An award winning bass trombonist and sponsored artist for Jupiter ‘XO”, Jennifer Wharton has burst upon the New York Scene with a flurry of top drawer performances. And, in the tradition of Melba Liston and Leslie Havens, she has done so as a musician who happens to play trombone and be a woman. Wharton represents a fresh young voice and perspective on the bass trombone in the 21st century and davidbrubeck.com is honored to host her as the fourth respondent of our third series of “Seven Positions” tm.
1. What do you look for in an instrument?
Whether it’s a bass trombone, tenor trombone or tuba, i want a horn that I don’t have to fight. It should make music easier. I tried a few years back to switch from a giant Edwards, dual bore/Thayer/independent/huge bell, to a dependent/rotor/small bell Conn 62. I was miserable for that whole year. The horn sounded great but I hated how hard I had to work. Play what you sound good on, what works for you. Just because your hero plays a specific instrument doesn’t necessarily mean that is the best horn for you. Now, I play an ‘XO’ by Jupiter and I love it!
2. How do you conceive, describe or visualize the ideal tone quality?
It depends on the type of music I’m playing but I really love Norman Bolter’s concept of playing colors. I don’t always think about sound in that way but playing a “red” vs a “blue” sound can be an interesting place to start.
3. What is your secret to a good legato?
I don’t have one. I have the world’s slowest and dumbest tongue. I’m lucky I can tongue at all. Tonguing is really one of the things I’ve had to work on the hardest. Remington and Rochut have gotten me to a place that isn’t completely embarrassing.
There were no special tricks for fixing my tongue. I did a lot of Kopprasch exercises and gave up my big orchestral equipment for some lighter equipment. I fight it everyday, still. Right now I’m the only trombone in a small pit trying to match the staccato of two reeds and a trumpet! I’m working hard!
4. What helps you to achieve musical expression?
That’s a tough one. I do many things that require me to think and play like a machine. It can be easy to fall into that mindset, especially playing a Broadway show. The only way to survive is to try and find the music in whatever you are playing. Whether it is an entire page of pedal F#s or playing the button at the end of a dance number, I strive to make it more than just notes for my own sanity. And the rare moments where I’m playing for me and no one else – I cherish those.
5. Name two types of inspiration:
Laurie Frink. I didn’t know Laurie well but being a woman surrounded by mostly men adds a layer of complexity that she seemed to handle well. Everyone respected and loved Laurie because she played her ass off and she was hilarious. And she did this DECADES before I got here! I’d love to be more like her.
My husband. Though he is also a musician and a trombone player, the way he lives his life and the way he takes care of friends and family inspires me. You will never meet a better human than John Fedchock. I don’t know what I did to deserve him but I am thankful everyday that I get to keep him!
6. What crossovers have you found valuable from music to athletics?
Ten years ago, I picked up triathlon as a hobby. A very expensive hobby. Since then I’ve done every distance triathlon up through the Ironman – 2.4 mi swim, 112 mi bike and 26.2 mi run.
Keeping my body in shape has helped my trombone playing immensely. In college, I was quite a bit heftier and always doing breathing exercises. I have no need to anymore. A coach tried to explain it to me with terms like “V02 max” but I just know that my lungs are better the more I swim, bike and run.
It also helps me mentally. I tend to be very hard on myself so getting out my demons through exercise means that I don’t throw my horn out the window.
7. When maximizing volume becomes necessary what percentage does each contribute to the equation?
The right equipment/Air flow/Embouchure Control
All equal parts. The wrong equipment might make you sound too harsh at louder volumes. Without proper air flow, you will never play loud enough. If you have proper air flow but no control of your embouchure, you’ll lose the note.
T1. What is the best trombone playing you have ever heard?
Living and playing in New York, I hear amazing trombone playing on a regular basis. I have also been fortunate enough to hear and study with amazing trombonists. I do not want to single out anyone.
T2. What is the best trombone playing you have ever done?
I’m pretty hard on myself so I usually don’t feel great about my playing but… A few years ago, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society was performing at BAM. We were onstage, in costume and standing. I had to play both bass bone and tuba while standing in this incredibly involved, intense piece called Brooklyn Babylon. When I heard the live recording, I said to myself, “Hey, I didn’t sound half bad!” That’s about as good of a compliment I’ll give myself.
T3. What has it been like breaking into the New York scene as a young person in the 21st century? Has being female shaped your experience in any meaningful ways?
I had met a few Broadway conductors and contractors that cane through San Francisco. They were very kind to me when I moved to New York. They told me who to call and to use their name as a reference. One person who was very kind to me early on was Douglas Purviance. He was generous with work and advice. But everyone has been truly great. Much different than back home in California. Being a female trombonist has helped me stick out in a sea of male trombonists but that’s changing a lot. There are a bunch of talented women honking away in NYC.
There is one conductor I’ve worked for a few times who LOVES pranks. I had a tuba solo in one show all by myself, completely in the clear. He would mess with me relentlessly. he would try to make me laugh or throw things into my tuba right before I had to play. The worst was when he threw a big water bottle in the tuba – and it got stuck. Fun times!!
Interested in more “Seven Positions” Interviews?
Ben van Dijk
Denson Paul Pollard
Erik Van Lier
c. 2014 David William Brubeck All Rights reserved www.davidbrubeck.com
Images courtesy of Jennifer Wharton
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