This article is copyright 2008 by Antonio J. García and originally was published in the International Trombone Association Journal, Vol. 36, No. 3, July 2008. It is used by permission of the author and, as needed, the publication. Some text variations may occur between the print version and that below. All international rights remain reserved; it is not for further reproduction without written consent.

“Dear Jazzy” The Answer-Bone, Part I:

Top Tips for Jazz Trombonists—and Others!

by Antonio J. García

Associate Jazz Editor, ITA Journal


As I write this, summer has just begun: a time for stepping back a moment from the breakneck pace of the academic year, reflecting on the past, and projecting for the future. Even though it may be winter when you read this, I hope you can relate to a time within your year that you might do the same.

In this Internet age, I continue to be surprised by how much teaching I do via e-mail; and I imagine many ITA members find the same. I have certainly benefited from learning from e-tips delivered to me by others. So when I guest-direct and clinic ensembles and festivals, I always encourage the participants to e-mail me their questions with which I might be able to assist. Many do; and this demand forces me to impart in that barest of formats—e-mail—the kind of critical information certainly best accomplished in person. The positive response back indicates some successes; so I thought now would be a good time to reach into the e-mailbag and share some of the most practical Q & A’s of recent.

No one answer is complete unto itself: all good answers lead us to more answers and yet better questions! And as with “Dear Abby,” “Dear Jazzy” is not afraid to seek advice in turn from others in order to assist requests.



Dear Jazzy: I’m working on basic blues and am at a loss as to how to organize my thoughts towards soloing. I didn’t grow up in the blues tradition and feel like a fish out of water. Can you assist? —Floundering in Florence.

Dear Floundering: Basic 12-bar blues is organized as “call, call, and response.” So in the first four bars, play an idea; in the second, play it again; and in the third, vary or answer it.

Whether on the blues or on other song forms, a lot of improvised jazz solos include ideas phrased in threes: a motive, the motive repeated, and the motive either altered and/or extended. Why does this “idea, set-up, and release”—evident in so many soloists and composers—speak to us so well? It communicates to the listener in the same way as ancient parables and contemporary jokes: whether it’s the tale of The Good Samaritan or “Three men walk into a bar...,” the power of threes in storytelling is undeniable. After all, when was the last time you heard “Two men walk into a bar...” or “Four men...”? And why are so many daily newspaper editions of your favorite comic strip drawn in three panels? Using threes allows for the ideal premise, set-up for tension, and release.


Melodic Improv

Dear Jazzy: I don’t know if you remember me from a couple of years ago. I feel like my soloing is “shapeless, non-melodic noodling” most of the time and that I can’t break through the wall. I know it’s probably difficult to give advice without hearing someone actually play, but I was hoping you might know what I’m talking about and be able to give me a direction! —Flailing in Florida.

Dear Flailing: I feel your pain. I remember you well and am happy to offer e-mail advice as is possible. It sounds as though you’ve nailed the description of your soloing as “shapeless, non-melodic noodling.” Therefore I suggest you target exactly that: a study of shape and melody.

I know that you and I have discussed your singing solos of the masters, without writing them down. I believe this to be the most important step towards internalizing great melodic construction. I have never met a great jazz musician who cannot scat-sing imitative and original ideas in private (even if not choosing to do so in public). Endeavor to imitate every note but also every timbre, timing, and breath. While you are doing so, you will internalize the artist’s themes and variations as well.

It is possible to study and imitate shape. Just as you wouldn’t want to talk in or listen to endless monotone, you would not want to play or listen to much improv of a static shape. Take some tracing paper, and mark down the bar lines over a swinging but not totally hard solo transcription over a blues or 32-bar form. (If the solo is notated four bars per line, that would help this visual exercise.) Then “connect the dots” of the solo’s note-heads: smooth when adjacent, jagged when leaping, and lifting the pencil for rests.

When you examine the result, you will likely see a fairly striking mix of directions and pacing that are not present in your own solos. So take that 12- or 32-bar “map,” put on a play-along CD, and blow a solo over a tune or blues of the same form (but with simple chord changes and at a moderate tempo so you won’t be distracted from your main task): create your own solo lines to match the shapes, contours, and rests of the soloist you’ve admired.

I’ll bet you a blank CD-ROM that you will hear yourself soloing very differently than before, sounding and feeling more refreshed. Also try the exercise over tracings from lead sheets of standard-tune melodies: the melodic shapes of the greatest composers of the repertoire can be yours. Shape is an integral part of lyrical melody.



Dear Jazzy: I improvise fairly well at medium tempos but am totally clueless as to how to make the leap into improv at faster tempos. Is there anything I can do besides eat my Wheaties? —Clueless in Cleveland.

Dear Clueless: With the same need in mind, I recall once asking a more-experienced trombonist-friend of mine decades ago, “How exactly do you solo so darned fast?” And he replied, “I hear fast.” His point was that if we want to run that race, we have to eat not just our Wheaties but also some fast solos, vocabulary, and technique—and a lot of it away from the trombone first. The following points might assist anyone’s quest to play faster jazz on the trombone:

Though faster does not by any means automatically mean better (and often does not), here are some examples of wonderful trombonists whose up-tempo solos sound superbly melodic at half-speed or any speed: Ray Anderson, Michael Davis, John Fedchock, Carl Fontana, Slide Hampton, Conrad Herwig, Bob McChesney, Steve Weist, Jim Pugh, Bill Reichenbach (tenor or bass), Frank Rosolino, Steve Turre, Bill Watrous, Jiggs Whigham, and probably thirty players reading this! (My apologies for having left your favorites off of this list.)



Dear Jazzy: Swing’s going well, but Afro-Cuban and Brazilian grooves are a mystery to me. How do I get inside this music? —Seeking Samba in Sicily.

Dear Seeking: Even though my name’s García, I had no idea growing up as to what claves really did or how Brazilian music differed from Cuban.

I am very fond of what bluesman B.B. King said when asked by The National Press Club long ago, “B.B., do you have to be black to play the blues?” He paused, smiled, and replied, “You don’t have to be black to play the blues...but it helps!” And you don’t have to be Latino to play Latin jazz, nor Andean to play Andean music. But if you don’t want to sound like a pretender in your music, you’d darned well better get informed about the life and culture that inspired that music—not just about scales and arpeggios!

            Let’s talk Cuba for a minute. The Spanish language is spoken rather percussively there: it sounds like congas being played rapidly! The attacks of the language resemble the attacks of the musical phrasing.

And have you seen the dances? Let’s face it: virtually all music comes from the sacred or the secular: and much of the secular music in any culture is to inspire dance. So ensembles play musical styles much better once they’ve seen the dances associated with them. Makes sense! Whether Latin or swing, the dance reveals the style.

You’ll find that one of the unmistakable qualities of various “son montunos” is not only the importance of the clave beat but of “beat eight”—the eighth quarter-note within a pair of successive measures. And that Caribbean influence translates into swing style via the New Orleans streetbeat: just listen to the big bass drum being hit every other bar on “beat eight” in most streetbeat patterns!

Here are some YouTube links (current as of press date) for your exposure and edification. Check them out! (Warning: skimpy outfits may be involved. I’m sure there are online videos that feature women dancing these grooves in slacks and a jacket—but not as many.)

Once you’ve seen some of these moves, I’m betting your music won’t sound as though you’re reading the newspaper.

            Now let’s talk Brazil for a second. The language there is not Spanish: it’s Portuguese, influenced by the French who once colonized it. Check out how the language sounds: it’s smooth, legato, not at all like Cuban Spanish. And this language influences the delivery of that country’s musical language.

Many musicians are new to what makes a true Brazilian bossa and samba (not that authentic style is the only choice, but it’s a common request). Many have never really listened to authentic recordings. Here’s my favorite bossa compilation, which includes some 20 cuts by classic Brazilian artists as well as others. Trust me: when you hear it, the door will open as to how to perform in this tradition. You can find or order this through stores: or find it online at such links as <>: BOSSA NOVA BRAZIL, Verve catalog #3145157622, reissue release date 11/10/1992. There’s also a great companion samba CD found at <>: SAMBA BRAZIL, Verve catalog #3145157612, reissue release date 10/20/1992.

            One of the unmistakable qualities of true Brazilian bossa and samba style is where the ground beat (the most important accent within a phrase) is. Some Brazilians call it “big two,” as it’s the second half of the bar: the second half-note in cut-time (or the third quarter-note in 4/4). Phrasing all instruments with that slight accent gives the bossa and samba a cut-time feel, no matter what its tempo.

            Can we talk dance? Here are some YouTube links for Brazilian dance. (The previous warning about skimpy clothing for Cuban dances goes double for Brazilians!)

For my money—as in free—the best handout on the Internet for Latin jazz styles is “Latin Rhythms: Mystery Unraveled,” created by Victor López and archived at <>. This and many other educational handouts are free PDF downloads from The Midwest Clinic, the international band and orchestra conference, at <>.

            If you’re willing to spend some funds, I highly recommend two books for any horn player, much less drummer, both available via the Jamey Aebersold catalog and web site at <>, among others including your local retailer:

In black, white, and gray print, along with a terrific CD, these books outline not only the grooves but also their history and a window into their cultural roots. For more great how-to books for all kinds of Latin music, check out the Sher Music catalog at <>.

And have you ever visited the Descarga home page at <>? I’ve been using the Descarga catalog for more than 15 years. Conrad Herwig, a regular member of Eddie Palmieri’s band, tipped me to it back then; and the catalog has grown exponentially. “Descarga” means “jam session” in Spanish, and the catalog is to Latin music what the Aebersold catalog is to jazz.

It has a terrific online catalog for CDs, videos, instructional videos, and more, with a great search engine. But it’s so much more. It has tons of articles, interviews, and other resources. The home page of <> alone is an incredible resource, if you examine it from top to bottom. Click on the journal link, and you’ll find priceless interviews dating back to 1992. There are instructional books and videos as well as the performance CDs. The search-engine for CDs is impressive: a click for merengue and bachata turned up more than 230 available recordings. Try it: you’ll get hooked! And you’ll learn the music’s traditions from many of the very musicians who created them.

It’s also an annotated catalog, meaning that most CD listings include details on the tune titles, sidemen, and whether the recording is folk or jazz or popular music. The selections are affordable and readily available (though I always encourage also taking a list to your local CD store to see what they can order as well—support local business!)

If you find a better source, let me know. The folks at Descarga have their hearts in the right place and never try to squeeze an extra buck out of you. I know musicians all over the world that have relied on them for decades—check ’em out!


            I recall that back when I was in school, there was no Internet. All the charts we played in school seemed to be described as either “Latin” or “Swing,” with no hint of anything further in detail. And we carried rocks to school in our backpacks over the hills—both ways! “Dear Jazzy” is grateful that in these respects, times have changed for the better.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Antonio J. García is a Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he directs the Jazz Orchestra I; instructs Applied Jazz Trombone, Small Jazz Ensemble, Music Industry, and various jazz courses; founded a B.A. Music Business Emphasis (for which he initially served as Coordinator); and directs the Greater Richmond High School Jazz Band. An alumnus of the Eastman School of Music and of Loyola University of the South, he has received commissions for jazz, symphonic, chamber, film, and solo works—instrumental and vocal—including grants from Meet The Composer, The Commission Project, The Thelonious Monk Institute, and regional arts councils. His music has aired internationally and has been performed by such artists as Sheila Jordan, Arturo Sandoval, Jim Pugh, Denis DiBlasio, James Moody, and Nick Brignola. Composition/arrangement honors include IAJE (jazz band), ASCAP (orchestral), and Billboard Magazine (pop songwriting). His works have been published by Kjos Music, Hal Leonard, Kendor Music, Doug Beach Music, ejazzlines, Walrus, UNC Jazz Press, Three-Two Music Publications, and his own, with five recorded on CDs by Rob Parton’s JazzTech Big Band (Sea Breeze and ROPA JAZZ). His scores for independent films have screened across the U.S. and in Italy, Macedonia, Uganda, Australia, Colombia, India, Germany, Brazil, Hong Kong, Mexico, Israel, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

A Bach/Selmer trombone clinician, Mr. García serves as the jazz clinician for The Conn-Selmer Institute. He has freelanced as trombonist, bass trombonist, or pianist with over 70 nationally renowned artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, George Shearing, Mel Tormé, Doc Severinsen, Louie Bellson, Dave Brubeck, and Phil Collins—and has performed at the Montreux, Nice, North Sea, Pori (Finland), New Orleans, and Chicago Jazz Festivals. He has produced recordings or broadcasts of such artists as Wynton Marsalis, Jim Pugh, Dave Taylor, Susannah McCorkle, Sir Roland Hanna, and the JazzTech Big Band and is the bass trombonist on Phil Collins’ CD “A Hot Night in Paris” (Atlantic) and DVD “Phil Collins: Finally...The First Farewell Tour” (Warner Music). An avid scat-singer, he has performed vocally with jazz bands, jazz choirs, and computer-generated sounds. He is also a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS). A New Orleans native, he also performed there with such local artists as Pete Fountain, Ronnie Kole, Irma Thomas, and Al Hirt.

Mr. García is a Research Faculty member at The University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban, South Africa) and the Associate Jazz Editor of the International Trombone Association Journal. He serves as a Network Expert (for Improvisation Materials) for the Jazz Education Network and has served as President’s Advisory Council member and Editorial Advisory Board member. His newest book, Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading (Meredith Music), explores avenues for creating structures that correspond to course objectives. His book Cutting the Changes: Jazz Improvisation via Key Centers (Kjos Music) offers musicians of all ages the opportunity to improvise over standard tunes using just their major scales. He is Co-Editor and Contributing Author of Teaching Jazz: A Course of Study (published by NAfME) and authored a chapter within The Jazzer’s Cookbook (published by Meredith Music). Within the International Association for Jazz Education he served as Editor of the Jazz Education Journal, President of IAJE-IL, International Co-Chair for Curriculum and for Vocal/Instrumental Integration, and Chicago Host Coordinator for the 1997 Conference. He served on the Illinois Coalition for Music Education coordinating committee, worked with the Illinois and Chicago Public Schools to develop standards for multi-cultural music education, and received a curricular grant from the Council for Basic Education. He has also served as Director of IMEA’s All-State Jazz Choir and Combo and of similar ensembles outside of Illinois. He is the recipient of the Illinois Music Educators Association’s 2001 Distinguished Service Award.

Regarding Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading, Darius Brubeck says, "How one grades turns out to be a contentious philosophical problem with a surprisingly wide spectrum of responses. García has produced a lucidly written, probing, analytical, and ultimately practical resource for professional jazz educators, replete with valuable ideas, advice, and copious references." Jamey Aebersold offers, "This book should be mandatory reading for all graduating music ed students." Janis Stockhouse states, "Groundbreaking. The comprehensive amount of material García has gathered from leaders in jazz education is impressive in itself. Plus, the veteran educator then presents his own synthesis of the material into a method of teaching and evaluating jazz improvisation that is fresh, practical, and inspiring!" And Dr. Ron McCurdy suggests, "This method will aid in the quality of teaching and learning of jazz improvisation worldwide."

About Cutting the Changes, saxophonist David Liebman states, “This book is perfect for the beginning to intermediate improviser who may be daunted by the multitude of chord changes found in most standard material. Here is a path through the technical chord-change jungle.” Says vocalist Sunny Wilkinson, “The concept is simple, the explanation detailed, the rewards immediate. It’s very singer-friendly.” Adds jazz-education legend Jamey Aebersold, “Tony’s wealth of jazz knowledge allows you to understand and apply his concepts without having to know a lot of theory and harmony. Cutting the Changes allows music educators to present jazz improvisation to many students who would normally be scared of trying.”

Of his jazz curricular work, Standard of Excellence states: “Antonio García has developed a series of Scope and Sequence of Instruction charts to provide a structure that will ensure academic integrity in jazz education.” Wynton Marsalis emphasizes: “Eight key categories meet the challenge of teaching what is historically an oral and aural tradition. All are important ingredients in the recipe.” The Chicago Tribune has highlighted García’s “splendid solos...virtuosity and musicianship...ingenious scoring...shrewd arrangements...exotic orchestral colors, witty riffs, and gloriously uninhibited splashes of dissonance...translucent textures and elegant voicing” and cited him as “a nationally noted jazz artist/ of the most prominent young music educators in the country.” Down Beat has recognized his “knowing solo work on trombone” and “first-class writing of special interest.” The Jazz Report has written about the “talented trombonist,” and Cadence noted his “hauntingly lovely” composing as well as CD production “recommended without any qualifications whatsoever.” Phil Collins has said simply, “He can be in my band whenever he wants.” García is also the subject of an extensive interview within Bonanza: Insights and Wisdom from Professional Jazz Trombonists (Advance Music), profiled along with such artists as Bill Watrous, Mike Davis, Bill Reichenbach, Wayne Andre, John Fedchock, Conrad Herwig, Steve Turre, Jim Pugh, and Ed Neumeister.

The Secretary of the Board of The Midwest Clinic, Mr. García has adjudicated festivals and presented clinics in Canada, Europe, Australia, The Middle East, and South Africa, including creativity workshops for Motorola, Inc.’s international management executives. The partnership he created between VCU Jazz and the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music at the University of KwaZulu-Natal merited the 2013 VCU Community Engagement Award for Research. He has served as adjudicator for the International Trombone Association’s Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, and Rath Jazz Trombone Scholarship competitions and the Kai Winding Jazz Trombone Ensemble competition and has been asked to serve on Arts Midwest’s “Midwest Jazz Masters” panel and the Virginia Commission for the Arts “Artist Fellowship in Music Composition” panel. He has been repeatedly published in Down Beat; JAZZed; Jazz Improv; Music, Inc.; The International Musician; The Instrumentalist; and the journals of NAfME, IAJE, ITA, American Orff-Schulwerk Association, Percussive Arts Society, Arts Midwest, Illinois Music Educators Association, and Illinois Association of School Boards. Previous to VCU, he served as Associate Professor and Coordinator of Combos at Northwestern University, where he taught jazz and integrated arts, was Jazz Coordinator for the National High School Music Institute, and for four years directed the Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Formerly the Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University, he was selected by students and faculty there as the recipient of a 1992 “Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching” award and nominated as its candidate for 1992 CASE “U.S. Professor of the Year” (one of 434 nationwide). He was recipient of the VCU School of the Arts’ 2015 Faculty Award of Excellence for his teaching, research, and service. Visit his web site at <>.

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