I listen to a lot of music, but mostly live—either while playing myself, coaching chamber music, or in my head while composing. Putting together this playlist was a chance to remember some musical moments of my youth, the “formative years,” that left a particularly strong impression on me.
Con Conrad/Herb Madison, “The Continental” – The Jay and Kai Trombone Octet
My father wasn’t a professional musician, but did play a lot of jazz standards on the piano after work. He also had some records that I listened to often, especially this one with the trombonists JJ Johnson and Kai Winding. Their direct and clear sound influenced my own concept of how I wanted to sound on the trombone.
J.S. Bach, “Air on a G-string” – The Modern Jazz Quartet and The Swingle Singers
When I was around 14 years old, I bought my own record player and started collecting records, and I listened to this one over and over before falling asleep at night, letting myself drift off to the Swingle Singers scat-singing Bach.
Bill Conti, “Gonna fly now” – Maynard Ferguson Big Band
My absolute hero at 15 was the trumpeter Maynard Ferguson. He was known for his stratospheric high range, but also energetic rock/funk big band arrangements. I saw him live at the Chicago arena five or six times, with one event sticking out in my memory: in a solo moment with the band cut-out, Maynard wailed up to an amazingly high note, holding it for what seemed like forever, but then, unbelievably, jumped up an octave. Just before the audience flipped out, a guy right in front of me screamed at the top of his lungs, “Maynard, you’re God!“
Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 5, III. Scherzo – Georg Solti (Conductor), Chicago Symphony
The suburb I grew up in had a train connection to Chicago, which enabled me to hear the afternoon concerts with the Chicago Symphony. It was the middle of the ‘70s and they played a lot of Mahler. I even heard some symphonies with both Georg Solti and Carlo Maria Guilini. Strangely, although the brass in Chicago are very prominent, even legendary, I never once thought of playing in an orchestra as a trombonist myself.
Pierre Boulez, “Le Marteau sans maître” – Jeanne Deroubaix (Contralto), Severino Gazzelloni (Flute), Georges van Gucht (Xylorimba), Claude Ricou (Vibraphone), Jean Batigne (Percussion), Anton Stingl (Guitar), Serge Collot (Viola), Pierre Boulez (Conductor)
Ornette Coleman, “The shape of Jazz to come” – Ornette Coleman (Saxophone), Don Cherry (Trumpet), Charlie Haden (Bass), Billy Higgins (Drums)
I borrowed these two records from the public library, listened to a side of each, and remember being somewhat perplexed. Although I knew the Boulez was composed and the Coleman was improvised, I could hardly tell the difference between them.
Harry Partch, “The dreamer that remains”
As a fresh composition student with Ben Johnston, who was an assistant for Harry Partch, I dug into the recordings of Partch’s music and it turned my world upside down. At 18 I was starting to feel more at home with jazz and classical music—his approach and sound world opened the door to music from other cultures and music with other intonation systems. ¶