Jim McFalls: Jazz Trombone
By Chris Burnett
Jim McFalls is a former military band colleague of mine and is also one of the finest trombonists playing and teaching jazz music today. He has literally toured the world playing jazz as a member of the elite official touring jazz ensemble of the US Army [Jazz Ambassadors, Washington DC], performs and records extensively in the Washington DC area, and is the director of the Jazz Ensemble at Towson University that established prominence under the leadership of the legendary Hank Levy. This musing will feature both an article and interview with Jim. Visit his site online at: www.JimMcFalls.com .
All About Jim McFalls
Born in Columbia, PA, Jim began studying trombone at age nine and, at fourteen, was performing professionally in community concert bands, polka groups, rock bands, and jazz combos throughout the Central Pennsylvania area.
After his seventeen-year worldwide touring and recording stint with the Jazz Ambassadors, the premiere touring jazz ensemble of the US Army, Jim, retired from the military in 1998 to find a variety of projects awaiting him. As a freelance musician, he has been performing and recording in an incredibly diverse array of situations. These include a 3-year run with Chuck Brown, Washington, DC's Godfather of Go-Go, appearances with the Baltimore Symphony Pops Orchestra, the critically acclaimed Great American Music Ensemble, the popular nation-wide show The Four Kings of Rhythm and Blues, and the Kennedy Center Orchestra. Jim has also recorded for The Learning Channel and the National Geographic Society. Currently, Jim is a member of the RETOX HORN section of the highly acclaimed band Carey Ziegler's Expensive Hobby and he performs as a regular member of the internationally renowned Capitol Bones as well. Jim has appeared on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" with Thievery Corporation, a DC-based techno/trip-hop band, and made several appearances at the 2003 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. He has also backed up such acts as Natalie Cole, Lorna Luft, Gene Chandler, Melba Moore, Ben E. King, Bob Newhart, and Debbie Reynolds, to name a few.
Today, Jim is in great demand as both a trombonist and educator. He has performed with such jazz luminaries as Dave Liebman, Clark Terry, Arturo Sandoval, Christian McBride, Jeff Tyzik, Bill Watrous, Joe Kennedy, Carl Fontana, Jon Faddis, and Toots Thielemans. In addition to his hectic performance schedule, Jim serves on the music faculty at Towson University, where he is the Big Band Director and the Jazz/Commercial Trombone Instructor. He also appears at high schools and colleges throughout the country representing Boosey & Hawkes Musical Instruments as a performer/education specialist.
Jim McFalls Interview
[Chris Burnett] First, thanks for taking the time from your schedule to include this article and interview for All About Jazz, Jim! I would like to start the interview questions by asking what led you to choose the trombone as your primary instrument?
[Jim McFalls] Before we begin, I'd like to thank you, Chris, for including me in your series of articles for All About Jazz ? it is an honor and a pleasure! Now, on to the answer - I took a "musical aptitude" test in elementary school when I was 8 years old and I demonstrated some skill with the trombone. The rest, as they say, is history.
[Cb] I recall from our association from over twenty years ago, that you were always a "student of the music", constantly practicing and listening to the great performers in jazz. Who was your first teacher, and whom do you consider have been your major jazz influences on the trombone toward developing your own unique and fluid style?
[JM] My first and most important teacher was Russ Sumpman, a world-class trombonist and euphonium player native to Southeastern PA who passed away a few years ago. In a nutshell, everything I do today as a player and as a musician, I owe to Russ. I studied with him throughout high school and as a matter of fact, he was responsible for getting me my first professional gig! Concerning major influences on my own development, all the trombonists that have ever made significant contributions to jazz have, at some point, influenced my playing. Frank Rosolino, in particular, has made the biggest impact on my development followed closely by Conrad Herwig. These two genuinely unique and creative players offer, in my opinion, an incredibly diverse array of styles worthy of a lifetime of study.
[Cb] Anyone who has heard the US Army Jazz Ambassadors from Washington DC (live in concert or on CD), can attest to the fact that the group is among the finest active large jazz ensembles on the planet. What was it like being an integral part of that band and touring the world for nearly two decades?