The trombone in popular culture

The trombone in popular culture

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):

Douglas plays trombone again in this commercial for Lurpak cheese spread (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?

Lurpak_Douglas_trombone_mug

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,?

Xavier_Woods_trombone

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.

yeo_mcdonalds_rose_parade_1973_small

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.

Grimace_McDonalds_trombone_mug

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, although in this episode clip below it is the great jazz trombonist Bill Watrous whose sound was dubbed in for Riker’s smooth, jazz sound (click the video below or HERE to view the video in YouTube):

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?

Riker_Star_Trek_trombone

Butter, professional wrestling, fast food, and space travel. Isn’t the trombone just great?