Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

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ArbanRubank
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by ArbanRubank » Fri May 28, 2021 8:15 am

Okay, that was some pretty good listening, all-in-all. I'm not a huge fan of extremely complicated playing. I think it gets a bit boring quickly. I like to hear it more in spurts of passion, rather than a continuous stream of rapid notes for their own sake that never seem to end. And I find trombone-players in general tend to be a bit mono-dynamic, unless they are playing a Rochut or something where the dynamics are marked in and intended to be followed.

I also noted the ones who did a studio recording and dubbed it in over their video. It sounded nice, but gave me the impression of a foreign film with dubbed-in voices that never really seem to fit the actual context of the scene fully.

That said, they were all better players than me and I admired them, so who am I to nit-pick and criticize!

You must be well-connected.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by PaulTdot » Fri May 28, 2021 9:01 am

I'm glad you got something out of it! And I've been quite fortunate to work with, go to school with, or play with many of these people, mostly while I lived in NYC. Very inspiring young cats!

I suspect my "sample" here was quite biased towards intense and technical playing. First of all, looking for younger players who are making a splash is going to get you more of the highly technical, ambitious kind of player who is trying to "prove themselves" - the exuberance of youth and all that, you know. (The ones who both sing and play don't feel the same pressure to perform in this sense, so they're an exception.) Second, finding a good 2min clip on YouTube is going to show almost exclusively technically impressive passages. I didn't select these carefully, but sort of grabbed the first or second thing which popped up, since the request was for names who had albums out on the market, not for the best - or my favourite - short clips. I also looked for clips which displayed improvisational virtuosity, since that was the topic (do trombonists, in fact, "suck at improvising"?).

Those factors really contribute to this being a very specific kind of type of playing. If you buy the albums of many/most of these players, you'll find plenty of nuance, restraint, melodicism, and dynamic range, in a way you won't get from a quick 2min YouTube video.

On another note, I wonder what your own performance experience is: because there is a reason you hear more dynamic range in a Rochut etude than in an improvised solo with a salsa band (for instance). (Just try to play quietly over five horn players playing backgrounds, a drummer and a percussionist banging away... that context limits you dramatically. Playing a solo etude - improvised or not - is a *completely* different ball game.) Many of these players have an *enormous* dynamic range, and use it extremely well - but you have to play to the context you're in.

When I think of many of these players... their control of dynamics, nuance, and tonal colour is phenomenal. I find that - and I'm not necessarily talking to you, but anyone reading :) - people who haven't done a lot of professional playing in a variety of contexts really underestimate the challenges involved, and the skill of the people doing it. What you hear on a recording or in concert is often very severely limited by acoustic limitations, musical stylistic concerns, technical issues, and who knows how many other factors.

Here are some quick samples, just for illustration's sake:

Andy Hunter always sounds lovely when fronting a band (and has the creative control to get the sound he wants, as he does here) -

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOnC7AnDrOQ
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Wbu2B_xtQA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btnWikE6t8w
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-az93VxJE2U
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8w_KX9QJ08

Samuel Blaser playing a solo concert (these are live recordings) -

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRZu8bF ... rw&index=4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HZFnzP ... rw&index=3

It's weird how much music is available on YouTube for free these days... I really hope that, if you have the means, you can also support these artists by buying their albums. It's getting harder and harder to survive as a trombonist these days, so every little bit counts.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by ArbanRubank » Fri May 28, 2021 9:44 am

Copy that. Makes perfect sense to "splash play" when the competition is keen and the face time on the horn is short. And I know what it's like to try to play over a noisy group - not fun.

The more technical performances actually did inspire me to jack up the tempo on the four Arban's Fantasies I played through this morning. I see those exercises as more of a means to an end rather than as a performance in and of themselves. If I can go lickety-split through one of them, then I surely ought to be able to put a nice multiple-tongue improv effort into a ballad in select places.

I love to hear a trombone player play as though it were the most beautiful musical instrument in the world because it is! So a nice range of dynamics - in keeping with the emotional content of the ballad - as well as some excitement generated by well-put technique makes for a memorable performance - if the tone quality is also memorable.

For me, it all comes down to tone quality. If it is superb, then not much else really is needed. And I firmly believe would-be improv artists can benefit from keeping it simple, beautiful and smooth. Get out of the way and let the horn do the talking.

Thanks again for the links. That will be tonight's listening. I'll also look for albums to buy.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by PaulTdot » Fri May 28, 2021 11:42 am

ArbanRubank wrote:
Fri May 28, 2021 9:44 am
I love to hear a trombone player play as though it were the most beautiful musical instrument in the world because it is!
Well put! Ain't that the truth? :P
For me, it all comes down to tone quality. If it is superb, then not much else really is needed. And I firmly believe would-be improv artists can benefit from keeping it simple, beautiful and smooth. Get out of the way and let the horn do the talking.
This is both true and false, I think. It's certainly true that sound and tone quality are either the first or second most important thing. So important! It's the sound that we are drawn to and react to - great players are recognizable within one note or three.

On the other hand, many musical contexts just don't call for "simple, beautiful and smooth". It's not appropriate, it's not what's needed or wanted. I've heard some of the best-sounding trombone players transform dramatically when it's necessary - whether it's brash, sloppy, out of tune, aggressive, or otherwise - and that's as much a sign of high artistry as anything else. Whether it's what the music asks for, or because your employer expects a particular thing.

I actually had a challenge of this sort a few years back. I was hired for a recording session by a local bandleader. No rehearsal, just one take. The music is intended as angry, protesting what's happening in the world. The tune is fast and rather "messy" - as you'll hear. Suddenly they want a trombone solo. Go! What would you do?

Here's what I did (my solo spot is roughly 1:50 to 2:50):

https://artofbreath.bandcamp.com/track/wtf

The tempo and time feel changes were quite uncomfortable, and I didn't handle them very well. And I was probably still playing too "pretty" for the track. But I tried to put something there which suited the vibe they were going for. It would have been nice to get another shot at it, but time is limited in the studio and no one wants to do another take just for the trombone player...
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by FOSSIL » Fri May 28, 2021 11:57 am

That sounded pretty good to me Paul...classy playing.👍👍👍
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by PaulTdot » Fri May 28, 2021 12:03 pm

Thank you! Not how I would ever play, normally. I threw it here precisely because it was a good example of being forced to go against my own tastes and instincts, in many ways. That's its own kind of challenge, musically and technically.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by ArbanRubank » Fri May 28, 2021 1:28 pm

I get your point, but you have a beautiful sound and no matter how "angry" you tried to sound, your beautiful tone still came through.

Sure, there are exceptions where "noise" is required. But I stand my ground as far as most ballads or pop tunes are concerned. And even if the balladeer chooses to play some emotional parts in a sassy voice, with a lot of spit, vinegar and razamataz, I still want to hear a head-turning and memorable sound coming through it all. It's like a baseline standard. Those who play above that line are truly memorable. Those who don't are forgettable.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by PaulTdot » Fri May 28, 2021 1:59 pm

Thank you. Kind words, and that's appreciated! I see it rather as a failure on my part - I'd like to get better at changing the tonal quality to match the circumstances. I shouldn't sound "pretty" on a tune like this.

Here's the issue:

It's very difficult to separate a "baseline standard" from personal taste. You thought my "beautiful tone came through". Someone else might have said, "he's lacking bite; don't hire him again". Who's right?

Here's a great musical example of that (it might be easier to judge, in a way, with singers, plus it's a fabulous and intriguing performance):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaB9F3R9cIY

It's really cool to feel how you react, as a listener, when they switch over. For many people, the reaction is something like, "Ah! Now THAT's real singing!" And then the other performer takes over, and you think, "Oh, no, wait! THAT's real singing!" And then it happens again...

They certainly both pass your "truly memorable" baseline, don't they? :) So, in that sense, you are absolutely and fabulously right. And yet, neither would "cut it" in the other one's musical world - neither has the right sound or approach. If JB showed up at Pavarotti's gig, he'd pretty quickly get fired, and vice-versa. I think that's worth noting.

When it comes to tonal quality, we all have our own preferences and standards, but it's worthwhile to try to broaden that envelope, and to learn and understand why, in other cultures or styles, different aspects are valued. For instance, consider how octaves are tuned "wide" in Balinese music (out of tune, by our standards). Or how a throat singer's vocal "tone" would be judged by a classical singer, and vice-versa.

This may seem like a departure from the topic of this thread, but I actually think it's absolutely critical. The ability to listen to music - and improvisers - in different styles objectively, and to try to understand *why* certain aspects of their playing are valued, is a key component in learning to be a better improviser. This goes for tone quality - which we've been discussing - but also for time feel, articulation, rhythmic choices (e.g. are you playing with the clave?), pitch (e.g. playing a blues perfectly in tune actually sounds "wrong" to someone steeped in that tradition), density, harmony, and phrase lengths.

When someone is a highly respected improvisor in their field, it's much better - as a musician and as a student - to try to learn *why* and to develop a taste for it, than to see it as a flaw of some kind. I can't count the number of times I thought I heard a great player making some kind of "mistake" or having some kind of "defect" in their playing, only to learn later that it was a very carefully crafted effect. (For example, on many recordings Frank Rosolino kind of "chips" high notes. It's understandable - he's way up in the upper atmosphere, playing very technical passages! Well, eventually I got my hands on a recording of a master class with Frank, and he demonstrates how he practices that effect, until he can do it repeatedly and consistently, "chipping" the note exactly the same way each time.)

That kind of listening and investigation (especially talking to older musicians in that field) is really eye-opening, and will change your approach as an improviser. You'll learn faster, learn "deeper", and sound more authentic, as well as learning to appreciate more (and more different!) styles of music.

That can only make your life - and your personal character - richer. It's one of the ways music teaches us to become better human beings.

Anyhow, thank you for the kind words! At least it prompted me to write a little on the topic; maybe it will be helpful for someone somewhere someday. If anyone's reading this as a trombonist looking to be a better improviser, I'd consider it a valuable perspective, anyway - it was, and continues to be, for me. Happy practicing!
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by ArbanRubank » Fri May 28, 2021 6:13 pm

:good: :good: :good: :good:

Solid gold. Every word. Great perspective.

It really is something to ponder when listening: is someone's sound appropriate and memorable within the context of what they are doing. Does it have "it" for the setting. Maybe that's partly why some guys think they suck at improv; they are attempting a sound that either doesn't work within the setting or they aren't capable of producing one that does. I've been there. I once attempted a solo pitched WAY too low for me to be heard over a noisy group. Then there's that right notes thing...
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by PaulTdot » Fri May 28, 2021 9:24 pm

Indeed! As trombonists, especially, we are often forced to avoid certain registers to be heard, and that can really limit musical expression. Mike Dease once showed me how he actually practices this: gives himself a "limit" (a note he can't play below) and works on various improvisation exercises. I find this especially important in big band settings.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Trombo » Sat Jun 05, 2021 9:03 am

Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?
Because they play the slide trombone.
I've always wondered why jazz trombonists ignore the valve trombone. It is much better suited to modern jazz than a slide trombone (IMHO).
Raul de Souza proved it.

https://youtu.be/CV5J4sEl1rA
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Macbone1 » Mon Jun 21, 2021 8:27 am

So much good info and many great ideas here. I'd also like to add that the inherent culture of the trb as a "back row" instrument (or tucked tightly between saxes and trumpets in big bands) does not inspire the leadership mindset needed on the horn to take the spotlight and solo. Of course each individual's experience and attitude may vary, and that's good. But who gets accused of dragging tempos/not matching articulations and phrasing most often? Trombones! That does not indicate a leadership attitude on the horn. Take charge of yourself, be a leader (even if it's just in your mind), listen a lot, take solos, get experience.
Keep moving forward.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Doug Elliott » Mon Jun 21, 2021 12:33 pm

Macbone1 wrote:
Mon Jun 21, 2021 8:27 am
...who gets accused of dragging tempos/not matching articulations and phrasing most often? Trombones!
Because it's often the truth.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Macbone1 » Mon Jun 21, 2021 1:51 pm

No argument here
Keep moving forward.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by PaulTdot » Mon Jun 21, 2021 3:03 pm

I'll make a strange comment on this, because it's more relevant to this topic than some people might think:

I think that a lot of trumpet players and saxophone players end up in big bands as part of their attempt to become great players and advanced improvisers. They hone their technique, and have no difficulty playing difficult or technical passages.

I wonder if those trombone sections might sound better if the trombone players approach improvisation with a similar kind of dedication?

I don't know, but it's interesting to consider. (To be fair, the reverse exists as well, and, as someone who prides himself on being an excellent "section player", I have nothing but respect for great section players who make that their specialty.)
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by Bach5G » Mon Sep 27, 2021 2:25 pm

Shawn Bell has posted a new video on YouTube. It is called “How to Improve Every Solo You Take”.

I think Mr. Bell does an excellent job of demystifying trombone improvisation and providing useful information. Worth a look I think.

Of course, as always, YMMV.

https://youtu.be/qXdATJ8W7tI
Last edited by Bach5G on Tue Sep 28, 2021 9:36 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by michaelpilley » Tue Sep 28, 2021 2:39 am

Hot take: Because trombonists are lazy.

Maybe more of a personalised observation than a generalised one. But that's why I suck(ed) at improvising. I didn't want to put the work in, and the pub sounded much more appealing.
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Re: Why Do Trombonists Suck At Improvising?

Post by jbeatenbough » Fri Oct 08, 2021 1:14 pm

Nice example of young players learning from older...

If I only had a brain TROMBONES DE LA SAJB ( dir Joan Chamorro) feat CARLOS MARTIN

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JelMOmQq83Q
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