Trombonist Bob McChesney
“ I admire the legendary guys, Jack Teagarden and J.J. for sure. I was in college when I first heard Bill Watrous who made a huge impact on me. ”
Many of the most memorable moments in life will often occur under the most unexpected of circumstances. This could be due to the situation being absolutely ordinary (resulting in unanticipated pleasure), utterly intolerable (unlikely but eagerly accepted pleasure), or simply unpredictable (the pleasure of pure, raw surprise).
The true jazz fan revels in being startled and frequently seeks this sensation through deliberately challenging his or her own musical sensibilities (i.e., leaving the proverbial “comfort zone”). Ideally, this will manifest itself in various fashions. For example, a fan of traditional jazz could find listening to modern jazz challenging, trying, but ultimately rewarding. On the other hand, a devotee of free improvisation could encounter similar obstacles and merits in giving mainstream jazz the opportunity of a serious listen.
But a universal pleasure to the true jazz fan, regardless of preferred genre, is “discovering” a hitherto unknown artist. The sheer thrill of hearing and enjoying a new artist for the first time is matched only by the excitement of sharing one’s musical discovery with a fellow jazz fan. This can be quite an addictive phenomenon and one that could solely explain why All About Jazz exists.
The Summit Records label out of Arizona has been consistently surprising both writers and readers of All About Jazz over the past year, capably meeting the expectations of those who crave the work of new artists. For example, the releases of Ken and Harry Watters BROTHERS and Tom Taylor THE CROSSING were favorites for 1999. Earlier this year Fred Forney INTO THE MIST and David Friesen TWO FOR THE SHOW were exceptional additions to an already strong catalogue of releases (okay, so David Friesen isn’t exactly a “new” artist. The CD is still mighty fine).
But worthy of special mention is the recently released NO LAUGHING MATTER by the Bob McChesney Quartet. This is one that has caught more than a few people by surprise. The subtitle of the recording is “Plays Steve Allen” and...well...consists of Mr. McChesney and crew interpreting ten of Mr. Allen’s compositions.
The typical reaction for most of those who see this cd for the first time, the cover being a caricature of the composer seated at his piano, is: “Steve Allen? Really? Why?” or “You’ve gotta be kidding me! Jazz from the guy who wrote ‘Seymour Glick is Alive - But Sick’?” (Mr. Allen’s satire of “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well”)
The skeptical listener is then very pleased to learn that not only are the compositions wonderful, but that the Bob McChesney Quartet rip, tear, shred, and burn their way through these ten pieces. Particularly impressive is the trombone work of Mr. McChesney, prompting Mr. Allen to say, “Bob McChesney is the Oscar Peterson of the trombone.” Small wonder that All About Jazz recently selected this cd as a Publishers Pick of the Week (Feb. 6, 2000) or that composer Lalo Schifrin says "Bob McChesney is a virtuoso and he has the gift to bring us the joy of music at the highest level."
Of NO LAUGHING MATTER , AAJ modern jazz editor writes:
“... the Bob McChesney Quartet take Allen under their collective wing so to speak and perform with vigor, passion and fire as if Allen had written these pieces with this band in mind. From the onset it is most apparent that McChesney and co. rise above and beyond the call of duty as they pay dutiful homage to Allen’s well-known affinities for sentiment, congenial innocence and memorable melodies...McChesney’s impossibly fast, disciplined, clear-toned and concise delivery is utterly mind-boggling...Yet, this is not all about chops as McChesney and his counterparts perform with emotion and great depth...Without a doubt, Bob McChesney is one of the finest trombonists this writer has ever heard as NO LAUGHING MATTER is to be taken quite seriously! Highly recommended. 5 stars”
To help celebrate the release of NO LAUGHING MATTER, Bob McChesney graciously consented to this interview (his first “in print”), which was conducted via e-mail in March 2000.
Special thanks to Darby Christensen of Summit Records for continued support and enthusiasm.
BOB McCHESNEY BIOGRAPHY
Trombonist Bob McChesney was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1956, and began studying the trombone at the age of nine. McChesney holds a bachelor's Degree from the State University of New York at Fredonia. In 1979, Bob moved to Los Angeles where he remains, working as a studio musician and in a wide variety of musical situations including film, television, records, jingles and can be heard on the most recent CD recordings by Grammy winner Diana Krall -"When I Look In Your Eyes", Barry Manilow "Tribute to Sinatra", Chicago "Night and Day- Big Band", Natalie Cole, Mel Torme, Joey DeFrancesco, Art Garfunkel, Buddy Greco, Facundo Monty, Matt Catingub, Steve Allen, Adam Sandler, Bill Watrous, George Graham, Rebeka, Atlantic Rap - Tribute to Phil Collins, Louise Baranger, Barbara Morrison, Calabria Foti, Curtis Amy, Carl Saunders, Bobby Milano, Steve Lippia and Anita O'Day.
As a jazz soloist, McChesney is featured on Horace Silver's first album for Sony/Columbia Records "Its Got To Be Funky" and on Bob Florence's Grammy winning CD "Serendipity 18", and Florence's "Earth" and "All the Bells and Whistles". He has performed live with Arturo Sandoval, Nancy Wilson, Kenny G, The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Robb McConnell, Lalo Schifrin, Frank Sinatra, Jr., Rosemary Clooney, Jack Jones, Bill Holman, Jack Sheldon, Frank Capp and Juggernaught, The Woody Herman Band, Supersax, and was recently seen on the Tonight Show..
Some of his film and television credits include "Titan A.E.", "Soldier", "The Siege","First Wives Club","Space Jam", "Dracula - Dead and Loving It", "Graceland", "Robin Hood - Men In Tights", "George of the Jungle", "The Durango Kid", "A Will of Their Own", "Rhapsody in Bloom", "Dennis the Menace II", - TVs "Jag", "The Simpsons", "Family Guy", "The King of the Hill", "From Earth to the Moon", "Futurama", "Providence", "Diagnosis Murder", "The Drew Carey Show", "The Gregory Hines Show", "America's Funniest Home Videos", "PBS's Great Performances", "Access Hollywood". and a variety of cartoon shows. McChesney's extensive music computer experience has earned him album credits as computer programmer on recordings such as Patti Austin's "Carry On", "Handel's Messiah - A Soulful Celebration". and the double platinum album "The Songs of West Side Story". - featuring Michael McDonald, James Ingram and Kenny Loggins.
In addition to his work as a performer and studio musician, McChesney has authored the trombone method on doodle tonguing entitled Doodle Studies and Etudes. (Chesapeake Music). Critically acclaimed and endorsed by the great trombonists Carl Fontana, Bill Watrous and Joseph Alessi, McChesney's book and recording is an in-depth analysis of the fast-legato multiple tongue technique. Respected as one of the foremost authorities on doodle tonguing, McChesney has contributed an article to the International Trombone Association Journal on his teaching method for the technique.
Also in demand as a clinician, teacher and guest soloist at schools and universities, McChesney gives masterclasses on trombone technique, jazz improvisation and doodle tonguing.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ: Please tell the AAJ readers a little bit about where you were born and raised and what your earliest musical memories are.
BOB McCHESNEY: I was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1956 and raised in a suburb there called Lutherville. By age 15 my family had relocated to Rochester, N.Y. I guess my earliest musical memory was hearing my father's records. He was not a musician but was passionate about the big bands and the big band singers, Sinatra, etc., and played those records all the time. I remember being very young and often falling asleep listening to his records through the floor of my room.
AAJ: Your bio says that you began studying trombone at the age of nine. What was the impetus or inspiration for choosing the trombone?
BMc: The public elementary school I was attending had a band program that presented many different band instruments which could be rented and would be taught at the school. I can't say that I picked trombone because of J.J. Johnson or someone like that because I just hadn't been exposed to that music. At that time Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass were huge stars. Although the trumpet was the lead instrument in that group, the trombone player Bob Edmondson got a lot of solos. His supporting role in that band must have appealed to me. Also, everyone at the school was saying that you needed long arms to play the trombone, and I was tall with long arms so that worked in favor of the trombone as well.
AAJ: When (and if possible, why) did you decide to become a professional musician?
BMc: I'm still trying to decide! Actually, it was around college graduation or very shortly thereafter. At college in western New York I was a business major. I loved music but was uncommitted to it as a profession. At school I practiced constantly, played in the college jazz ensemble and extracted a lot of good knowledge from the music majors. As graduation neared, I had more and more trouble seeing myself working in a corporate job for the rest of my life. It seemed boring to me. Immediately after graduation I began looking for a job with one of the road bands. I soon was on the Tommy Dorsey ghost band with Buddy Morrow leading. Six months later some of my friends from college convinced me to move out to Los Angeles with them and give it a shot.
AAJ: As follow up to questions 1 and 3, did the Left Bank Jazz Society concert series prove to be critical in you development? Why or why not?
BMc: The Left Bank Jazz Society was doing some great things for jazz in Baltimore. My family moved to Rochester before I knew about the concerts. Unfortunately, it didn't have an impact on me.
AAJ: What trombonists do you most admire? Why? What is it you've learned from listening to or watching them?
BMc: I admire the legendary guys, Jack Teagarden and J.J. for sure. I was in college when I first heard Bill Watrous who made a huge impact on me. Bill's playing is so precise, clean and beautiful. From then on I always wanted to play that cleanly. I like Carl Fontana for his speed and incredible flow of ideas. Most of the time, however, I must admit that I don't listen to trombonists for inspiration. Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard is a big influence on me. I love the incredible energy he plays with and his lines are so clever and have such meaning. Early in my development I listened a lot to Stanley Turrentine, who has a great soulful feel. Lately I have been listening to Michael Brecker, Jerry Bergonzi, Bob Mintzer, Chick Corea, Mike Stern and Eddie Daniels. I love these guys because they are so expressive and harmonically very advanced. I want to be able to play the trombone like they play their axes.
AAJ: What is "doodle tonguing"?
BMc: Doodle tonguing is a multiple tongue technique that I use to articulate fast but with a very smooth legato style. The name "doodle tonguing" was coined for the technique because it uses syllables similar to those used in the word "doodle".
Technically, here's some background on how it works: Because of its' slide, the trombone has some very unique characteristics when it comes to legato (connected and smooth) playing. When a trumpet player or woodwind player plays moving legato lines, the airstream is steady - the action of pressing the valves or keys makes each note sound separate and distinct without any further articulations. With the trombone, however, in addition to moving the slide, every note must be articulated with the tongue or with a break in the overtone series in order to avoid distasteful smearing between notes.
Every note must be articulated and there are limitations with the standard tonguing techniques. Single tonguing (da-da-da-da) is often not fast enough and double and triple tonguing (ta-ka-ta-ka) sounds too harsh for legato. Doodle tonguing allows for both very fast articulation and smoothness, more like a trumpet or saxophone. Also, the syllables can easily be swung, so the technique is perfect for jazz.
Also, in my version of the technique, the use of natural downward slurs is very important for clarity of sound. In the method book I wrote on the subject "Doodle Studies and Etudes", the syllables da, ul and la are used in various combinations with downward slurs (ahs), resulting in what I believe to be the smoothest, fastest and cleanest sounding articulations possible on the slide trombone. If anyone is interested, information about ordering the book is on the web: http://members.aol.com/chesapeak3
AAJ: How did you come to meet Steve Allen and why did you decide to record a cd of his music? (i.e., what is it about his music that intrigues you?)
BMc: I did some solo work on a CD that Steve Allen was executive producing. He really liked what I did and proposed that I do a CD of his music. I knew that Steve had written some big jazz hits and some very memorable melodies. I suggested that I might re-work some of his material and do a modern tribute to him and his music and he loved the idea.
AAJ: As a jazz educator, in addition to techniques of jazz performance, composition and improvisation, do you feel that intangibles such as enhancements to creativity or imaginative prowess can be taught? If so, how? What approaches might be employed?
BMc: Can you teach artistry? I think it is difficult if not impossible to teach creativity and artistry. However, educators can help create an environment where creativity is encouraged and is more likely to develop. Also, students should be given many opportunities to be inspired by great playing and originality, to develop a deep passion for the music.
AAJ: As follow ups, what are the most common misconceptions about jazz that your students have? What concepts do they have the most difficulty in grasping?
BMc: Well, as far as jazz soloing goes, one big misconception I see is that merely playing a lot of notes makes a good solo. Students should concentrate on good time feel and play simple ideas that relate to each other in a logical way and make perfect sense to the listener. Most importantly these ideas should be practiced over and over until they feel completely effortless and natural to play. This takes some time to achieve and requires patience. A developing soloist who plays simple ideas effortlessly without tension sounds best.
AAJ: For you personally, what are the most alluring or attractive aspects of improvisation?
BMc: When I get into a solo and I realize everything is going pretty well, it feels completely liberating and uplifting. At its very best it feels like I am an outside observer of my playing, listening and not knowing which direction the solo is going to go. It's a pretty amazing thing and few other things in life come close to it.
AAJ: From the various and diverse sessions you've participated in, which have been the most challenging or rewarding or memorable to you as a musician? What is it you've learned?
BMc: I find challenges and rewards on every session I do. Which have been the most challenging or rewarding would be hard to say. Certainly recording my debut CD has been memorable and rewarding. One nice thing about being a freelance musician is that there is so much diversity in the kind of work you do, so it's hard to ever get bored, or not feel challenged in some way. On one session I might be soloing on a jazz recording, on the next in the trombone section of a 90 piece orchestra, on the next on a pop record date. It keeps you on your toes. I feel like I always walk away having learned something. In Los Angeles I am privileged to be able to work next to some of the finest brass players and musicians in the world - always challenging and rewarding.
AAJ: What is the funniest thing that has happened to you in your musical career?
BMc: It’s hard to think of only one. Once many years ago I was on a big band dance gig playing second. The lead trombone player had had way too much to drink but insisted on playing the gig. He couldn't sit up in his chair without falling over on me or to the other side. The third trombone player and myself managed to crank out the whole first set pressing our shoulders against his from both sides to keep him upright. We didn't miss a note.
AAJ: What other projects can AAJ expect from you in 2000-2001?
BMc: I'm working on a classical project for trombones only. There are some solo pieces and pieces for up to seven trombones. I'm going to do all the tracks myself. When that is finished I'll be working on another small group jazz CD, possibly a quintet with tenor sax. I'm writing some originals and will also do some standards. I may also do another tribute CD.
AAJ: Thanks Bob for taking time for this interview with All About Jazz.
BMc: And thank you for asking me to do this interview and for AAJ’s interest in NO LAUGHING MATTER.
Visit Bob McChesney on the web at www.bobmcchesney.com