A Big Phat “7 Positions” tm with Criag Gosnell

images-1The first thing you notice about Craig Gosnell is his versatility-from tenor trombone to bass, and jazz vocals to boot. Next, comes his ubiquity. In what seems to be just a short time, he and his trombone are everywhere, from big bands (Gordon Goodwin, Michael Buble, Jaco’s Word of Mouth, Mike Barone, Arturo Sandoval, Bob FLorence, Natalie Cole…), to studio work, albums to soundtracks and everything in-between, Craig has hit the sweet spot in Los Angeles-a city perhaps unique in its ability to offer equally divergent and high level performance outlets. Then there are the credentials, that remind you that it didn’t happen overnight. Gosnell is both a Doctor and an Honor Student, courtesy of the University of Miami, and the road to UM went through Greeley and UNC. Since Craig got to LA the bands have gotten a little phatter and the sounds a little sweeter. “Seven Positions” tm finally catches up with the big band bass bone master Craig Gosnell.

1st Position
What do you look for in an instrument?

I look for balance in many places.

Does it have smooth slide action right out of the gate?

Is it too front heavy? Or back heavy?

I want the tone to be malleable, where I can control (to some degree), how dark or bright I want to sound, given the musical situation.

The valves need to be quick, smooth, and blow as close to the open horn as possible but not SO open that there isn’t something to lean on. (I prefer large rotors over Axial-flow, for instance.)

It’s also good when the horn slots well and has clear articulation.

2nd position
How do you conceive of or describe the ideal tone quality for:
Big Bands?

When it comes to tone quality, I try to bear in mind what Buddy Baker had taught me about big, sustained beautiful sound at all times. I think of getting my sound out to the back of the hall, so I always try to play to the side of my music stand and not underneath it, which can just direct my sound into the floor. I don’t really alter my tone all that much for differing styles (from what I can tell).

Of course, dynamics, articulation and rhythms could vary depending on the style, and that is up to the composer/arranger. I’m always listening to what is musically going on around me and must constantly decide what my musical role is in a given situation. Is there a tuba in the section, or am I providing the foundation alone? Is this a time to be blending and softly fitting into a texture, should I bring out a melody line to give it some prominence? Or should I be “peeling paint” in a very raucous section?

If I can’t hear whoever the lead player is, then I know I’m playing to loud. In big band, the bass trombone is the foundation of at least the trombone section, and then the entire brass when the trumpets are playing.

I think about balancing and supporting whoever the lead player is. Of course, high lead trumpet notes will always cut through better than any loud volume a bass trombone might provide, so it’s just a matter of “riding the wave” and picking your moments in musically exposed situations.

I also enjoy playing soft – so that the audience needs to intensely lean in to really hear what kind of blend and texture is being played. Variety is a beautiful thing!

Studio work?
In the studio, as anywhere, paying attention to dynamics on the page is very important. The dynamic threshold is still going to be dictated by whoever is playing lead. If I’m playing next to tuba, I like to “fit in” to the sound that the tuba is producing, unless the part says double or triple forte…then there is room for some sizzle or “brassiness” in the sound.

Microphone placement is also important, as you don’t want the microphone too close to the bell as it will alter the tone color being recorded dramatically, and there isn’t as much room for dynamic contrast.

MI00035953213rd Position
What is your secret to a beautiful legato?

A beautiful legato is a number of different factors coinciding at the same time.

My air is sustaining the sound, and the tongue is applying a light “D” articulation. Depending on what register of the instrument I’m in, there can be a certain syllable associated with that. The low register, a “Dah,” middle register, a “Duh,” and high register a “dih” (as in the word “it”).

I then have to combine all of this with slide movement, and tongue-slide coordination have to be perfectly together.

Thankfully, with the bass trombone, in certain situations – valves can be used, depressing or releasing which can provide enough of a smooth separation between certain notes (without the tongue getting involved).

All trombones can make use of natural slurs, where the tongue is not required, and the slide is moving from an outer position to an inner one on a descending line.

I guess that hopefully the “beautiful” aspect of the legato would be just the smooth execution of all these different factors. I think in order to realize just where each factor comes into play, a good deal of scale practice is required, being sure to also use alternate positions as well as regular ones so that it eventually becomes second nature to the player.

4th Position
What helps you achieve musical expression?

There are a number of things that help with musical expression. I would definitely refer back to the second question and what I’ve previously stated about dynamics. There was a great illustration on the back of Buddy Baker’s studio door that depicted a person’s face, but where there were supposed to be eyes, there were ears instead. Listening to the ensemble around you is such a key factor in determining how you want to play a musical line – dynamically, note duration, and style. I like to listen to various styles of music when time permits, and I often feel like I don’t listen to other music as much as I should!

In some ways, this can train your brain to nitpick and analyze various aspects of a piece without also having to add your voice at the same time. When it does become time, in an ensemble, you have a better understanding and framework of the music that you’re performing.

I also like to know what the composer is intending – if there’s any kind of story or action taking place that the music is supposed to reflect. If I’m playing on a movie score, it’s very helpful to be able to see the scene and know what’s happening – should the music be reflecting calm tranquility? Tension and terror? Whimsical comedy? All of these aspects can come together to influence how I think I should express music.

5th Position
Name two types of inspiration
Non musical:

Musical inspiration can happen when I least expect it. Someone could just provide a link to a particular performer whom I hadn’t heard before, or when I get to hear a master at their craft play a passage that is just perfect, it can reinvigorate my drive to continually improve at my own performance and musical understanding.

I think it was about a year ago that I had first heard of Jacob Collier. If your readers haven’t heard this young man’s arrangements on Youtube, I would certainly recommend they check them out. As of this writing, his version of Fascinating Rhythm is the most recent video to appear, and he is a multi-instrumentalist who also sings (multi-track) six-part (and more!) harmonies.

Also, a band that has had my attention for quite awhile, “Dirty Loops” has just released their first album, called “Loopified.” They are a trio from Sweden (keyboard/vocals, electric bass and drums) who all have jazz training (very talented), but came to prominence also through Youtube with their cover arrangements of current-era pop tunes. Those arrangements use more complex harmonies and grooves than the originals, and the vocalist, Jonah Nilsson sounds like he has been heavily influenced by Stevie Wonder. Very cool!

imagesNon-musical inspiration can also happen in many forms. When I see someone who has a passion for what they do: a visual artist, a history teacher, someone who makes their own physical fitness a major priority in his/her life, any number of those things can be inspiring. It can be an effective way to ignite an energy for my own self-improvement.

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to perform with an ensemble in the South of France for a number of days, and found the culture (including their appreciation for instrumental music), visual art and food to be quite inspiring!

6th Position
What drew you to Los Angeles to begin your career? What is special about the scene there
Ever since my junior year at the University of Northern Colorado (after reading an article about a prominent trombonist in L.A.), I thought about the possibility of making the move there to try my hand at doing the freelance musician thing. The thought of doing not only live work, but playing for things like movies, TV shows, recording on artists’ albums, and making a decent middle-class living really appealed to me.

I finally made the move in 2003 after finishing my doctorate at the University of Miami, and took part in the 4-week Henry Mancini Institute, which was a great bridge between the college atmosphere and the real world. Students were able to study with faculty that were doing the work that many of them were hoping to do in the future.

Over a number of years, I’m very thankful that momentum increased to the point where I could make a living out here, and continue to do so.

The scene is special because there is so much variety of music going on in so many places across town, and the level of musicianship is so high across the community.


7th Position
Do you have an time for side projects as a leader or soloist? How do you envision the solo jazz bass trombone?

As far as being a leader or soloist, I haven’t really done all that much outside of college recitals. Being a sideman and keeping up doubles takes a good deal of time.

That said, I always enjoy when a composer/arranger sees fit to feature the bass trombone. It’s nice to defy the norm a certain amount.

I always welcome the chance to do so! I think there is a lot of potential when it comes to solo jazz bass trombone, not just melodically, but when I hear amazing players like Bill Reichenbach or Dave Taylor improvise, it’s such a great reminder of what the instrument is capable of.

Bill’s facility while improvising on the bass trombone, especially in the low register is fantastic!

c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights reserved. davidbrubeck.com

Images courtesy of greenhoe.com and laststudiomusicians.info

Interested in more “Seven Positions” tm Interviews?
Charlie Vernon
James Markey
Chris Brubeck
Doug Yeo
Jeremy Morrow
Tom Everett
Gerry Pagano
Ben van Dijk
Randall Hawes
Denson Paul Pollard
Thomas Matta
Fred Sturm
Bill Reichenbach
Massimo Pirone
Erik Van Lier
Jennifer Wharton
Matyas Veer
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