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:
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,
Former “Jazz on the Grooveyard” host & Trombone player
Check out part one of “Building a Dream Big Band” featuring the trumpet section.