Ah, the jazz trombone.
Playing this instrument has brought me scorn and admiration is almost equal measure. But oh well, that’s a story for another day.
Having played the jazz trombone for close to 18 years now, I can tell you this with surety: there’s no other musical instrument I’d rather have learned instead.
I guess any player can say that about their instrument. But this article is about jazz trombones so hey, I wouldn’t be faulted for vouching for it, now would I?
Read on, and I’ll give you a few tips for finding the best jazz trombone that’s worth the money.
Best Jazz Trombones In 2020 Reviewed
What Makes A Trombone Fit to Play Jazz?
In a jazz orchestra (aka a big band), you’d typically find 5 saxophones, 4 trombones, 4 trumpets, and a rhyme section consisting of guitar, bass, piano, and drums. In some instances, there may additionally be a vibraphone, clarinet, violin, and singers.
In jazz bands, the trombone plays in the tenor range, below the trumpet, whereas in large bands, the entire trombone section often plays together as a unit.
When it comes to the former (small band) setup, the trombone serves as a lower, alternate voice to the other instruments.
It’s quite the elaborate setup, and the instruments come together beautifully to give you the iconic sound of jazz music.
Meaning, all these instruments have been meticulously selected to fit the bill.
So, what is it about the trombone that made it suitable for jazz?
a) The Glissando Effect
One reason why the trombone is such an invaluable instrument in jazz is because of the slide.
The trombone is one of the few wind instruments that can produce a true glissando, synonymous with jazz music.
b) The Ability to Play in Tune
A skilled and experienced trombonist will be able to play in virtually perfect tune at all times, even when the instrument isn’t in tune.
See, when it comes to the trombone, there are various ways the player could compensate for an out-of-tune instrument. They could adjust the slide positioning or change the embouchure, therefore allowing them to play in perfect tune, even when using an improperly tuned trombone.
This gives the trombone a considerable advantage over many other instruments, such as the piano.
c) Ease and Fluidity of Bending Notes
Can this brass instrument be a bit clunky? Yes, of course.
However, in the right hands, the trombone can be a pretty intuitive instrument that’s easy to handle.
With a trombone, the player can effortlessly slide into notes and choose from multiple positions so that they can efficiently execute a melody.
Additionally, the slide can also offer an enhanced, more easily controlled vibrato.
d) It Has A Wide Range
The trombone can play a wide range of notes.
The tenor trombone, which is commonly used in jazz, has a range stretching from the E note below the bass clef to the B flat above middle C.
Experienced trombonists can push this range even further by producing a note as high as F5, above the B flat.
Additionally, some trombones could come with a trigger (F attachment), that activates additional tubing built into the instrument. This extra tubing allows the player to reach a low C note, below the bass clef.
This instrument can play many styles of music, both in an ensemble and solo. Not to mention that it has a broad range of pitches, therefore allowing it to play any musical genre, including jazz!
At the same time, the upper range of a trombone can almost match that of a trumpet, which allows a composer to use the instrument is very many ways.
The slide mechanism also contributes to the versatility of the instrument. A player has different creative avenues than those offered by valves, which makes the instrument very expressive.
With a trombone, you can play big brassy bass hits just as easily as you can hit sparkling high melodic lines.
f) Unique Tone
The low pedal tones of a slide trombone are bright and project splendidly. This makes them preferable over the darker-sounding valve trombones.
Also, the cutting tone of this brass instrument can be adjusted depending on the mouthpiece, shaft size, and playing technique.
The low tenors of a jazz trombone complement the bass, bringing it out beautifully. Likewise, the bassist also brings out the trombone, so they are a perfect match in any band.
One unique aspect of jazz compositions is that musicians can make up their own music on the spot. This is known as taking a ‘solo’.
While trumpets and saxophones improvise between the lyrics (if the band has a vocalist), trombones only improvise when it’s their turn to solo.
This is a huge role played by trombonists in a jazz band.
Things to Consider When Buying A Jazz Trombone
Type of Trombone
A tenor trombone is the most widely played trombone, and it is also the typical instrument many people refer to when talking about a jazz trombone.
The midrange tone of a tenor trombone helps it stand out in a jazz band, making it a perfect fit for jazz.
However, it is worth noting that the tenor isn’t the only trombone used in jazz. Bigger jazz bands may include a bass trombone, in addition to the tenor.
When used in jazz bands, the bass trombone pairs well with the tuba, helping to enhance the band’s low end.
Trombone bells may be made on yellow brass, red brass, gold brass, or sterling silver. Yellow brass is the most common material used, and it tends to produce brighter tones. Red brass has a higher copper content, and this leads to a darker tone.
Since jazz trombones need to have a bright tone, you should go for a yellow brass bell.
Bass trombones will have larger bells than tenor trombones. As a result, bass trombones are used in orchestras, whereas tenor trombones are used in jazz.
A tenor trombone bell size ranges between 7in and 9in (18-23 cm) in diameter, but 7.5in to 8.5in (19-22 cm) is often the typical bell size.
A trombone bell may be constructed from two separate brass sheets or out of a single sheet of metal, hammered on a mandrel until the correct shape is achieved.
A one-piece, hand-hammered bell is considered a higher quality feature that gives off a similarly high-quality sound.
A trombone’s bore is the inner diameter of the inner slide. This measurement is expressed in thousandths of an inch.
Bore sizes may range from .500” (for student trombones) to .547” (for symphonic use), to up to .562” (for bass trombones).
When it comes to a jazz trombone, you want to go for a small bore.
Smaller bores produce a brighter, more focused sound while larger bores give off a warmer (darker), bigger tone.
Besides having an impact on the tonal quality, the bore size also affects a horn’s resistance or back-pressure.
With a smaller bore, more resistance is created, making it easier to produce the right tone and allowing for more versatile use of the instrument.
Straight Horn Vs. Trigger Trombone
On the one hand, you have the standard trombone, also known as the straight trombone.
On the other hand, you have the trigger trombone that comes with additional tubing inside the instrument; and an F-attachment.
The complex construction of a trigger trombone extends a trombone’s capabilities by adding notes to the horn’s low range. This design also makes it easier to play certain notes.
Jazz trombonists tend to stick with straight tenor trombones, leaving the trigger trombones for orchestra players.
Valve Trombone Vs. Slide Trombone
Typically, regular trombones have a slide function. However, we do have valve trombones which do not have a slide. Instead, they function much like a trumpet.
The fundamental design of both trombones is the same.
The difference only comes in when considering the mechanism that’s used to lengthen or shorten the length of the tube to produce the various notes.
Not changes sound easier on a slide trombone, but a bit harder on a valve trombone. The difference is subtle, but a seasoned trombone player can hear it.
Additionally, while a slide trombone is more ‘free-blowing’; a valve trombone tends to sound a little ‘stiffer’.
Since the slide trombone is the standard, it’s what you’d typically find being used to play jazz.
Even so, jazz musicians who like to hit notes quickly will readily adopt the valve option.
A valve trombone may not allow you to execute a true glissando for jazz effect, but it adds a distinct sound to arrangements.
When it comes to the mobility of the instrument, it is easy to tell a jazz trombone apart from a symphony trombone (used in orchestras).
While playing jazz, it is crucial to be able to move around on the instrument easily and freely.
For this reason, jazz trombones often feature a smaller bell, thinner walls, and a smaller bore size. You’ll also notice that the gap between the slide is narrower.
Ultimately, all these features are designed to make the instrument smaller, thereby increasing slide mobility.
FAQs About The Best Jazz Trombones
Is Getzen a Good Trombone Brand?
Yes, it is.
All around the world, Getzen trombones are famed for their playability and durability.
These horns feature hand-spun bells, and the fastest, smoothest possible slide action.
Better yet, Getzen offers custom series jazz trombones that allow the player to customize the horn to get their desired resistance, sound, and response.
How to Play Jazz Using A Trombone?
Playing a jazz trombone isn’t too different from playing a regular trombone.
Nevertheless, here are a couple of things to keep in mind while playing jazz using a trombone:
- Swinging eighth notes is the basis of jazz music. So, unless otherwise stated, always assume that the eighth notes are swung while playing jazz music.
- You’ll need to buzz the right pitch with your lips.
- Master the art of bending notes. When you hold out a note for a while, try giving it a slight vibrato. If you aren’t the lead, follow the lead trombone to get an idea of when to vibrato and for how long.
- Work relentlessly on your articulation. While practicing, make sure you are using a metronome as this will ensure you are playing in time and swinging.
- The blues scale is fundaments to jazz music, so make sure you master it as this will help with improvisation. Know your chords (arpeggios) as well.
- Work with alternate positions, as this also helps you take advantage of many natural slurs.
Here’s a video to help guide you in playing a jazz trombone:
Is It Hard to Learn the Trombone?
Yes, it is. More so if you have never played a brass instrument before.
One reason why the trombone is not just a hard instrument to learn but a hard one to play as well is because this isn’t a fixed-pitch instrument.
The player would need to continually make tuning adjustments on the fly, posing not just a musical challenge but a physiological one as well.
At the same time, playing the instrument requires a great deal of air, which makes it a very athletic endeavor.
Playing a note correctly on the trombone requires a couple of things:
- Great embouchure
- Buzzing the right pitch with your lips
- Putting the slide in precisely the correct position for that pitch
- Controlling the speed and temperature of your air
- Making fine adjustments with the slide hand for tuning purposes,
- Articulating with the tongue, etc.
Furthermore, all these have to be done simultaneously. So, as you can see, playing the trombone is no easy feat.
All the same, learning this unique horn instrument would be a nice challenge for a player.
Mastering how to play it correctly can be very rewarding as well, as you’ll get to see just how fun playing the trombone is.
Playing the trombone takes a lot of muscle and pitch memory, and finding a suitable jazz trombone might be just as challenging.
What you need to remember is that jazz is about freedom and expressiveness. So do not shy away from trying different horns, techniques, and playing styles.
Know jazz songs in different keys, study the players you look up to, hand out listening to good players, and play with other trombonists as much as possible.
All this will help you find an individual playing style that’s unique to you, and isn’t that just the whole point of playing a jazz trombone?