Ben van Dijk’s contributions to music for the bass trombone are remarkable. Multi-year soloist at the International Trombone Festival, recipient of the 2003 International Trombone Association (ITA) Award and solo artist on five solo CDS is just the beginning! Accomplished educator, orchestral musician and elicitor of new works for the bass trombone, van Dijk’s recording efforts boast the highest production values and include a marvelous array of supporting musicians reminiscent of the solo efforts of George Roberts. We are ecstatic to host bass trombonist Ben van Dijk as the third respondent of the second year of Seven Positions.
What do you look for in an instrument?
The first thing what comes to mind is an instrument that makes me enjoy my own playing. To me, that means that it has to project a beautiful sound at all dynamic levels, and in all of the different musical styles and venues I have to play in. In addition, the instrument has to give me an easy feeling so I can play it as effortlessly as possible.
How do you conceive of describe, or visualize an ideal tone quality?
As bass trombonist, I want my sound to be a trombone sound and not some sort of euphonium one!
It has to be as vocal as possible. I think the trombone is the instrument that is most related to the voice; just look at our rich history as a supporter of the voice.
I like to think my sound to be shaped like a pyramid: big bottom, rich center
and enough high in it.
What is your secret to a beautiful legato?
What I try to achieve is:
1. A continuos, un-interrupted, flow of air that makes liquid connections of notes:-))
2. As little or, when possible, no tongue to interrupt the air.
3. The most difficult one: a slide movement that does not interfere the first two points. To achieve this I think of what I always call, my jazz-slide. From the start of my trombone life I have always listened to both jazz- and classical players. I noticed more jazz trombonists, of different levels were able to play a nice legato tune than classical ones!
Why? First, the typical jazz trombone player is not afraid of a gliss! He or she can even use the gliss to make the tune more jazzy and juicy! This is, in general, not done in classical music. Secondly, the jazz trombonist uses a different vibrato than the classical player uses, the slide-vibrato. To be able to make a nice, easy, quick slide-vibrato it has to come from, (here comes my secret), “a flexible controlled wrist-movement” and not a fixed one that makes the slide movement jerky!
I use this flexible wrist in combination with my arm movement going from position to position; moving the slide with the music as the pistons of Maurice André’s trumpet or the fingers of Yoyo Ma’s cello playing. Make it easy; make it effortless.
What helps you achieve musical expression?
Be in the music and tell the story!
Name two inspirations: one musical and one non-musical.
Many of your presentations have incredible polish and presentation values in addition to excellent music. You seem to be able to marshal the most sophisticated musical resources. How does it happen?
Thank you very much for seeing it this way. If it comes over this way, I have achieved my goals.
I have been lucky to be associated with some very talented composers who have enjoyed creating some really nice compositions for me. I waited for this for quite a long time; the solo part of my career started 20 years ago when I was already 38. The first composer who wrote for me was Nick Woud, who is now solo timpanist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Woud wrote some really nice pieces for me.
Later there were Ilja Reijngoud, Steven Verhelst and Johan de Meij, each helped me with great contributions to my repertoire. I am critical on my self, on my repertoire and am selective with whom I play. I am still learning in this, and in a way, I am happy-but think there is still much to improve!
7th Position BvD
Can you describe the moment you recognized the potential of the bass trombone as a solo instrument? Where were you, can you describe the feeling, what were those thoughts and how have they grown?
As a Dutch trombone student my teacher (American Art Moore), made me become a ITA member. In 1973, it was nearly the beginning of the organization!
In the ITA magazine, I read about the solo LP The Big Trombone by Jeff Reynolds. I ordered it and I remember listening to it the first time. The LP contained nice, new repertoire played so well-with Jeff’s great big sound. It made me dream about making something like this (on the bass trombone), myself one day. It took me 20 years to feel ready for this, and I then released my first cd Nana.
What is the best trombone playing you’ve ever heard?
This question is too difficult! There are so many examples to choose from, but OK, here you are: Joe Alessi in Bolivar by E. Cook. The best bass trombone playing ever was Mr. Bass Trombone, George Roberts. Every note he played was a jewel!
What is the best trombone playing you’ve ever done?
Still to come is what comes to mind. My next CD, the fifth, entitled World Concerto, Ben van Dijk Plays the Music of Steven Verhelst. This CD will contain a Piazzolla medley. The second section is Oblivion, and I am very happy how we got this on tape! The CD will be released in the spring of 2014.
Ben van Dijk appears courtesy of Thein musical instruments and performs exclusively on Thein tenor, bass and contrabass trombones. He has been appointed solo bass trombonist with the Rotterdam Philharmonic and serves as Professor of Trombone at the Conservatory of Amsterdam. Ben van Dijk has performed regularly with the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, the Dutch Brass Sextet, and the Dutch Jazz Orchestra. His solo CDs include: Nana, First Song, Melody, Never Alone and World Concerto, Ben van Dijk Plays the Music of Steven Verhelst. His website is: www.basstrombone.nl
In recognition of his contributions to the ITA and to the trombone community at large, Ben van Dijk was presented with the ITA Award in 2003. This is the ITA’s most prestigious citation; it recognizes Ben’s artistic achievements and his tireless efforts in promoting and improving trombone performance standards, brass pedagogy, and instrument design.
T3 The Concerto, “Canticles” for solo bass trombone and wind ensemble.
Johan de Meij has been one of my best friends since I was 15 years young. We grew up together musically, playing together in youth orchestras and brass ensembles and listening to music together. Johan became a very good composer with an amazing successful career, as we all know. It took him a bit too long to write something solo for the most beautiful, impressive member of the trombone family-but he finally did!
The composition Canticles means a lot to me. He composed it to celebrate our 35 years of friendship in the year 2007 and he wrote it in memory of my late father-Piet van Dijk. As Johann writes, “He was a musician in heart and soul, and a wonderful person. As a trombone and euphonium teacher he played an essential role in my later career as a musician, for which I am still grateful”.
Canticles is a really nice piece with great melodies and interesting challenging parts for both band and soloist. It has emotional melodic parts but also moving giocoso sections where the bass trombone roars through the complete register.
Like always, Johan’s orchestration is of the highest quality! I think the piece needs more exposure and should be programmed more often. It is not as successful as Johan’s Trombone concerto, which is more easy to listen to, (where Canticles is darker in color). Still, Canticles is a beautiful composition, and I am very grateful Johan composed it for us.
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Interested in more “Seven Positions” tm Interviews?
Ben van Dijk
Denson Paul Pollard
Erik Van Lier
c. 2013/2014 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved davidbrubeck.com