While virtually everyone can recognize a trombone, relatively few can name somebody who is celebrated as a performer on the instrument. Appreciated as reliable and necessary support musicians, trombonists are nonetheless viewed as sidemen whose purpose is to back up those who command center stage. This unfortunate reality is all the more regrettable since so many trombonists, living and dead, have by their virtuosity immeasurably advanced the performance and appreciation of music.
Most trombonists play a variety of styles in a multiplicity of settings. Still, a few have made their reputations in the world’s finest orchestras. Joseph Alessi, for instance, made his mark as the principal trombone player for the New York Philharmonic. He got the International Trombone Association award for his instrumental mastery. In addition to his orchestral duties, Alessi distinguished himself as an educator and soloist. Toby Oft's was the veteran trombonist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2011. Prior to the BSO, Oft had played with several American orchestras and taught numerous master classes. The Los Angeles Philharmonic has featured James Miller as its primary trombonist. A professional composer, Miller has an eclectic musical background, having backed up popular artists like Michael Buble.
Concert Band Trombonists
Concert bands, or brass bands, are now more common in high schools and colleges than in professional circles. When they dominated the professional musical scene, their trombone sections boasted some of the best musicians to be found. One such performer was Arthur Pryor, who played for the legendary John Phillip Sousa. Pryor possessed an enviable technique and an agility that rivaled woodwind players. This was, and is, no small feat for a trombone player. In fact, Sousa would feature Pryor in rapid, wildly fluctuating solos just to show him off. Pryor also served as Sousa’s conducting understudy. Nick Hudson followed in Pryor's footsteps. Beginning with the Salvation Army bands in the United Kingdom, Hudson played in many brass bands throughout Great Britain and the United States. As of 2011 he was well known in trombone circles for his technical facility.
A discussion of great jazz trombonists has to begin with a tip of the hat to Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey. Although they were first rate trombone players on their own, they each led big bands that broke ground during the swing era of the 1930s and 40s with arrangements of unique instrumentation. As jazz took on a more progressive quality, Frank Rosolino became the trombonist that represented the new age. Rosolino, who spent much of his career with the innovative Stan Kenton orchestra, recorded numerous albums that cemented Kenton’s contribution to the jazz world. Rosolino also performed with Quincy Jones. Bill Watrous' playing was marked by a smooth tone and a remarkably agile technique. After founding his own big band in the '70s, Watrous developed a reputation for making unusual sounds with his instrument. These distinct sounds became trademarks of his solos and improvisations.
The ranks of rock trombone players are admittedly thin. However, some musicians have liberated themselves from the rules of the other musical genres. Bonerama is a group of trombonists brought together in the late '90s by Mark Mullins and Craig Klein. Bonerama advertises its style as “New Orleans Brass Funk Rock.” Basically a travelling jam session, in 2005 "Rolling Stone" magazine praised Bonerama for its cutting edge style.