Jazz Professional               

Trombone talk
The demands and rewards of session playing


The meeting chaired by LES TOMKINS in 1974

Parts 1 2 3  

Would you say that doing such a great amount of session work has been very beneficial to your playing ability?

NASH: I’m sure Don will agree, the overall demands are considerable. We do some pure legit things, too; so you have to keep every facet of your playing up. What happens sometimes, you get into kind of a rut, doing the same things for the most part; then suddenly you’re called on to do something different. For instance, before I was invited to Hilversum, I hadn’t really done much of that down-front spotlight TV solo work; I think Don does a lot more than I do, because here you have more live shows than we do. So I had to reach down and get some of the resources. It’s not just a matter of playing—you know that eventually you’re going to play it your normal way, whatever that may be— it’s the psychology behind it, the things you have to draw from yourself, the responsibility that you have, and so forth. All these things just have to be kept up.

LUSHER: As Dick says, it is rather to do with the psychological approach. You’ve literally got to turn the tap to various departments, I find. If you’re on an ordinary pop session it’s a different type of playing, a different feel—a different way of behaving,  really—than  playing  a legit date. Then these solo dates are another thing, because I suppose you’ve got to have an added confidence. Which applies to me, now that I’ve got the big band going, with broadcasts and so on—not so much with the quartet, because it’s much more intimate. In the morning, say, I’m on with my big band from nine-thirty until one. I want to be friendly, but it’s no good me being just one of the guys—they don’t want that. For that morning, I’ve got to be the leader. All the departments of it are my responsibility; playing the trombone is only one facet of it. Then we have lunch, and at two o’clock in the afternoon I’m sitting in the section, with the same guys maybe, working for somebody else. I’ve then got to switch mentally, and I’m one of the guys again—as I wish to be. I enjoy the challenge of going into other fields, but afterwards I’m ready to get back to being an ordinary studio musician, because I enjoy my association with the fellows so much.

NASH: I’m reminded of a phrase that Lloyd Ullyate’s brother, the late Bill Ullyate, came up with: “Studio work is ninety per cent boredom and ten per cent sheer terror”, and that’s about the way it works. So this was one of my moments recently. Normally I’ll sit there in the pit, as you say, in L.A. The telegram came from Hilversum, and I had to get myself together—what am I going to play, how am I going to do it? You do have to turn it into another thing.

LUSHER: Regarding one’s playing— I think you’ve got to be very, very honest with yourself about this. I believe it is definitely possible to improve as you get older. I don’t know what happens as you get more and more older—we’ll face that when we come to it. But at this time—now, please don’t think it’s being cocky; it’s not that sort of thing—you can make a comparative check on yourself. I don’t come home and listen to my own records—I don’t get any thrill out of that—but from time to time I have heard things I did with the Heath band, when I was one of the biggest names of the period. And if I couldn’t play better than that today, I’d eat my hat. I was doing my best then, as I do my best now, but I think I’ve improved, in the way of maturity, apart from in an academic sense.

NASH: I don’t play my own records necessarily, unless somebody asks for them. My wife plays more of my records than I do. But when I listen to earlier records— I did feature one kind of thing, and I was limited, as I can see, in those days. I didn’t have the sound then; I used to do a lot of high, screamy stuff. And little by little, as the years go on, when you’re working in the studio, that won’t go. You know, that’s just one small percentage of it, unless you’re going to try to be a bandleader—a Sonny Dun-ham, who did that kind of thing, or a Maynard Ferguson. Which was not necessarily my calling, because the band thing was all over. So I saw that my sound was too small, because of that whole piercing thing that I did, I kind of toned myself down, got a bigger horn and a bigger mouthpiece; as a result, I’ve lost a little of that top edge, but overall it’s better, I feel.

Actually, it’s a fulfillment that you go for, in the fact that you know you can cover just about all aspects of the thing. I even have fun playing jazz from time to time— and that’s another thing to try to keep up. You can go through some Bach etudes for really perfect, valve-like, quality playing, then you can just go into another bag, and play whatever comes into your head, at that level. It’s something to keep it all going—that’s the challenge, that’s the beauty of it. Fitting the bill is the fulfillment for me. Put something up in front of me, and I’m gonna give you my best; if it’s not enough, too bad, but here’s where it is.

People get used to your delivering what they ask of you. Such as on the Henry Mancini dates—you’re featured a lot with the mellow trombone you do so well, but now and again he gives you some jazz to play, doesn’t he?

NASH: That’s right. The first solo that I did with Mancini on an album, I remember, was “Too Little Time”— the love theme from The Glenn Miller Story. Murray McEachern had done the picture, and I think he was going out of town, having some teeth work done, or something, and couldn’t do it. I had been working at Universal Studios, where the picture was made; as a matter of fact, Henry was instrumental in getting me into Universal, which was a nice thing, too. Anyway, after I’d played that the first time through, he came over to me, very quietly, and he said: “Can you warm it up a little bit—just maybe be a little looser.” And I knew that he heard Murray in his mind; he didn’t want to say “Play like Murray”, but I could tell that he kind of wanted a little of that.

As a result, I kind of developed a style that became me, somehow, and it’s in between Dorsey, which was a stiffer, straighter-ahead thing, and Murray, who was the master painter, you know; he would just phrase and bend and slide, and so forth. Let’s face it—he was influenced by Bill Harris. I heard an early Murray record where it sounded so much like Bill, you couldn’t believe it. So it was from that little demand of Mancini’s that I got into the phrasing that is sort of mine ... I don’t know, how dare you say that you have a specific style? You get it from my everybody really.

LUSHER: Dick’s sound is so renowned amongst trombone players, you know. He has such a warm, individual sound that he’s only got to play three lead-in notes to any solo and we know it’s Dick, immediately. That’s going some.

Another rewarding thing for both of you must be the fact of playing in sections, and in bands, where everybody is of a very high calibre.

NASH: Oh, sure—that really is a thrill. In most of the L.A. calls, it’s such a high level of playing in the bands there. We were talking about when we were doing the Time-Life., things; in the section with me were people like Joe Howard, Lloyd Ullyate, George Roberts. Plus all the others, like Willie Schwartz. Abe Most took the roles of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw incredibly well. Billy May was the leader, and when you have somebody as effervescent, knowledgeable and funny as Billy, the whole thing can be a total gas. It’s just way up there somewhere.

LUSHER: I find exactly the same thing. Since I’ve travelled more to various places, doing these solo things—whenever I come back . . . when you’re playing with the fellows on an ordinary session, you know, the impact hits you of how they do it so well. How they phrase so well, play with such good tone, uniformity of sound—it knocks me out more today than ever it has done in the past. There’s never a week goes by, in an ordinary run of studio work, when I don’t marvel at one of my colleagues or at something we’re doing together. Very often, on run-of-the-mill television shows, you’re playing play-offs or somebody’s accompaniment, and all the rest of it, and you realise suddenly you’re part of something very, very good. And to me that’s a bigger thrill than playing a solo.

It’s a great thing to hear sizzling trumpets at the back of you, all nicely in tune. Yes, we are lucky that we play with such splendid people in the sections—four trombones, four trumpets, all as good as one another. The difference is this: you only get one man not as good as the rest in the section, and it shows. If you get two, or three—you’ve had it.

NASH: I’ve noticed, here in London, at the two sessions I’ve attended, plus the band at The Talk Of The Town—there were no weak links.

LUSHER: Dick came with me on two sessions. First of all, we were at Chappell’s with Alyn Ainsworth, accompanying Vince Hill, with the usual sort of guys. We were doing some standards; that was nice. Then he came to Elstree with me, with the Parnell band, where we were doing some inserts for a television show. And he commented right away on the trumpets. Well, it’s a thing I don’t really get used to. You should, I suppose, but I just love playing with these fellows who I work with most days of the week.

NASH: What is the bass trombone player’s name?

LUSHER; Jackie Armstrong. He’s the one who got me into the business—got me my first job.

NASH: Very fine. He had a lot of tuba stuff to play there. Also I noticed how good the drummers are—excellent sound, the two I heard.

LUSHER: It was Alf Bigden, then Ronnie Verrell. Yes — any way of drumming you like, they’ve got it.

NASH: No matter what age—they listen, and they know what’s happening. Nice sound, great time. You know, I’m finding that musicians are becoming more closely amalgamated the world over, as far as the feel and the sound is concerned. In Hilver-sum, it’s a very good band. They may not have the power that I noticed here in London. And, of course, in L.A. we do have a plethora of great brass players. But I did remark to Don that the four trumpet players had a similarity, a blend, an expression that sometimes you don’t get in L.A. You’ll get three that are pretty close, and maybe one will have a different feel, you know, and they’ll have to adjust to that. But that’s not all the time, as I say—just once in a while.

LUSHER: Of course, in L.A. you have the greatest collection of the world’s best trombone players. Undoubtedly, I’m afraid I become like a child fan when I’m surrounded by people like that.

NASH: And yet, if you were there in L.A., you’d be right up there in the same bracket with any of ‘em. You would be no child any more.

If a situation were possible, whereby British and American sessionmen could join forces and play together, you’d say there would be no problems?

NASH: It would probably take about a minute and a half—and then everything would work real well. You have high calibre musicianship, and people of that nature will listen, blend and just automatically fit it right in.

LUSHER:  In recent years, our teaching facilities in this country have improved enormously, but when I and a lot of my colleagues were coming up, we didn’t have this. So we relied on what we knew about the instruments, our early tuition, what we could pick up, and we listened to records. Everything we could get from the Hollywood scene, particularly, in the way of trombones, we clung on to like leeches. This is now paying dividends, because the distance between the two countries has got smaller in time, we’ve heard some of these people now in the flesh, we know them personally. To this day, we try and copy everything we can hear from the best of Hollywood trombone players—not just carbon copying, though. Plus the fact that now our legitimate training is better. All brass playing, I think, is becoming more and more legitimate. Then, after the legitimate playing, you add your blends, your vibratos, your frills and your funky sounds.

But in Hollywood, when Dick took me to the studios, I noticed that when you hear the guys doing their warm-ups, they’re just like regular symphonic players; then they turn on the other things. And this is bound to make it better and more standardised all the way round. In other words, there’s no room now for funny, individual sounds in a section; you can play a solo like that if you wish, but not in the section. I had the privilege of sitting alongside two sections with Dick and people like Lloyd Ullyate, Hoyt Bohannon, George Roberts; you just couldn’t pick out one from the other in that section, but any one of those four guys could stand up, play a solo, and have their distinctive stamp at once. This is what it’s all about. Do you agree, Dick?

NASH: Yeah—I was thinking back a few years—maybe in the ‘twenties and ‘thirties, when jazz was coming to the fore and being developed. If you listen to the old records, you had individual sounds and they were so aberrated, really—people like Pee Wee Russell, Sidney Bechet, Miff Mole, Vie Dickenson. You could hear the mind working, but the way they presented their sound was a whole different approach. So characteristic, but, as Don says, they wouldn’t fit overall in the sections, with the demands they have today. Someone like Jack Teagarden would have come closer, because he had a real pure way of playing—a clean, nice sound. But as the years have gone on, with the increase in technical prowess, people have found ways to work these things out. The teachers are better now, and are able to take a student and turn him more quickly into all these facets of playing. So it does come quicker, and they’ve got more to offer in every way.

>>> Part 3