Bass trombonist and arranger Thomas Matta is one of the most talented and versatile musicians of his generation. As professor of Jazz Studies at DePaul University, one of Chicago’s top freelance bass trombonists, and a gifted arranger who leads his own big band-life can get busy. Thankfully, Mr. Matta had a few moments to respond to ‘Seven Positions’, and we at davidbrubeck.com are delighted to share his perspectives as the sixth respondent of year two.
What do you look for in an instrument?
I look for a bass trombone that has primarily a tenor trombone vibe, but with bass trombone muscle. That’s why I love my Edwards with a relatively light bell. Blends with the small tenors of a big band, but can bark with the tuba and big tenors of a symphony orchestra.
How do you conceive of an ideal tone quality?
My goal is a tone that sounds like a trombone, first and foremost. Rich, warm, and human. A sound that fits any circumstance, and is not defined by being a “jazz” or “legit” sound.
What is your secret to a beautiful legato and a ballad?
To me, legato means using as little tongue as possible, and only when absolutely necessary. The legato tongue and the slur should be indistinguishable. Playing ballads is my favorite thing to do, and I don’t think we as trombone players spend enough time playing beautiful tunes beautifully.
What helps you achieve musical expression? (Especially in solos, particularly in jazz).
Being in the moment; reacting to the sounds around you; striving for good over different.
Name two inspirations. One musical. One non-musical.
Chet Baker – about as real as jazz gets, in my opinion. His trumpet playing and singing is spontaneous, melodic, soulful, passionate, agonizing, and joyful all at once!
Great architecture – I love it when form and function come together to form a whole that is bigger than the parts.
6th Position TM
What has being part of the great Chicago Jazz and Symphonic scenes meant to you as a player? How has it influenced you?
I love being part of a culture in a city that has a motto “The City That Works.” On any given day, you will find yourself performing on the stage, in an orchestra pit, a recording studio, a jazz club, a recital hall, or like just the other day, a Greek diner. Rubbing shoulders with musicians from every conceivable ethnic background and musical perspective is a daily inspiration.
7th Position TM
What is your concept of the bass trombone as a jazz/commercial solo instrument. How has being a jazz bandleader and an arranger influenced your perspective?
It is not a novelty instrument – we need to stand up, unite and refuse to perform “Makin’ Whoopie” as bass trombonists! It is every bit as serious and viable a solo instrument as any other, and has the great advantage of functioning as a tenor, baritone, or bass voice in any ensemble it serves. It’s really the cello of the brass family, isn’t it? (Sorry baritone and euphonium players – the slide makes the bass trombone a better cello!)
What is the best trombone playing you have ever heard?
Take your pick of any of the performances of Charlie Vernon, David Taylor, and Bill Reichenbach. I can list 10 other bass trombonists that give me goose bumps, but these three share first place of living bass trombone giants. They epitomize, each in their own way, the sound, technique, and expression we all strive for. More than being fantastic performers, they are great musicians.
What is the best trombone playing you have done?
One specific example is when I spent some time in Europe in the early 1990’s playing a bus and truck tour of Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies“- basically a big band on stage supporting singers and dancers.
By week 3, the trombone section had memorized our books, and we were all able to settle in and LISTEN to everything around us. Having the music memorized in that situation made me a better player. It helped me use my ears and be a better section player.
But playing a show for extended runs is no task compared to being called on to play different things every day. I think my best playing is when I do get to “mix it up” between styles. The challenge of blending with different players in different venues playing different styles keeps me the most engaged and on my game.
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Interested in more “Seven Positions”tm Interviews?
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Denson Paul Pollard
Erik Van Lier
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