Posted by: Reginald Cyntje | May 26, 2013

Letter to jazz trombonists

I recently watched a video of a great technician of the trombone butcher a ballad. That video inspired this post.

Dear Jazz trombonist,

We have struggled to gain the respect of our community. When you look at many of the traveling modern jazz groups, they rarely include trombonists unless it is a traveling big band. The instrument is not as popular as say the saxophone or the trumpet.

I know many jazz trombonists who are great musicians but they do not receive love from the record labels or the audience.

Over the years, we have seen a movement towards jazz trombonists striving to master the horn technically. Someone would post a video of them playing acrobats on the horn and collectively many would be impressed. I agree we need technique. We should all work on perfecting our craft. But technique should not substitute for musicianship.

I think we need a new movement. This movement should be towards making music. Our technique should enable us to connect with musicians and listeners more effectively.

Yes, many have proved the trombone can do acrobatic tricks. This is nothing new if you have played concertos or transcribed adventurous trombone solos. Our goal should be a global movement towards making sure the instrument receives more recognition as a solo voice.

In my humble opinion, we should strive towards connecting with people intellectually as well as emotionally. Masturbation on the bandstand does not help the tarnished image of our instrument. Even with the rise of many technically proficient players, the bandleaders or festivals or booking agents are not requesting droves of trombone players to perform around the world.

We have to nurture listeners collectively. Right now we are divided. I am not saying we should all think the same but we should realize the reality of this business. Who was traditionally fired first in small groups like Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers? We can no longer afford to be expendable.

Our instrument has a beautiful sound. I think we should find a balance between playing Cherokee in all twelve keys and playing a ballad with emotional depth.

The sooner we connect with listeners, the sooner more trombonists will benefit from this endeavor. We need to think about future generations of trombonists and provide them with more options.

I leave you with two questions:

1. What do you think is the state of jazz trombone?
2. Do you think the overall jazz community values jazz trombonists?


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