Wednesday, June 29, 2011

International Trombone Festival 2011

Now that makes the trombone sound really important, doesn't it? A lot of people probably don't even know what a trombone is, or have a vague idea, like holding one hand up to their mouth and moving the other one in and out, in and out, miming moving the slide back and forth. I played a touring show for about five years, a recreation of an 1890s era town band called "Mr. Jack Daniel's Original Silver Cornet Band." One of my favorite lines from the show was, "...after all, what's a circus without a couple of clowns and a couple of trombones." The versatile trombone sound can portray the clown, the villain, the hero, or just about anything else in music, depending on how it is played or how it is written for.

One thing the trombone is, is important to those of us who play it. Thus hundreds of trombonists from all around the world turned up in Nashville, Tennessee last week for the ITF. The festival ran for four days of solo and ensemble concerts, competitions, lectures and demonstrations, and even a panel discussion of the history of the festival, which was started in Nashville more than thirty years ago by one Henry Romersa, then the trombone instructor at Vanderbilt University. Instrument and accessory manufacturers and vendors set up booths to show, and hopefully sell their wares in two exceedingly noisy venues, with players young and old, good and bad, creating an ear-splitting din. This year the fest returned to Nashville for the first time in thirty years and was held at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt. In attendance were such luminaries as Joseph Alessi, Principal Trombonist of the New York Philharmonic, and Dr. John Marcellus, Professor of Trombone at Eastman School of Music. Representatives of the jazz world included the legendary Bill Watrous and Wycliffe Gordon.

My intention was to attend as a "fly on the wall" to observe and root for two former students who were participating, one as a student finalist in a solo competiton, and one as an instructor with students participating as solo and ensemble competitors. But somehow the word got out that I would be in attendance, and I ended up performing three times, including  "headlining" the closing night jazz session along with my former student, Conrad Herwig, Director of  Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, and adjunct jazz trombone instructor at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music (see

But back to the "fly on the wall" aspect: Conrad's jazz trombone ensemble won the Kai Winding competition, and his students, one from Rutgers and one from Juilliard, won their respective jazz solo competitions. And my more recent student, Christopher Hernacki, a recent Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Michigan, won the Yaxley Bass Trombone Solo Competition. I think seeing such success in one's students gives the greatest feeling of satisfaction one can experience. I say that all I did was show up, and they did all the work, but I must have said something that resonated with them over the years that they studied with me. I do know that I feel like a proud father with the extraordinary accompishments of my "adopted" sons, Conrad and Chris. Congrats, guys, and keep making me look good!