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All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource


Trombonist Bob McChesney

By Published: November 5, 2003

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:

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.

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