Over the next two weekends, I will find myself in the Midwest, playing concerts with two symphony orchestras. If you happen to live near Chicago or Sioux Center, Iowa, I invite you to come to these performances.
On Sunday, November 5, I will be playing serpent in the Northbrook Symphony in Illinois, in a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony. With today being the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the inclusion of Mendelssohn’s Symphony on this program – a piece that uses Martin Luther’s composition, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, in its finale – is certainly timely. Mendelssohn used the serpent in a number of his works and it is always a pleasure to enter into the woodwind section of an orchestra where I will be sitting next to the contrabassoonist. Mendelssohn understood the unique blending qualities of the serpent and contrabassoon, something that is explained in an article about serpent and contrabassoon acoustics by Dr. Murray Campbell (click this link to read the article).
What makes this concert particularly nice for me is that my oldest daughter, Linda Leonard, is the bass trombonist of the Northbrook Symphony. To share the stage with her, and to play the serpent in Mendelssohn’s great piece, combine to make this concert very special. Visit the Northbrook Symphony website for ticket information.
The process of bringing the new CD, FRATRES, to completion continues at a rapid pace. This new recording, by Gerry Pagano (bass trombonist of the St. Louis Symphony) and me, along with Michael Lake, will be mastered tomorrow by Nathan James at Vault Mastering in Phoenix. I’m very much looking forward to spending the day with Nathan as we create the master disc for replication. I am also at work today arranging for mechanical licenses for the album, so the copyright holders of the compositions we recorded are recognized with a well-deserved royalty payment.
In the meantime, Ben Krueger, our designer, has been at work on the CD packaging. The gratifying level of support we have been getting on our Kickstarter program means we are able to develop enhanced packaging, including an eight page booklet of information about the recording, its music, and performances. Ben is doing an outstanding job with this and I’m very happy to share his evocative cover below:
We’ve titled Ben’s cover image, The West and Its Gateway: The St. Louis Gateway Arch and the East and West Mittens of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona. This recording, that features Gerry – who lives in St. Louis but also lived in Phoenix for several years early in his career – and me – who lives in the foothills of the Sierra Estrella, west of Phoenix, beautifully brings together several important elements and messages in the recording. Ben’s superb work carries through the rest of the CD packaging. More on that soon.
Michael Lake has also put together another video about the project that includes an interview with me about Tommy Pederson – we recorded seven of Tommy’s great duets for bass trombones on the album – as well as some surprises. Have a look at Mike’s newest video about FRATRES (click the video below or click HERE to view the video on YouTube). (You can see Mike’s first video about the project by clicking HERE.
Gerry and I want to say THANK YOU once again to all who have generously supported our vision with FRATRES. If you’re interested in adding your voice to that of many others who are on board with this project, and if you’d like to open your mailbox in a few weeks and find not only a copy of the CD (or a download card) but some “swag” as well, have a look at our Kickstarter page by clicking HERE. There are 13 days left on our campaign. Thank you for partnering with us in this innovative new recording project.
[Drawing of Douglas Yeo by Lennie Peterson. Drawing of Gerry Pagano by an unknown waiter at a New York City restaurant.]
I’ve been researching the use of the trombone in popular culture as a subject for one of the several books I’m working on at this time. I find it fascinating that the trombone, of all instruments, has been used in particular ways that have very little to do with its capabilities as a musical instrument. Rather, the trombone has often been used as a prop – sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, but always interesting. For instance, the trombone has often been used in advertising. Not advertising designed to sell trombones, but advertising to sell other products. Over the years, I’ve collected advertisements that use the trombone to sell beer, cigarettes, cars, tires, record players, and much more. I’ll be writing more about those advertisements down the road.
But of particular interest to me is when manufacturers use the trombone in a physical way, and produce a product you can hold in your hands that features the trombone in a context far removed from the concert stage or band stand.
One of the iconic uses of the trombone in advertising was Douglas the butter man. Lurpak, the Danish brand of butter, used an animated trombone-playing character, Douglas, who got into mischief on the dinner table. In 1985, Douglas was introduced – he was created by Aardman Animations, the creator of the popular Wallace and Gromit claymation films – and his antics were juxtaposed against the voice of British actress Penelope Keith. Douglas appeared in many Lurpak ads before being retired in 2003. Here is a Lurpak ad for butter featuring Douglas (click the video below or HERE to view the video in YouTube):
Several years ago, Lurpak manufactured a coffee/tea mug featuring Douglas and his trombone, along with the commercial’s tag line, “It’s a matter of taste.” As one with the same name as this mischievous butter man, why wouldn’t I have one (actually, two) of these in my studio?
Then there is the professional WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) wrestler Xavier Woods (whose real name is Austin Watson), who has used the trombone as part of his work in and outside the ring identity.
Here is a compilation of some of Woods’ wrestling match moments with his trombone, mostly with his WWE compatriots Big E and Kofi Kingston (click the video below or HERE to view the video on YouTube). This video concludes with a crushing moment when Wood’s trombone is destroyed by Chris Jericho (spoiler alert: yes, it really is broken, and it is a very, very sad moment).
I’m not sure how many people have been inspired to pick up and learn the trombone based on what they hear from Xavier Woods, and I definitely do not recommend using the trombone in or near a wrestling ring. But what trombonist’s studio wouldn’t be complete without an Xavier Woods vinyl figure made by Funko to provide inspiration while practicing,?
In 1972/73, I was a member of the McDonald’s All-American High School Band. It was a big moment for me, to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City and the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, while a senior in high school. Two high school players from every state came together to make a 100 piece marching band and I was one of the players selected from New Jersey. Here’s a photo of me (far right) along with my fellow New Jersey compatriot, Jeff Venho, Rose Parade Grand Marshall, Betty White (yes, THAT Betty White), conductor Paul Lavalle, and Rose Queen Sally Noren.
In the year before I was in the All-American Band (1971), McDonald’s introduced an advertising character, Grimace, an anthropomorphic, cuddly, purple blob. Grimace was used in commercials and he/she/it also began to appear in Happy Meal boxes. One of Grimace’s finest moments was when McDonald’s issued a coffee mug with a musical theme, with a handle that featured Grimace playing trombone.
While we know that the trombone has been with us since around 1460, do we know what the future holds for the instrument? Evidently it will be around at least for another three hundred years since Captain/Commander/Admiral William Thomas Thelonius Riker, Commander of the Starship U.S.S. Titan, has played the trombone on several episodes of Star Trek, The Next Generation. Born in 2335, Riker – who in various episodes has been addressed both as William and, using his middle name, Thomas – graduated from Starfleet Academy in 2357. Whether that is where he got his trombone training is not known, but it’s clear that in this clip, he sometimes uses the trombone to do his talking (click the video below or HERE to view the video in YouTube):
Actor Jonathan Frakes, who plays Riker in the television series, actually DOES play the trombone. It’s gratifying to know that in a world of inter-gallectic technology, the trombone is still going to be with us. And as a reminder, ArtAsylum has made a Captain Riker action figure, and of course it comes complete with his trombone. No trombone studio would be complete without one, yes?
Butter, professional wrestling, fast food, and space travel. Isn’t the trombone just great?
As I mentioned in a previous post on The Last Trombone, my friend, Gerry Pagano (Bass Trombonist of the St. Louis Symphony), and I have recently recorded a compact disc of music for two bass trombones. In this we were assisted by Michael Lake, who not only was the recording engineer for the project, but also contributed superb accompaniments and enhancements to many of the tracks. And he also wrote a piece for the album. And he played alto trombone along with us on three tracks. And a partridge in a pear tree. You get the idea. This new album is a true collaboration between Gerry, Mike, and me, and we believe we have some very interesting, unusual, special, challenging, and inspiring music and performances to bring to life in the coming weeks.
Gerry and I recorded the project in Michael Lake’s studio in Phoenix, Arizona, a place where we could do things that just couldn’t be achieved in a large, live acoustic space. I wrote about this previously so there’s no need to repeat myself here. But we are now moving ahead with the final phases of production of the album that include mastering, design, licensing, manufacturing and distribution. We hope to have the finished product in our hands by the end of this calendar year.
At this time, Gerry and I are reaching out to people who we hope will be interested in supporting our project. FRATRES – Latin for “brothers” – is an album that we hope will inspire others to look at the bass trombone differently. We’ve recorded a wide range of repertoire that spans nearly 600 years. Over his career, Gerry has released four solo albums and I’ve released five. This kind of duet collaboration is something new for us, and something that, in a sense, was 31 years in the making, with the seed of it planted long ago in 1986 when Gerry and I first met and played duets together.
So we have launched a Kickstarter program to invite people who are interested in what we are doing to stand alongside and support our vision for FRATRES. As much as we value your investment in our project – and as you will see when you visit our Kickstarter page, we are offering a number of “thank you” gifts for your support including a digital download of the album, a physical CD copy of the recording, pencils, t-shirt, beer/iced tea glass, and a coffee mug – we are most of all interested in your partnership in our vision.
Michael Lake has also made a video about the project that includes some interviews with Gerry and me, and photos from the session. Gerry and I really appreciate Mike’s many contributions to the project and I think you will catch his excitement about it if you view his video (click below or see it on YouTube by clicking here):
While we were making our recording, we also took some time out of our schedule to record a music video in the desert. Michael Lake’s drone was able to capture both the grandeur of the Arizona landscape and also the fun Gerry and I had in working together. The soundtrack to this video is one of the pieces we recorded for inclusion on our album, Tommy Pederson’s Below 10th Street, with rhythm and Hammond B-3 organ added by Mike (click below or see it on YouTube by clicking here):
Michael Lake has also posted the recording of his new piece, Devils & Angels, that he composed for our album. It’s a compositional tour de force that includes a sophisticated accompaniment to Gerry (left channel) and me (right channel), as well as Mike’s alto trombone improvisation, a section where the three of us are overdubbed in five parts, and some improvisation by me on serpent at the end. Have a listen by clicking here.
With all of this, we hope you are getting a picture of what we’ve been doing and why we’re so excited about getting this project released.
FRATRES. Friends – brothers – working together to make music to share with others. On behalf of Gerry and me, we thank you for your support.
[Drawing of Douglas Yeo by Lennie Peterson. Drawing of Gerry Pagano by an unknown waiter at a New York City restaurant.]