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John Fedchock: Before & After

The veteran trombonist weighs in on past and present masters

John Fedchock  
John Fedchock (photo: Chris Drukker)


“[Marshall Gilkes] has gained complete command of the instrument, so he can do whatever he wants. It’s like a toy in his hands, which makes you envious.”

7. Wycliffe Gordon
“The Breaks” (Cone’s Coup, Criss Cross). Gordon, trombone; Stacy Dillard, tenor saxophone; Johnny O’Neal, piano; Reginald Veal, bass; Herlin Riley, drums. Recorded in 2005.

BEFORE: The way it’s recorded kind of threw me for a minute, but I’m pretty sure it’s Wycliffe Gordon. Normally his sound is a little more pointed and directional. This has a bit of a rounder sound to it—maybe it was the year it was recorded. He’s got chops for days. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him get tired. It’s just amazing. A lot of energy. Obviously there’s a lot of the older tradition in his playing, and it’s really swinging. He’s definitely attacking it. Not only can he play the instrument well, but he’s got all of these fun little ornaments and effects that enhance what he’s doing.

8. Duke Ellington
“Yearning for Love” (The Complete 1932-1940 Brunswick, Columbia and Master Recordings of Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra, Mosaic). Ellington, piano; Barney Bigard, Johnny Hodges, Otto Hardwick, Harry Carney, reeds; Rex Stewart, cornet; Cootie Williams, Arthur Whetsel, trumpets; Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, Lawrence Brown, trombones; Juan Tizol, valve trombone; Fred Guy, guitar; Billy Taylor, tuba and bass; Hayes Alvis, bass; Sonny Greer, drums. Recorded in 1936.

BEFORE: First impression is that it’s Lawrence Brown. Once again, it’s all in the shading, his vibrato. And of course, within the first measure or two, the upbeats the ensemble was playing clearly [marked this as] Ellington’s band. They weren’t too late and they weren’t too early, but the way they felt just made you wonder if they’re going to make it before the next downbeat.  [Lawrence Brown] is one of these people—I don’t want to say he’s forgotten, because he’s not forgotten—but he was instrumental in influencing a lot of the people that are talked about a lot more than he is now. People like Bennie Green came out of the Lawrence Brown school.  Lawrence Brown is one of my favorite Ellington trombonists. 

It’s rare to find a younger trombonist who’ll play a ballad in this style with that kind of vibrato. Wycliffe [Gordon] has glimmers of it occasionally. It’s a faster vibrato, but it’s not with the slide, so it’s something you have to train your lips to do. And there’s not a lot of call for it, so younger players don’t necessarily learn that skill. When they get into a situation where they need it, it’s glaringly obvious that they haven’t gone that deep into the music.

9. Marshall Gilkes & the WDR Big Band
“Puddle Jumping” (Always Forward, Alternate Side). Gilkes, trombone; Johan Hörlén, Karolina Strassmayer, Olivier Peters, Paul Heller, Jens Neufang, reeds; Andy Haderer, Rob Bruynen, Lorenzo Ludemann, Ruud Breuls, John Marshall, trumpets and flugelhorns; Ludwig Nuss, Shannon Barnett, Andy Hunter, trombones; Mattis Cederberg, bass trombone; Simon Seidl, piano; Paul Shigihara, guitar; John Goldsby, bass; Hans Dekker, drums. Recorded in 2017. 

BEFORE: [Prior to the trombone soloist’s entrance] I’ve got to say I know who this is already. It’s Marshall Gilkes with the WDR Big Band. I’ve heard it before.

Marshall is on one of your big-band albums, right?

Yes. And Marshall has become a fantastic writer. A Grammy-nominated writer. He’s gained complete command of the instrument, so he can do whatever he wants. It’s like a toy in his hands, which makes you envious. I know he works really hard to get that. But he’s always been talented. As a matter of fact, I went to his graduation recital at Juilliard. It was the first time I heard him play and he sounded amazing then. But he’s really grown into a mature and polished musician since then. And obviously he plays all over the instrument, it doesn’t matter what register it is. 

He played this tune—“Puddle Jumping”—on that Juilliard recital. He’s living proof that whatever it is you practice, you can excel at. Many people will avoid doing these extreme register jumps because, obviously, it’s difficult. But if you practice it enough—you put in your 10,000 hours—you’re going to gain command of it. Marshall is probably gifted physically, which might give him a little edge, but I really think it’s just a lot of hard work that got him here. I imagine in another five years we’ll hear a lot of players coming in and trying to do this stuff, but it’s going to cheapen this because they’re not really hearing it, they’re just trying to imitate. There’s a big difference between imitation and emulation. 

10. Natalie Cressman & Ian Faquini
“Museu Nacional” (Setting Rays of Summer, Cressman). Cressman, trombone; Ian Faquini, guitar. Recorded in 2018.

BEFORE: That’s really beautiful. I don’t recognize the vibrato. And there was no improvisation to base a guess around how they might expound upon things. My first instinct is that it’s from somebody who’s not living in the United States.

The guitarist isn’t originally from the United States, but the trombonist is. It’s a younger player who’s been involved with the jam-band scene in addition to jazz and some other musical orbits. 

Is it Natalie? Natalie Cressman? She’s got a really nice sound. The vibrato was a little quicker than I’m used to hearing. But the faster lip vibrato is in line with what a lot of the younger players are doing now. And that’s basically due to the evolution of vibrato, which is always propelled by what the singers of the day are doing. You know Sinatra learned from Tommy Dorsey, but after that everybody was learning from the singers as far as vibrato goes. But that was a really nice rendition. I would’ve loved to have heard her solo on it. 

11. Slide Hampton and the World of Trombones with special guest Bill Watrous
“Cherokee” (Spirit of the Horn, MCG). Hampton, Watrous, featured trombones; Jay Ashby, Michael Boschen, Steve Davis, Hugh Fraser, David Gibson, Andre Hayward, Benny Powell, Isaac Smith, trombones; Tim Newman, Douglas Purviance, Max Seigel, David Taylor, bass trombones; Larry Willis, piano; Marty Ashby, guitar and banjo; John Lee, bass; Victor Jones, drums. Recorded in 2002.

BEFORE: [Before the head finishes] I know one of the guys is Bill Watrous, just from what he played there, and, of course, his range here. [When the first solo starts] That’s Bill. I first heard him when his first big-band records came out. They were ridiculous—technique and beautiful control. He was always supportive of my stuff. Even before I recorded my first albums, he was interviewed by the L.A. Times and said some really nice things. So I sent him a letter thanking him for the compliments and he called me up, just out of the blue, somehow found my number. Over the years I would send him my CDs and he’d leave beautiful messages on my answering machine. Really sweet man. I think he appreciated that someone knew where he was coming from.

[When the second solo begins] Slide. It’s Slide Hampton. In the ’60s Slide moved to Europe, so you couldn’t find recordings of him unless it was something done over there. And, of course, the world wasn’t as small then, so it was hard to get those recordings. After he left Maynard [Ferguson]’s band, and between that time [being abroad] and coming back, he had gained this vast knowledge and technique. Since his return, he became one of the more emulated guys in modern trombone playing. And with that there was a resurgence of people playing larger equipment and going to the bebop well for their melodic information.

I had the great pleasure of sitting next to him in the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. I had Steve Turre to my right, Slide to my left, and Doug Purviance playing bass trombone. But the unique thing was that I had Steve on the right with his bell on his left shoulder right next to my head, and Slide to the left with his bell on his right shoulder right next to my head. You never have that close proximity with both of those voices. But because Slide plays left-handed, it created this unique situation. 

Slide is really knowledgeable about where his trombone fits in the voicing so, as every good trombone player will do, he tempers the note depending on where it fits, not purely on tuning. It’s more about blend and balance, and he was really sensitive to that. So when you’d play a chord with these guys, the sound was special.

12. Dave Holland
“Down Time” (Prime Directive, ECM). Holland, bass; Robin Eubanks, trombone; Billy Kilson, drums. Recorded in 1998.

BEFORE: I don’t really know who that is. One thing I would say is, unlike many people who play with the plunger for effect, he’s actually utilizing it in a way where he’s making the changes and outlining the tune and playing interesting phrases. The fact that he’s using some multiphonics—and certain other things about his phrasing—lead me to believe that it’s somebody in their thirties or early forties at the time of the recording, because they’re using some little enhancements to the lines that are kind of taken from pop music or bluesy lines. [Eubanks was 43 when this was recorded.]

AFTER: I was going to guess Robin because of those inflections, and he’s also been playing with people who probably got that into his playing too. I love Robin’s playing and I’ve worked with him recently. He’s playing wonderfully. But a lot of the little inflections he does now weren’t present here, so it threw me a little bit. And there are certain things that he’ll occasionally do that are more identifiable with him that are not on this recording.

I thought this was really nice and economical. He didn’t overplay. He did just what was necessary—no more, no less. It was a really mature performance. Very bluesy, not overly complex harmonically. But when the harmony was there, Robin outlined it clearly. That’s hard to do when you’re holding a plunger—not because you’re physically holding it, but because it puts you in a different frame of mind. When you have a plunger, you’re thinking more about the big picture and effects, not thinking about the intricacies of the harmony. But he was careful to negotiate the changes without breaking the vibe of the tune.

Dan Bilawsky

Dan Bilawsky has been involved in jazz journalism for 15 years. His work has appeared in JazzTimes, JAZZed, and All About Jazz, among other outlets. In addition, he’s penned liner notes for artists on Red, Capri, HighNote/Savant, Ropeadope, and other respected imprints. A band director with 20 years of teaching experience, he holds degrees in music from Indiana University, the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, and Five Towns College.