I was trained as a classical musician although I am very grateful my musical life did not fit narrowly into that single stylistic box. I am a firm believer in the value of the pluralistic musical life, whether as a performer or listener. During my long career as bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1985-2012), I was very fortunate to play much of the important canon of western orchestral music that contained trombones: Beethoven (Symphonies 5 and 9), Mozart (he didn’t score for trombones in his symphonies, but I played his Requiem and several operas), all of the symphonies of Brahms, Schumann, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, and Bruckner, the tone poems of Richard Strauss, and so much more. And this I was blessed to do with some of the finest conductors of the twentieth and twenty first centuries—including Leonard Bernstein, Bernard Haitink, Seiji Ozawa, James Levine, Simon Rattle, Sir Colin Davis, and many others—and great soloists—including Mstislav Rostropovich, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Yo-Yo Ma, Jesseye Norman, Evgeny Kissin, Thomas Quasthoff, Gil Shaham, and many others—who inspired me in countless ways.
[Above: My final bow at Symphony Hall as a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, May 2012. Behind me, standing, are concertmaster Malcolm Lowe and conductor Bernard Haitink following a performance of Beethoven Symphony No. 9.]
After graduation from Wheaton College (IL) in 1976—where I studied trombone with Edward Kleinhammer (bass trombonist of the Chicago Symphony from 1940-1985) and I have now come full circle as the College’s trombone professor since fall 2019—my wife and I moved to New York City. There I had a remarkably diverse performing life, playing concerts with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and American Symphony, Broadway shows (many performance of “The King and I” starring Yul Brynner), studio jingles and record sessions, jazz bands (including the Gerry Mulligan Big Band, the Elgart Band, and the Dave Chesky Band), and the Goldman Band, with which I played many concerts under the batons of Richard Franko Goldman and Ainslee Cox.
[Photo above: That’s me, warming up before a concert by the Goldman Band, summer of 1977, at the Guggenheim Bandshell next to the Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center. That summer, by the way, was when the New York City blackout of 1977 occurred on June 13, 1977. I was playing a concert with the Goldman Band at Lincoln Center at the moment the blackout struck. Seriously. But that’s another story. In this photo, sitting next to me, which his back to the camera, is trombonist Fred Braverman. Other members of the band at that time included William Arrowsmith, then principal oboist of the Metropolitan Opera, Abraham Perlstein, who had been the second trombonist of the NBC Symphony, and Bill Barber, tuba, who had played with Miles Davis in the seminal “Birth of the Cool” recording sessions and concerts. I learned a lot from my time playing in the Goldman Band. A. Lot.]
In all of this musical activity in New York City I was a free lancer, and a substitute in groups (apart from the Goldman band where I was a full member for four summer seasons, 1977-1980—six concerts a week for six weeks each summer). From day to day, I didn’t know what kind of music I might playing. The phone would ring, I would accept an engagement, gather up my trombone and bag of mutes, and head off to play. This plurality of musical styles served me well when I joined the Baltimore and then the Boston Symphony Orchestras, where “pops” concerts required me to play credibly in a host of styles.
Some of the richest fruit of my early experience in the jazz and commercial worlds came when I performed the two Bass Trombone Concertos written by my friend, Chris Brubeck, with the Boston Pops Orchestra. Working with Chris was pure joy, as was meeting his father, Dave Brubeck. I played Chris’ first Bass Trombone Concerto several times with the Boston Pops, including a performance of the third movement, “James Brown in the Twilight Zone,” on national television as part of the “Evening at Pops” television show. The photo above shows me performing the Concerto with the Boston Pops in 2011, with Keith Lockhart, conductor (photo by Michael J. Lutch). Susan Stempleski reviewed the concert for classicalsource.com and wrote, in part:
Lockhart introduced Douglas Yeo, bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops orchestras, who delivered a wonderful and lively rendition of “James Brown in the Twilight Zone”, a movement from Chris Brubeck’s jazz-flavored Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra. Yeo’s virtuosic performance electrified the audience. Brubeck was in the audience.
In 1996, I began my exploration into early music, first with serpent, then ophicleide, then the early trombone (often referred to as “sackbut”), buccin (dragon bell trombone), and six-valve trombone. This opened another musical world to me, where I have taken part in performances of music that I would not have ever played on bass trombone. I’ve played serpent on a host of pieces with orchestras (both modern orchestras and early music groups) including Hector Berlioz’s Messe solennelle and Symphonie fantastique, Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5 (Reformation) and Meerestille und glückliche Fahrt overture (Calm Seas and Prosperous Voyage), ophicleide on Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust and Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and early trombone on Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 and L’Orfeo. And I’ve given many recitals that feature serpent, ophicleide, six-valve trombone, and buccin, such as when I gave a concert on nine different instruments in 2015 at the Hamamatsu Museum of Musical Instruments in Hamamatsu, Japan, shown in the photo above.
Today, in this season of life since I retired from the Boston Symphony in 2012, I feel exceptionally blessed to continue to explore playing music in a host of styles, genres, and types of ensembles. Recent months have brought a number of rewarding musical experiences into my orbit. I do not take this for granted, and I am grateful that I continue to get invitations to do interesting things with a trombone (or another instrument) in my hand.
In December 2019, I was in Austin, Texas, taking part in performances of Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio, Elijah. The concerts were organized by George Dupere, Chief Musician of Redeemeer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Austin. I have played this piece many times, both the bass trombone and ophicleide parts, and I never tire of it. Never. The piece is so masterfully composed, and it contains such tremendous drama. This time, I played ophicleide with a fine orchestra including some of our brass section, above (left to right): Jamey Van Zandt, Nathaniel Brickens, and Owen Homayoun, trombones, and Chris Carol and Shelby Lewis, natural trumpets.
Just a few days later, I switched musical gears into the jazz world. I was delighted to be asked to be part of an “all star” brass jazz ensemble that was put together by YAMAHA for the Midwest Clinic, an annual convention held in Chicago. The Clinic features classes and performances over several days, and is one of the largest (the largest?) such events in the world. Our concert featured some terrific Christmas music, including carols arranged for trumpets, horns, trombones, tuba, and rhythm section by Stan Kenton, Ralph Carmichael, Sam Pilafian, JD Shaw, Jose Sibaja, and others. Boston Brass made up the core of the group and our trombone section (shown in performance above) consisted of Wycliffe Gordon, Domingo Pagliuca (of Boston Brass) and me. Great guys; great players. John Wittman conducted (shown in the photo on the right).
The trumpet section? Not a bad lineup, actually. Ha! Actually, this was a remarkable group of some of the greatest trumpet players in the world, shown backstage with me before the concert: Jose Sibaja (Boston Brass), Allen Vizzutti, Wayne Bergeron, (me), Jeff Conner (Boston Brass), Rex Richardson, and Jens Lindeman. Any questions?
It was such a pleasure to work with Wycliffe Gordon once again. He needs no introduction and it’s no secret to say he is one of the finest jazz trombonists of our time, for a long time member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (I first met him at a joint concert between the LCJO and the Boston Symphony Orchestra), and now leader of his own combo. He has more albums out than I can count, and we are simpatico in so many ways. For years I’ve referred to Wycliffe as “my brother from another mother.”
In 2015, Arizona State University hosted Wycliffe for some masterclasses; this happened while I was Professor of Trombone at ASU. I included his trombone ensemble piece, Dear Lord, I Love Thee on our April 2015 concert. Have a look and listen, above (to open this video in YouTube, click HERE). It was really, really great to see and work with Wycliffe again at the Midwest Clinic.
February 2020 brought more fun in a different musical world. My good friend Megumi Kanda—principal trombonist of the Milwaukee Symphony— and I travelled to St. Louis to give a joint recital and masterclass, sponsored by the St. Louis Low Brass Collective (STLLBC). Megumi is a superb player and wonderful person (I often refer to her as “my sister from another mother”), and we have done a number of joint events over the years. We also are authors of books about trombone orchestral excerpts and performance. Published by Encore Music Publishers, the annotated orchestral excerpt books, The One Hundred: Essential Works for the Symphonic Trombonist and The One Hundred: Essential Works for the Symphonic Bass Trombonist. To all of you who are reading this who have made our books part of your library: Thank you! And if you’re interested in the books, just click the links on the titles, above.
We began our masterclass with a duet, a movement of Philipp Telemann’s Canonic Sonata No. 3 that I arranged for inclusion in my book, Trombone Essentials, published by G. Schirmer.
We continued the class by each speaking to the assembled audience and then working with several young players. As you can see from the photos above, Megumi and I tend to be similarly demonstrative when we teach. How about a caption contest?! By the way, I should mention that Megumi is the recipient of the International Trombone Association’s 2020 ITA Award, the Association’s highest honor. She is so deserving of this honor, and it’s a pleasure for me—the 2014 recipient of the ITA Award—to welcome her into this special group of trombonists who have been so honored. I am at work on an article about her to be published later this year in the ITA Journal. Stay tuned; she has quite a story to tell!
Our recital on February 17 featured us playing solos and duets. I even used my six-valve trombone to perform Hector Berlioz’s Orasion funèbre from his Grand symphonie funèbre et triumphale. I want to send a shout out and big thank you to my good friend, Gerry Pagano (bass trombonist of the St. Louis Symphony) and all of those in the STLLBC who made this trip possible.
From a solo and duet recital in St. Louis I came back home to the Chicago area to play chamber music. On February 21, the Wheaton College Artist Series presented a concert that featured the Chicago-based brass quintet, Gaudete Brass, as well as organist Nicole Simental and the combined Wheaton College choral groups, conducted by Jerry Blackstone. The centerpiece of the concert was a performance of Morton Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna. On the first half of the concert, Gaudete Brass performed Ingolf Dahl’s Music for Brass Instruments; Dahl was Lauridsen’s composition teacher at University of Southern California and the piece requires six players. I joined Gaudete Brass as its second trombonist (selfie of me with Gaudete Brass after a rehearsal in Edman Chapel, above).
[Photo above: Gaudete Brass in Adams Art Gallery on the campus of Wheaton College after our performance. (Left to right) Bill Baxtresser (trumpet), Joanna Schulz (horn), Charles Russell Roberts (trumpet), me, Paul Von Hoff (trombone), and Scott Tegge (tuba)
I have played Dahl’s piece on numerous occasions with groups in performances around the world. But I have to say that this collaboration was, to me, particularly special. First, Gaudete Brass is a superb group of musicians. They play at the highest level and it was a joy to work with them; I hope we will do more things together. Nice people, too! Also, the concert was held in Edman Memorial Chapel at Wheaton College, where, as a student there from 1974-1976, I took part in many concerts on that stage. Many memories came flooding back as I played in Edman Chapel with Gaudete Brass. And there was this. . .
In December, Gaudete Brass and I had a rehearsal in the Fine Arts Building, on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. That building has very special meaning for me: it was there, on the ninth floor, that I had my weekly trombone lesson with Edward Kleinhammer (bass trombonist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1940-1985) while I was a student at Wheaton College. I had not been in that building since my last lesson with him in May 1976. Walking through the front doors brought back a flood of memories.
After the rehearsal with Gaudete Brass, I climbed the stairs up to the ninth floor, to once again walk down that long hallway (which has not changed a bit since 1976) and stand in front of room 918 where Mr. Kleinhammer had his studio. As I stood there, I reflected on how those lessons impacted me in so many ways. I could not go in the room this time, but I remember every detail of that small space: two chairs, two music stands, a table for music, and a sink (the bathroom is down the hall). This photo, below, shows the two of us after my last lesson in room 918 in 1976:
In that room my life was changed. If you did not see it earlier, click HERE to read the photo essay/tribute I wrote about him last year on what would have been his 100th birthday. He was a remarkable man.
And there is more to come. While my planned trip to Seattle to be guest soloist this weekend at the Northwest Band Festival was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak in Seattle, my calendar is full of other events in the coming months, including masterclasses at Interlochen Arts Academy and the Csehy Summer School of Music, performances with the Finnish National Radio Orchestra in Helsinki and Japan (unless the coronavirus has something to say about that trip), teaching at the Pokorny Seminar—hosted by Chicago Symphony tubist, Gene Pokorny—and teaching at the Wheaton College Summer Music Camp. Details may be found on the schedule page on my website, yeodoug.com.
[Header photo: Boston Symphony Orchestra, Bernard Haitink, conductor. My final performance in Symphony Hall as a member of the Boston Symphony, May 9, 2012; Beethoven Symphony No. 9. Photo by Stu Rosner; courtesy the Boston Symphony Orchestra.]