Thursday, May 10, 2012

Marching Baritone Part 2

The internet is really something else. I never really have a sense of your audience the way I do in a concert performance And then I'll be shocked to find out who is reading my blog. That's why I really try to speak honestly, but also thoughtfully, because I don't want to offend, especially folks that I respect. I like to debate, as long as there is no name calling and the conversation is respectful and relevant. And it's interesting to see which posts generate the most comments. My last blog regarding my new purchase of a marching baritone generated some cool responses, and I wanted to make sure you see them.

The first was from someone named Brandon:

Rich Matteson
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?

I was glad to hear that I'm not the only one who was thinking along these lines.

Steve Turre
The next comment was from someone named Stephan Turre, which must be the great trombonist, Steve  Turre:

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

Steve, of course! I thought of that first! For some reason, I gravitated towards this marching baritone monstrosity. I might live to regret it. Maybe I'll trade it for a valve trombone...

The third and most interesting comment came from none other than Frank Lacy. Lacy is one of the most underrated musicians there is. He's a great brass player, and composer, conductor, and bandleader, but he's one of the great jazz singers. Why he isn't a super star is beyond me. Lacy is also a very smart guy; I think he has a degree in Chemistry. I've enjoyed debating him on topics in the past(we had long discussion about Israel and the Middle East and Lacy really knew the history). Here is his comment:

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 musicians about 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. 

3)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. 

Frank Lacy
4)The trombone is the ONLY musical instrument that comes closest to mimicking the HUMAN VOICE (check out Tricky Sam Nanton of the Ellington band).

 5) 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. 

6)Since i've 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 !

I suppose you are right, Frank, regarding the possibility to be perfectly in tune on a trombone. But like any string instrument, it takes work to be able to hear it. So yes, advanced players can do it. Students can have a hard time. And I hear what you are saying about the classical tinged melodies which are forgettable. I'm not totally against that, but I do think that the whole, "let's play everything straight eighths, not swing, and have every melody be a technical exercise" is potentially dangerous. And Sam Nanton was an integral part of the Ellington sound, for sure.

Frank Lacy, also a great jazz singer....
I'm glad to get feedback on this. I've only had this baritone for 2 days. I tried playing it this morning before my history class, and I'm wondering how long the honeymoon will last. I'll let you know. 

Finally, this was posted on my facebook page from another great trombonist named Andre Hayward:

No hate at all George. I love the valves myself. There's nothing like the sound of a euphonium, baritone horn, or bass trumpet. I can't wait to hear you play it.

 I think you are going to have to wait, because I'm not ready! But give me a few weeks at least.....


  1. Nice post! Sorry, George, no relation to Steve Turre. Maybe he is a long lost cousin. I'm an amateur trumpet player myself.

    ---Stephan Turre

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