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Pre-bop Jazz Trombone This Week On Riverwalk Jazz


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This week, Riverwalk Jazz celebrates the great voices of pre-WWII jazz trombone. The Jim Cullum Jr. Jazz Band joins forces with leading “old-school" players active today. Though all of them claim Jack Teagarden as a major influence and model for their playing, some have taken a special interest in the playing of other lesser-known but important historical figures of the trombone world.

The show is distributed in the US by Public Radio International and Sirius/XM satellite radio and can be streamed on-demand from the Riverwalk Jazz website beginning today.

What sets the trombone apart from all other instruments is its primitive slide mechanism dating from medieval times. The slide changes the tubing length, enabling all the notes of the scale. Since the slide is not stopped or notched on a fixed pitch, the characteristic trombone sound is that of the sliding note, or glissando or “smear."

This sliding capability of the trombone enables an especially expressive voice for the blues, in which the “blue notes" are moving targets and not limited to a fixed pitch as in, for example, the piano. So, the most blues-oriented players of the trombone in early jazz—Kid Ory, Jack Teagarden, J.C. Higgenbotham and others—produced a vocal blues tonality that was very close to that of the great blues singers of the day, Gertrude 'Ma' Rainey and Bessie Smith.

Edward 'Kid' Ory was a key figure among the first generation of New Orleans jazzmen. He had tremendous star power in his band of 1910 which included both King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. Ory was one of the inventors of the trombone style known as “tailgate," a term inherited from the days of fierce street competition among early bands who advertised by playing through New Orleans neighborhoods on the beds of “ballyhoo wagons."

The New Orleans “tailgate" style consists of a rhythmic, blues-y, sliding support of the clarinet and cornet, incorporating elements of both tenor counter-melodies and bass notes. The tailgating trombone is an important characteristic element of jazz polyphony—"many sounds" or multi-voices—we have come to know as the traditional New Orleans sound, and which was echoed in the Swing Era several decades later.

On our show this week, California native Dan Barrett and current JCJB trombonist Kenny Rupp pay tribute to the distinctive style of star soloist Vic Dickenson The muscular, high-energy West Coast trombonist Abram “Abe" Lincoln inspired former JCJB member Mike Pittsley, Chicago's Russ Phillips and Floridian Bill Allred The angular solo style of Bix Beiderbecke band mate Miff Mole gets a nod from Lawrence Welk alumnus Bob Havens.

Two players of the 1930s were especially innovative. Jack Teagarden greatly expanded the capabilities of the trombone while still exploiting the blues potential of the slide. Tommy Dorsey, also deeply rooted in the blues, pioneered and perfected an upper-register “singing" approach that spawned generations of stylists.

Players in the post-WWII “modern jazz" style of trombone almost completely abandoned tailgating and—like their stylistic comrades on the other instruments—avoided sliding blue notes in favor of a far more dexterous, highly-articulated fixed-pitch approach more suitable for tackling the harmonically dense, fast-moving lines of bebop masters such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie

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