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Friday, January 21, 2005

Brotherhood of the Slide

All of us geeks that currently play the trombone, or have played the trombone in the past, are irrevocable members of the Brotherhood of the Slide. The trombone is an uncooperative musical instrument. It requires a ridiculous amount of embouchure control - which means training your lips to do stuff that human lips are not designed to do. An accomplished trombonist can crack walnuts with his lips alone. The slide is moved to alter the length of tubing that the player blows through. This changes the pitch of the note. The speed of lip vibration generated by the embouchure combined with the movement of the slide provides the player with a broad range of notes. Serious trombonists talk about "ripping" or "playing against the grain," which means that the embouchure tightens and the lip vibration speed increases while the tubing lengthens via slide extensions. Developing speed and expertise in altering the frequency of lip vibrations and the position of the slide is the key to becoming a real 'bone man (or woman). So - you got to get your chops together, your slide technique together, and - oh, yeah - you still have to master the art of reading music, developing improvisation skills, etc. etc. Being an accomplished musician is a challenge no matter what instrument you play, but becoming an accomplished trombonist is harder than most other instruments. As a former T-Bone guy, I might have a bias about this.

The Brotherhood of the Slide celebrates all things trombone. Its members also moan about their dilemmas. Bone men fret about the difficulties of mastering the slip horn. They fret about the obscurity in which virtually all trombonists labor (quick - name a world famous trombonist! What? Can't think of any? You are trombone-ignorant, along with 99.9999% of the human race).

So for those of you who are dying to know about a top-notch contemporary trombonist, I submit the name of Joe Bowie. He blows up a storm; he takes the T-Bone to a different place, he is a Master of Outsider Funk, and he can sing, too. His band is Defunkt, a New York outfit that has been performing since 1978. Joe is a member of the mighty Bowie family, best known for the internationally famous trumpeter, Lester Bowie. But Joe is my man. He is J.J. Johnson on acid. Also, check out Ray Anderson,a good ol' Chicago boy who has made the trombone cool again. Looking back in time, I highly recommend Frank Rosolino - a fabulous player and a tragic, troubled man who killed his own son prior to committing suicide.

Yes, the t-bone can drive a man crazy.

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