Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Marching Baritone Part 1

Robin Eubanks, one of the great jazz trombone players
I've played with a number of really tremendously fine trombone players in my career: Robin Eubanks, Frank Lacy, Luis Bonilla, Christophe Schwietzer, Andy Hunter, Conrad Herwig, and many others. I have great respect for trombone players, despite all the great jokes at their expense.(What's the difference between a squirrel laying dead on the highway and a trombone player laying dead on the highway? The squirrel was on his way to a gig!)My college roommate was and currently is a really great trombonist( he lives in Boston and is playing full time.) So please don't send me hate mail for what I'm about to say.

SO.....Uhhh, what's with the slide? Is it really better than valves? Isn't much of a trombonists time spent trying to simulate with the slide what valves can do quite easily? Isn't it like using a horse and buggy when we have high speed transit? Now, some people will say that there are smears and things which are impossible on valve instruments. You can't get that with a half valve technique? Well, maybe they are right about that, but like I said, trombonists who are trying to play bebop lines would probably do a lot better with valves. (I'm really not trying to hate on trombonists! Please! Some of my best friends are trombonists......)

Bass Trumpet
My thought was that if a valve trombone magically appeared before me, my trumpet abilities would allow me to instantly double on the trombone. (I realize that the mouthpiece and air flow are quite different. We'll get to that.) However, my internet research led me to some other possibilities. I saw something called the marching trombone, which has VALVES, and looks like a big trumpet. I saw the bass trumpet, which is rarely used (except in Stravinsky's "The Rite Of Spring"), has an extremely strident tone, and also tends to be very expensive. I also noticed  things called marching baritones and marching euphoniums, and also flugabones. All of these things look like oversize trumpets. They were all kind of expensive, too.

Marching Baritone
 I remembered how much my sister Dana enjoyed played the baritone horn in high school. I figured that baritone is somewhere between a trombone and a euphonium in terms of timbre(trombone being bright and euphonium being much more mellow due to it's conical shape.)And I saw a really great deal on a brand new Hoss marching baritone(with case!) on EBAY, so I threw sanity to the wind and put in my credit card. Well, my marching baritone arrived TODAY! I was cautiously optimistic, especially considering that I already own many other instruments and barely have the time to practice them. However, I wanted to get a taste for low brass. I had only picked up a trombone maybe a handful of times as a joke, or when I was a Music Education major in college.

My new Marching Baritone
In some ways, I proved my point; playing a marching baritone is in some ways like playing a trumpet an octave lower. However, the amount of air is quite different, and will take some getting used to. Also, it is twice as heavy as a trumpet, and my left shoulder got tired very quickly. Furthermore, I think it will require some embouchure adjustment, since the negotiation of intervals with the lips is quite different on this double sized mouthpiece. Still, it was fun to be able to pick up a new instrument and be able to play something without having to learn a completely new fingering system.

I shall keep my readers informed on how this little experiment goes. I might include some youtube videos at some point, but for now, I have included photos, and you'll just have to imagine how it sounds.(Not great. But not terrible.) I showed the new instrument to some of my colleagues at PSU, and I'm pretty sure they think I need professional psychiatric help.

Yes, the amount of air needed for a marching baritone is much greater than what is needed for the trumpet; I felt dizzy after playing for only ten minutes. I actually fell asleep. While I slept, I had a strange dream; I dreamt that I left my marching baritone in the backseat of my car, and parked it on the street. When I returned to my car, I found that my car had been broken into ;now, there were two marching baritones in the backseat.......


  1. So as a college student learning jazz on trombone after eight years of euphonium playing (including a year of attempted music majorness), I can say I kind of agree. I have to work much longer than any of the other students in the improvisation classes to get down simple licks (arpeggios, some 2-5-1 patterns, rotations), to the point where I'm going to be catching up on stuff I've covered in the past two semesters this summer. The few times I've decided to play my euph this year, it's been relative easy to take the patterns I've been learning on trombone and apply them almost immediately (it might help that I'll randomly finger them while bored class and such, because well thinking of things in valve combinations is still more natural to me). I also showed up to a few jam sessions last year with a Yamaha marching baritone and everyone thought it was a flugelhorn. But most of the people there were really psyched to see it, just because it was different (same when I brought the actual euphonium along).

    But I think the main reason everyone learns trombone instead of one of the valved low brass instruments is that as few gigs as there are for trombonists at least trombone has somewhat of a pop culture name. As far as I know there were three jazz euphonists (one played on Ready for Freddie by Freddie Hubbard, one is Rich Matteson, and the other is Rich Matteson's succesor at UNF). And those guys only played in combos (well Rich lead a big band, but not many people lead big bands to begin with). That's the main reason I'm learning everything on trombone; I've learned it to play in big band and it seems like a waste to learn improvisation if I can't apply it in that setting (since right now that is the main place where I play). Big bands seem to be where most famous jazz trombonists play (or at least got started/made their name). Also, euphonium/baritone horn just doesn't fit in big band tonewise (especially euphonium). I've tried both, and it just sounds out of place. Maybe things would be different if I wasn't the only one not playing trombone, but the trombone section has a pretty well defined sonority that doesn't transfer to the other two (just different amounts of light/dark in the tone depending on range. Instead of sounding like a lead trombone, you get more of a french horn sound in the upper register). I mean, it might work in a manner similar to Stan Kenton's mellophonium band or with lead bone/bass bone and then two euphs/baritones playing third/fourth trombone, but it'd require a lot of experimentation and finding people who want to play baritone/euphonium.

    But you're in a lot better place than I am to be experimenting with the baritone horn in a jazz setting (as you have steady gigs, and a job to boot). I definitely want to go back at some point and really transfer all the stuff I'm learning on trombone to euphonium and play them both at gigs. There are some songs (like Ceora and a few bebop songs) that I see the heads as being more trouble than their worth to try to play on trombone, but would be great to play on euph. Also, a real euph/four valved baritone horn (if you get one) has pretty much the same range as a double bass (using pedal tones), so it can fill a variety of roles.

    I definitely want to see what you end up doing with the marching horn; please continue to post about it here (and maybe record yourself playing it at a gig please?). Also, yes it's very heavy, it takes at least two to three months of marching band practice before holding it for a ten minute show isn't painful, and even then it's tiring. Also, if you get a non-standard issue mouthpiece, you can get something similar in size to a trumpet mouthpiece (not as small, but enough smaller). Although most of those will be listed as trombone mouthpieces, because it's not like anyone really plays the baritone seriously, right? =P

  2. Just sayin':

  3. There is a thing called a "valve trombone" which exists...

  4. ku-umba frank lacyMay 10, 2012 at 1:50 AM

    As a brass player that plays all the brass instruments(french horn,trumpet,euphonium,baritone horn,trombone, and tuba) i feel compelled to address this, as a means of educating musiciansabout brass instruments. 1) i love trombone jokes.......hard as it is to keep work as a trombonist, the jokes keeps me from crying 2) you totally failed to mention the mechanics of the rotary valve(i.e. the french horn) that can play eight and sixteenth notes passages cleaner than piston valves,hence,the reason the French horn is used in woodwind ensembles 4)what's with the slide? On the slide, it's POSSIBLE, because the slide is calibrated in POSITIONS, not fingerings as in valve and rotary pistons,keys(like on saxophones and pianos)or instruments of indefinite pitch(percussion instruments)to obtain the PERFECT intonation of a note, like a string instrument. Therefore, the trombone is called the stringed instrument of the brass family 5)the trombone is the ONLY musical instrument that comes closest to mimicking the HUMAN VOICE (check out Tricky Sam Nanton of the Ellington band), and 6) because of it's cumbersome quality to play fast passages, it's easier to make the instrument SWING on the eighth note, and as of recent times(mid-nineties to present), I'm finding it increasingly hard to hear jazz musicians swinging on the eighth note due to more and more classical-tinged melodies in jazz compositions that one cannot recall 30 seconds after the tune is played 7)since ive played with great composer/arrangers like Henry Threadgill, Slide Hampton,Jimmy Heath, Clifford Jordan, Muhal Richard Abrams, Mike Nock and Michael Formanek and others, not too many jazz composers have excercised the testicular fortitude and ejacalative viscosity to even TRY to study the workings of the instrument enough to WRITE for it CORRECTLY.As of RECENT times, I've had to rewrite most of the trombone parts I've had to play on !


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