The latest batch of new entries are up at the Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians, including a new group of trombone players profiled by yours truly. I’m a regular over at the Institute of Jazz Studies now, to the point that Ed Berger greeted me when I came in this afternoon, “Hey Alex, what trombone player are you writing about today?” It’s nice to feel like you have a place in the world, even one as obscure as profiling dead trombonists.
The new entries include Tommy Dorsey, Bennie Green, Trummy Young (currently the last entry in the encyclopedia!), Miff Mole, “Big” Charlie Green and Jimmy Harrison. Click below to find out what that has to do with Mario Kart …
With the exception of Bennie Green, these are all early pioneers of the jazz trombone. I’ve really enjoyed spending my days listening to this early work, as it’s not something I usually have on my iTunes playlist. I’ve found that I derive a simliar pleasure from listening to an early Tommy Dorsey ballad that I get from playing Super Mario Kart on the SNES. No, they don’t feature fancy graphics or hi-fi sound. Yes, the concepts are pretty rudimentary. But they also contain the seeds of greatness upon which their later imitators would expand. In the case of Mario Kart, it’s the iconic characters of the Nintendo brand — Mario, Princess, Toad, Luigi, Bowser — as well as the goofy electronic music and racing gameplay (that hairpin turn on Mario Circuit 4 still haunts me …)
With Dorsey, you hear first-rate lyricism and vibrato in his ballads; listening to Mole you hear hear the innovations with against-the-grain technique; Young is the first to succeed in the extreme upper register; Harrison improvised the “hot” swing feeling better than anyone; “Big” Charlie Green’s conversational blues style and plunger techniques allowed him to perform alongside singers (most notably Bessie Smith). Of course, many have come along since and done even more with the instrument, but there’s something magical about being able to hear the original innovators working with it before it became what it is today.
At first listen, these tracks be hard to make sense of. But as a trombonist, I have an angle that gives me something to compare it to in today’s world, and that makes the old stuff come alive. And when it’s all said and done, I have just as much fun listening to Jimmy Harrison with Fletcher Henderson in 1929 as I do listening to a recent Conrad Herwig release. In fact, I still like playing old-school Mario Kart more than the new Wii version, but that’s mostly because I can’t figure out how to hold that new-fangled controller right.