Trombone Books I Recommend….No. 1

Tommy Dorsey, James Pankow, Trombone Shorty, J. J. Johnson, Arthur Pryor and Clay Smith?

I cannot recall the author of the study, but seem to recall the conclusion well. After examining master musicians who had achieved success in their field (if not outright virtuosity), the question arose: HOW did they do it?

Specifically. did they master tone first, to the exclusion of all else? Focus only on time and intonation at the root, only to grow into excellent tone, expression and listening later?

HOW, exactly?

What did they focus on? Or, more precisely stated: What did they leave out, if only for a time?

The answers were everything and nothing. Their teachers did not leave ANYTHING out. They focused on EVERYTHING! Perhaps not all at once, but yes, everything.

This could explain a great deal.

One of two components I typically find underdeveloped in students is MUSICALITY. (The other? Time, time, time, time, time, time & time!). Echoing the great Arnold Jacobs’ summation of the musicians of my generation-“They lack artistry”, I have to concede that musicality, or its absence, is often the elephant in the room regarding the development of younger musicians.

Emotion or expression IS music, in the sense it attracts many of the most musical people to music. Expression and the communication of emotion is amostng what music does best. This is akin to the fruited plant of the garden or the flowered tree of the forrest-with the enticing scent that draws in the expressive soul. How often we are drawn to the subtle, snared by the communicative and enchanted by the expressive? The most musical are lured to and nourished by these arches of phrase and crests of dynamics that illuminate and inspire the otherwise pitilessly mathematical notes. Musicality then, increases the appetite for more music.

As a result of this line of thinking, one may arrive at this question: Why am I studying articulation in an exercise, when I could be doing so in a more musical duet? One will satisfy the yearnings of my musical soul; the other may not! And so, dear reader, you have found me out: I prefer the etude to the exercise; the solo to the scale, and the melody to the pattern.

Not only does the duet offer great melodies when alone, but the applied interaction of playing with someone else to whom you are accountable for pitch and time etc, is enthralling! And how many things are better than playing music with a friend? Like duets, solos capture this collaborative spirit, and were originally conceived and written with the intention of performance with the integrated accompaniment!

Both solos with piano and duos should often be read from the score, to more fully understand the entire scope of music-making, and as a gateway to score-reading. Yes, duets and solos. How many an operatic accompanist has parlayed their piano-playing into becoming a world class maestro like George Solti? Legion!

This leads me to Clay Smith- a man who made his living playing trombone solos, and wrote more than a few. I have particularly enjoyed many Barnhouse publications in the past. They have produced high quality editions and were quite pleasant in their communications. Long ago, Barnhouse graciously gave me permission to publish one solo by Clay Smith on my Website. As we finally do so, we thank them, once again!

Like many, I believe these to be an essential collection of solos that help bridge the gap between etudes or exercises and more elaborate and traditional solo repertoire. Best wishes with these highly imaginative solos or, some might say, duos with piano! Play as many as you can, as expressively as you are able, and frequently with piano alongside.

This is my first selection for “Trombone Books I Recommend!” Enjoy…

Notorious! Pan is the goat-legged demigod of ancient Greco-Roman lore. Amorous? He is seemingly often in pursuit of a fair maiden or nymph. Disastrous. As he chased an unwilling nymph-Syrinx; she changed her self into river-reeds, lest he catch her. Sonorous: despondent at the escape pf his newfound “love”, Pan severs the selfsame river-reeds to fashion his iconic flute. Ruinous: poor Syrinx is now his mournful pipe and always at his lips.

(Odorous-Goat breath!)

Claude Debussy and Andreas Blau pause to reflect on the tragedy in terms most rhapsodious.

The mournful tones of this masterpiece by Debussy seem to cry out in sympathy for the losses of Syrinx.

Syrinx may yet serve as a metaphor for each individual instrumentalist who sacrifices their lives to embody music. If spending six hours or more per day alone in a practice room is an approximation of turning one-self into reeds or, our very instrument, then many of us have paid the price of Syrinx.

As we aspire to become “Storytellers of sound”, ad proscribed by Arnold Jacobs, do we not become the living embodiment or the voice of our instruments as we spin our scales of ro?

c. 2024 David William Brubeck. All Rights Reserved


Pan image courtesy of


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