Yesterday’s Music History Monday post featured the trumpet, trombone, and flugelhorn virtuoso Mic Gillette (1951-2016). In fact, Gillette could play virtually all modern brass instruments, and though he was primarily known as a trumpet player, he was an outstanding trombonist as well.
(Gillette was known to switch instantly and effortlessly, back-and-forth, between the trumpet and trombone. This might not sound like a big deal to most of us, but for brass players it was – literally! – breath taking. In terms of the nature of the embouchure required, the size and shape of the mouth pieces, and playing technique, the trumpet and trombone are two very different instruments.)
(BTW: for those intrepid trombone aficionados out there, I’d refer you to my Instrumental Outliers post for March 25, 2021, which focused on the magnificent, kidney-rattling contrabass and subcontrabass trombones.)
Back, please, to Mick Gillette and his “bipolar/bi-instrumental” personality.
The people who play the trumpet and the trombone are usually as different from each other as the instruments they play. In an orchestra, the flutes, first violins, and trumpets are considered the “glamor” instruments because they are on top and as such, we can always hear them. Likewise, the fine people who play the flutes, first violins, and trumpets in an orchestra consider themselves to be the “glamor elite” of the orchestra. It is my experience that as often as not, they are indeed relatively glamorous people, certainly relative to the people who play trombone.
Fairly or unfairly, the trombones and the people who play them are considered by many of their colleagues to be the mouth breathing/knuckle-walkers of the orchestra. (An unfair stereotype? Maybe. Sort of. Perhaps. Kind of. But as a former/lapsed trombonist, I can attest to the fact that it is a stereotype – particularly among young trombonists – that’s more accurate than not.)
Next time you have the opportunity, tiptoe up to a flute player or first violinist and whisper “low brass” in their ear. They will involuntarily cringe and scan the room for “exit” signs.
The fearsome reputation of the low brass – the trombones, baritone, and tuba – derives primarily from the trombones and the people who play them. As a group, trombone players can be a pretty wild bunch, what with their big horns and slide oil and spit valves and their Homer Simpson beer bottle openers dangling from their belts; and that’s just the women. And yet, there is no sound on the planet as rich, powerful, or as viscerally moving as that of trombones playing singly or together.…
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