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Trombone gimmick to Big Band standard

February 26, 2019

Reprinted from

In many ways, the trombone is the most unlikely of standard jazz instruments. At the end of the 19th century, as New Orleans gained its reputation as a thriving music hub, the trombone was often relegated to the back of the proverbial bus – literally. When groups of musicians gathered on horse-drawn carriages (for parades or funeral processions), and later on streetcars, cramped quarters often forced trombonists to sit at the back of the transport carriage in order to have enough room to fully extend their slides.

A very young Trombone Shorty plays while Bo Diddly looks on.
A young Trombone Shorty with legendary guitarist Bo Diddley in 1990
Via NPR: Michael P. Smith/ Courtesy of Troy Andrews

As a result, “tailgate trombones” typically performed facing backward, mainly embellishing the music with performance techniques such as growls, scoops, falls and slides. Even as Dixieland grew in popularity during the first quarter of the 20th century, the new style was headlined mainly by trumpet and clarinet soloists (and pianos, during non-moving performances).

Editor’s Note: Remember Fat Tuesday at Sweetwater Grill & Tavern, 115 S. Elm, on March 5. Yummies and drinkables from 11 am to ? Music with Strictly Dixie, The Vintage Jazz Society and the raucous, conga-line filled Jam goes from 7 to 10 pm.

Trombonists were considered to be part of the rhythm section, and even secondary to percussionists, who often used ordinary household items such as washboards and teaspoons to keep time and embellish the trumpet and clarinet melodies and harmonies.

The role of the trombone began to change when Weldon Leo “Jack” Teagarden (1905-1964) burst onto the jazz scene as a soloist in 1920, touring first with Peck Kelley’s “Peck’s Bad Boys,” then moving on to tour as a soloist with Doc Ross’s Jazz Bandits and the Original Southern Trumpeters before forming his own group, Basin Street Blues. As three- and four-piece combos gave way to the big bands of the late 1930s and 40s, four-player trombone sections became a standard feature the format, together with saxophone, trumpet and rhythm sections.

Today, a century after Jack Teagarden’s revolution, artists such as Wolter Wierbos, Rob McConnell, Slide Hampton, and many others have made the trombone an indispensable feature of the world of jazz. Tune in to our Swing & Big Band, and Swinging channels and get to know this versatile, and occasionally cheeky, instrument!

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