Sunday, April 21, 2013

J.J. Johnson

            No less an authority than Robin Eubanks thinks modern trombonists owe J.J. Johnson a share of every dollar they've ever made.  J.J. was the guy who proved that the trombone's inherent limitations could be overcome and adapted to the language and tempos of post-swing era jazz.  He made it possible for everyone after him to actually earn a living with this thing.
            J.J. didn't just play fast. For me, he's always been an unreachable goal of apparent effortlessness and perfect intonation at any speed. From a just playing the trombone standpoint, the thing about J.J. is that it all sounds so deceptively easy. In a nutshell, he's had a bigger influence on the way his instrument is played than any other musician on any other instrument.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Quoi de neuf, docteur?

           For the last couple of months I've been spending Monday and Wednesday evenings at the Département d'Etudes de Français Langue Etrangère, (French for Foreigners) at the University of Bordeaux 3 in Pessac.  This past Wednesday was the final exam and the instructors hosted an after-final picque-nîcque (actual spelling) for everyone who made it to the end. So there I was, sharing wine with young (hell they were all young) Lan, a Vietnamese woman, Nigerian Efe, Brazilian Manuela, Turkish Melis, Sudanese Walid and Tibetan Karman - four women and two men, all around a third of my age, from all parts of the globe. The implications of this unlikely scene were not lost on me. I'm not sure how to explain how it felt, maybe it was the wine, but if you are trying to stop getting old, I can recommend studying music in your mid-50's then, at around 60, moving to a country where you have to learn the language.  You'll still get old but at least you're not giving up without a struggle.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Urbie Green

 Sometime during high school I picked up a copy of 21 Trombones, 2 LP's of Urbie Green and 20 "of the world's greatest trombone players."  I played it when I needed inspiration to practice, which was almost always, and wore the grooves out of it. When cassette players came along, I got a new copy and played it once to put it on tape and then again a couple of years ago to digitize it. As far as I know, only half of this album has ever been released on CD and that's a crime. This album, more than any other, showed me what the trombone was capable of and to this day, Urbie Green's is what I think a trombone is supposed to sound like. And some lucky descendant is going to inherit 21 Trombones.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Shot Putter

Typical Nile Cruise Boat

            While trying to decide the subject for a post, I happened to look through some things I had written eight years ago, after a long trip to Italy and Egypt. At the time I'm sure I had some specific goal in mind but eventually decided the market for caustic travel writing was probably somewhat limited. This stuff has been gathering cyber-dust ever since and rather than just delete it, I've decided to periodically inflict some of it on you.            
             I considered the monumental changes in Egypt since 2005 and wondered if I couldn't draw on some of our experiences to pose some thoughtful, timely questions about what life might now be like for some of the Egyptians we met. But nothing I wrote at the time really lends itself to that so instead, I'm going to go off on a few of the bizarre tourists we ran into.