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Alan Ferber: Developing String Theory

By Published: June 28, 2010
AAJ: Now that you say it, I wonder how many people have their first introduction to jazz through some kind of non-jazz specific way. We're exposed to it without thinking about.

AF: I think for me, watching this silly cartoon. I remember I had no idea what it was but really liking it.

I started getting more into jazz particularly in high school. My parents had me studying with a great trombonist in the area named Dean Hubbard and we would play in our lessons a little bit. He would improvise and that's where I discovered how great the trombone can sound, particularly in jazz. I started getting way into it. I would record what I was playing and then try to figure it out more when I got home.

AAJ: When did you make the transition from piano to trombone?

AF: That was in fifth grade. I'm really tall so I was one of the only guys who could reach close to seventh position in fifth grade, so they pretty much just assigned it to me because physiologically it worked...You notice, there are a lot of very tall trombone players out there.

AAJ: What made you stay with the trombone?

AF: It was a combination of studying with this guy Dean Hubbard— and also going to the Stanford workshop, which was my first jazz summer camp. There were several trombonists there who I heard for the first time who were really playing beautifully, particularly improvising, and I just fell in love with the sound of the instrument and how it can express certain things in a very human, vocal quality. The trombone, to me, fits in with the sound of the human voice. I fell in love with that human element in the sound that I was really attracted to.

AAJ: How would you describe your personal musical pedigree? The musical influences that comprise your musical development?

AF: Early on, the first records I got, and I would say these are still big influences, were John Coltrane

John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
, J.J. Johnson
J.J. Johnson
J.J. Johnson
1924 - 2001
and Art Blakey
Art Blakey
Art Blakey
1919 - 1990
. Those were the first three records that I owned. John Coltrane's Blue Train (Blue Note, 1957), Art Blakey Big Beat (Blue Note 1960), and the J.J. Johnson is just called The Trombone Master (Columbia, 1957) and it is a compilation.

Those impacted me very significantly. In the sense that, unlike today, those were the only three records I had access to. In some ways, I just can't understand how students can start in the digital age because, for me, you went to the record store and that is all you got.

AAJ: I remember that. I remember the first CDs I bought. The first time I went to a store and bought a CD, I listened to that for weeks, just that one CD.

AF: Yeah, everything about it influences you. The way it sounds, the way the tracks are sequenced, the artwork, all the information in the liner notes. You just eat it up.

AAJ: So at this time, did you dive into jazz or was there other kinds of music that you were studying at the same time? Whether that be classical or listening to pop?

AF: At my high school at that time, the bands that were really popular that I was concurrently listening to were bands like King Crimson, Rush and Yes. I certainly listened to a lot of music from those bands, but it is hard to say how much of an influence they were. They must have been in some form or another.

Also, the fusion thing was in its heyday when I was in high school. So that was what my brother was getting into and those things influenced me as well. He was really into a lot of fusion bands, like the Chick Corea

Chick Corea
Chick Corea
Elektric Band. All these bands that sound so dated now—at least to me when I hear them now I think, "Wow, that sounds so '80s." At the time, though, it was like this is it, this is it.

AAJ: Have you and your brother always played together or were there times when you went in separate directions?

AF: No, we never really went in any separate directions. Even though we don't see each other as much now that we're both doing so many things, we've always played together. We've never had our paths split in any way. We've always lived close to each other. For instance, we lived in L.A. close to each other. Then, I moved to New York—three months later he moved to New York.

We both studied abroad for a year in college. We were always around each other. Every step of the way we've been with each other. Being a twin, is a pretty special relationship in a lot of ways.

AF: We graduated college in 1997 and both of us worked around L.A. pretty extensively, freelancing. In retrospect, it was a great way to get started learning how to be a freelancer in an area that wasn't quite as intense as New York. And the other thing is, in college, Mark and I developed a lot of strong musical relationships with people we still make music with today. We went to college with Todd Sickafoose, who I still play with ... I've probably played every composition he's written. We were roommates—Mark and I were roommates at one point; we go way back. Gretchen Parlato
Gretchen Parlato
Gretchen Parlato

, we were in school together. And many others.

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