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The Trombone
April 13, 2009 8:36 PM   Subscribe

Last week was International Trombone Week. But what is a trombone? Can you recognize the many types of trombone?

Trombones are familiar to most from jazz music, but they're an important part of the symphony orchestra. Here's an entire concert of avant-garde trombone music.

And no, it's not true that a trombone slide killed a trumpet player, however much one might wish it when the trumpet players step on your solo.

Low brass forever!

previously:
glass trombones
Canadian Brass
The Stooges played by trombone, tuba and drums
A gratuitous link to a fantastic post by y2karl I found while trying to make sure this wasn't a double.
posted by winna (66 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not to mention the Tromboon!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:53 PM on April 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


In French, trombones are paperclips.
posted by tapeguy at 9:06 PM on April 13, 2009


Don't forget the unfortunately named Sackbutt.
posted by defenestration at 9:11 PM on April 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


sad trombone (i couldn't get it to embed in the post)
posted by askmehow at 9:12 PM on April 13, 2009


My favorite trombone player.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 9:24 PM on April 13, 2009


trombone-propelled electronics!
posted by cosmac at 9:24 PM on April 13, 2009


Agreed that the jazz trombone player's favorite trombone player (my favorite as well) is J. J. Johnson. Whether fast or slow.

My favorite trombone joke always has been: "What's the difference between a frog driving a car and a trombonist driving a car? a) The frog may be on his way to a gig."
posted by LeLiLo at 9:26 PM on April 13, 2009


Soprano Trombone
posted by hortense at 9:27 PM on April 13, 2009


I played the trombone from age 13-15. It was, at the time, great fun but learning and playing in the various orchestras and bands I ended up in clashed terribly with my transition into 'being older' and it became too much hassle. Possibly even triggering the beginnings of my (laughably mild by almost any standards) 'rebellious phase'.

It's only looking back that I realise how much fun it was to play, and how many great opportunities that I had directly as a result; going on a week long tour of the West Country of England playing Village Halls with a County Youth Brass Ensemble when I was four years or more younger than everyone else (massively intimidating), playing solos in a small brass band at Summer Village fetes twenty years younger than everyone else (they made me stand up and everything, it was hideously embarrassing), playing Christmas carols around all the villages in winter evenings* and watching all the kids come out to listen.

*(When you're out playing brass instruments in near zero conditions, the Trombone is THE instrument to play as gloves, even mittens, do not get in the way one little bit. As long as they weren't wool, as it was hard to keep a grip on the slide with them. Either way, it sucked to be the trumpet player.)

When I look back at how easy I found it to learn, and so quickly, I realise how much I wish I hadn't pissed away an opportunity to be pretty good at something with so much opportunity attached to it. It's only now do I realise why my Mum was so deeply, yet quietly, upset that I dropped it all in a huff because of no better voiced reason than "I can't play any music that I like".

It seems that if I had any musical talent I either lost it all, or its so deeply hidden in 'old dog, new tricks' that I'm not sure if I will be able to extract it again - when I now try (desperately) to teach myself the drums at 36 years old (god, it's painful) it's a good job I bought an electronic kit as only me that can hear the godawful racket I manage to produce now. If my Mum wasn't so nice, she'd possibly be muttering "Told you so..." under her breath.

Scratch one more bad influence to Heavy Metal and Rock...

Parents? Please encourage your kids if they show an interest in music. It might take them twenty years to admit it, but they'll thank you for it. My Mum was right about regretting it.
posted by Brockles at 9:30 PM on April 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


The idea of adding a reed to a trombone could only come from Peter Schickele.

When I was in band, our neighbors a couple of miles down the road stopped me one day.
'Winn, are you all breeding livestock now?'
Baffled, I shook my head and asked why.
'Because every afternoon from five until seven it sounds like a moose is giving birth up at your house.'

I was never a very good trombonist.
posted by winna at 9:33 PM on April 13, 2009


Rusty Trombone Day is the next big GOP publicity stunt.
posted by GavinR at 9:38 PM on April 13, 2009


@defenestration: I would just like to point out that you can reach Early Music America by dialing 1–888–SACKBUT, quite possibly the best phone number in the history of phone numbers.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:39 PM on April 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Heh- I played trombone in grade school and high school. Great fun, and I wish I'd have kept it up.
posted by pjern at 9:40 PM on April 13, 2009


Fuck yeah, trombone.

Low brass kicks ass.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:50 PM on April 13, 2009


I played in school. Kept leaving the bastard thing on the train though...
posted by pompomtom at 10:02 PM on April 13, 2009


Q: What do you call a trombone player with a pager?
A: An optimist.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:04 PM on April 13, 2009


It might be a tuba.

It's not a tuba!
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:13 PM on April 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Of all the brass players, trombonists are the most overtly shameless about emptying their spit valve on the floor in front of large crowds of people.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:26 PM on April 13, 2009


Go Fred Go Fred!
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:47 PM on April 13, 2009


This seems like as good a place as any to ask about a mysterious trombone behavior I've observed in the wild. In between phrases I sometimes see the trombonist flick the slide to a different position and then back, without making a sound. What's that for?
posted by moonmilk at 10:47 PM on April 13, 2009


Dang, YouTube seems to have pulled all the live clips of "Ain't It Funky Now" featuring Wesley just going off.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:52 PM on April 13, 2009


moonmilk: "This seems like as good a place as any to ask about a mysterious trombone behavior I've observed in the wild. In between phrases I sometimes see the trombonist flick the slide to a different position and then back, without making a sound. What's that for?"

I used to do it for two reasons:

1. nervous tic

2. You have to oil or grease the slide periodically. Slide grease needs a quick spritz of water now and then to stay slick. So a quick flick serves to get a sense of how the slide's moving while you're not concentrating on playing.
posted by mph at 11:04 PM on April 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


*puts reed to lips*

SAX-A-MA-TROMBONE!!!!!
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 11:43 PM on April 13, 2009


also, to moonmilk's question, as a junior high trombonist I agree with mph's explanation of flicking the slide around to test the motility of it in front of an important run of notes, but I also used to do it to anchor myself to a new chord by hitting a few of the nearby notes that I would be allowed to play in the next few seconds, to put them in muscle memory. But really, if you're a trombonist making long wanking motions like that sort of goes with the territory.

low brass represent
posted by arcanecrowbar at 12:14 AM on April 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, submitting a vote to replace Rick Astley with Jack Teagarden, and institute the phrase

you got Teagarden'd
posted by arcanecrowbar at 12:16 AM on April 14, 2009


trombone-propelled electronics!

Yay! My old buddy Nic Collins! And the trombone controller is only one of the many delightful and ingenious electronics/live sampling interfaces he's come up with over the years. I'm gonna plug his brand-new book here, and not cause he's a friend, but because he's one of the most serious and adventurous artists working in the field of extended live-performance electronics today, and anyone interested in this stuff should check the new book, as well as the music he's recorded over the years.

Another electronics/trombone guy who's certainly no slouch himself is the great George Lewis, and who, unlike Nic Collins, is an actual trombone player! A damn fine one.

German improvisor and pioneer of trombone multiphonics Albert Mangelsdorff was fabulous and should be heard (Albert died in 2005). Unfortunately that YT clip is an abbreviated one, but you can get a taste of his multiphonic thing.

See also: extraordinary trombone badass Ray Anderson.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:31 AM on April 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've got one of those new digital modeling trombones-what a godsend! With the push of a few buttons I can move from the strident tones of a .468" King 3B to the ThunderSlurp* of a .560" Conn 88H with a Christian Lindberg valve!

*Registered Trademark
posted by sourwookie at 12:49 AM on April 14, 2009


Oh, and Bill Watrous is a dork* who uses his between-song patter to push some bizarre save-yourself-for-marriage agenda.

*There. I said it.
posted by sourwookie at 12:52 AM on April 14, 2009


ThunderSlurp

Now that is funny.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:57 AM on April 14, 2009


Roswell Rudd, Steve Turre
posted by Wolof at 12:59 AM on April 14, 2009


The guy who really goes with Roswell Rudd, b. 1935 (not that I don't like Steve Turre a lot) is the wonderfully named Grachan Moncur III, b. 1937. They (along with the guy flapjax mentioned, Albert Mangelsdorff, who was a few years older) were the free jazz trombone pioneers.

off-(trombone)-topic: Turre (who's played with Santana, Ray Charles, Art Blakey, etc.) is so cool that, after he played with Roland Kirk, he decided to become a jazz seashell soloist.
posted by LeLiLo at 1:24 AM on April 14, 2009


I don't think I've every even touched one, but a trombone looks like a train wreck ergonomically. Moving the slide must take a massive effort compared to pressing one or more little trumpet or flute keys.
posted by pracowity at 1:44 AM on April 14, 2009


"Of all the brass players, trombonists are the most overtly shameless about emptying their spit valve on the floor in front of large crowds of people."

Once, as I lazily walked my bass line during a jazz concert, the house trombone player leaned over to me. He made a sort of chin-thrusting gesture at a visiting trombonist, a very energetic dude and a great player who was in the middle of some sort of very groovy, but out-of-my-league bebop solo. With great admiration, my buddy said, "I don't wanna sound gay or nothin'. But, you just know that kid would give great head."
posted by Netzapper at 2:05 AM on April 14, 2009


My function here is just to make sure some geek posts a link to Star Trek: TNG, Riker-bashing. "This is a much better way of communicating for you. It's far less confusing than the way you normally speak."

*runs back to the safety of the string section*
posted by girlhacker at 2:15 AM on April 14, 2009


I rue the day I started trombone lessons. Evil, evil contraption.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:51 AM on April 14, 2009


Winna has totally scooped my upcoming FPP on Christina Anagnostopoulou's computational semiotic analysis of "Keren", a solo trombone piece by Xenakis. Back to the drawing board.
posted by No-sword at 3:30 AM on April 14, 2009


Oh yeah, lelilo, Grachan Moncur III, that takes me back! For some unknown reason, one of his albums was pretty much the first (IIRC, and I'm pretty sure I do) "free jazz" record I ever got my hands on.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:46 AM on April 14, 2009


This is my new favorite trombone player. She kicks total trombone ass.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:21 AM on April 14, 2009


But really, if you're a trombonist making long wanking motions like that sort of goes with the territory. posted by arcanecrowbar

Bill Watrous is a dork* who uses his between-song patter to push some bizarre save-yourself-for-marriage agenda. posted by sourwookie


Ah, it's all making more sense now!
posted by Pollomacho at 4:47 AM on April 14, 2009


Of all the brass players, trombonists are the most overtly shameless about emptying their spit valve on the floor in front of large crowds of people.

It always seemed to be the instrument that sounded the worst if you didn't, though. Awful damn noise that made everyone look at you .. er, the guy next to me.

Moving the slide must take a massive effort compared to pressing one or more little trumpet or flute keys.

Only if the slide is buggered. On a decent trombone that's lubricated properly the slide will fall off if you let go of it, so it's not like a graunching, brass-on-brass friction fest.
posted by Brockles at 4:56 AM on April 14, 2009


I can easily recognize a trombone by the sound it makes.

When I run over it with my car.
posted by tommasz at 5:04 AM on April 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Only if the slide is buggered. On a decent trombone that's lubricated properly the slide will fall off if you let go of it, so it's not like a graunching, brass-on-brass friction fest.

On the other hand, if you don't grease the slide, you get to play both brass and percussion simultaneously.
posted by metaquarry at 5:16 AM on April 14, 2009


Hector Berlioz was a big fan of the trombone, and had no time for those who didn't show it enough respect:

"In my opinion the trombone is the true head of the family of wind instruments which I have named the epic family. It possesses nobility and grandeur to the highest degree; it has all the serious and powerful tones of sublime musical poetry, from religious calm and imposing accents to savage, orgiastic outbursts. Directed by the will of a master, the trombones can chant like a choir of priests, threaten, utter gloomy sighs, a mournful lament, or a bright hymn of glory, they can break forth into awe-inspiring cries and awaken the dead or doom the living with their fearful voices.

...

"To force [the trombone]—as the majority of contemporary composers does—to howl in a Credo crude phrases more fitting for a saloon than a church; to play as if to celebrate Alexander's entry into Babylon, when there is actually nothing more than a dancer's pirouette; to strum the tonic and dominant of a song in which a guitar could furnish an adequate accompaniment; to join its Olympian voice with the trashy melody of a vaudeville duet or with the frivolous noise of a quadrille; to prepare in the tutti of a concerto the triumphant entry of an oboe or flute—all this means degrading a magnificent individuality, making a slave or a buffoon out of a hero, marring the sound of the orchestra, paralysing all rational progress in instrumentation; it means destroying the past, present, and future of art, committing a wanton act of vandalism and disclosing a lack of feeling for musical expression which comes close to stupidity."
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:25 AM on April 14, 2009


I was thinking mainly of the mass. Where on another instrument you would have to press a small key with light spring resistance, blow a note, and then release the key before blowing the next note, a trombonist has to slide a large section of household plumbing into position, blow the note, and then slide the plumbing back to where it came from in time to blow the next note. This can't be made any easier by the fact that, unlike a key, which is pretty much digital (on/off as well as literally controlled with a single digit), on a trombone you could slide the plumbing into a lot of wrong places between the note you want and the next one up or down.
posted by pracowity at 5:28 AM on April 14, 2009


Ugh, that Berlioz screed... what a pompous windbag. I hate those old hierarchical notions of "nobility", "grandeur", the "sublime", and their inevitable comparisons to the "crude", the "trashy", the "frivolous"... very tiresome. So, he noticed some of his fellow composers were trying to do something different with the instrument, working in ways that didn't meet his approval or fit into his hidebound musical worldview, and what does he do? Writes them off as stupid vandals, of course.

He had no time for those who didn't show the instrument his narrow definition of "respect"? Huh. I have no time for the "will of a master" (there being little doubt as to which "master" must've been foremost in his own mind) when it's as elitist and knee-jerk conservative as his.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:56 AM on April 14, 2009


Trombone Card Termination Info
posted by madamjujujive at 6:13 AM on April 14, 2009


My son was a high school trombonist. What I mostly remember is how loud that instrument is. My other son played trumpet. Together they rattled the windows. God I miss that. Trombone is a sonorous instrument, once the player learns where the notes are.
posted by RussHy at 6:21 AM on April 14, 2009


Did you know if you drop the trom off of trombonist, you could be a bonist! WAKA WAKA
posted by Mastercheddaar at 6:34 AM on April 14, 2009



See also: extraordinary trombone badass Ray Anderson.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:31 AM on April 14 [+] [!]



Flapjax, I love Ray Anderson -- from his work with Braxton to his solo stuff. Some people don't appreciate the humor and 'look how high I can play' riffs but then some people didn't dig Diz either, I guess.

'Don't Mow Your Lawn' . . .
posted by Herodios at 7:40 AM on April 14, 2009


What would LOST do for its act out without the dramatic trombone gliss/portamento?
posted by Rhomboid at 9:09 AM on April 14, 2009


What would LOST do for its act out without the dramatic trombone gliss/portamento?

A slide whistle wouldn't have the same scary dramatic effect, would it?
posted by Burhanistan at 9:18 AM on April 14, 2009


Thein Brass makes a piccolo trombone, as well as soprano, alto, tenor, bass, and contrabass versions. The contrabass versions come in F and low B flat (with a double slide!). Also, don't forget the trombone's close relative, the cimbasso, which you'll mainly see in opera orchestras. Thein Brass also makes some replica 16th century trombones
posted by musicinmybrain at 9:27 AM on April 14, 2009


I used to have lots of fun playing alto trombone in college. It was like a sawed-off shotgun made of awesome. I sounded terrible, of course, but it was the only time any girl was actually interested in the fact that I was holding something like a trombone.

I miss the sound of a full trombone choir. Huge sound, beautiful warm round tones, and the potential for (and occasional achievement of) perfect intonation.

This is a great post. Thanks.
posted by jmcmurry at 9:54 AM on April 14, 2009


oh baby! digging my bass 'bone out tonight! um, now my audio is way fucked on my 'puter right now so i don't know how this sounds, but dig robin eubanks (bone) and chris potter (sax) with the dave holland quintet. and this clip is a tease, but here they are on prime directive. find holland quintet's live at birdland on ecm records for some of the baddest ass bone in contemporary jazz.
posted by barrett caulk at 9:59 AM on April 14, 2009


In French, trombones are paperclips.

Wow. Imagine the size of the box they come in! (But don't they clutter up your desk?)
posted by yoink at 10:20 AM on April 14, 2009


I got sidetracked by the question about slide-flicking, so I doubled back to note that I used to be sort of ashamed to be a trombone player:

Even the first chair parts in high school band were pretty simple, we had to sit next to the baritone players, and all the prima donna high brass people looked down on us like the whole-note-playing second string.

It got worse when I got into the jazz band solely because the director thought my large rib cage indicated superior wind with which to fill the bass trombone, which involved even more whole notes, only it was jazz band, so I had to swing 'em and have _awesome attacks_ doing so. And believe me ... I attacked those whole notes with VIGOR. A judge's tape for a Ft. Wayne jazz invitational included a few positive sentences about the crisp aggression of the bass trombone, which made my year. It still wasn't enough to offset the sense that everyone else in the band thought trombones were for slow people or those who had to take trombone because they had no access to musical instruments of their own.

Then, 20 years after graduating from high school and dropping out of the college jazz band my freshman year, a friend encouraged me to listen to Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, which is lovely and depends on the boozy, shabby elegance of the trombone to work some of its magic. My inner ashamed teenager finally knew peace.
posted by mph at 11:21 AM on April 14, 2009


Wow, a lot of us are trombonists, eh?

I miss playing, but it really is too loud to play in an apartment. Even with a mute it's still not an instrument that can go undetected.

For people who still play - where do you practice?
posted by winna at 1:22 PM on April 14, 2009


I certainly miss mine...hate that I sold a pristine $3500 2-rotor .569" bore rose-brass bell Yamaha for $800 after college. Played that thing for 9 years and in 3 all-state bands, 2 jazz quartets, and one solo during a 20 degree, 9 inches of snow having-Macy's parade in '89. My high school and college class rings have low brass markings on 'em.

ahhhhhh...the days of being a band geek.

if only my kids had musical talent instead of being athletically gifted for some reason not related to any genetics they received from me...lol.
posted by rhythim at 3:14 PM on April 14, 2009


In French, trombones are paperclips.

Wow. Imagine the size of the box they come in! (But don't they clutter up your desk?)


In France, desks are the size of football fields.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:12 PM on April 14, 2009


Metafilter: a graunching, brass-on-brass friction fest
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:16 PM on April 14, 2009


I can't believe the most famous trombone musician joke hasn't been told yet.

Q: What is the definition of an optimist?

A: A trombone player with a beeper.
posted by wsg at 6:10 PM on April 14, 2009


Whoops. I didn't read the whole thread and just found the previous variation. Which is funnier?
posted by wsg at 6:12 PM on April 14, 2009


wsg: Which is funnier?

Mine. Duh!
:)
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:15 PM on April 14, 2009


Wow. This thread feels like a cool secret club.

I laughed out loud at the tromboon sample on wikipedia for at least a full 2 minutes. I really want to play one of those. It sounds like somebody just decided to fuck around and put two instruments together. I remember doing that with my bari sax mouthpiece and neck on my clarinet. Every mishmash instrument will sound unavoidably hilarious.
posted by tehloki at 3:43 AM on April 15, 2009


In French, trombones are paperclips.

Wow. Imagine the size of the box they come in! (But don't they clutter up your desk?)

In France, desks are the size of football fields.


How would anyone know though since the French are hardly ever at work?
posted by Pollomacho at 4:59 AM on April 15, 2009


In French, trombones are paperclips.

Wow. Imagine the size of the box they come in! (But don't they clutter up your desk?)

In France, desks are the size of football fields.

How would anyone know though since the French are hardly ever at work?


Good question! I guess we'd have to ask a French trombonist.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:20 AM on April 15, 2009


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