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Noteworthy Recordings

Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Trombones

How can you tell which kid on the playground will grow up to be a trombonist?
He's the one who can't slide or swing.
(Old joke)

As a former trombonist myself, I must acknowledge up front that trombonists do have to travel and perform in packs for self protection. Only the very best trombonists can stand the heat of the solo spotlight--the rest of us form groups, holding off our opponents with our slides. Hence the tendency to record in numbers, as evidenced by these ensembles assembled for the true trombonoholic.

J. J. Johnson and Kai Winding may not have been the first, but certainly were the most celebrated multi-bone ensemble. Winding and Johnson participated in a rare example of bone-to-bone warfare for a 1958 Warner Brothers album, The Trombones, Inc., on which nine East coast-based trombonists were featured on one side and nine West coast players (performing arrangements by Marty Paich and Warren Barker) on the other. "K JJ" also did several albums with multi-bone line-ups for Columbia, including their Trombone Octet.

The Four Freshmen tested their strengths against a variety of different instrumental line-ups such as guitars and saxes, and succeed in holding their own against uneven odds on Four Freshmen, Five Trombones (Capitol), arranged by Pete Rugolo. Don Costa's Echoing Voices and Trombones (United Artists) is one of my favorite vocal group albums, with all sorts of channel separation tricks as the voices and trombones swoop from left to right. And Rugolo initiated Mercury Record's superbly engineered Perfect Presence Sound series of gatefold LPs with 10 Trombones Like 2 Pianos, on which he upped the odds, pitting two decent, God-fearing pianos against a marauding band of ten bones.

Much like Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass, the T-Bones came into existence after their biggest tune hit the charts. In the T-Bones' case, the tune, "No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)" caught America's ears in the form of a commercial for Alka Seltzer, so Liberty Records threw together a group of L.A. session men to assume their identity--probably none of them shown in the photo of some unidentified group resembling the Dave Clark Five picture on the back of their first album, No Matter What Shape.

Urbie Green upped the ante over the T-Bones on two albums for Enoch Light's Project 3 series that boasted of 21 trombonists. The undoubtedly highlight of these albums is Green's remarkable rave-up version of the theme from "The Green Hornet," which was itself taken from "Flight of the Bumble Bee."

Not to be out-boned, Liberty Records came up with the trombone group to beat all comers: Trombones Unlimited. Five albums later, Congress intervened to halt the trombone arms race and sued for peace. I believe there is now an amendment to the Constitution or something else that specifically limits the rights of trombonists to assemble in numbers.

For a more serious tribute to trombonism, check out the Pantheon of Jazz Trombonists, http://www.ge ocities.com/BourbonStreet/5327/default.htm.

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