All of what follows is also attached as a PDF file (and formatted more pleasingly:-)
FaceBook Distraction Tom Gibson Trombonelessons.com
I really should be doing a thousand other things today, but I suffered another FaceBook distraction and I’m writing this episode to appease my conscience. Thank you for understanding, and may I invite you to be my FB friend? Welcome back to school, everybody!!!!!! Hope this semester goes extremely well for all of us. Yes, I was all set to type up some syllabi, and some fliers, and pay some bills…….then Sean posed the question on FB: “Can there be a song that grooves TOO hard?” HaHa! Great question, right? He was referring to this track, take a few minutes and check it out:
WOW! If you have never heard Gordon Goodwin’s band, you just got an earful. Now that YouTube has turned you onto their brilliance for FREE, you run straight away and BUY something of theirs, eh? That’s how this “new economy” works. Amen? I was blown away by that clip, and I have indeed heard a lot of that band. My first thought, since I’m in back-to-school mode, was: “you could do an entire semester about ‘ensemble style’ on that one cut”. I believe you really could. It’s masterful stuff, isn’t it? Here’s what I heard that I think might benefit some of you student-types…….
First of all, I have really good news: big bands are coming back! That’s evident in this town, and many of my friends are seeing evidence of it elsewhere around the country. AWESOME. It’s great on so many levels. Obviously, the music speaks for itself. It’s a big (phat!) wall of color coming at the audience with a vibrancy and intensity that occurs almost nowhere else in Nature. It’s a life-affirming energy, for sure, right!? In the hands of masterful craftsman and boundless imaginations, it is every bit as subtle, powerful, serene, calming, enraging, engaging, dynamic, legitimate…….as a symphony orchestra. Plus, and this is a big plus, every big band employs 4 trombonists. That’s one more than the typical orchestra. Jobs, people! WooHoo!!!!! That’s why you’re in school, I am assuming- to get some employment happening in the near future? Big band might just be one tasty piece in your puzzle-of-a-career lifestyle. But not if you don’t adapt to the style and learn to read, read, read. The best bands in your town are going to pay real money, relatively speaking. You want to be in the best bands in town. How much money do you think they have? It’s expensive to put on a show with an 18-piece band, as you might expect. It’s gets prohibitively expensive when that band needs hours of rehearsal to get things tight. They don’t have that kind of money, and they will not rehearse like your college ensemble, OK? READ like a monster. Don’t leave school without your sight-reading chops in perfect form. That entails more than right notes and right rhythms, but that’s a good place to start. This semester, don’t miss a single rhythm in rehearsal. Don’t suffer a single chipped note. Striving to do so will elevate your level of concentration to where it needs to be. Will power is sometimes our greatest weapon. Very quickly, though, start to get very fast at adapting tone color, articulation, releases, dynamic shading, etc. to the world around you. Everywhere you go, and no matter who’s in the section, blend and match. It’s a noble mission, and one that will prepare you for a career. Nobody likes to spend time rehearsing your part and nobody likes to play alongside somebody who seems to be on another wavelength. There’s a time and a place for that…..use your head and use your ears, right? Think of it this way: what are all the things that tick you off in other musicians? Don’t do any of those things, and you’ll probably be cool. So…..onto the recording: You’ll notice a couple things right away. The groove hits immediately and hits hard. That has much to do with their note-shaping. The way they start each note, the length and weight they put into it, the manner in which they finesse the release…..they each have the same shape in mind! Beauty. The second thing I sensed immediately was the balance and blend of timbres. You orchestral cats can certainly appreciate that. In fact, many of the timbres I hear in this band are quite appropriate in many orchestral settings. If you have in your mind an expansive gulf between these styles (orchestra v. big band), just listen a bit more closely. So much of the SAME stuff is happening- namely, attentive listening by everybody in the ensemble and a willingness (nay, compulsion!) to blend. It is absolutely a thing of beauty, as much here as in Bruckner. When overtones align in such delicious symmetry, it makes you wonder how big bands ever really left the scene, doesn’t it? Do you hear articulations that might be appropriate in orchestral settings? Do you hear that lightness and delicacy in some of the background figures? How often are you playing background figures in the orchestra? Same stuff! Don’t you think they shade dynamics as well as the NY Philharmonic? Don’t they balance and mix tone colors like Berlin Phil? That trumpet section sounds like a trumpet section. Do you see what I’m saying? When you come out of school, you should make it your goal to feel at home one night in the big band, the next night in the orchestra, the following morning a brass quintet, a weekend rock and roll section…..be a versatile musician, thus creating more opportunity for yourself. The greatest compliment you can get would be something like: “wow, I thought you were a jazzer?”, or “well, I knew you were solid on excerpts, but you can swing!” Listening to this clip can enlighten you as to many of the ways that could start happening for you. It would be a great idea, if possible, to get yourself into the big band at school this semester. If you are primarily an orchestral player, like I was going into Grad. School, I think it’s a good idea to shut up and listen to the players that have been doing it for a while. Hopefully, your school has such players! Swallow your pride and assume the role of little fish in a big pond. Admit your ignorance, it’s quite alright. I know it’s hard. I mean I really know. Ask them questions, try to get with them and play duets. Do some listening hangs with them. I’ll bet you notice something about how they move their air and use their tongues effectively…..lightly. That was the biggest revelation to me, I think. Blowing steadily and tonguing lightly is the answer! It’ll groove harder, you can shape with more finesse, you won’t tire as quickly, the tone will be appealing, intonation will be lush….and on and on. Your ears will be ablaze with ideas. The next time you play Rossini, you might notice a marked improvement, too. Same stuff. Speaking of intonation, a common struggle with versatility of styles is versatility of equipment. Going from large-bore to small-bore or vice versa can present challenges….if you make them challenges. If you’re struggling with that, maybe this will help: Remember on the small horn that you’re not going to open your sound by opening your mouth. I was guilty of that for so long, and I see it in many students. It’s just a misconception. Your sound will open when the vibrations get pure, so keep the mouth, teeth, cheeks, and tongue in a more closed-up, compact formation. That solves many issues quickly. Because you’ll now have more dense meat firmly gathered at the center of the mouthpiece, your sound will beef up and your endurance will improve…..sometimes drastically. Occasionally, if you’re like me, you might sense the jaw wanting to drop and the tongue wanting to move into “hot potato” position again……gently close your mouth, please:-) While you don’t want the jaw to drop too much, you also never want to “lock” it in position. Bad idea. Let it float and let the ribbon of air direct it. Have you ever experimented with the horizontal motion of the jaw? Really gentle motions forward and back can reveal a lot to us about tone color and “sweet spots”. Never rigid motion, though, because I think that causes tension. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. That embouchure stuff is so subjective. I think Mr. Farkas did a fabulous job of explaining it in “The Art of Brass”, and that’s worth a read. I am a big believer in the power of metaphor in your music-making, too. If you spend some quality time listening and focusing your mind on the specific quality of sound you’re going for, or what exactly you’re trying to convey with your sound at this moment…..sometimes very quickly you can hear results. You want to get very quick at that! Imitating great players is a wonderful habit. Can you put JJ’s sound in your head, really deep in your head, then make it happen? On this recording, I can hear real clarity in the minds of these players. They have no doubt what’s about to come out the bell, because it is so solidly formulated in their mind. To practice that, often you won’t even need your horn! Sing in your head and be sure to nail every aspect of the style. Then try it on the horn if one’s nearby. Once again, I think when you switch back to the excerpts, you’re going to be pleased. Same stuff. One poignant aspect of this recording, to my ears, is in the bass bone hits. How many bass bone players would splat that all to Hades? I mean, how tempting would it be to lay BOMBS on the whole place right there, right!!!? Bass bone and lead trumpet…..those 2 chairs in the band require immense doses of maturity and refined taste, I really believe. Accordingly, I have immense amounts of respect for those that do it so well. How classy, tight, and grooving is this rendition!? Real control, mental and physical, from a really thoughtful musician. Up and down this band, truly. Have another listen and consider this: When you leave school, gigs are not going to pile up for you because you are the loudest, highest, fastest player in Jazz Ensemble I.
What else………..? As I say, I could go on and on about this recording and the revelations it inspired in me. Why don’t you go back and listen again, though, and enjoy. If you have insights to share with us, we’d all probably enjoy hearing them. I’m leaving comments open on this Episode. Thanks, Sean, for the lovely FaceBook distraction this morning. My wife, however, would like a word with you.
Peace, everyone, Trombone Love. Live it, love it, listen to it. Have a great semester!