Although not as well-known as the saxophone or trumpet, the trombone has been an integral part of jazz music since the era of Dixieland, often the earliest musical style to be classified as "jazz." A typical Dixieland trombonist would improvise a countermelody below the standard cornet melody, utilizing growls, glissandos, and smears to create a distinct Dixieland trombone sound.
Edward "Kid" Ory (1886-1973) is perhaps the most well-known Dixieland trombonist. His rough tone, fast slide vibrato, and extensive use of the aforementioned techniques became synonymous with the ideal Dixieland trombone style. In 1925, Ory was invited to join Joe "King" Oliver's famous Creole Jazz Band alongside jazz great Louis Armstrong. Ory would later appear on recordings of Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven.
With the arrival of the swing era came an evolution of jazz trombone style in the early 1930s. The size of the "jazz band" increased from the six to eight musicians of a Dixieland band, in which there was only one trombonist, to the 15 to 17 musicians in a swing era jazz band, in which there was a trombone section consisting of three to four players. The trombone section was now frequently featured and became an important part of the overall timbre of the group.
More important, however, was the emerging solo trombone style of Jack Teagarden (1905-1964), who moved away from the harsh, growlish style of the Dixieland era and developed a lighter, more fluid style. Teagarden employed soft attacks, a constant vibrato, and soaring upper register solos, influencing future trombonists such as Tommy Dorsey. His most famous recordings are perhaps the ten made in conjunction with Louis Armstrong, with whom he forged "one of the great partnerships in jazz."
Tommy Dorsey (1905-1956), the "sentimental gentleman of swing", popularized Teagarden's high, lyrical style and became one of the most popular trombonists of the swing era as the leader of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Combined with his technical command of the instrument, this style produced enormous hit ballads such as "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" and "Song of India."
Jazz trombone evolved once again after the emergence of Bebop in the early 1940s. Pioneered by saxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, Bebop incorporated difficult melodies played at a breakneck tempo and focused heavily on similarly-styled improvisation. The typical group changed again to a standard "combo" setting: five to seven musicians, including but not limited to a drummer, a bassist, a pianist, and a combination of saxophones (usually limited to alto and tenor), trumpet, and trombone.
The requirements of the Bebop style pushed the technical limits of the trombone to a level that had not previously been accomplished by any swing era trombonist. Bennie Green (1923-1977), however, was perhaps the first trombonist to incorporate Bebop elements into his style. Playing with a warm, smooth tone, Green employed Bebop rhythms and Parker-influenced harmonic devices in his improvisation.
J.J. Johnson (1924-2001), billed as "The Fastest Trombone Player Alive," developed a revolutionary Bebop style for the trombone, heavily influenced by Parker and Gillespie. Johnson's ability to keep up with quick Bebop tempos convinced some listeners that he was playing a valve trombone, when in fact he was playing an ordinary slide trombone. Johnson employed a smooth consistency and, occasionally, light vibrato.
Postbop jazz introduced a number of new styles, including modal jazz, free jazz, fusion, acid jazz, and culturally-influenced jazz. While not a notable time of innovation for the trombone, the era of modern jazz has introduced new challenges to the jazz trombonist. The most successful postbop trombonists are masters the previous eras who learned to incorporate those ideas into modern styles.
J. C. Higgenbotham
Edward "Kid" Ory
J. C. Higgenbotham
Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton
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