Back on April 1, I wrote a post on Turk Murphy’s famous showpiece The Trombone Rag. This got me to thinking about other famous jazz works for trombone and so I thought I would write a series based on some of these famous showpieces. This week’s entry deals with one of the most demanding of them, Tommy Dorsey‘s Trombonology.
Tommy Dorsey is widely considered one of the greatest jazz trombonists of all time. Though he has been overshadowed by later artists such as J.J. Johnson, Dorsey remains the premier Swing Era trombonist. His jazz skills were perhaps not as sharp as those of Jack Teagarden but his technique and his range were unsurpassed. His phrasing in particular has been often-imitated, most famously by Frank Sinatra who admitted that Dorsey taught him to sing.
In 1947, Dorsey had just re-constituted his orchestra and Trombonology was written at this time. It premiered on the 1947 78-RPM record Vic 20-2419, as reported in the liner notes of the album Tommy Dorsey: The Post-War Era. Unlike the back-story to Turk Murphy’s Trombone Rag, there is very little information available about why Tommy wrote the piece leaving me to suspect that he simply wanted a challenge. Dorsey was a notorious perfectionist and the piece was admirably suited to show off both his amazing breath control and his astonishing range – the piece ends on a high F two octaves above the staff and is held for a full four measures.
Trombonology contains absolutely no improvisation at all – it is entirely written out. This is not surprising as Dorsey reportedly preferred to do written solos as opposed to improvisational solos, although he could and did improvise with great skill. However, as a demonstration of technique the piece is difficult to surpass. Trombonology is usually taken at a fairly fast pace, requiring the soloist to have a complete mastery of the instrument in order to successfully negotiate the many interval jumps. In addition, the piece is mostly legato, requiring an extraordinarily smooth slide technique. Needless to say, it is not a piece for beginners.
A recording of Dorsey performing his piece can be found on YouTube:
An arrangement for trombone and piano can be found at:
http://www.tenorposaune.com/sheetmusic.php under the Trombone Solos tab.