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Jim McFalls: Jazz Trombone


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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?

[JM] It was obviously a dream gig! Playing with one of the best big bands in the country on a daily basis certainly helps you to hone your craft and gain serious insight to the genre. I also loved the touring aspect of that gig which was the main mission of the Jazz Ambassadors. During my 17 year tenure there, I had the opportunity to travel to every state and 14 countries worldwide including such places as India, Japan, Switzerland, Mexico and everywhere in between. Not bad for a kid from a small town in Pennsylvania!

[Cb] I have found that the level of musicianship that exists among most all of the service bands is often surprising to a lot of people in the general public. To this day, some of the finest performers I have ever heard were members of the military. How did you make the transition from the Jazz Ambassadors to your current performance and teaching career?

[JM] The transition for me was virtually seamless. I am fortunate in that I have been involved in performance and recording situations since retiring from the military that have been incredibly musically fulfilling. I started to lay some "post-retirement" foundations about a year before actually retiring which paid off, and continue to pay off, tremendously.

[Cb] You have been active as a music educator and clinician since the early days of your career. Even prior to joining the Jazz Ambassadors group, you conducted numerous clinics at schools throughout the east coast of the US. As the director of the Jazz Ensemble at Towson University, what challenges do you bring to your students with regard to the music?

[JM] I stress to the musicians I work with in the Towson big band, and with other bands I work with in workshop settings, that they have to be serious about what they are doing. At the college level, they are at a point in their development where they can, if diligent, make huge advances in their playing in a relatively short period of time. I also let them know, practically on a daily basis, that the commitment a musician makes to the craft is one that will be with them for their entire lives. These concepts, to many young musicians, are challenges in themselves.

[Cb] What would you say drives your commitment to the field of Jazz Education; and what led you to accepting the position at Towson University?

[JM] I don?t mean to sound cliche but my first teacher, Russ, gave me so much in so many ways and being involved in jazz education is my small way to try to pay him back. I had been teaching jazz trombone at Towson University for a couple of years before being offered the position of Jazz Ensemble Director and, needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity. Towson has a long musical legacy steeped in the big band tradition due in large part to Hank Levy's work there in the 1970s and 80s. Hank's direct connection with Stan Kenton is also part of that legacy and I'm profoundly proud to be part of that.

[Cb] Any of the readers who visit your official web site at www.JimMcFalls.com, will find a really professional layout design and a functional interface, in terms of accessing all of your online content. How long have you had your site up and what is your motivation for having it available on the Internet?

[JM] My website has been active for about a year and a half and I have my good friend Anjan Shah of Shakti Media to thank for building and hosting it. I went live with the site in order to try to stay competitive in the marketplace and since doing that, I have gotten hundreds of comments from trombonists worldwide in addition to numerous gigs.

[Cb] Have you found your web site and the Internet to be a significant aspect of promoting your music, work and services toward potential musical opportunities?

[JM] I absolutely have found my website to be an invaluable marketing tool. A website can instantly reach thousands of potential listeners/buyers/employers/students for a relatively small cost and as a musician, you can't beat that kind of exposure.

[Cb] You already have a substantial body of work in terms of live performance experience, touring and recording credits. What future projects are ahead, or already in the works for Jim McFalls?

[JM] At the top of my "to do" list is to record a CD as a leader within the year and, as a result, I have been doing a lot of writing recently. I have also been invited to guest conduct the PA All-State Jazz Ensemble in April at the annual Pennsylvania Music Educator's Association convention in Erie. Later this summer, I'm heading to Germany with a sextet for some performances and masterclasses at a music conservatory. And, of course, I'll be spending plenty of time in the "shed."

[Cb] In closing this interview, I'd like to ask for your thoughts and opinions about the general state of jazz music today. With the online distribution issues and many jazz artists going the independent route in terms of recording, I've read a lot of pessimistic commentary on the state of jazz recently. What do you think about these types of issues and what do you think about the potential ahead for the jazz genre?

[JM] I happen to think that the state of jazz today is very strong as far as the quality of musicians is concerned. Many of the young players coming up today have educational resources available to them that were not in existence 30 years ago when I was just starting out. Unfortunately, however, the live playing opportunities for jazz, at least here in the Baltimore/Washington, DC area, have dwindled significantly. These types of club settings, where young players could go to a jam session and rub elbows with older, more experienced players, offered an educational situation not found in colleges. The recording and "business" side of the industry is another matter altogether. Jazz has always been a struggling art form, financially speaking, and hopefully those that persevere and are dedicated to the craft will somehow come out ahead in the end. Jazz has been a continually evolving art form since the beginning of the 20th century and for the music to carry on, it will have to continue to change.

[Cb] Thanks for taking the time for this article and sharing your thoughts, Jim. Keep making that great music, man. It was great to visit with you here.

[JM] Chris, it has been a pleasure and I thank you once again for the opportunity to hang!

Jim McFalls Discography

[As a sideman]

  • A Perfect Match - The Mark Taylor/Steve Fidyk Big Band, Writegroove Productions
  • Faces - Mark Robert, Sudah Ya Records
  • A Stan Kenton Christmas - The Capital Bones Big Band, The Capital Bones
  • Put Your Hands Up! - Tribute Concert to Chuck Brown, Raw Venture Records
  • Anything Goes - The Capital Quartet, Summit Records
  • Epistrophy - Matt Niess and the Capital Bones, Sea Breeze Records
  • A Sentimental Christmas - Kathy Troccoli, Reunion Records
  • To Be or Not - The Ed Williams Big Band, Chanticleer Records
  • La Clave - Sin Miedo, Didier Prossaird
  • The Fred Hughes Trio - Live - Fred Hughes
  • It's All in the G.A.M.E. - The Great American Music Ensemble, Doug Richards
[As a member of the Jazz Ambassadors]
  • A Tribute to Hank Levy
  • A Tribute to Stan Kenton
  • The Jazz Ambassadors
  • Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy
  • A Change in the Weather
  • Caribbean Fantasy
Related Links

Towson University

Boosey & Hawkes

Jim McFalls Official Website

Google Search: Jim McFalls

IAJE Artist Outreach Network

US Army Field Band's Jazz Ambassadors

US Army Bands



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