Tag Archives: Lawrence Brown

The Unknown History of Jazz Trombone, Part 1

Recently I’ve been busy studying the amazing history of jazz trombone – diving into deep tradition while searching for hidden treasures.  What I’ve discovered is that much of the music made by great trombone masters has yet to make it into the digital era.  Over the next few weeks I’m going to be posting about some of my favorite trombone LPs in an effort to raise awareness of these unsung heroes of Jazz music.

Unknown Session
Duke Ellington (w/ Lawrence Brown)

This record was made on July 14th, 1960, soon after Lawrence Brown rejoined the Duke Ellington Orchestra after a 10 year hiatus.  It also features stellar performances from Ray Nance, Johnny Hodges, and Harry Carney.  Brown, perhaps because of his return to the organization, is featured extensively on the first side of the LP.  He plays with such incredible grace and confidence that I’ve come to hear this record as one of the greatest recorded jazz trombone performances in the history of the music.  It breaks my heart that it isn’t more well known.

Black Beauty and Mood Indigo are my two favorite tracks.  On Black Beauty you can hear Ellington quietly chortling his approval in the background during a particularly swinging ensemble section, and then Brown plays the melody in such an individualistic way that it seems more like recomposition than interpretation, even though he pretty much sticks to the script.  It has to be heard to be believed.  Mood Indigo is Brown’s real tour de force, though.  Starting with a few bars of melody and quickly evolving into embellishment and filigree, Brown shows his true mastery of the jazz trombone style over his chorus and a half of improvisation.

I first discovered this record when I was writing a paper on Mood Indigo for Anthony Coleman’s Duke Ellington class at NEC.  I headed down to Firestone Library and started getting as many LPs and CDs as I could, determined to listen to many many different versions of the composition.  The first recording I put on the turntable was LP 865 – the Unknown Session – an inconspicuous record if ever there was one, and imagine my surprise when Brown’s trombone playing leapt out of the headphones.  Needless to say, any research plans for the afternoon were derailed as I listened to Brown’s performance over and over. 

I’ve searched, and I’m pretty sure that the only way to hear this record is to buy it on LP.  I think, for a developing trombonist, that it might be worth it to buy a turntable solely to listen to this record.  Fortunately there are enough copies out there, that it’s almost always avaliable on Ebay.  It’s a masterpiece!
I would also like to take this opportunity to remind folks that next week I am sharing a solo concert with alto saxophonist James Wylie.  I think it’s going to be a really fun time, and I’m excited to hear what James is going to bring to the table.  Please come out if you are free that night!



Filed under Appreciations, Jazz