[Dixielandjazz] J. J. Johnson Slide vs. Valve Trombones

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Thu Jun 22 09:26:50 PDT 2006

Jim Kashishian jim at kashprod.com wrote

>> Steve wrote:
>> From one of his (JJ Johnson´s) biographies:
>> "....playing with such speed and deceptive ease that at one time some
>> listeners assumed he was playing valve (rather than slide) trombone!"

>I (Jim Kash's) comment:
>Being how that is a "biography", then the comment comes from an author
>commenting on other people's remarks.

Steve responds: Yes. Doesn't most information come to us from other people's
remarks in one form or another?

>> Steve wrote: JJ is quoted as saying himself:
>> In several interviews about his sounding like he was playing a valve
>> trombone, he always denied that was his intention.

> Kash Answered: So, anyone that doesn't slide around like Kid Ory, & uses speed
> & agility on the slide sounds like a valve trombonist?  Other really fast
> trombonists come to mind, such as Frank Rossolino.  None of them sounded like
> a valve trombonist.  They sound like very talented slide trombonists.  I
> never, ever confused JJ's style with a valve trombone as a kid.  The thought
> never entered my mind, and it amazes me that anyone that knows the trombone
> could make such a remark.

Steve responds: Nobody said that. What was said was only that J.J. sounded
like a valve trombone. Why read Ory and Rossolino into that? The thought had
entered his mind and he knew the trombone as well as anyone. It is to your
credit that you never confused a J.J. sound for a valve trombone. It is also
well to note that in an interview with a biographer that included a blind
fold listening session to others' records, J.J. momentarily thought that a
Curtis Fuller solo (slide) was Bob Brookmeyer (valve). He  corrected himself
as the record progressed and he recognized it as Fuller because of a
particular passage. (Fuller was a follower of J.J.)

> Kash continues There is the slight assumption there that if it's played fast
> then it just couldn't be done on a slide, and that is not giving the slide
> trombone, or the people who play it, the credit  deserved.

IMO, no such assumption is even suggested. One has to go back in time to
relate to the information. The time is circa 1945-50. Before J.J., it hadn't
been done on a slide. Besides fast, one should consider his lack of vibrato
and the clean staccato phrasing. He invented the style and it is quite
logical to assume that he was playing a valve trombone because no other
slide players ever did it that way. There are numerous historical references
to the fact that "some", "many" or "most" people who heard him in say 1947,
"thought he was playing a valve trombone". In terms of credit, J.J. is
almost universally acknowledged as the finest Jazz virtuoso on the
instrument. And his biographical information includes information about how
difficult the style is on an instrument that is so unwieldy to master. It is
more a huge credit to slide trombone players, that they can master the
style, rather then not giving them credit.

> Kash continues No, they are very different horns, and the valve trombonists
> uses a completely different style of improvisations, shown particularly in
> Bobby Brookmeyer's style.

Yes, they are very different horns and yes Brookmeyer is a completely
different improviser. (different from OKOM Valve trombonist Don Ingle too)
J.J.? a completely different improviser from earlier slide players. (as were
Teagarden, Mole, etc.) Today's "modern" jazz trombones, for the most part,
like Curtis Fuller, follow J.J.'s style. Fast, staccato, minimum vibrato.

Why did J.J. change the style. Well his biographers (using conversations and
interviews with him as source material) note that after WW 2 in the USA,
Swing and Big Band gigs were declining so gigs for J. J. were declining.
Bebop was becoming more popular. And so in listening to and playing with
Charlie Parker, Dizzy and the others, (by invite at Minton's where bebop was
born) J.J. invented the style. He realized he couldn't play the harmonics of
bebop on slide trombone, IF he stuck to Ory/Teagarden or the normal big band
section type playing. So he invented the fast, clean staccato, no vibrato,
virtuoso slide style that to just about everybody who heard it, in his
recordings with Bird, Bud Powell and Dizzy (but did not see it) at that
time, including some big name jazz trombonists, thought was a valve
trombone. I suspect had you been there and not seen him playing a slide
trombone in that manner, you would have made that assumption also.

Today, that style is widely imitated and it no longer seems so astounding
because many trombonists do it well. And it is much easier to think, yeah
that's a slide, because 60 years later, it has become commonplace, and by
comparison few players play valve trombones.

I think many fans today, if they were subject to blind fold listening
sessions of records by J.J., Curtis Fuller, and Bobby Brookmeyer would be
hard pressed to figure out which one was Brookmeyer on valve.

Point being, back to the original thread premise, that valve trombones or
slide trombones are both great instruments for all genres of jazz. And
players of both deserve equal credit for what they do. And that J.J. sounded
like he was playing a valve trombone to most people 60 years ago.


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