Mute - A plunger mute is a plunger head that covers all or part of the open portion of the bell, this gives the "wah wah" sound. One distinct example of this sound effect is the sound that adults make when they talk in the Peanuts cartoons.
- Cup Mute - The cup mute is a mute that sticks to the inside of the brass bell, and completely covers it with its distinct cup shape. This specific mute gives a sound similar to that of a full cover plunger mute. Typical use during smoother and lyrical jazz playing.
- Bucket Mute - The bucket mute is a mute that is normally shaped like a bucket that clips on to the trombone bell, and is filled with some form of dampening material in order to reduce the overall sound output of the instrument it is over. It is primarily used in soft ballads in jazz. The Bucket Mute effect is also possible to achieve by playing into a music stand.
Changes of sound
There are different techniques to change the sound that comes out of the bell of the trombone, these can create very interesting effects in playing certain jazz licks, or even just during an improvised solo.
- Growling - Growling is a technique that is how it sounds. You create a type of growling sound into the trombone while playing a pitch, creating divided sound with the pitch. Primary examples of this are found in Dixieland/New Orleans Jazz trombone parts.
- Glissando - A glissando is an unarticulated movement from one note to another. Trombone is one of the few instruments that can put into effect a true glissando, or an undisturbed movement from one pitch to the next (within a tritone movement at the most) simply by moving from an outer slide position to an inner slide position without change of partial.. This is another example most common in Dixieland.
- Scoops and Falls - Scoops and Falls are a form of technique where you approach or move away from the intended pitch, usually marked with a curved line in the music heading up to going from the note head, depending on which one it is. A scoop is done by very quickly moving from an outside slide position to a close inner slide position (ex. Position 2 to Position 1), while a fall is the exact opposite motion. (inner position to outer position, ex. Position 1 to Position 2). Very common in Dixieland and in Swing Era Jazz.
- Multiphonics - Multiphonics is a technique that is much more common in newer age jazz, as it creates such a distinct sound. Multiphonics are performed on the trombone by playing a pitch, and then humming an interval above the pitch being played. This causes both pitches to go out the bell at the same time, therefore playing multiple pitches. This can also be done with perfect intervals such as a Perfect 5th, in order to create 3 separate pitches coming out of the bell at the same time by playing the lowest pitch and humming the 5th above that.
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