Posted by: Reginald Cyntje | December 12, 2010

To a young trombonist

As I get older, I’m asked various questions by younger trombonists. It is increasingly strange to be what some might consider a mentor. What do I say? Well I try to think of all the advice I’ve received over the years and share the wisdom in the best way possible.

The first thing I think about is playing the instrument. Because the trombone has a slide, the use of articulation is tremendously important maneuvering the highs and lows. I remember a lesson with Andre Hayward and he told me to practice different types of tonguing daily in addition to scales and intervals. This was not the first time I heard this. It is something repeated by many of the teachers I’ve studied with. In my first 12 hour session with Steve Turre we talked about articulation and flow (the ability to navigate chord changes). The lesson with Mr. Turre sparked a month long hiatus in St. Thomas where I spent hours transcribing Clifford Brown solos at the same time working on articulation. I returned to NYC a month later. On the follow up visit with Steve Turre he said “now you sound good.”

The next thing I think about is sound. My first private instructor Dr. Leroy Trotman stressed long tones. When I went to Interlochen, studies with a symphonic player also reiterated long tones and flexibility in tone. The sound of your “voice” is the first thing people hear when you “speak.” I’ve found it very helpful to listen to great trombone players so I can have a clear understanding of what is a “good sound.” While at Interlochen I met Curtis Fuller and he shared valuable info before I really understood who was sitting next to me.

In Boston I studied with Phil Wilson and Tony Lada at Berklee and took brief lessons with Hal Crook and Norman Bolter. I remember a lesson with Norman Bolter where he pulled out his mouthpiece and filled up the room with sound. I was shocked at first but intrigued that you could achieve a big sound from your mouthpiece. He talked about range and sound the whole lesson. While I was at Berklee I was surrounded by great trombone players. Around this time I met Elliot Mason. We were both very young at the time. I was more comfortable with playing concertos and he was very comfortable with playing jazz. He inspired me to practice.

When I first moved to NYC, I took a lesson with Slide Hampton. He spoke about pentatonic scales but mostly he talked about being a trombonist in this modern environment. He told me that a long time ago there were bands based on your level when you moved to NYC. As you developed you would “graduate” to a higher level. He also spoke about how things are different now. There are more good players and less opportunities to perform.

The next time I lived in NYC I was older and wiser. This was around the time I met Steve Turre, Andre Hayward and Vincent Gardner. Vincent drove out to my apartment in New Jersey and shared valuable information about practicing, transcribing and overall playing the trombone. I also saw a beautiful cat named Danny Kirkum at jam sessions. We first met each other at Berklee. We played in a big band together (New Life Jazz Orchestra). He recommended me to the management of Illinois Jacquet’s band and that group exposed me to a new group of gifted musicians.

That time in NYC was extremely educational. I was studying with Steve Turre. I learned a lot in those 12 hour sessions. Mr. Turre spoke about trombone playing and much more. I was especially surprised about the talks on the expendability of trombone players. Who is the first to go when the band needs to “down size?” Guess…

While in DC, I’ve met great trombone players like the late Calvin Jones, the gifted Dupor Georges and the eclectic Greg Boyer. I took a lesson with Calvin Jones and quickly learned why he was highly respected and appreciated by many. Anytime I’m on a gig with Greg and/or Dupor I know we will have some fun. Dupor and Greg inspired me to really play when I first moved to DC.

I must say special thanks to Martin Lamkin because he is the first jazz trombonist I met when I was in high school. Every trombonist I’ve studied/performed with played an important role in my development. We’ve talked about slide technique, air pressure, embrochure, having fun while you play, tone color, articulation, taking it slow, accuracy, facility, range, flexibility, tone production, tongue placement and making a living. I share each lesson I’ve experienced with someone sincere seeking info from me. I remember sitting in a nice vehicle with a master trombonist looking at his house and him telling me that all his major recordings did not pay for what he has. The “day gig” paid for his home and car. Here is the point…if you are a trombonist you have options but you have to recognize the reality of being a trombone player. What is that? Well, there is the battle with tradition. Will you become a teacher? Will you become a band leader? Will you work in a military band? Will you get an orchestral job? Will you work in a pop group? And as you do it will you maintain job security?

I was a ‘young trombonist’ at one point. I was fortunate to have many elders and peers looking out for me. There were days when things were tough but I had to remember what others shared with me. To the young trombonist my message to you is learn from your elders. Learn how other trombonists made it. Learn about the struggles and the triumphs. What did different trombonists have to do to make money? The trombone is not the most popular instrument.
Learn about the jokes and why they are used. Learn about the very visible division among trombonists. After you begin to understand learn how to change the status quo. With humility and hard work you will rise above the shackles of tradition.

It takes more than being a good player to be hired as a trombone player and it takes more than being a good player to keep working.

There are many trombone players altering the way the instrument is viewed. It is your turn to do the same. Let your love for music shine in everything you do. I wish you success…



  1. Excellent and as always educational.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: