Emerging Artists: Ryan Keberle

keberleGroove Notes will periodically take a look at some “up and coming” jazz musicians who are making a splash on the scene in a series called Emerging Artists.

I will begin this series looking at a young trombonist who is making a significant showing on the New York jazz scene. Since moving there eight years ago, Ryan Keberle has proven he is the real deal, not only as a trombonist, but also as a composer and educator.

I was able to meet Ryan when we both attended school at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. While Whitworth is regularly noted as one of the best college jazz programs in the country, Ryan possessed the talent that would soon lead him to the Manhattan School of Music in New York, where he would study with master trombonist Steve Turre.

It was Turre, or his absence, that brought Keberle to my attention once again. I will call myself the occasional Saturday Night Live viewer, and when I do manage to see the show, I tend to pay attention to the house band led by saxophonist Lenny Pickett (former bandleader of Tower of Power). I typically notice Steve Turre holding the trombone, easily spotted with his long black beard and sturdy frame. During my most recent viewing of the program, it was clearly not Turre on trombone. The young musician holding the trombone had a much slimmer build, no beard, and a head of hair far less tame than that of Turre. Further examination revealed the musician as Ryan Keberle, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Upon researching what Keberle has done since his arrival in New York, being surprised to see him playing with one of the top television bands might be as unfair as defining him as “emerging”. He has, in fact, emerged, and while his name might not be household among jazz trombone fans, it is in my opinion simply a matter of time.

Keberle is doing what all young musicians need to do: work. In fact he is working a lot, performing as a member of roughly 15 New York based ensembles, including the Maria Schneider Orchestra. Additionally his website notes performances or recordings with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Frank Wess, Jimmy Heath, Slide Hampton, Charles McPherson, the late Percy Heath, Teo Macero, Joe Lovano, Eric Reed, Ivan Lins, Jon Hendricks, Madeline Peyroux, and Alicia Keys among others, and is the regular trombonist for the broadway musical, “In the Heights”.

Keberle released his debut album, The Ryan Keberle Double Quartet, in April of 2007. The album was a very unique concept, virtually molding two quartets (quartet one consisting of trombone, piano, bass, and drums, and a second brass quartet of trumpet, french horn, trombone, and tuba) into one fantastic sounding group. Great reviews followed, including reviews from the New York Times and Inside Connection.

Keberle recently returned home to Spokane to perform once again with the Whitworth Jazz Ensemble I, this time however, as the featured guest artist. Previous featured guests have included the likes of Gene Harris, Randy Brecker, Eric Reed, and Nicholas Payton, just to name a few.

Additionally, Ryan was selected as one of ten finalists for the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trombone Competition. He also plays a role in jazz education, as he began his tenure as a visiting professor in 2004 at City University’s Hunter College.

Things look bright for Ryan Keberle, and the future only looks bigger and brighter for a musician who’s talents and capabilities continue to grow.

Watch Ryan Keberle solo with Gary Morgan’s PanAmericana in Central Park, August 2006:

Building a Dream Big Band: Part II with Guest Contributor Troy Oppie

As I mentioned in the previous “Building a Dream Big Band” post, I am piecing together, section by section, my ideal big band. The band will be 21 pieces, with 5 trumpets, 4 trombones, 5 saxes, guitar, bass, drums, piano, a male and female singer, and a bandleader. In the last post, I listed my trumpet section, complete with videos of each musician performing live. So far, here is how the band looks:

Lead Trumpet: Arturo Sandoval

Second Trumpet: Wynton Marsalis

Third Trumpet: Freddie Hubbard

Fourth Trumpet: Miles Davis

Fifth Trumpet: Thad Jones

I started working on the next section, the trombones. Unfortunately, the trombone section in a big band does not always get the proper attention it deserves. That being said, I wanted to make sure it received the most proper of selections, so I decided that instead of me picking this section, I would employ an expert.

Our expert in this case is a man I shared my radio program, Jazz on the Grooveyard with for a couple of years, and trombone enthusiast, Troy Oppie. There are few I would trust more than picking a trombone section for my dream big band than Troy. So without further delay, take it away, Troy “Ironman” Oppie!


Obviously, this is a huge topic and there’s plenty of great players that would be left out. But, here’s my list of big band players, with the only requirement being that they be associated with a big band for a significant portion of their careers. For that reason, and it pains me to admit it, J.J. Johnson didn’t make my list. Yes, he played in big bands… but his career was built on being the best small group trombone player on the planet.

Okay, ‘here goes.

Lead – Bob Burgess
also considered: Bill Watrous, Tommy Dorsey, Ron Westrey and Jon Allred

Bob Burgess was the lead with Stan Kenton’s band for just a short time, as long as late ’51 to 1953 or as short as 1952 depending on whom you ask. Regardless, Burgess ran what I think is one of the sharpest trombone sections in jazz history. He wasn’t really a soloist, but the man could turn a phrase and lead a melody like few other players I’ve ever heard.

Watch Bob Burgess as part of the Stan Kenton band play Over the Rainbow:

2nd Chair – Frank Rosilino
also considered: Slide Hampton, Benny Powell and Grover Mitchell

Okay, don’t worry… this list won’t be the entire Kenton trombone section. But Rosilino is the obvious choice for this chair in any band. Rosilino’s trombone playing was always full of fire; he was a technical wizard with the slide which helped make jaws drop around the country. I have heard few trombone players today combine the technical prowess, style and feel that Rosilino possessed.

See Frank Rosilino solo here:

3rd Chair – Al Grey
also considered: Wycliff Gordon, Steve Turre, and Melba Liston

Al Grey is of course best-known for his work with a plunger-mute. He redefined what a trombone solo could be, and during his work with Count Basie, Lionel Hampton and other big bands until his death recently, Grey was always a featured soloist. His passion for the instrument and style – I always thought he was one of the best at truly ‘singing’ through the horn – make him a great fit in any big band.

Watch Al Grey play Kidney Stew with Count Basie:

4th Chair/Bass trombone – Bill Hughes

As bass trombone was oft-overlooked (unless out-of-sync with the rest of the band) there aren’t many big-name bass trombone players. In fact, the only one I could think of without resorting to my jazz books, was Bill Hughes. He spent much of his career with the Basie band, originally playing tenor trombone alongside Benny Powell and Henry Coker in the 50’s. That trio was largely regarded as the best ‘bone section in jazz, and it was easy to hear why when listening to the band swing on the original recordings of Shiny Stockings, April in Paris and the like. Hughes currently is the leader of the Basie orchestra.

Watch Bill Hughes direct the Count Basie Orchestra doing Discomotion:

Thanks for asking me to contribute to the blog; I really miss my days at KPLU as well as the chance to play jazz on the radio.

That’s not to say I’m not having fun now, though. I’m currently in Boise, Idaho, working as a sports anchor and reporter for CBS 2 KBCI-TV. I’m now in my second market, having left Missoula, Montana in mid-September. I’m loving Boise so far, and excited for the chance to follow BSU football to what everyone here hopes will be a major bowl game!

Best in jazz,

Troy Oppie
Former “Jazz on the Grooveyard” host & Trombone player


Check out part one of “Building a Dream Big Band” featuring the trumpet section.