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David Wilken
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Juan Tizol

Juan Tizol, born in 1900, played the valve trombone. Originally from Puerto Rico, he came to the United States to work with Marie Lucas in 1920. Tizol left Lucas when that band lost its regular engagement and soon found a position with Duke Ellington's band. He wasn't featured in the Duke Ellington Orchestra as often as the other trombonists, but his valve trombone helped Ellington create a new sound. Since Tizol's valve trombone was technically adept, Ellington liked to score Tizol with the saxophones - such as on "Concerto for Cootie". Ellington would also score Tizol on passages that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to play on slide trombone, such as quick changes from B flat to B natural in the staff. Tizol, however, did not improvise jazz solos, and his most important contributions were as a section player and as a composer and arranger. He was the composer of "Caravan" and "Perdido" - both big hits for the Ellington Orchestra.

In 1944 Tizol left the Ellington band and performed briefly with Woody Herman's band before being picked up by Harry James. Tizol played with James for seven years, returning to Ellington's band in 1951 for a short period. The rest of his life Tizol worked for many band leaders, including Ellington, James, Frank Sinatra, and Nat "King" Cole. Tizol died in 1984 in Los Angeles.

Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton

Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton, 1904-1942, was perhaps the most imitated of Ellington's trombonists. The style that Nanton developed helped give the name "jungle style" to Ellington's early sound. Nanton was one of the first trombonists to use a common toilet plunger as a mute - a device he reportedly emulated from a trumpet player named Johnny Dunn (Dietrich, 22). His highly developed skill with a plunger mute was said to imitate the human voice. Mercer Ellington, the son of Duke Ellington and leader of the Ellington Orchestra after Duke's death, said of Nanton: "Tricky had a perfect feeling for it [the plunger] and he could play the proper things to fit the plunger." (Carr, Fairweather, & Priestly, 359) Many of the sounds that Nanton was able to achieve with the plunger are still a mystery. It may be that some of the effects were produced partly by tongue and jaw positions as well as mutes and plunger positions (Carr, Fairweather, & Priestly, 24).

The harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic style of Nanton was steeped in the blues. Quite often Nanton's solos consisted of only a few notes that were played with such rhythmic and melodic conviction that the solo carried on the weight of this confidence alone. Early jazz critic Hugh Panassie commented that Nanton "needs only to play two or three notes with his inimitable expression and repeat them during the whole chorus to move the listener deeply."(Carr, Fairweather, & Priestly, 39).

Nanton started his professional career playing with pianist Cliff Jackson in 1921 and then worked with Earl Frazier's Harmony Five from 1923 to 1925. He began working with the Ellington Orchestra from 1925 and stayed with the band until he suffered a stroke in 1945. After a brief recovery period, he rejoined Ellington only to die during a tour of the West Coast in 1946. His death resulted in the loss of one of the most unique voices in Ellington's group and all of jazz.

Tommy Dorsey

One of the most popular trombonists of the swing era was Tommy Dorsey (1905-1956), called the Sentimental Gentleman of Swing. Dorsey began his career with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in 1927. In 1934 he formed a band with his saxophone-playing brother Jimmy, resulting in the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra. The band did not stay together long. Tommy Dorsey's temper led to frequent fights not only with his brother, but also with many of his sidemen. In 1935 he formed his own group; the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Due in large part to Dorsey's perfectionist nature and his desire to acquire the best musicians for his group, the Tommy Dorsey orchestra was an enormous success. Many of the band's greatest hits included solos by Dorsey, such as "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," "Song of India," and "Marie." Many notable musicians were alumni of Dorsey's band, including Bud Freeman, Pee Wee Erwin, and Frank Sinatra.

As a soloist, Dorsey popularized a school of high register ballad playing started by Teagarden and Harrison. Although his ideas were not as creative as his influences, his technical command of the instrument made him one of the most popular trombonists of the swing era. One historian said of Dorsey's technique: "[Dorsey was] technically unfaultable: he invented a smooth-as-silk upper register ability which was revolutionary for its time." (Carr, Fairweather, & Priestly, 143) This technical approach was later taken up by trombonists such as Urbie Green and Bill Watrous.

Trummy Young

Photograph by Martin J. Dain.

Trummy Young, born in 1912 in Washington, was an underrated but influential trombonist. Young started playing professionally in 1928. By 1933 he was playing with Earl Hines, with whom he worked for four years. From 1938 to 1943 he played in the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. He left that group to lead his own band, which he did until 1947. In 1952 he began to perform in Louis Armstrong's band, where he stayed for thirteen years. After leaving Armstrong he moved to Hawaii and performed locally until he died of a heart attack in 1984.

Young cited two of his influences as Louis Armstrong and Jimmy Harrison. He said once, "I worked hard on . . . a sharper, brilliant sound." (Carr, Fairweather, & Priestly, 556) His solos were very energetic, often mistaken for a trumpet solo, since he possessed an incredible high register. His ballad playing also rivaled the romantic ballad solos of Tommy Dorsey.