Massimo (Max) Pirone has steadily imagined more and more for his beloved bass trombone, and achieved it! Though a multi-faceted performer whose talent alights on tenor trombone, bass trombone and tuba, Pirone seems to have settled his heart firmly on the bass trombone. With impressive consistency and amazing depth, Pirone has recorded more jazz bass trombone cds as a leader/bass trombonist than has any other bass trombonist. Furthemore, he has expanded the melodic, interpretative and accompanying roles of the bass trombone to include improvisation. A gifted composer, his compositions adorn many of his tracks, which are laid down in a variety of styles. Pirone has paid homage to George Roberts, and stood toe to toe with Bill Reichenbach, to emerge as one of the most promising and easily the most accomplished jazz bass trombonist of his generation. “Seven Posistions” tm crosses the Atlantic to soar with maestro Prione as he becomes the second respondent in our third installment of “Seven Positions” tm the interview series.
What do you look for in an instrument?
I look for an istrument with a warm sound like the Conns, especially the Elkhart 62H & 70H horns. I like instruments that are fluid-blowing and have a lightweight bell. I have found all of these qualities in my Kanstul 1662-totally in bronze. While heavy horns are appropriate for symphonic use, in jazz we need a fast response in order to achieve longer phrases when soloing-especially in the low register. Too heavy a horn can take double the air and might pose additional problems.
How do you conceive of an ideal tone quality for a ballad?
Well the conception (or secret), to a beautiful sound for a normal playing and especially for ballads is emulate a good singer like Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole. While trying to emulate their legato and warm sound in the deeper voice of the bass trombone I also (naturally), recommend listening to George Roberts. For tenor trombone, I like to imagine Dick Nash, Urbie Green, Tommy Dorsey or Lloyd Ulyate-all great ballad players, and try to make the same sound on my horn. I prefer lip vibrato, and not slide vibrato on bass trombone. Using a slower vibrato on bass trombone than on tenor, try tonguing very softly with syllables like D or L for legato. Restrict your dynamic range on ballads to mezzo forte (no more), to have the best result.
For big band?
In my life, I collected everything played by George Roberts in order to understand and emulate his sound the best that I can. George has the best sound ever on the bass trombone! His clear articulation is perfect for a jazz soloing, too. When you play jazz you need a clear articulation. With a heavy bass trombone, that is really hard. Many players think bigger is better. For me, is bigger is bad. When you hear a bass trombone with sound like a slide tuba, it sounds strange. Great bass tormbonists have a true trombone sound at the core like George Roberts, Bill Reichenbach, Paul Faulise, Kenny Shroyer or Phil Teele; they all have a warm sound with clear articulation. In big band work, you need also the same type of sound and not a symphonic sound.
In the studio?
Another challenge in the big band is that sometimes the bass trombonist is called upon to play more like a 3rd or 4th tenor than a bass trombone. Sometimes guys will play too large a bass trombone that is too heavy for both the player and for the music! Urbie Green,Paul Faulise, Bill Reichenbach and George all told me that “you need a small, centred sound with a big projection; not a wide sound with no projection”. It is true! When you play with a sound that is too fat, loud, wide and dark you will be much less effective blending with the tenor trombones, not to mention being heard.
Also, in order to play fast and light passages with tenor trombones effortlessly, you need horn that is easy, and not really a symphonic-type bass. Studio work requires many different skills. The first thing that you need to know is music-all kind of music! Don’t be so concerned with massive volume, the microphone doesn’t need a FFF. Many small horns like a King 2B (tenor) or Conn (bass) 62-70-72h or Kanstul 1662 and 1606 have a really good projection and the mic captures all of their sound-especially for the 2b and the 70h. While each can have a small sound live, on the mic the result really BIG. In the studio, especially after 27 years of studio work, you will need a really relaxed and easy approach to play at the highest level. Many top players in LA are very, very close to the perfection in the first take; it is very high level of playing with players who exhibit extreme musical finesse and personal control like B. Reichenbach, P. Teele, D.Nash, G.Roberts, A.Iles, A.Kaplan and many more. In Los Angeles, (where the most worldwide studio work occurs) all the players have 3-4 tenors in various sizes and a bass,and a sometimes even a contra-bass, in order to provide the most appropriate sound for the music.
What is your secret to a beautiful legato, especially for a ballad?
When I play a ballad I use the soft D and L for articulations for smoother legato and a lot of air to play long passages. I use deep breaths to take in as much air as possible, without opening jaws too much. I also think about a very focused and smallish air passage into the center mouth, again with the ideal of laying like a fine singer-good fluid blowing. When performing a ballad, you need a deeper feel and to think about the music to ensure that everything goes right-(legato,tone, slurs etc.). To get the best result with a ballad, Bill Watrous told me, “you have think about the words of the song for the right feel”.
What helps you achieve musical expression, particularly when soloing?
When I play a jazz solo it is a result of years of studying and listening to jazz. This is what makes it easy for me to play a bass trombone with the facility of a tenor while playing one or two octave below and make the passages sound fluid like a valved horn or tenor. The main thing is not only the study of arpeggios from all kind of chords and scales, but to try to transcribde solos from records you like! Take inspiration from all kind of soloists, like Freddie Hubbard. First, try to take in his feel, not just the notes.The feel are is most important thing in music, not the note! If you play with the right feel first, you will meet goal.
Name two types of inspirations.
Musical. & Non-musical.
My personal inspiration for the way I like to play are players like Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, Urbie Green, Bill Reichenbach, George Roberts, Dick Nash, Paul Faulise, Tony Studd, Kenny Shroyer and Dave Taylor. At the same time, I have also admired many musicians who are not trombonists such as Freddie Hubbard, Clark Terry, Count Basie and many others. My inspirations in to compose and perform are from great moments in life, musical tributes to great players and to special people I have met.
6th Position MP
Which instruments do you play professionally? What do you like to do on each? Do they express different aspects of your personality?
I play Kanstul bass trombones 1662 with lightweight bell, totally in bronze and are they work best for me. I use them for solo work, big bands and studio work; they are great! The versality of these horns are great, and have been inspired by the 62h Conn Elkhart model but even easier to play. On tenor, I play the Kanstul 1606 and a Williams 6 Burbank-two great horns.On tuba I play a old Boosey and Hawkes eb 4 full compensating. When I play any of my horns I think in the same manner; jazz feel, sound and musicality. For example, the Rosolino turns or Urbie Green’s beautiful ballad playing style both work very well on tuba. And Howard Johnson’s tuba soloing style sounds great when translated to tenor trombone.
I do think of or accept any limits on what can be done on tuba,trombone or bass trombone. Just try to play Charlie Parker, for example, on bass trombone, tuba or tenor.
7th Position MP
Why jazz bass trombone? Why a quintet? Why another bass trombonist as a sideman?
I love to play bass trombone and also tenor trombone and tuba.The bass trombone is not a standard horn in jazz, and I think that a George Roberts sound with a Frank Rosolino/Carl Fontana’s jazz feel is a perfect combination for me. I try to approach jazz in this way. I love the jazz quintet, ala Jay and Kai, and a version an octave lower is a funny idea that resulted in a good jazz feel, too. Bill is one of my heroes, one of the best guys I have ever met, a special friend and the simply the best jazz bass trombone player. For me, he is also an amazing tuba and tenor trombone player, too. I love to make music with him, and to have him alongside me as we formed together what maybe the first jazz quintet with a front-line of two bass trombones!
What is the best trombone playing you have ever heard?
The best tenor trombone playing, for me, has been done by Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, Dick Nash, and Urbie Green. The best bass trombone playing I have ever heard has been from George Roberts, Bill Reichenbach, Paul Faulise, Tony Studd,Phil Teele and Kenny Shroyer for basses and Bill Reichenbach, and Dave Bargeron. The best tuba playing has been Don Butterfield and Howard Johnson.
What is the best trombone playing you have done?
I don’t know where my best playing has been, but in the studio I try to play for the best feel, without fear of mistakes. This is the secret to having the best feel.
What paths and opportunities led you to become a bass trombone soloist? Which paths do you foresee in the future for younger bass trombonists?
I started to play jazz on bass trombone at the age of 17 by accident. When I played along with the George Roberts’ records, I tried to emulate him and I tried to improvise lines like the Nelson Riddle’s bass trombone lines on the Sinatra recordings. After that,. I started to play all sorts of “patterns” on tenor and on bass. I played all sorts of things over changes like chords arpeggios,scales and transcribded solos. After I heard Don Menza’s “Horn of Plenty” with a super bass trombone solo on Take the A Train, by Bill Reichenbach, I found a real confirmation of my way of playing. Many bass trombonist play solos on bass trombone in the tenor trombone range. I don’t like that way. It sounds to me like an elephant! Trying to play like a tenor trombonists and is not a real bass trombone sound. I hope that younger, or new bass trombonists, will enjoy a bright future, and I hope the jazz bass trombone is among the new jazz solo horns for a front line, and not just a 4th trombone in the trombone section. My advice for new bass trombonist: think of your horn like a jazz trombonist or a jazz saxophonist does, and not like a jazz elephant with a lot of problems! In order to be a jazz soloist, try and try. You will find your identity, and be able to study and perform the same things as a saxophonist or a trumpeter.
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Interested in more “Seven Positions” tm Interviews?
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Erik Van Lier
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