This article is copyright 2013 by Antonio J. García and originally was published in the International Trombone Association Journal, Vol. 41, No. 2, April 2013. 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 II:

Top Tips for Jazz Trombonists—and Others!

by Antonio J. García

Associate Jazz Editor, ITA Journal


The July 2008 edition of the ITA Journal (Vol. 36, No. 3) brought the debut of “‘Dear Jazzy’ The Answer-Bone, Part I: Top Tips for Jazz Trombonists—and Others!” I’d noted then and still find now that “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: Can I say “my groove bites” in your periodical? Well, it does. I have a metronome, but it doesn’t seem to be getting me anywhere. Any tips? —Time-Taunted in Tunisia.

Dear Taunted: Have you turned the metronome on? OK, not funny. But seriously, owning a metronome won’t improve your time unless you use it in a way that will test you.
            Rather than setting the metronome on, say, beats 2 and 4 all day, set it to allow you more space between beats so that you’re really practicing! If you don’t leave sufficient room to mess up, you’re not practicing your internal sense of time: you’re just following the metronome’s.
            Explore the kind of exercises found within “Improve Your Groove,” School Band and Orchestra, Vol. 2, No. 8, October 1999.
            Oh, and if the swing groove is your nemesis, some YouTube-viewing wouldn’t hurt you, either. After all, it was said that Ellington would not hire musicians who could not dance (not that he tested them). And he befriended dancers who would assist his perspective in setting the ideal tempo, among them the legendary Frankie Manning. See Manning in 1941 at <>. He’s in the fourth and final featured swing-dance couple. And then see him in the 1980s at <>.
            For Afro-Cuban groove, I found an interesting link made primarily for dancers at <>. Click on the Beat Machine link to hear an auto-created beat. But by clicking on various parts of the mixer, you can alter the volume of any instrument, whether it's 2-3 or 3-2 clave, son clave or rumba, the key and tempo. You can show the piano keys and slow down the tempo to learn its montuno pattern visually. (This is now also an iPhone app.) The site’s blog offers yet more options. On my Android and iPhone platforms I have “Salsa Festival Anywhere,” which offers not only dance videos but visual explanations of clave and the like with which you can tap along on the phone.
            To make your playing groove, move to the groove. Or, if you’re not going to move to the groove, at least be aware of it! And for a demonstration of the ground beats of so many styles, check out “Where’s the Beat?”(published by JAZZed magazine, Vol. 2, No. 2, December 2007/January 2008 and Vol. 3, No. 2, March 2008). It includes over 30 visual and audio examples for you to explore online.

Dear Jazzy: My phrasing of short notes in swing seems to attract all the wrong attention. People say I sound “old school.” What’s going on? —Frazzled Phrasing in Phoenix.

Dear Frazzled: When reading a jazz chart, a short articulation might have been marked in the score and parts. However, “short” in jazz styles rarely means as short as when marked in classical or marching notations (unless intended extremely clipped as a special effect). The same applies to short notes in swing.
The default length of a short quarter note in medium swing, for example, is approximately two-thirds of a beat. This was defined by Louis Armstrong, who in the mid-1920s revolutionized short articulations in a way no one else (including his idol, King Oliver) had done. Because Louis could scat what he played and play what he scatted, he naturally made no notes shorter than they could effectively carry a syllable or lyric—for which two-thirds of a beat is pretty ideal for a short note. If you listen to just about any jazz vocalist sing these days, that’s what you’ll hear; and it’s the model for the instrumentalists as well.
The second rationale, whether Armstrong knew it consciously or not at first, is that the two-thirds ratio then leaves one-third silence at the end of the beat—approximating the two-thirds vs. one-third generalized “triplet” ratio of swing eighth-notes. Thus Armstrong single-handedly invented “swinging quarter notes” (that implied a “ghosted” eighth note on the backbeat), whereas his predecessors and peers had only played “swing eighth notes” and clipped quarter notes. He changed the sound of jazz and remains the short-articulation model even now, some 90 years later.
If you would like to dive more deeply into this and related aspects of swing articulation, you are welcome to visit the article “Learning Swing Feel, or How to Sculpt an Elephant” (ITA Journal, April 2006, Vol. 34, No. 2).

On the Line
Dear Jazzy: “Frazzled”’s problem was short quarter notes; mine is swing eighths! I thought swing eighths were supposed to be triplety, but my lines feel like really hard work. And recently, as a composer using computer-notation software, I’ve realized that I swing only about as well as my computer—and that’s not saying much! What’s wrong? —Triplet in Tremont.

Dear Triplet: I know where you’re coming from. At <>. click on “Example 2” at the upper left and listen to the examples. You should be able to hear the variance of triplet and accent that I’ve programmed into my computer-notation program here. As a human musician, you should of course be able to create the same variations of interpretation: some will swing more, some less. You have to find and fit the style.
            Since you write using notation software, you should try this exercise: teach your program how to swing better. Make a sample phrase—maybe four bars long—swing more by altering the MIDI playback settings for accents and backbeats. I’ll use Finale as an example, though doubtless you could accomplish similar using Sibelius or other software:

·      Open or make a file that has some eighths in it. In the Playback Controls, set Human Playback Style to “None.” Make sure “Swing” is set to “0.” Play the measure back to ensure it has a straight-eighth feel.

·      Select the MIDI Tool in the menu bar.

·      Select one or more bars of the music.

·      In the MIDI Tool menu above (not the MIDI/Audio menu), select Note Durations.

·      In the MIDI Tool menu again, select Alter Feel. Click on the button for “Absolute” if not already selected. Tab to Backbeats. Enter “120.” This yields a very triplety feel. After listening to it a couple of times, go to Edit and Undo that action. Replay the measure(s) to check that it has been restored to its original, straight-eighth feel.

·      In the MIDI Tool menu again, select Alter Feel. Tab to Backbeats. Enter “30.” This yields a barely swinging feel. After listening to it a couple of times, go to Edit and Undo that action. Replay the measure(s) to check that it has been restored to its original, straight-eighth feel.

·      Experiment and find the MIDI value that yields the best swing feel possible. You’re closer to finding swing!

·      Now, go back to the music and add a couple of well-placed accents and, on a quarter-note, a staccato.

·      Click on one of the accents in the bar. This prompts a box from which you can alter the Playback Effect. Change the Key Velocity to a percentage (in both the Top and Bottom Note Values) that yields an appropriate accent amount for swing passages (usually less than default). Play the passage back; re-enter the box and change as needed. The change affects every accent in the piece.

·      Click on one of the staccatos in the bar. This prompts a box from which you can alter the Playback Effect. Change the Duration to a percentage (in both the Top and Bottom Note Values) that yields an appropriate accent amount for swing passages (usually considerably more than the default). Play the passage back; re-enter the box and change as needed. The change affects every staccato in the piece. Remember that goal of two-thirds of a beat!

One of my favorite episodes of the classic “The Muppet Show” was when guest Dudley Moore’s character had arrived to replace the Muppet band with a machine that could perform instead: the band was fired. And one Muppet, pianist "Dr. Teeth" stated, It ain’t got that swing when it’s played by a thing!’” (See October 20, 1979 episode at 9'40" in.) So true. But the more you know about how to get a computer to swing, the more you will know about your own elements of swing.

Dear Jazzy: I don’t seem to be having any trouble starting my solo phrases off with good ideas, but then I regularly lose focus. It seems like my solo lines just wander on. Can you get me on track? —Wandering in Wichita.

Dear Wandering: You need to focus more on how you end your improv lines. That can get away from us; but consider: when you listen to someone else create a long solo line of, say, three or four or more bars, do you remember how that line started? Or mostly just how it ended? It’s the endings that grab us. So if your endings aren’t consistently well-delivered, unfortunately no one is remembering how great your beginnings were, four bars ago. You’ve got to follow through to the end.
            Focusing on the start of lines is a critical step, and so is developing the line. It sounds to me as though you’ve already gotten a good grip on those—bravo! Now focus on how you end lines. Make them mean something, not just “stopping.”
How else to work on that besides your own practice? Transcribe the ends of solo lines of a dozen great solos or soloists. It’ll make you pretty humble pretty quick: all that artistry tied up in a closing moment of spontaneity. Inspiring! Steal from the masters. When I was your age in college one of my big breaks was playing over 50 shows with Ella Fitzgerald, Keeter Betts, Paul Smith, and Mickey Roker (or Bobby Durham). Ella never throws away a line in her solos: she always ties things up clearly. That made quite an impression on me when I was 19.

Down Low
Dear Jazzy: I’m getting started on the bass trombone after years on the tenor. But I don’t want to give up the tenor. Can I really play both? —Low in Los Angeles.

Dear Low: Absolutely! Now I have to say that intelligent people can disagree about the best approach. Some people suggest using a similar mouthpiece on each, the thought being that you’ll apply your current embouchure muscles; others suggest using very different mouthpieces for these two instruments.
My own recommendation is to use the right equipment for each of the two jobs. Most tenor-players will not have the endurance to play long performances on a bigger mouthpiece; most bass-players cannot generate a suitably round sound on a smaller mouthpiece. I say: play each instrument with the mouthpiece that best facilitates your best sound on that one horn. Have no worries if your tenor mouthpiece is small and your bass ‘piece a “bathtub.”
Work on playing any melody down an octave or so. Pick fairly simple tunes: nursery rhymes, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” Beatles tunes, etc., and go for great phrasing.
            Spend some time tuning your fifths and octaves. For example, play low (non-pedal) A, then D in the staff, then the A again, then trigger D; and get them tuned up. Work them legato; work them marcato. Soft, or loud. Then do the exercise down a half step. When ready, down another half-step. Keep going!
            Lastly (though there’s tons more), I’m a big fan of buzzing accurately on the mouthpiece, whether on tenor or bass. Work on buzzing the pitches you’re shooting for. Start mid-range, and fan out in either direction. As you may know, our instrument and most others operate on the principle of sympathetic vibration: the more resonant our buzz, the more the pipe—extended to the proper frequency by the slide—will in turn resonate. Inaccurate buzz = less resonant horn!
            There are thousands of wonderful resources available for your bass growth. I encourage you to spend some time on the famed Bach Cello Suites—taking the time to listen to some great cellists play them! The Suites are a great way to explore your sound. When you’re ready to prep for jazz, pop, and funk lines typical of bass bone parts in shows and jazz bands, check out The Non-Classic Bass Trombone, a book/CD by Eliezer Aharoni that I’ve reviewed for the ITAJ. And if you have independent triggers, have a look at his earlier, text, New Method for the Modern Bass Trombone.
            Since your goal is to be accomplished on both horns, you’ll have to carve out regular practice time on both. But even when you can’t, you can be sure to spend a few minutes playing higher-range passages on your bass or lower-range pedals on your tenor. Every little bit helps!

Role Models
Dear Jazzy: As a young woman playing the trombone, I’m having trouble finding female jazz trombonists to follow as examples of jazz performing styles and related careers. Can you help me? —Alone in East Helena.

Dear Alone: You’re not alone. Even back in the 1920s and ’30s “all-women” bands that were popular as a novelty included marvelous musicians. Google “The International Sweethearts of Rhythm” to see and hear some trailblazers, including trombonist Helen Jones Woods.
These days you can check out the band DIVA (<>), where you’ll always find jazz trombone mentors of the quality such as Deborah Weisz, Jennifer Krupa, Sara Jacovino, and bass trombonist Leslie Havens passing through the ranks. Jennifer’s also an example of a woman with a jazz career in the military: she’s a member of the United States Navy Band Commodores Jazz Ensemble and a terrific clinician. These women are no novelty!
The late Melba Liston was a pioneer as a jazz trombonist, arranger, and teacher, achieving greatness in all those categories, including working with Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Oliver Nelson, Quincy Jones, and Randy Weston. Virtually every city or region has its own trailblazing women on the trombone. One of the current generation of players is Sarah Morrow (<>), whose credits include Ray Charles, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and Dee Dee Bridgewater. She focuses a lot on Europe. An example in the United Kingdom would be veteran Annie Whitehead (<>), whose recording career has spanned from Elvis Costello to Carla Bley to Dr. John.
The Chicago area is home to Audrey Morrison (<>, a gifted player in jazz and classical. Right there in Montana you have M.J. Williams, an established veteran musician who plays, sings, leads her own band, has performed and recorded in Paris, and is co-founder of the Montana Artists Refuge (<>). And trust me: there are many, many more female jazz trombonists out there whom I’ve left off of the short list above. I’ve no intention to offend by omission. Bravo to all the women jazz posaunists!

Fresh Steps
Dear Jazzy: I need a few fresh angles to shake up my concept of improvisation. Can you offer me some exercises that will put things in a different light? —Shakin’ in Sheboygan.

Dear Shakin’: Not knowing what you’ve tried recently yourself, I might suggest the following. Can you:

To quote Oscar Hammerstein II (and Julie Andrews), these are a few of my favorite things!

Dear Jazzy: I can’t seem to bring myself to enjoy my performances and those of the ensembles I’m in. All I can think of are all the things that went wrong in my playing or how the group wasn’t as expressive as we could have been. Should I seek counseling? —Dejected in Rio de Janeiro.

Dear Dejected: Many trombonists have. But regardless, here is a tale that assisted me at a time I had found myself faced with the same frustration.
            In Steppenwolf, a novel by Hermann Hesse (1929), the main character has a dream in which the ghost of Mozart appeared, producing a radio that was broadcasting a Handel concerto in horribly tinny fidelity. Our hero protested the crudeness of the sound: “What are you doing, Mozart? Do you really mean to inflict this mess on me and yourself....?”
And Mozart replied: “Just listen, you poor creature, listen without either pathos or mockery, while far away behind the veil of this hopelessly idiotic and ridiculous apparatus the form of this divine music passes by. Pay attention and you will learn something.... It cannot destroy the original spirit of the music.... Better learn to listen first! Learn what is to be taken seriously and laugh at the rest.”1
And so, even when a performance does not go as well as planned, learn from the music—and revel in the joy and intent of the original composition! After all, if we’re never going to enjoy performing until everything goes perfectly, what’s the fun in learning, much less performing?

Hesse, Hermann. Steppenwolf. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1979, pp. 241-243.

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

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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