Naming "3"

When it came time to find a name for my latest recording, I knew something would pop.

I have liked the names I have used for my previous recordings and have found them to be both personal and clever (even if I do say so myself). I have also provided names for the recordings of friends.

On the return flight from the May, 2018 recording sessions, I cogitated on the number 3, starting with it because I had just completed my third solo recording.

3…3…3…3…ok, here goes:

3 solo CDs 
My favorite band, Chicago, with their third recording, began using numbers as titles with “III”
3 common contributors
3 letters in Leo
3 trombone teachers at IU
Started trombone on a Bach 3G
IU studio is 432. 4+3+2=9, which is 3 3s
3 parents
One of 3 children
10 years in an orchestra section of 3
3rd generation American
Attended 3 institutions post HS
I grew up in a 3-story house
I currently live in 2 different 3-story houses

Why are many of the important trombone symphonies number 3s? Mahler 3, Schumann 3, Saint-Saëns 3, Copland 3, Berg 3 Orchestra Pieces. Intro to Act 3 of Lohengrin, The Ride of the Valkyries opens the 3rd act of Die Walküre (the Ride is in 3 beats/bar).

Admittedly, I am cherry picking. Seems to be what we do these days to support a particular point of view, whether be in politics or naming a trombone recording.

So the recording’s name sort of found me. It is amazing what can happen when one turns off the mind and allows inward flow instead of trying to generate outward flow.
There is a lesson there somewhere.

Equipment Options

My curmudgeonly self declares that there have become too many equipment options and too much emphasis on equipment as a solution, while not enough emphasis on practice and contemplation.

I remember a story that I read online a few years ago—-hey it’s on the internet, so it must be true, right? During a masterclass with the great Canadian trombonist/conductor/musician Alain Trudel, an attendee asked a question about mouthpieces. I was not there, I cannot find the quoted passage but it was along the lines of:

“Get a 6.5AL, practice a lot and when you wear the plating off the mouthpiece from practice, only then will you be in a position to judge if you need a different mouthpiece.”

Although I likely don’t have the exact details of the exchange, the point is clear. It is practice that makes someone great, not what equipment they play. I am old enough to have seen a huge growth in instrument and mouthpieces choices. I am only referring to the American market, as this is what I am most familiar with.

In the early 1990s, I remember hearing about the Edwards Instrument Company building a new line of trombones and thinking, “Why would anyone enter the trombone manufacturing business?” Bach and Conn dominated the classical market and King, Bach and Conn were the most popular jazz horns. There were also the odd Holton and Olds instruments used here and there…I am probably leaving out others. Sorry.

Now add:
S.E. Shires

On the mouthpiece front: Bach, Giardinelli, Schilke, Wick were the most common, with some outliers as well.

Now add:
Greg Black

Most of these newer makers charge incredibly high prices for their mouthpieces and instruments. 

Because people will pay. Because many people equate a higher price tag with higher quality.
“I must have the ‘best’ in order to be competitive.”
The ‘best’ comes with a substantial price tag.
Also, being smaller means less volume, which necessitates higher pricing.

Are the instruments and mouthpieces any better today? Probably.
Are the players better? Not really. There may be a higher number of good players but the top quality is no better than it was 35-40 years ago.
Yes, there are more good players…but there are also millions more people than 35-40 years ago, so I would expect there to be more of “good” everything. There is more “not-so-good” of everything as well.

I think I have written it before but if I could go back 45 years, knowing what I know now, I’d buy a stock, closed wrap Bach 42B and a stock Bach 5G and practice more. I‘d also have saved tens of thousands of dollars. Yup. Not an exaggeration. Ugh. All the experimentation for the sake of improvement seemed like a good idea at the time.

As an aside, regarding Bach trombones, I have also observed a curious and amusing trend. “New York” is the Holy Grail. “Mt. Vernon” is next in line, followed by “Corporation.” I can assure you, dear reader, that there are great, good and sub-standard specimens in each of the previous eras of production. It is also possible to find a gem that was assembled last week. Don’t fall for the “older is better” trap. Older is older. There are fewer specimens. They are not necessarily better, just older and more rare.

So, this blog is merely a suggestion to consider minimizing the emphasis on equipment and adopting the belief that practice is the ultimate determiner of success and achievement. Find an instrument that produces the sound in your head (the most important aspect…CONCEPT) the easiest and then practice, without wondering if there is something “better.”

A closing thought along those lines:

Who would sound better on your horn and your mouthpiece, Joe Alessi (or Toby Oft, or Nitzan Haroz, or David Finlayson, or Jim Markey or….) or you? 
If you can admit that one of those world class players would sound better on your axe than you, then it is not about equipment. It is about knowledge, study, hard work, and accomplishment. 

Don’t try to solve a playing difficulty with equipment.

Good luck in your quest.

Articulation Awareness and Discipline

Articulation Awareness and Discipline

Attacks and releases are not necessarily related.

Simple observations:

When I ask students to play longer notes (particularly when playing excerpts, Mahler 3 in particular), they nearly always soften their attacks. Why?

Likewise, if I ask them to play shorter notes in some passage or other, their attacks become harder and the dynamic becomes louder. Why?

Learn to disassociate the attack from the release or note length. They are unrelated. Take control of your articulation and be aware of what is happening. Tenuto refers to the length of the note, not the type of attack. Staccato refers to note separation, not the type of attack. Staccato is not necessarily short. Secco is short.

How the note starts and how the note ends are not inextricably linked. Think carefully about each side of the note and craft what you really want, not merely what you are in the habit of doing.




I clearly remember my very first lesson with the great Frank Crisafulli in September, 1984. One of the things I played for him was the excerpt from the Intro to Act III of Lohengrin, for which he gave me two gold nuggets: 

The first is a great way to clearly place the triplet. His advice: think “1-2 (in halves) and then 1-2-3 (in quarters) D-F#-A.” That rhythmic approach still helps me as well as every student I share it with. 

So simple. 
So effective. 

The other nugget was his observation of the articulation I was employing on the dotted 8th-16th figures. I was going TA-DA instead of TA-TA. 
Don’t mix ‘em. 
All TAs for this.



Oh, and another observation.

Ravel wrote “Sostenuto” under the solo in Bolero. He did not write “Legato.”

Success in nearly every career is contingent on separating yourself from others. 
Don’t make the same mistakes as everyone else.



Trombone versus Baritone

When did the trombone sound morph into the sound of a baritone?

Ever heard any of these phrases?

“Play with a big sound.” 
"Play with a dark sound.”
“Don’t let it get edgy.”

The true sound of a trombone (tenor and bass) is disappearing in favor of one that more closely resembles a baritone or a euphonium (slide tuba for bass trombone?). 

Because of the quoted admonitions of some teachers above and choice of equipment that has arguably grown too large in a farcical attempt to get a “big” sound.

I read something once that really stuck with me. I can’t even recall where I read it but have found it to be quite accurate. Play a crescendo from ppp to fff. If there is a huge change in timbre (woofy in soft to brittle in loud), the mouthpiece is too large.

We have lost the ability to change color and play nimbly in favor of a “one color fits all” approach. The heavy equipment has not helped this loss. I guess it is easier to not have to deal with a color palette when playing. It is a pity to lose such an interesting aspect to playing.

Heading off in another direction….

We also are encouraged to play in a manner that values “valve cleanliness.” Yes, we as trombonists should be able to play cleanly but we also have the luxury to play lyrically…vocally even! Great singers do not “click” between notes, they apply an expressive portamento that only the trombone and stringed instruments can emulate. Don’t be afraid of a smear. Don’t be afraid of an “unclean” connection when playing solo repertoire or lyrical etudes.

Here is a link to an interview I did several years ago, which describes my approach to expressive articulation:

Excerpts are a different story. Play cleanly. Execute flawlessly with stylistic awareness with push button reliability.

Why do people smile in photos?

Why do people smile in photos?


It has occurred to me that people almost always smile in photographs. 
We are told to smile
We are expected to smile.
To give the impression (at times the illusion) that we are happy? Life just couldn’t be better! “Look at how happy I am!”

Why not allow a photograph to capture an honest moment not a posed smile? Very few (sane) people smile all the time, yet that is how we have been trained to be documented in photographs. After all, everyone wants to be happy, right? I love looking at old photos from 100 years ago. Not much smiling happening then.

We have been conditioned to believe that we look better when smiling. I think I remember that there have been studies that claim that the act of smiling makes one feel better. Maybe that is why we smile in photographs?

Another thought:

Why do people wear sunglasses in photographs that are posed even when the sun is not in their eyes? 
Just curious.

I subscribe to the view (see what I did there?) that people’s eyes really are windows into the soul. I notice eyes, perhaps because of my own. I have strange eyes, which have operated nearly independently since I was born. “Intermittent exotropia” is what my eye doctors call it. There is always a predictable pause when a new eye doctor checks each eye independently, while instructing me to look at the chart across the room. The condition is worse when I am tired. I only use one eye at a time but can pull them together if I concentrate…which I try to do for photos…there you have it…I am a hypocrite. Just as people try to project happiness in photos, I pretend my eyes operate normally!

To quote Peter Sellers’ character, Chauncey Gardiner, in the movie, “Being There*”:  
I like to watch.

I am a watcher. 
I love to observe people and marvel at our differences. 
I appreciate the differences. 
I love the differences but that doesn’t mean I am not puzzled by them.

*- if you have not seen this movie, there is a cool, however fleeting shot of Bill Watrous, RIP, on TV.

Fugit irreparabile tempus

Fugit irreparabile tempus

The story of life.

One of subjects of which I often speak:

Time is our most precious resource. Once it is gone, it is gone. Consume it wisely.

The concept seems lost on the young as they surely have a lifetime to experience and accomplish. Few warn us that life often goes by so quickly that youth slips away, all while waiting for something to happen. My advice? Don’t wait for it to happen. MAKE it happen! Live aggressively! Take control! It is your life. You are responsible for your successes and your failures. Concept: personal accountability. We are all too quick to blame others for our shortcomings. Too bad we aren’t as quick to credit others for our triumphs. It’s human nature but is doesn’t preclude us from being better. Remember, those who do not evolve become extinct.

Once people reach their fifties, they often recognize that the life ahead is shorter that the life past. It is not a bad or sad realization. Certain things do take on greater significance…what will I leave behind? Others take on less significance…gotta update the website. When one is busy doing, one seldom has the time to write about it. I do not take the time to update this site very often. It is also why I have no time for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al. I simply choose to not spend my time in that way. I strive to invest my time, not spend it. I have accomplished wonderful things in my life and I am so focused in continuing that path. There is much to accomplish. My mind is working constantly on ideas for projects. Some are in the works.

The time you have taken to read this will never again be. Go DO something!

Elucidations 2014

1. Read your teacher's writings, blogs, articles, syllabus, etc. If you don't understand something or disagree, ask and will learn something. You and your family are paying a lot of money for this knowledge. Be curious.

2. As a student, you are at the bottom of the food chain. Learn from those above you. As a student you don't know enough to know what you don't know. As you learn more you understand what more there is to learn.

3. If you are not consistently placing in the top 2 or 3 at your school auditions, why would you expect to win a professional audition? Your study is not necessarily to prepare you to win an audition, it is to make you a musician of such quality that employers will want to hire you for your expertise.

4. The path to excellence is well worn. Stay on the path. You are not different. You have not found a new way. There are no "million dollar ideas,” but only "million dollar executions.” Hard work outdistances talent. There are no shortcuts. 

5. Turn your phone and other distractions off during your practice. What you are trying to accomplish requires all of your focus. Don’t get sucked-in to mediocrity

6. Invest your time. Don't spend your time. Quality of practice is more important than quantity of practice. The ideal is a large quantity of quality practice.

7. Live aggressively and use each day to its fullest. You will never get it back.

8. Be curious, be interested, seek knowledge and progress. Apathy may seem "cool" but it only leads to mediocrity. Be proud to be good. Don't pretend it's not important.

9. Be the best you can be. You are cheating yourself by doing anything less than your absolute best. Don’t be upset with the results you don’t get with the work you don’t do. Remember…the world needs ditch diggers too.

10. Be a doer, not a talker. Don’t pretend too be something you are not. Become great so that you do not have to pretend.