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Artist’s Choice: Steve Turre on Definitive Trombone Voices

J.J. Johnson, Dicky Wells, Jack Teagarden & more

Dicky Wells in New York City, c. 1947
Steve Turre
J.J. Johnson
Jack Teagarden
Frank Rosolino

These musicians changed jazz trombone in various ways: technically, expressively, harmonically or rhythmically, or combinations of the above. They are also people who affected me profoundly. Even though I may not play like them, my appreciation for them and their contributions runs deep.

Sidney Bechet

“IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD” (Vic Dickenson, trombone)
Concert a l’Exposition Universelle de Bruxelles

(Collection Sidney Bechet, 1958)

Rahsaan Roland Kirk played this for me, and I listened to how Vic Dickenson was using the slide. It sounds kind of loose, which it is, but it isn’t sloppy; it’s very controlled and deliberate and nuanced and articulate. I really appreciate his intonation and his phrasing, and the way he uses the slide for expressiveness.

Dicky Wells

Dicky Wells in Paris

(His Master’s Voice, 1955; recorded in 1937)

The technical finesse that Dicky Wells played with was unbelievable. Here, he uses the slide coming out of the way Vic did, but with more sophistication, and he has a much greater range and incredible flexibility. Django Reinhardt plays guitar on this track.

Jack Teagarden

The Golden Horn of Jack Teagarden

(Decca, 1964; recorded in 1953)

There are a couple of dozen recordings of Jack Teagarden playing “Body and Soul.” But this one-which also has his brother Charlie playing trumpet-is the cream of the crop. His chops are all the way on; he’s at the peak of his form. His harmonic sense is ahead of its time. He has tremendous flexibility in his own unique way.

Lawrence Brown

Slide Trombone (Clef, 1955)

Lawrence Brown was a master of ballads and the blues. This cut is surprising because it’s very modern yet it has the feelings and elements of earlier styles in there too; the harmonic and rhythmic things he plays are almost bebop but not quite. He leads the rhythm very much the way J.J. Johnson does.

Dizzy Gillespie

(Al Gray, trombone)

At Newport (Verve, 1957)

Besides being the grandmaster of the open horn plunger, Al Gray was also a grandmaster of the open horn. We all know him from Basie’s band, but on this cut he’s playing with Dizzy, so it’s very modern. He’s swinging hard and he’s got a big, powerful, full sound. He’s not one of those guys who whispers and puts the mic inside the bell. On this live recording, he’s just standing up in his section and blowing over the band.

Frank Rosolino

Fond Memories Of…

(Double-Time, 1996; music in recorded 1973, ’75)

Just about anything Frank Rosolino did was a gem. I chose this track because it’s readily available and is really incredible. It’s a good example of him. Frank had his own voice, and his flexibility was unique and unparalleled. It was effortless for Frank to play with this kind of flexibility and to play in the upper register.

The Jazztet

“IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME” (Curtis Fuller, trombone)
Meet the Jazztet (Argo, 1960)

All the guys I’m talking about are masters, but nobody can play fast like Curtis Fuller. He’s playing the rhythm, not just playing notes fast against the rhythm. This song is a reflection of his style. You say, “Goddamn, is that a saxophone?” No, it’s a slide trombone! It’s clean and smooth and the lines make sense. His articulation is clear and precise. He’s playing scales and arpeggios.

J.J. Johnson

Dial J.J. 5 (Columbia, 1957)

“Tea Pot” is based on “Sweet Georgia Brown.” For any of the naysayers who don’t think J.J. Johnson could play fast, this will put that to rest. A lot of guys play fast, but they play real soft, with a little wimpy sound and unclear articulation. J.J. is super clear. He has great range on this too. It’s all in there.

J.J. Johnson

Proof Positive (Impulse!, 1964)

What I appreciate about “Blues Waltz” is how J.J. leads rhythmically. He doesn’t just follow and float-he defines. His tone is robust and resonant and as perfect as the greatest orchestral trombone players, yet he doesn’t sound like an orchestral trombone player. What he’s doing harmonically is very sophisticated. He uses space. Most of his improvisations are more melodic than linear. It’s not speed for speed’s sake.

[As told to Jeff Tamarkin]

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Originally Published