John Noxon: A Young Boy Apprenticed To Earl Williams Recollects For “The Craftsmen’s Bench” tm5eba1111

“Dear John”-it seems as though any question regarding Earl WIlliams or his legendary trombones ends in a

John Noxon

John Noxon

flare being sent up to the authority on everything Williams related from models to players. For a young boy growing up on the South Side of Chicago, the studio scene of LA must have seemed a planet away. Now picture not just the young apprentice, but a gifted trombonist and improviser in his own right, and you have John Noxon; someone with first hand experience and fully able to absorb the significance of what has occured. A reluctant, but thorough historian, every Williams devotee is indebted to John’s memory, curiosity and integrity. A master trombonist, apprentice to Earl Williams, and consultant to John Duda at Earl Williams/Calicchio, we are delighted to host John Noxon from “The Craftsmen’s Bench” tm

Williams Shop in Burbank On Mariposa St.

Williams Shop in Burbank
On Mariposa St.

1.) What was it like as a kid in Earl’s Shop? How did you view him and his horns then as opposed to now.
It was a fantastic experience to be around that shop as a kid. The who’s who of Trombone Royalty was in and out of the shop all the time. Dick Nash, Tommy Pederson, Milt Bernahrt, John Prince, Billy Byers, Bob Payne and the list goes on. Almost everyone in LA at the time at least tried a Williams horn at one time or another. Its an amazing experience to see your heros all in one place. I learned to keep my mouth shut and my eyes and ears wide open. Its amazing how much you can learn doing that. Milt and Earl seemed to have a special relationship. Milt lived not far from the shop, I think, because he was in there all the time. He and Earl would experiment on horns and try different things. Lead pipes, crooks, and whatever else they could think of.

Earl William's Son, Bob Courtesy of John Noxon

Earl William’s Son, Bob
Courtesy of John Noxon

Earl’s son Bob worked there daily. Occasionally Earl would bring in extra help. Earl Stickler whom he worked with at the Olds factory was a frequent visitor. Also John Pederson was an employee at various times. He still has a music store in the Burbank area. Pederson Music is a great music store for students and professionals alike. John is a fantastic repair tech with years of experience.

Bert Herrick was also a frequent visitor that hung around Earl’s shop. Of course he was a legendary repair man, mouthpiece, lead pipe maker and horn customizer. Bert was doing custom work long before it became a popular thing to do. Bert also had his own brand of cold cream for slides. Bert also made the first trombone stand I ever saw. It was a drum stand with a cloth (canvas) covered wood cone to fit the inside of the bell.

Earl Williams

Earl Williams

I was taken with the sound of the Williams horns. Such a dark fat round sound like nothing else. The slides were out of this world! Everyone has a gift in life. Earls gift was drawing tubing. Benge Trumpets were just down the street from Williams. Earl used to draw tubing for Benge. Lou Duda was running the Benge factory at that time. (He is John Duda’s father.) John grew up in this business going to work with his Dad Lou. John got serious about horn building at about 12 years old. And he is still at it today. Building brass instruments is almost a lost art. If you look at the big manufacturers the training given is to do one thing. You build, valves, make crooks, spin bells and on. There are not many people like Earl, Bob, Lou, John, & Zig that can make an instrument from start to finish. These guys were and are fantastic craftsman in this respect. There are only a handful of people who can actually build an instrument from start to finish left in the world!

Back to Earl and his horns. The consistency is still amazing to me. They all play like a Williams, some a little different than others but they are Williams. Nothing else plays like that, nothing. I have my original horn from 1969. The slide has never been worked on and its still an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10. If you go back in history and look at some of the Wallace Williams horns from about 1927 to 1938 or so you will not find many of those slides have wear, plating loss, on the inner tubes unless the horn has been injured. This is a testament to Earls ability to draw tubing. I still think Williams horns have a beautiful dark sound full of overtones. Because Earl changed the scale of the horn, moving the bell closer to your face, the slide tubes have to be longer, the partials line up a lot better than other horns I have played.

He also felt the front of the horn should be small and the back large. The large dramatic bell flair lends itself to the “Williams Sound”! I thought the horns were fantastic then and I still do now. I thought Earl was an amazing horn maker, and that feeling has not diminished over the years, only gotten stronger.

Jack Teagarden King of the Jazz Trombone & his WIlliams Trombone

Jack Teagarden
King of the Jazz Trombone
& his WIlliams Trombone

2.) What do you think is so special about Earl’s horns? What have others said?
One of the special things about these horns is the sound; very distinct. The construction of these horns is unbelievably consistent. This was prior to CNC machining and was all done by hand. The scale of the horn makes the partials line up better than most other horns. There is a difference between the material used today vs 60 years ago. There has been much discussion about the properties of the “brass” over the years. In that era Cartridge brass was a 75/25 mix that has changed over the years. Today it is closer to 80/20. These are controversial figures, everyone has an opinion what constitutes “Yellow Brass vs Cartridge Brass”. The brass Earl used was a slightly different mixture than what we use today.

Cartridge brass is a little harder and wears out tooling quicker on the modern machines All of these things contribute to the sound and feel of how a horn responds to the player. When talking about the scale of the horn what I mean is the overall length of the horn and the proportion of bell to slide. A tenor trombone by physics has to be a certain length. What Earl changed was making the slide longer, the tubes are 28.5 inches long, so the bell section can be shorter and it is closer to your face than other horns.

Others talk about the dark Williams sound, the intonation, how the partials line up, how good the slides are. Every one who plays a has an opinion of what makes them so special. Some think they are harder to play and require more effort to play. Chauncy Welsh felt that way. Toward then end of his playing years he went back to a Bach because he felt they were easier to play. Dick Nash played a Bach/Williams for some time. It had a Williams bell and a Bach slide. So lets start with Jack Teagarden, he played any horn some one would pay him to play, but always returned to Williams. From the 1930’s he played the Wallace Williams, then through the 1960’s he played the modern Williams horns. Let go back in history to the Trad Jazz players. Guys like Kid Ory, Jack Teagarden, Dick Nash, Tommy Pederson, Milt Bernhart, Dick “Slyde” Hyde, Jeff Apmadoc, Mike Jamison, John Prince, Bob Olson, Charlie LaRue, Bob Payne, Billy Byers, Bryant Byers, Dickie Wells, Bob Enovoldson, to name a few. Of course myself! LOL!

Carl Fontana and Frank Rosolino

Carl Fontana and Frank Rosolino

3.) It seems the model 6 is the most famous, but you have a soft spot for the model 10, why?
The Model 6 is the most plentiful because it was a .500 bore. I play mostly my model 4’s which are a .490 bore. The Model 7 is a .500 bore with an “F” attachment. The Model 8 is a .520 bore, the Model 9 is a .520 bore with an “F” attachment. And the Model 10 is a .565 bore single trigger horn.

I am not a Bass Trombonist by any means but I like the 10 because it is so easy to play. It takes a whole lot more

Williams Arrowhead counterweight

Williams Arrowhead counterweight

air than the 4, or the 6, but it is the easiest Bass Bone I have ever played. The sound is very dark, very round, but has a sharp edge when you want it to. The single trigger is not to popular these days but two triggers are just to much for my small brain to deal with. The Model 10 that I have is Bob Olson’s horn. He bought it in 1958 after he got the call from Wally Heider to play on the Kenton band. He thought it was for the bass trombone chair, but it really was for the 3rd chair. He told the story that his mistake bringing a bass trombone was what lead to 2 bass bones on the band. He then got a Conn 8H through some deal with Conn and the Kenton band. Bob can be heard on the Live at the Tropicana album. I got the horn when Bob passed a few years ago. I also bought Karl De Karske’s Model 10 a few years ago. Both play very easily and are very light in my opinion, when compared to other horns.

4.) The Japanese are said to believe that certain blades made by masters possess a essence or a soul? You



have said that Earl’s trombones possess the same “katanna”. Is it something you can put in words?
No I don’t think I can put that in words. But after working on horns for about 25 years know you run into that with some horns. Have you ever met a person that when they enter a room you know they are there? You are not looking at the door, you have no visual, or sound cue that they have arrived but somehow you know that person is there. To me its the same kind of thing, you know something or someone special is there. The first time I played my Model 4 I knew that was my horn after about 2 notes. How? I don’t know.

5.) How special a place was LA in it’s brass heyday?
Very special!! At one time in the late 1970’s there were 46 TV shows with live bands! Many recording sessions going on, many live stage plays with orchestras. You could do 3, 4 or 5 calls in a day! It was absolutely amazing everyone was working every day. Today I think there might be half a dozen trombone players making a good living playing full time. I wish I had been born 25 years earlier!

You also had guys like Jimmy Stamp, Claude Gordon, Roy Main for teachers. And these guys were also playing around town. In those days that was how you started out. Your teacher would get you a couple of gigs and if you could play it kind of mushroomed from there. Not like this relentless self promotion you have to do today. There was so much work some for some guys it was like a 9 to 5 job. There is a movie coming out in a little bit called “The Wrecking Crew”. It is being done by Danny Tedesco, his father was probably the number one guitar player in town. He could read anything put in front of him. The movie is about the Rock N Roll scene here in LA. If you google ”The Wrecking Crew” you can find out when it comes out and you can see what the Rock scene was like in LA at that time.

6.) From Movies to Hot Rods to horns, how do you think California effected the DIY aspect of American Culture?
I am not sure, I would guess its the weather that had that effect. Sunny So Cal is a reality. I grew up on the south side of Chicago. I can remember going out as a kid to play in -7 degree weather. No one does anything in the winter in Chicago! But out here you can go to the beach after you went skiing in the morning. Its just kind of non stop. But you will pay a price to live here…..

unnamed-147.) Who were your favorite LA Trombone players, and why?

I have to start off with Dick Nash. Dick is truly amazing as a trombone player. One of the few guys you can put in a symphony, or a Trad Jazz gig, or any other type of performance and he will be absolutely fantastic! He is also a gentleman, and one of the kindest, nicest human beings you will ever encounter in your life. A little story here. I had stopped playing for a few years, and started again. I heard Dick had a Williams 6 for sale. I know he had installed a few notes on this horn the factory forgot. So I called him, he invited my wife and I to his house to check out the horn. He set me up in his cabana by the pool and said play as long as you like, get a good feel for the horn and let me know what you want to do. Ok I played for about 30 minutes came back to the house and he said the price is XXX I said OK. Dick said can you handle that? I said yes, he said if you want to you can pay part now or whatever works for you. I said nope thats OK I’ll take it. He really did not know me from anyone but was so accommodating and kind. That has always been the case when ever he and I interact. He is incredibly gracious and kind. I just cant say enough about him. One of the good guys for sure.

Now, there are so many really great players out here in LA. George Fay was doing the Carol Brunette show when I was a teenager. I recognized him and asked to talk for a minute. He took me into the rehearsal and let me sit next to him. Gave me some tips on playing and was very kind to me.

Enough stories! I loved Tommy Pederson’s music and playing, Milt Bernhart, always around Earl’s shop. John Prince good player great arranger, Billy Byers, Bob Olson, Charlie LaRue, Roy Main, Norm Smith, Gil Adams, Herbie Harper, Lew McCreary, Bob Enovoldson, Joe Howard, Lloyd Ulyate, George Roberts. There are so many I could go on for a long time and I would leave someone out and I would feel bad about that…..

Spike Wallace in  the Paul Whiteman Band

Spike Wallace in the Paul Whiteman Band

8.) Take us on a trip to Hoyt’s Garage; what was it like?
I was invited to Hoyt’s Garage twice when I was stationed at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro Ca. Around 1973. It was a terrifying experience! I was 21 years old and here were all of my heroes in one place! Hoyt Bohannon, Tommy Pederson, Joe Howard, Lloyd Ulyate, Dick Nash, George Roberts, Dick Noel and I don’t remember who else was there. It was a place to have fun playing! The music was incredibly challenging, most written by Hoyt or Tommy. You got assigned a place or part to play. I thought I was safe cause I got a 4th part! Wow I was happy! Then it started! You rotate after each tune. So everyone gets to play first through last by the end of the night. I was definitely a fish out of water there to young, to inexperienced, after you get over who you are standing next to and relax a little bit, not too much, its over! It was fun, exciting terrifying and all of those things you can imagine in about a 3 hour period.

9.) Which players (and when), are the most memorable Williams trombone player?
Kid Ory, Jack Teagarden, Dick Nash, Tommy Pederson, Milt Bernhart, Slyde Hyde, Jeff Apmadoc, Mike Jamison, John Prince, Bob Olson, Charlie LaRue, Bob Payne, Billy Byers, Bryant Byers, Dickie Wells, Bob Enovoldson, Carl Fontana.

Tell us about Jay Armstrong’s dream, and how you became involved?
I know nothing about it, I have spoken to Jay a couple of times about his tenure with Williams Trombones. But I was not involved when he had the company. That interview can be read on the Williams trombone Facebook page.
I had always wanted to do a website about Williams trombones and never got around to doing it. Troy Smart in North Carolina offered to put it all on Facebook! I gave Troy everything I had and he has done a fantastic job of assembling all of my horrible notes and scribbles.

11.) What are some other horns you have admired?
Well I have never met a 2B I did not like! Some are better than others but they are all good! My buddy, and brother

Noxon's Collection, In Part

Noxon’s Collection, In Part

from another mother, Barry Kierce has an unbelievable collection of horns. There is a 2B that some one customized years ago. It has shamrocks engraved on the bell, and it’s a .491, .491 bore horn. He also has an 8H that’s out of this world. Along with a number of 2 and 3 digit serial number Bach horns that are just excellent. I also just love the old Conn 44H’s. The art deco looks cool and they just sing in the upper register. If I didn’t have a Williams 4 that 44H might be a good horn to do lead, jazz and some small group things with.

Jack Teagarden King of The Jazz Trombone with Louis Armstrong

Jack Teagarden
King of The Jazz Trombone with Louis Armstrong

Also the “new” Williams horns that John Duda has been building for the last 12 or so years are just fantastic. I like the new ones better than my old ones! I think that is just because my horns are 50 years and pretty worn out. But John has done a tremendous job building these horns. Mine were used to sort out the tooling and figure out what to do and how to make them. John is one of very few people who can build a horn start to finish. This has become a specialized business. You make crooks, you draw tubing, you spin bells and that’s all you do. John can do all of the different functions to build brass instruments. Not many of those kind of guys left in the world today.

c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved.

Images courtesy of John Noxon

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