A Few Well-Chosen Notes

James M. Rohner | January 2018

    One pleasure of this jazz-themed issue was thinking back to the many great jazz musicians we have met over the years. None stands out more than legendary trombonist J.J. Johnson, whose enthusiasm for music never wavered. In a 1990 interview with us, he shared some advice for young players.

    One of the things I try to pass on to younger players is the fact that jazz by its very nature is a restless music. You can’t just put it in a corner and say, “Now be quiet and don’t say anything.” It won’t allow that. It must evolve; it must reach out and explore. When Dizzy and Bird came on the scene there was a hue and cry, ‘What is this crazy music called bebop?’ Obviously, it prevailed. I think it will always be that way….
    One of my favorite stories that I pass along to young students is about my time with Basie, sitting next to Dickie Wells, who was the lead trombonist of the band at that time. He was a tall, rangy, handsome man who could have been a movie star. Somehow, when he stood up to play his solos, he seemed to tower over the orchestra. Of course, this is magnified by the fact that I was in awe of him.
    I was a kid from Indianapolis sitting next to this monster trombone player who did not play a lot of notes, did not play pyrotechnics or play into the stratosphere. He just played a few well-chosen notes with great feeling and great depth of emotion. He played very few notes, but it was the inflection that he put on those notes that made his playing so outstanding. 
    Kids nowadays are obsessed with a thousand notes and playing faster and higher, so to find out that I was in awe of someone who didn’t play a lot of notes gives them something to think about….
    I’m sure all of us first begin by emulating the people who we idolize. I guess personalizing my playing began during practicing. At first you practice the customary scales and long tones and arpeggios. Somewhere along the line, you begin to incorporate some of yourself into the routine. 
– James M. Rohner, Publisher