It is difficult to believe that we have completed our second set of interviews since davidbrubeck.com launched “Seven Positions”;our second “partial” of seven interviews is complete! We would like to extend our most sincere gratitude and appreciation to our second set of respondents. They have been gracious, giving and kind. What follows is small sample, or appetizer, with each interview interwoven with highlights from the second set of seven (or partial) of “Seven Positions”. To read the entire interview for each, simply click on their name immediately below. It is difficult to imagine a more exciting list:
8. Phil Teele-Los Angeles Studio Recording Legend
9. John Rojak-Chamber Music Great from The American Brass Quintet
10. Ben van Dijk-International Soloist
11. Randall Hawes-of The Detroit Symphony Orchestra
12. Denson Paul Pollard-Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
13. Thomas Matta-Chicago Master Arranger and and Freelancer
14. Fred Sturm-Gifted Arranger and Original Member of Matrix
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. Ben van Dijk
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. Thomas Matta
I think a beautiful sound consists of great core surrounded by an aura of harmonics. I like to think of a rich, full, singing sound that can have a variety of colors. John Rojak
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 interupt 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! Ben van Dijk
Listening to singers and other musicians and mimicking them. I’ll always try to have an active musical line so it doesn’t become stagnant. Playing art songs is a good way to practice musical expression. You can have the most technically competent player and it can be unmusical. Randall Hawes
I think the key to being able to express yourself musically on the trombone is to listen to vocal music as much as possible. It has been said before (and I totally agree with the idea), that the human voice is the greatest musical instrument ever created. Denson Paul Pollard
Name two inspirations. One musical. One non-musical.
Perhaps my greatest musical inspiration has been Joe Alessi. He is such a legend on the instrument that it almost sounds cliche to list him as an inspiration, but he is truly the greatest trombone player that I have ever been around.
I guess nobody really knows if Jesus was musical or not. Jesus has been my most important non-musical influence through reading the Bible and learning how he taught how to treat others, how to act ourselves and work hard. Denson Paul Pollard
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! Thomas Matta
What are the advantages of bass trombone in a brass quintet? Any disadvantages?
Bass trombone is easier to blend in a quintet, particularly for Renaissance music. Whenever ABQ commissions a piece, I implore the composer to write for a bass voice rather than specifically for a trombone or tuba.
I don’t feel like there are disadvantages to bass trombone in a quintet. I think a skilled player on either bass trombone or tuba can accomplish the same musical goals. John Rojak
6th Position FS
What were your roles in Matrix, and how did the arrangements conceive ofthe bass trombone? What do you feel the group achieved?
I’m proud to have been one of the 9 founding members of that wonderful band. I was one of the band’s two primary writers along with my mentor, dear friend, and band-mate John Harmon who created the bulk of the Matrix repertoire. As noted above, I played bass trombone, euphonium, valve trombone, a polyphonic string synthesizer (quite innovative instrument for it’s time) playing pseudo strings and sustained color patches (I had no chops!), and I contributed to the group’s background vocals. Matrix hit right when the big bands — namely Woody, Stan, Buddy, and Maynard — were starting to slow down, and I’m proud of the fact that we quit playing “covers” in bars and clubs and took the giant step toward creating our own original book. Starved for a while but were committed to doing our own thing, which still sounds pretty unique decades later. We had a fine 6-piece horn section and 3 rhythm players, but so many of the horn players could play keys, sing, and double on other horns. We were never really commercially successful, but I wouldn’t trade my 4 years with the band for anything. Fred Sturm
Being able to sight-read anything.
Be able to play hard things over and over.
Nerves of steel.
When I started working in the studio scene, I was amazed at how good everyone was-big sounds, great intonation. They could play anything, any style.
Once, I walked on the sound stage at Fox. It was a call with Jerry Goldsmith for a TV show called “The Studio”. It started with a pedal ‘C’ slurring up to a pedal ‘D-flat’,and stayed in that register for 24 bars then another 12 bars of highly technical trigger register stuff then some soft stuff then at the end after about 24 bars of rest there was a part starting on an ‘F’ in the staff up to an ‘A’ down to an ‘A-flat’ then up to a high ‘B’, diminishing to pianissimo over 5 bars.
We rehearsed for 1 hour, then takes for 1 hour. This was the 10% terror you’ve heard guys talk about. The point is that you can run into anything and have to play it over and over and not miss. The call with Jerry had only a violin, a viola, a cello, a flute, and a clarinet, so I was pretty exposed.
Being a studio player is like being a matador; you never know when you will be gored. Phil Teele
7th Position DPP
How have you imagined the future of classical music and the bass trombone from the perspectives of Hong Kong and New York?
Unfortunately, I am a little worried about the future of classical music in America. The biggest reason is that music education programs around the United States are being cut. I just wonder if it will be possible to have symphony orchestras if no one has been educated at an early age to appreciate this kind of music.
Although China is a budding classical music market, most orchestras and their managements are unorganized and the conditions which classical musicians work under are very raw. Hong Kong is an exception because the Hong Kong Philharmonic was constructed as a British Orchestra. Denson Paul Pollard
7th Position FS
How did arranging and composing informed your bass trombone playing and vice-versa?
I’ve heard many other trombonists who compose and arrange talk about learning to hear music from the inside of an ensemble — being situated in the middle of a big band, etc. But many of us fail to admit what is likely the TRUE impetus (!) — which is our constant search for an identity amidst groups of exciting lead trumpet players, dynamic drummers, killer sax soloists, singers, etc. Specific to your question, I was playing bass trombone before I wrote anything of significance, so almost everything I’ve done since my 20s as a writer has demonstrated a strong knowledge of the proclivities and limits of the bass trombone and the trombone section.
As I wrote more, I discovered a much greater respect and empathy for my ensemble role as a bass trombonist — I learned to zero in more effectively on the segments doubling with bass and/or bari, whose note I was doubling in the wind section stacking, and most notably — something I preach constantly to my student bass trombonists in my big bands — is to carefully discern if one’s part is occupying root functions or being stationed more tightly up into the trombone section voicings. With those awarenesses, the bass trombonist can either brighten up and thin out to emulate the smaller bores in the trombone section above you, add warmth to the bass trombone and baritone sax combinations, and supply some “woof” and punch when bass line roles call for it. Fred Sturm
What is the best trombone playing you have ever heard?
For me, it will probably always be Bob Brookmeyer. I loved his style, his sound, his sense of time, his command of the harmony, and most of all, his incredible lyrical sense. I think my favorite solos Bob ever recorded was on “Someday My Prince Will Come” with his quartet. Fred Sturm
What is the best trombone playing you have done?
I think that currently as a member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, I am as good a trombone player as I have ever been in my career. My mantra as a trombone player is to get better each day. Denson Paul Pollard
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. Ben van Dijk
How can you compare playing in a top jazz outfit like Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd, to a top classical one like the Detroit Symphony Ochestra? What things are shared in common, which aspects are most different?
You have good apples, and you have good oranges…Playing in a big band like Woody’s was like chamber music in a lot of ways. Only 13 players, and we all listened to the drummer. There was Woody, who was a nice man. He could be cranky at times, but he had a high standard of how his band should sound-a specific kind of swing.
Woody also had a high standard for behavior too, like when a bass player threw a chair out on the dance floor because Woody wasn’t happy with the way he was playing something…he quit the band in a few days, storming off the bus, walking by Woody muttering expletives. The drummer was a crucial piece of the puzzle, strangely similar to a timpanist in an orchestra; it was often a tough spot to fill. Sound and feel: the timpanist is crucial to the sound of an orchestra; the drummer is crucial to the sound of a big band-same with the principal trumpet and lead trumpet.
In the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, there are 90 of us who are expected to listen and blend. In Woody’s “Thundering Herd”, we listened and blended, too. In Woody’s band I listened for the bari-sax player to hook up with him (as well as the trombone section), on many parts of the music. In the DSO, I key into the sound of the tuba player and blend with the trombones.
Thank goodness the DSO doesn’t tour as much as the jazz band did. Woody’s band would have months and months of constant one-night gigs in marginal hotels with an occasional luxurious, week-long stay in Vegas, New York or San Francisco- while performing run outs or playing at a club.
When the Detroit Symphony tours it’s very posh in comparison; very nice hotels, with everything organized and planned with a very carefully limit on how much the group plays/rehearses/travels.
On the jazz side, the union didn’t really help us out much. We were all reminded that we were dues paying union members, however, when we unknowingly crossed a kitchen workers picket line at the Sands hotel in Las Vegas. We were each sent a scorching letter from the national union condemning what we had done! In the orchestra, the union is very involved. This was most notable during our strike in 2010, when they came to our aid as we were out of work for 6 months.
I now look back at the two years traveling and performing with The Woody Herman Orchestra as sort of a “dues-paying graduate school” for me. I learned so much about the business: how to travel and deal with “road” chops and how to finally have the motivation and experience to put my work into a higher gear in order to win an orchestra job.
These days, I occasionally get my big band “fix” by playing with the Walter White Band. It is a nice, tight group with two trombones, three trumpets, three ‘saxes’ and a rhythm section. Walter White, on trumpet, fronts the band. Randall Hawes
c. 2013 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved davidbrubeck.com
Miss the first Seven Installments of Seven Positions?
Here’s your second chance. Just click on the name to read the interview:
1. ‘Seven Positions’ with Charlie Vernon, of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra
2. ‘Seven Positions’ with James Markey, of The Boston Symphony Orchestra and New York Philharmonic
3. ‘Seven Positions’ with Chris Brubeck: Jazz Soloist, Composer and Bandleader
4. ‘Seven Positions’ with Doug Yeo of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Arizona State University
5. ‘Seven Positions’ with Jeremy Morrow, of The New World Symphony
6. ‘Seven Positions’ with Tom Everett, of Harvard University
7. ‘Seven Positions’ with Gerry Pagano, of The St. Louis Symphony