Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to play some tuba with the jam sessions of the South Bay Traditional Jazz Society. The Society had their monthly meeting over at the Swiss Park in Newark, California over the weekend, featuring the Churchill Street Reunion Jazz Band.
The South Bay society usually has two jam sessions in between the sets of the regular guest band. This format allows a number of jammers on stage, thus guaranteeing that musicians have a chance to struyt their stuff for the audience. This arrangement also permits the maximum number of players to play, as there are often a plethora of instrumentalists present.
This month, we had an especially illustrious lineup. Not including the afore-mentioned John Soulis (trombone) and Dick Williams, we also had trumpeter Don Abel of the South Bay Stompers, reedman Lyle Gillison, banjoist Pat Dutrow, and drummer Bill Todd. One of John’s friends also joined us on clarinet- I regret I did not catch his name, as he was an excellent clarinetist- I thoroughly enjoyed playing with him.
I normally bring only the trombone to these meetings, but jas in any jam, one never knows in advance who or what instrumentation will be present. Therefore, since jamset director Jim Harget requested me to bring along a few of my horns and as I live fairly close, I brought along my tuba as well as my trombone. I knew that trumpeter Dick Williams would be present, so I did not bring the trumpet to this gig. Upon arriving, I discovered that trombonist John Soulis was present, so I ended up playing tuba on both jam sessions
Some thoughts on playing traditional jazz tuba. The tuba is far different from playing trombone. Not only is it important to keep the beat so that the badn does not drag- a responsibility shared with the drummer, but the tuba, together with the piano and banjo is also responsible for ensuring that passing chords are correct so that the players are led into the next musical passage. I trust that I did not embarrass myself in this regard. Tuba is also an instrument that requires the player to watch the other musicians carefully, so as to avoid any sour notes if alternate chords are used by other members of the rhythm section.
Volume is another area where aspiring tuba players need to be careful. Tuba is a very powerful instrument- make sure to watch the leader and listen carefully to avoid overpowering soloists. In Dixieland, tuba normally continues to play at all times, unless there is a particular break or the leader indicates otherwise. It is very easy to forget how loud one is actually playing, so it is important to keep your ears peeled and your eyes on whomever is playing the lead so as to modulate your tone appropriately.
Finally, soloing on tuba is a little different than most other instruments. Once again, there is no ned to try to overpower with dynamics. A tubist should slightly turn up the volume when soloing, as tuba can get lost in the background, but there is no need to play fortissimo all the time. This also applies to technical expertise. Taste is independent of technique. Technique should be used to enhance the solo- not to be the end-all of the solo. Some of the best tubists in jazz play close attention to the bassline and structure their solos around it, so that at the conclusion they can lead the band back into the appropriate chords, while they drop back into a solid bassline.
In addition, the tuba is much heavier than the trombone. If one is not used to the weight of the instrument, it can become a drag to play for an extended period of time. I was standing throughout the first set, and thus the sole source of support for the horn, other than my strap, was my left arm. By the end of the set, i was thoroughly tired, so on the second set, i availed myself of the stool used by the guest band’s tubist. This was much mroe comfortable, as I was able to rest the horn on my lap, as opposed to actually holding it throughout the set.
In conclusion, it was a very good experience for me, and I gained quite a bit of insight into the specific requirements of playing jazz tuba. I look forward to continuing my education on this instrument.