Craig Harris playing trombone

The trombone is a musical instrument from the brass instrument family. Trombone's first premiere in jazz was with Dixieland jazz as a supporting role within the Dixie Group. This role later grew into the spotlight as players such as J.J. Johnson and Jack Teagarden began to experiment more with the instrument, finding that it can fill in roles along with the saxophone and trumpet in bebop. The trombone has since grown to be featured in standard big band group setups with 3 to 5 trombones depending on the arrangement. A person who plays the trombone is called a trombone player or a trombonist.

History of trombone in jazz

Further information: List of jazz trombonists

Traditional jazz trombone

Trombone first saw use in the jazz world with its entrance into traditional jazz where it played along with the chord changes, often connecting the seven to third or third to root resolutions of cadences, allowing the other musicians of the group to improvise along with it. In a standard dixie group, the players marched through the streets or were hauled around, playing in an open trailer. The trombone having a slide instead of valves or strings or holes for playing had difficult positioning themselves, and tended to sit in the back of the trailer, gaining the name "Tailgate Trombone". This style of playing included many trombone specific techniques such as growling, scoops, falls, and slides. These factors provided traditional jazz with its well known, almost "dirty" feel. The most famous tailgate trombonist was Edward "Kid" Ory. Even though the trombone was finally featured in jazz at this point, it was not until the swing era of jazz that the trombone actually stepped into the spotlight.

Swing era trombone

The swing era of jazz reached its peak in the 1930s, where the trombone was then popular. In a standard swing band there were 5 saxophones, 4 trumpets, 3 or 4 trombones and a rhythm section. This is when trombone started to stand out as a solo instrument, with players such as Jack Teagarden. Characteristic of the Teagarden style of trombone playing is a clean articulation, excellent high register and limited slide movement. This often results in pentatonic scales. Other famous trombone soloists in swing bands were Tricky Sam Nanton and Lawrence Brown in the Ellington Band, and Dickie Wells and Vic Dickenson in the Count Basie Orchestra.[1] Several trombonists (e.g. Tommy Dorsey, Trummy Young) began to form their own swing bands, and allowed themselves to show off their instrument that had before been hidden behind the rest of the horns.[2] When this happened, the standard style of playing switched away from the "tailgate trombone" style, and moved towards a lyrical and smooth form of playing. This revolutionized jazz trombone in a way that no player had thought possible before. This helped move trombone into the spotlight,[3] as it became an instrument of lyrical, smooth, soft playing that people enjoyed listening to.

Bebop jazz trombone

As the era of swing jazz ended, the new style of bebop jazz emerged from the early 1940s. Bebop was a faster form of swing that was played for its own sake, as opposed to swing jazz, which was played for dancing. In this era, the trombone was less often played as a solo instrument, as many of the passages in the music were too technically fast for the playing style that had developed during the swing era, as that style was held back by the slide more so.[4] The leading trombonists at the time also worked on adapting and creating a new style to follow the fast-paced bebop. The driving force of this stylistic movement was J.J. Johnson.[5] He followed the influences of bebop jazz innovators Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie while adding his own, smooth, slower form of playing over the fast tracks of bebop. J.J. Johnson eliminated most of the glissandos, rips, and other such effects from his playing, replacing them with a more precisely articulated style, enlivened by extended chords and alterations characteristic of bebop. Although this level of slide trombone virtuosity had been previously displayed in brass bands by the likes of Arthur Pryor it was new to jazz trombone.

Jazz techniques and equipment

Typically jazz trombonists prefer to play on a standard small or medium bore tenor trombone with no extra attachments,[6] which produce a brighter sound than large bore or valve-attachment trombones, and are more comfortable to play for extended periods of time in the extreme high range of the instrument. There are certain techniques that trombone players will prominently find in jazz music, or jazz inspired music, such as growling, scooping, falling, flutter tonguing, use of mutes, multiphonics, and even recently with some players, distortion effects.

Use of mutes

See also: Brass instrument mutes

The trombone, like most other brass instruments, can have its sound altered through the use of mutes. There are many different types of mutes commonly used in a jazz context.

Sound effects

Jazz trombonists make use of different techniques to change the quality of sound that exists their bell to create dramatic effect.


  1. ^ "The Unknown History of Jazz Trombone, Part 3". Randy Pingrey: trombonist-at-large. 26 October 2010. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  2. ^ Wilken, David. "The Evolution of the Jazz Trombone, Part Two: The Swing Era". Online Trombone Journal. Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  3. ^ "Riverwalk Jazz - Stanford University Libraries". Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  4. ^ "The Historical Evolution of the Jazz Trombone: Part Three". Archived from the original on 30 August 2007. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  5. ^ "The Historical Evolution of the Jazz Trombone: Part Three, Page 2". Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  6. ^ "Variations on the Trombone - p.2 - BobBeecher". Retrieved 23 October 2014.