If you were born in the early decades of the 20th century, you might have heard Glenn Miller’s In the Mood, and you might have swayed to its sound. In fact, it is included as one of the 20th century’s 100 Most Important American Musical Works. Sun Valley Serenade, a movie, and in Doctor Who, a British science-fiction series featured this jazz standard. It also got inducted into the Hall of Fame of Grammy in 1983. If you listen to this composition, you will readily notice the excellent accent riffs added by trombones to this jazz standard.
The trombone, of course, is one of the most powerful and most profound symphonic instruments. Whether you hear it playing in a symphony, brass ensemble, concert band, marching band, or jazz band, you will always enjoy its sound. It is also worth studying, and if you are desirous of mastering the trombone, you might as well learn about the trombone legends who made their marks in the music scene.
List of Famous Trombone Players
The trombone may not be the easiest instrument to play, but many exceptional trombonists have etched their names in the annals of music and became famous for playing trombone. The following are the greatest trombonists of all time:
J.J Johnson or James Louis Johnson was born on January 22, 1924. He was a jazz trombonist, arranger, and composer. He was considered one of the first trombonists to dabble in bebop. As a child, he first studied the piano. Then, when he was 14 years of age, he switched to trombone.
He started his career professionally with Clarence Love and also played in 1942 with Snookum Russell. He also got acquainted with Fats Navarro, a trumpeter in his band, who persuaded him to play like Lester Young, a saxophonist.
J.J Johnson then played between 1942 and 1945 in Benny Carter’s orchestra. He also made his recordings (first) in 1943 with Love for Sale as his first solo. He joined count Basie’s big band and toured and recorded with him up to 1946. He left Basie and played with small bebop bands in 1946. Then, he toured with Illinois Jacquet in 1947. He also started recording during this period.
Johnson’s composition had become popular, and he built up an image as a well-known composer. Yet, despite being known as a composer, his passion for the trombone did not wane. Among the great trombonists, J.J Johnson’s name will always be included.
Tommy Dorsey or Thomas Francis Dorsey Jr. was born on November 19, 1905. He was a composer, conductor, bandleader, and an American jazz trombonist. Tagged as the Sentimental Gentleman of Swing, Dorsey could play the trombone smoothly.
He became more renowned for his technical skill in playing trombone than his other skills. Moreover, he is best remembered for jazz standards like Song of India, Marie, On Treasure Island, Opus One, and his most significant hit, I’ll Never Smile Again. Tommy Dorsey had in his belt around 286 Billboard chart hits. The Dorsey band, likewise, had 17 Number One hits.
I’ll Never Smile Again, which featured Frank Sinatra on vocals, stayed at Number One for 12 weeks on the Single Pop Chart of Billboard in 1940. The legacy left by Dorsey is enormous. Unfortunately, Tommy Dorsey’s materials were among those said to be destroyed in the fire of 2008 at the Universal Studios Hollywood.
Glenn Miller was born Alton Glenn Miller on March 1, 1904. He was a Big band Trombonist, composer, arranger, and bandleader during the swing era. He was then the best-selling recording artist between 1938 and 1943 and led one of the well-known big bands during those times.
Her popular recordings include In the Mood, Moonlight Serenade, Chattanooga Choo Choo, Pennsylvania, String of Pearls, and many more. He scored 16 number one records in only four years and 69 top ten hits, better than Elvis Presley’s 38 and Beatle’s 33 top 10s.
However, his career was cut short when the plane that carries him disappeared while flying across the English Channel. Nevertheless, the list of great trombonists will never be complete without including the name of Glenn Miller.
Another well-known trombonist is Arthur Willard Pryor. He was born on September 22, 1869. He was virtuoso, trombonist, soloist, and bandleader of the Sousa Band. He is also a prolific songwriter of band music. His first solo was played with the Sousa Band.
In his estimate, he said he played more than 10,000 solos. In 1992, he disassociated himself from the Sousa band and reorganized the Pryor band.
He left a legacy of around 300 works that included marches, tone poems, novelties, and three light operas. He is undoubtedly a sure shoo-in among the trombonist greats.
Kai Winding or Kai Chresten Winding was born on May 18, 1922. He was a Danish-born trombonist and jazz composer. Moreover, he was noted for his collaborations with James Louis Johnson. He began his professional career as a trombonist when he joined Shorty Allen’s band.
He played with Alvino Rey and Sonny Dunham until he joined the United States Coast Guard during the war. After World War II, he joined the Benny Goodman’s orchestra. Afterward, he joined Stan Kenton’s. Kai is known for his indulgent practices day-in and day out to improve his skills, and he was successful in raising his trombone playing skill a notch higher.
Kai was renowned for his superb tone and great improvisational style. He also composed several jazz charts. During the heyday of his career, he was considered one of the most well-known trombonists.
Christian Lindberg is a well-known Swedish trombonist, conductor, and composer. He obtained a professional position at the Royal Swedish Opera Orchestra by the age of 18. He then left his orchestra career to focus on his study to become a soloist (full-time).
In 2017, he rendered his 100th concerto premiere (trombone). Since 2016, he has held the music director and conductor position at the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra. He is also the current Arctic Philharmonic Orchestra’s principal conductor.
Christian Lindberg is noteworthy for his desire to study and perform the great music pieces exclusively written for the trombone.
Carl Fontana was born on July 18, 1928. He was a famous American jazz trombonist who dedicated his career to playing music in Las Vegas, Nevada. He played with the bands of Woody Herman, Stand Kenton, and Lionel Hampton. He also played with many famous personalities like Sammy Davis Jr., Paul Anka, Wayne Newton, Tony Bennett, and Benny Goodman’s band.
He got, in 1951, his first break when he performed with Woody Herman’s band in the absence of one of his regular trombonists. Fontana recorded live in 1978 at Donte’s, North Hollywood.
Carl Fontana was a master of the doodle-tonguing technique, which he showcased in his solos like the Strike up the Band and I got Rhythm. He is best regarded for his improvisational styles and is noted for his collaboration with other famous artists.
Ian Bousfield was born on February 16, 1964, in York, UK. He was the Principal Trombonist with the London Symphony, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and Hallé Orchestra. He is a pedagogue likewise, being an instructor in Hochschule der Künste’s music division in Bern, Switzerland.
In 1979, Bousfield got the distinction of being the youngest winner of the Shell/London Symphony Orchestra Music Scholarship in 1979. He joined the European Union Youth Orchestra in 1980 and spent a couple of years under Claudio Abbado.
Bousfield studied for six months at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Afterward, he got appointed as the Principal Trombone in March 1983 at the Halle Orchestra. He then got appointed as the principal trombone of the London Symphony Orchestra. In 1999, Bousfield became Vienna State Opera’s principal trombonist. No doubt, Bousfield deserves a place among the greatest and famous trombonists of all time.
Frank Rosolino was born in 1926. He was a jazz trombonist who was born in Detroit, Michigan. He first studied guitar under his father’s insinuation but soon shifted to trombone at 14. He played then with Milt Jackson in a small group and stage band.
Frank Rosolino joined the army band during World War II. He performed in the Bluebird and Mirror Ballroom with other musicians after returning from war. He also performed with Glen Gray, Bob Chester, Tony pastor, and many others with big bands.
He then moved to Los Angeles and performed with the Lighthouse All-Stars of Howard Rumsey in Hermosa Beach. From the 1960s to 1970s, he collaborated with notable artists like Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and many more. In the 1970s, he toured with the Supersax and Quincy Jones.
Wycliffe Gordon was born on May 29, 1967. He is an American composer, jazz trombonist, bandleader, arranger, and music educator. He is a versatile artist who could play the didgeridoo, tuba, trumpet, and piano. He is also fondly called Pinecone.
He first worked with Wynton Marsalis as a professional but expanded his repertoire to include new instruments and music genres like Gospel music. He gained worldwide fame when he was featured in 2016 and 2017’s Generations in Jazz of South Australia, wherein he played with James Morrison, Gordon Goodwin, Jazzmeia Horn, and Ross Irwin.
He also collaborated with Ligel Lambert, an educator and a visual artist, in several works. Gordon founded the Blues Back Records in 2006 while he also released his album Rhythm on My Mind. He surely deserves to be mentioned among the great trombonists.
Suppose you are aching to focus your time and energy on learning the trombone; it will indeed help to be familiar with the above-mentioned great trombonists who paved the way for this instrument’s popularity. They could serve as an inspiration for you whenever you are losing your enthusiasm to learn further.
One thing is necessary if you want to become a great trombonist, i.e., you need to practice regularly. You should also increase your lung capacity because you will need enough air to play the trombone well. Moreover, you should have that burning desire to raise your playing skill a notch higher by learning new pieces.