Beginning with swing and then flowing into bop, Broadway and beyond, trombonist Eddie Bert has lent his perfect sense of timing, touch, and tone to sessions led by the best. An integral part of influential recordings and landmark concerts for more than six decades, Bert remains a busy player and at the age of 82 is a headliner at this month's gala, "Remembering Jazz at the Brooklyn Paramount".
As a youngster, Bert's early fascination with jazz led him to join forces with trumpeter Shorty Rogers and arranger/baritone player Manny Albam to form a kids band. It wasn't long before Bert was hanging around afternoon rehearsals on Manhattan's 52nd Street, where at the age of 16 he convinced Count Basie's trombonist, Benny Morton, to give him lessons. Somewhat surprisingly, Bert credits another member of Basie's band with an early influence on his melodic style. "I tried to sound like a tenor sax because the tenor sax plays more melody. The melodic content of the tenor is better than the tromboneÂ...and Lester Young he started the whole trend."
It was with xylophonist/vibraphone innovator Red Norvo however, that Bert received his first national exposure, later playing with Red at his 1945 Town Hall concert. Eddie remembers how he came to play with Norvo, "I was jammin' at a place called George's who had Leonard Ware on guitar, Luther Henderson on piano and a bassist named Slim, no drums. Everybody used to go blow there...and Red and Mildred (Bailey) came in... he said I need a trombone soloist and I said...great...he knew how to rehearse a band. He had us kids playing rightÂ...we opened on December 6, 1941 and you know what happened on December 7thÂ...we rehearsed for 3 months for nothing and then I get a gig and there's a war."
In the ensuing years, leaders as diverse as Benny Goodman, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Lionel Hampton, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Barnet, Woody Herman, Clark Terry, Stan Kenton, Gene Krupa and a host of others sought out Eddie Bert to take advantage of his sweet sound and instrumental dexterity. Goodman tapped Eddie for his bop band and Mingus and Monk each had him manning his T-bone for their respective Town Hall concerts. Like his trombone contemporaries, J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding, Bert was able to make his bone bop and therefore found work in the new atmosphere of the late '40s and '50s. Eddie can be heard playing with Johnson and Winding on the unique 1956 trombone octet LP, Jay and Kai + 6. To hear Eddie tell it though, bop is a natural extension of swing, "That thing called be-bop and all that, that swung. I don't understand when people say swing stopped and be-bop started. That's not what happened. Not the way I think about it anyway. It's all one thing." Eddie had his own Town Hall tribute concert in 2002 that featured trombonists Wycliffe Gordon, Slide Hampton and Benny Powell along with Clark Terry and others.
In addition to his stellar sideman work, Eddie has released several LPs as a leader that are noteworthy for both pioneering recording techniques and inventive instrumentation. His One Bone Four Strings LP features elegantly presented duets with bassist Steve Roane. Recently re-released on CD as Walk on the Roots , with additional tracks that include guitarist James Chirillo, the session features five self composed numbers and unique treatments of songs like the Coleman Hawkins theme "Lazy Butterfly" and the Cecil Payne penned tribute to saxophonist Lester Young, "Born Again". Given the instrumentation, the pieces have a surprisingly light chamber feel, which is testimony to Bert's fine touch. Another effort, Musician of the Year , a reference to his 1955 Metronome magazine award, has Eddie overdubbing himself on standards like "Stompin' at the Savoy" with a backing band that includes Hank Jones on piano and Kenny Clarke on drums.