Bob Brookmeyer (1929-2011) - JazzWax

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December 17, 2011


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Perhaps the most distinctive quality of the valve trombone is that it is more amenable to precise intonation and discourages the heavy use of portamento. To me it sounds less like a french horn/slide trombone cross than a sort of tenor flugelhorn.
Some of Bob's most adventurous writing can be found on his albums with a European big band called the New Art Orchestra.

T.K. Tortch

[i]Trombones sit in the middle and develop an interior life [laughs].[/i]

Ha!! I would have hired him for my band to be the resident sidelong wiseacre.

Brookmeyer I had never heard of until I bought an old LP, "Jazz Reunion", that was the reunion being between Coleman Hawkins and Pee Wee Russell. I was sort of surprised thereafter to find him as such a mainstay sideman and leader with "Cool School" musicians. Then later, harmonically, I figured it out; the element of group polyphony in early jazz that didn't really make it past the Swing era into orthodox Bebop persisted in Cool Jazz.

Ray Accardi

Thank you Bob for your Music....


One of my favorite Brookmeyer discs is titled "Impulsive" with Eliane Elias and the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra. His compositions and arrangements for big bands in his later years were superb. Another great artist leaves us and goes to a better place. Let's see, who is still here? There's Sonny and Phil and........


That is a classic line...'Trombones sit in the middle and develop an interior life'! He was one of kind. I loved his playing with Gerry Mulligan. You wouldn't think it would work...two horns in the same register with no piano. But, they fit together like bread and butter. They had a great Dixieland feel to the contrapuntal sections of their 'arrangements'.


After Chet came Art, then Bob in Gerry's Quartet. Playing dixieland on a valve-trombone might be an impossible thing. As Don wrote above: Bob gave it a shot; before him was Juan Tizol in Duke Ellington's Orchestra.

I've heard his very modern, very advanced mixed-with-electronics line-writing for the WDR big band, featuring Mel Lewis in Cologne's music college in the late 1980's.

The orchestra had clearly reached its limits with such complicated charts. Since I wasn't not yet educated too well then, musically spoken, I had no real idea of what was going on. It was a tough listening experience for a youngster who expected to hear "cool" jazz ;)

As I have learned above and at Doug's blog, Bob had a dry sense of humor, and talked about his modern music that it “could make your teeth hurt.”

This quote speaks for itself, and so I can only add:

R.I.P. Bob Brookmeyer, and thanks for the exceptional, outstanding sounds of your music.

Chris Darkheart

I find it interesting that with the exception of Mr. Brookmeyer himself, the valve trombone has pretty much disappeared after the 50s. It seems like it was quite a trend for a while for trumpeters to double on the instrument for a while, but then it practically disappeared. Does anyone know of any "later" or contemporary valve trombone players?

Carlita Kaunda

You mentioned Bob's "Traditionalism Revisited" from 1957 - that's another good place to hear his excellent piano playing as well.

Bill Kirchner

To answer a couple of questions above:

1) Brad Gowans played Dixieland valve trombone quite effectively in the 1940s.

2) Other skilled valve players and contemporaries of Bob's were Bob Enevoldsen and Maynard Ferguson. Some "later" valve trombonists included the late Rob McConnell and three trumpeters who doubled on it quite effectively: Stu Williamson, Claudio Roditi, and Vaughn Nark.
There's also Mike Fahn, currently in NYC. Also Ed Byrne, whom I haven't heard about in many years.


To Bill's list above, one could add Marshall Brown who played Dixieland (with George Wein's Newport All-Stars among others) to modern (with Lee Konitz among others) and whose recordings with Pee Wee Russell sort of bridged the gap. He was a somewhat controversial player, though this may have had as much to do with his personality as his musical talents.

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of 55 More Songs," "Anatomy of a Song," "Rock Concert: An Oral History" and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax has won three Jazz Journalists Association awards.
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